Today, the main conversation about self-driving cars is not about technological feasibility, but societal impacts and industrial transformation: How difficult will it be for the taxi drivers and truckers who’ll lose their jobs to find another way of making a living? How will the industry change if we stop thinking about cars as things we own continuously but only use 5% of the time, and start seeing them as an on-demand service? How much can we reduce accidents, pollution, and congestion?
The same conversations are happening about all kinds of automation. I meet optimists who say: “Erik, there’s no need to worry. Technology will make life better for everyone like it always has in the past.” I meet pessimists who say: “Erik, there’s no point in fighting it. Humans won’t be able to keep up with what the next wave of machine capabilities. We’re heading for a world of mass unemployment and extreme inequality.”
I don’t agree with either of these views. The future is not pre-ordained by machines. It’s created by humans. Technology is a tool. We can use it in many different ways. How do we use technology in ways that will create not just prosperity, but shared prosperity? How do we make choices that will work for people earning low and middle incomes?
We defined four areas where we think leadership from the private sector will help use technology to benefit the many, not just a few.
- How do we enable people to succeed in and access the work opportunities of the future?
- How do we connect more people with internet and technology access, regardless of age, location, education, or ability?
- How do we ensure financial security and stability for more people? How do we enable more people to access the benefits of financial services?
- How do we ensure that workers earn sufficient and growing incomes to achieve a satisfactory quality of life and living standards? How do we reimagine struggling industries and create new opportunities for work?
Spreading the benefits of technology
These coaches aren’t trained medical staff, and they’re at the lower end of the income scale. But they’re adding real value by using the kind of human skills we won’t get from robots any time soon, if ever – empathy, motivational skills, emotional intelligence.
Of course, spreading the benefits from technology demands leadership from governments, too – in areas like education, infrastructure, regulations, taxes and social protection – as well as individuals taking responsibility for developing their skills. But these are great examples of how leadership in the private sector can help to shape the way technology remakes society.
The changes won’t happen overnight. In the first industrial revolution, it took several decades after the invention of the steam engine for societal changes to play out. After electricity became widely available, it still took about another three decades for industrialists to fully rethink their factories, business models, and organizational structures to take advantage.
Similarly, the social impacts of many of today’s emerging technologies are likely to take several decades to shake out – from self-driving cars to healthcare to manufacturing to financial services. In many industries, we are now at a leverage point in rethinking how we do things. The choices we make now will, in a very literal sense, shape the future.
So I want to encourage everyone reading this post to think about the kind of world you want technology to create. Realize that your vision won’t happen automatically. What can you do? Why not join us in creating widely shared prosperity? Perhaps get involved with the next round of the Inclusive Innovation Challenge. Or define your own personal grand challenge.