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David Lee’s TED Talk And Bloomberg Articles on Future of Work

PollyAnnish View of the Future

I'm always looking to see how humans can remain relevant against the robot onslaught so the TED talk and the Bloomberg articles caught my eye this week. David Lee in the TED talk probably works in the technology area, although his job of Innovation Leader is very ambiguous so I can't tell. I agree with him that we should be skeptical that the universal basic income being proposed by Silicon Valley will be a solution. The hurdles are too high to hope that the wealthy will fund the universal basic income. Think about how much problem we have in keeping Medicare, Medicaid and ACA: Congress tried to do away with ACA and the latest budgets are supposedly cutting Medicare and Medicaid. If "they" don't want to help us attain basic healthcare, why do we hope that "they" will help us have some way of living?

David Lee's take is that universal basic income can't be relied upon due to the current state of Congress so he proposes that companies should work on creating jobs that people want to do. My takeaway, and maybe my interpretation is off, is that he feels companies should create engaging jobs so that we bring all of our talents and passion to work. By doing that, our special skills will blossom and solve a lot of problems.

Hmmm, I think it is a little Pollyannaish to think that companies will be so nice to create wonderful jobs. It's kind of like the authors of The Second Machine Age exhorting companies to adopt technologies that complement employees' skills rather than replace people. Both David Lee and those authors are missing a fundamental mindset of businessmen, especially those of Wall Street and those with Harvard MBAs: shareholders takes primacy so everything is geared towards reducing expenses as much as possible to increase the bottom line and thus the shareholders' pocket. If it was shown that having people work as a complement to technology increases the bottom line as opposed to just replacing people, then businessmen will hire those people. In the current business culture that we have today, we can't wish that companies use technologies as a complement or that companies create engaging jobs. The bottom line thinking and shareholders will not allow companies to be so nice.

The business culture has to change. We have to somehow start moving towards the thinking that companies have a responsibility towards society as a whole and not just a narrow set of stakeholders called the shareholders or investors. That means oil companies need to think about clean energy. Tech companies think about privacy. And I could go on but the new thinking should be that companies must do good for all of society.

No, I think the Bloomberg articles are closer to what we will be seeing in the next 5 to 10 years. Previously, tech people were talking about the job shakeout occurring over the next 20 to 30 years but now it's down to 4 to 8 years (pretty much what I thought 2 years ago but 5 to 10 years). Also, economists always talk about how new kinds of jobs that don't exist today will be created to replace those destroyed, but the articles describe, in a roundabout way, what is expected to happen in Wall Street: about 230,000 Wall Street jobs (about 18%) will be affected by the roboticization and about 27,000 new kinds of jobs, such as machine-learning engineers or data scientists, will be created*. So I think this time around, the dynamics of this technology revolution will be more brutal. I do see that over the long, long term, the work world will be better, depending on how history and democracy plays out. Working life can end up positive but the road to get there will be brutal.

The last article did give some advice on what to do:

"8. How should those starting out in finance prepare?
“Be tech-savvy, be client-savvy or be data-savvy,” says Richard Johnson of Greenwich Associates. In other words, learn to work with the tech as banks deploy it across their business. Or focus on relationship management, which probably can’t be done by computers. (Without customers, after all, banks have no business.) Or focus on data science, helping banks analyze and interpret the information that AI depends on. McKinsey’s Moon is a bit more blunt: “Learn to code in Python.” That’s the programming language used by investment banks including JPMorgan and Bank of America Corp." Bloomberg, "How to Survive Wall Street's Robot Revolution", by Hugh Son and Jennifer Surane, September 24, 2017.

We basically need to pick up people/customer service or empathy skills or know how to code or work with/analyze data, or know how to use technology. As an example on knowing how to use technology, take a simple example of Excel. Most people use Excel to add, subtract, multiply, divide to create reports or to track progress and they don't use its powerful features to help them do their work. There is so much you can do with Excel and yet, most people choose to enter data manually. They are not thinking of how to use technology to their advantage. But this is what we are going to need to do in the future.

*Bloomberg, "How to Survive Wall Street's Robot Revolution", by Hugh Son and Jennifer Surane, September 24, 2017

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