SAN FRANCISCO — The pressing issue of modern technology's negative impact on jobs was largely ignored during the 2016 presidential election, according to California's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who spoke this week at the Code Enterprise conference. Today's society has deficiencies in education and regulation, and it lacks the collective mindset necessary to transform tech challenges into opportunities, Newsom said.
The roles large technology companies play in eliminating jobs, and the responsibilities they should bear to fight this problem, are rarely discussed. However, senior executives at Google and LinkedIn addressed the issue on stage at Code Enterprise, telling the audience of business leaders that it is paramount for tech titans to minimize job losses by creating new opportunities.
Tech expected to kill 5 million jobs by 2020
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner cited stats from the World Economic Forum that put the impact of technology on 15 of the world's largest economies into perspective. For example, 5 million net jobs will be eliminated by AI, machine learning and robotics by 2020, Weiner said. "There is going to be increasing displacement of workers," and it is important for LinkedIn and others to think about the people who are being pushed out of jobs, he said. "I think it is incumbent on all of us in the Valley, anyone responsible for technology, to think about the unintended consequences of what we're doing."
LinkedIn is one of few technology giants that is closely tuned in to the job market — it knows where there is demand and the specific skills required to fill those positions. "There are plenty of what are called 'middle-skilled jobs,'" or jobs that may require vocational training or certificates but not a full college degree, Weiner said.
Technology companies need to help train people for jobs that will exist in the future, according to Weiner, because today there is a significant skills gap.
Google says future jobs will require digital literacy
Google also knows it has some responsibility to help guide people through these difficult transitions, according to Diane Greene, a Google senior vice president and board member. "It's definitely disruptive," she said at Code Enterprise. "I think it's really incumbent on us to get the education out there so everybody is digitally literate. If you're digitally literate, you're going to have jobs."
Google also aims to alleviate some of the negative impact of technology by getting more Chromebooks into schools in low-income neighborhoods and ensuring they have internet access, according to Greene. "It's not a trivial problem, we all have to work on ways to bring jobs to people," Greene said.
Greene balked when she was asked about "the singularity," or the point at which machine learning will exceed the capabilities of the human brain, a hypothesis theorized by Ray Kurzweil in the 2006 book by the same name. "There is a lot that machine learning doesn't do that humans can do really well," she said. "Nobody expected some of the advances we are seeing as quickly as we see them," but Greene doesn't foresee a singularity during her lifetime.
"When you see problems, the reason you become hopeful is you want to believe there's something you can do about it and you work on it," Greene said. "You have no choice but to figure out how you can do your part and, if you have some powerful technology, how can you use it to do what you believe will make things better."