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A Conversation with Marc Andreessen By @BobGourley | @ThingsExpo #IoT

AI, Robotics, Jobs and Accelerating the Future

If you are an enterprise technologist or if you love thinking about the incredible future we can build for ourselves you no doubt already track the very interesting Marc Andreessen. His open sharing of views and context via his blog, on YouTube and his Twitter Feed are a great source of information for those seeking insights into the emerging tech scene and we recommend following him there for continuous context.

We had an opportunity to ask Marc for some clarifying thoughts on his views and present them in this two-part series. This first post is on AI, Robotics and the Future, the second dives into education, training and some concepts that may help us think through future uses of technology in our lives. A second post in this series will dive into some of the implications of future trends on education, training and our home lives.

Gourley: Marc can you provide any context that can help enterprise technologists think through the potential of disruptions to the workforce that come from advances in technology?

Andreessen: Disruptions like those of the last 300 years will certainly continue and they will continue to bring better, higher quality jobs.

Gourley: But there are those that say AI and Robotics and software that eats the world will destroy jobs.

Andreessen: There have always been those that say that and they have been proven wrong so consistently there are names for their specious thinking. In economic theory this is known as the “Lump of Labor Fallacy” which contends that the amount of work is a fixed sum. This is also at times called the “Luddite Fallacy” to draw attention to the early views of technology haters who thought that there would just be a limited amount of work and automating any of it would put the humans out of a job. Whatever you call this fallacy it has been debunked by real world observation. Technology produces jobs rather than destroying them, and it produces better, safer jobs and generates rising incomes.

Simply put, by applying technology to areas that have not had it before you get more output for the same input. This is the reason you do it, this results in industry that does more with less and generate more value by doing so. That value contributes to the overall economy. The efficiencies also builds new wealth and creates new markets for products and services and new businesses. In short, if you are concerned about job growth you should want more technology, not less.

There is plenty of evidence that underscores this, including the employment cycle we are going through right now. When unemployment was rising after 2008 the proponents of the Luddite Fallacy popped up again but innovation continued, and fortunately the results are clear. Job growth has been strong and positive. There are more new jobs in both the U.S. and globally than ever before.

Gourley: But there has been disruption, right? And all indications are that technology led change will continue to impact every industry and all levels of government.

Andreessen: If the past is any guide yes it continues and all indications are it accelerates.

Gourley: So what do we do to better prepare ourselves, especially our youth, for this change? Are there impacts on education?

Andreessen: This is a key question and one we don’t spend enough time on. To explore it I think we should first look at the premium that the world puts on education and training. The world is getting more and more connected and with that connectivity more of us can take advantage of great opportunities for advancement. But most opportunities will come to those with technical skills. The greatest pain and disruption will come to those who earn a living with unskilled labor. So clearly the positive approach to enhancing opportunities for more is through better, more ubiquitous education and skills training.

The global move is towards unskilled labor going away. This is another 300 year trend that is expected to continue and even accelerate. In farming, for example, the introduction of tractors meant less labor was required for plowing fields and many of those unskilled jobs were eliminated. Today in every industry there are unskilled jobs that will be increasingly downsized so those people who can only survive by unskilled labor will find that their hard lifestyle gets harder. Education and training can help those who currently do unskilled labor and is an absolute must for our youth.

Gourley: I have seen videos of mines, the largest mines in the world, operating with no miners, and that is a disruption, but it is hard to argue that society would want to keep sending people underground in this dangerous work. Is this what you mean?

Andreessen: Coal and other mining are on their way out for labor. The industry will become more efficient and productive by software and machine automation. Expect more skilled labor, designers, engineers, operators, analysts, but much less of the unskilled workforce. All of us should sympathize with those unskilled laborers who lose work because of this, but you are right that society should not be subjecting people to mining. It is unacceptable and years from now people will look back on us and wonder why we could ever consider not replacing those jobs as fast as we can. It is true we need to put thought into this disruption and create new things for people to do, but this will only work if we pay enough attention to education and training.

The second installment of this series will focus more on education, training and what to do to accelerate positive change. Get an early look by signing up for our newsletter, the CTOvision Daily.

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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com