Humanity 2.0 “Let the Robot be the couch potato: Keep Your Job & Expand Your Knowledge”
“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology but we have cleverly arranged things so that almost nobody understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.” Carl Sagan
By Scott Dennis October 18, 2016
How did you find yourself watching pharmaceutical commercials during the middle of the work week? The reason is that you are out of work and how to respond to this fact can be the toughest road that you ever traveled. But let’s not be so self-absorbed, what if the delivery man and the postal worker or the taxi driver all suddenly found themselves on the couch watching television with you, unemployed and disturbed by the multiple side effects of a new prostate drug? Harry Truman once said that “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job, it’s a depression when you lose yours” there is a radical change coming to our job market and ironically it is due to our own ingenuity.
Anyone reading this knows that technology has changed the workplace dramatically over the last thirty years and often for the better. However it is time for the human species to reflect on the decisions we make about how technology is applied and for whose benefit. Breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence (AI) also puts pressures on us to make decisions about the role robotics will play in our lives before AI makes the decisions for us. If that sounds like a stretch consider how far new algorithms used by machines have come, they are now paired with annotated data sets that were unimaginable just a few years ago. That is to say the algorithm gives the technology rules on how to think and learn, but the amount of information in the cloud or from google provides virtually unlimited substance for learning. This is why we have seen Watson become the Jeopardy! Champion or Deep Blue defeating the World Chess master Garry Kasparov.
In the short term this is a problem for labor but in the long run professional managers will also be greatly affected. Freshly minted MBA’s need to be aware that they will also have skin in this game of technology adversely affecting jobs. Experts in the field of labor history point out that in a rational market new jobs tend to be created with the churn of advancements in industry, however we in the labor market need to leverage political policy and labor law in case AI creates a distinctly “irrational” economy. Outlined here are a few ideas on how to avoid an increase in inequality and joblessness in our communities.
Understand there is a problem. Organizations like Blue Collar Think Tank and other nonprofits are laying out the issues for citizens to understand in a clear way, without the technical or legal jargon to confuse the issue.
Make corporations accountable. It can feel that decisions made to optimize or digitize work processes are made in a vacuum or behind closed doors. Publically traded companies should be compelled to have 51% of their shares held by an employees, through a fund or other legal frame work. With this scenario new capital expenditures in technology that will result in layoffs can be made with all stakeholders involved.
Buy in from the tech sector. Some of our greatest minds are makers in the very sector where these challenges to labor are emanating from. In the race to help humanity they may very well harm it. A good lesson can be learned from another cutting edge field, DNA genetics. What researchers have realized is that despite having the tools to manipulate our very genetic code they cannot come to agreement on what a “normal” healthy person should be. It’s the same for technology, the mantra should not always be “can we do it”, but perhaps “should we do it”.
Merge Human Resources and IT in the workplace. Information technology can be a distinctly inhuman arm of any company. This is ultimately what Carl Sagan was referring to when he mentioned “the clever arrangement where nobody understands technology”. In the same way HR stresses ethics in the workplace, technology that is used by employees need to come out of the server closet so that everyone effected by it understands it. This needs be a new workplace best practice as workers are influenced as much by IT as they are ethical concerns on the job.
Finally when thinking about these challenges it is helpful to maximize what is uniquely human for our future economy. Think about the power of a great orator to summon up emotions. Team work amongst co-workers that help communities achieve goals or entirely human motivations like the proper raising of our children. In the final analysis we may realize that our technology is our most human trait after all.
Scott Dennis writes for www.bluecollarthinktank.com @bcthinktank firstname.lastname@example.org