Three Challenges for the Next Economy

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There are three topics that should be discussed as we forge the next economy: the Autonomous World, Silicon Valley feudalism, and ensuring human safety from advanced robots.

For the second year, I’ll be at Tim O’Reilly’s Next:Economy Conference in San Francisco on Oct. 10–11, which brings technology, the economy, and forward-thinking industry leaders together under one roof. These events set the tone for the impacts of technology on businesses, governments, societies, and global economies.

I see three red-hot challenges for the Next:Economy:

The Autonomous World. What role do humans play when robots do jobs better? This topic, which was discussed at the last Next:Economy, was a major theme –yet we’re nowhere near from settling it. Did you know the White House predicts that 83% of workers who make less than $20 an hour are likely to be replaced by robots? And it’s about a one-third replacement rate for those who make $21 to $40 an hour.  We need continued dialog about solutions, including a combination of: upskilling, which will likely never catch up to robots because they will learn faster than humans ever can; and universal basic income or a guaranteed wage for all humans to offset the robots that will increase productivity and replace human jobs.

Is Silicon Valley creating global feudalism models? Economically, is this the best way forward? This topic, which I’ve tackled a few times in my own keynotes, is in response to the fact that Silicon Valley startups are owned by the 1% elite — who then create platforms for the rest of society to use. Who are these 1%? Are they benevolent dictators? Early risk-takers? Deserving capitalists? Folks who just got lucky? They’re likely a combination of all of the above, but the reality is that they’re becoming the most powerful group on the planet. For example, Mark Zuckerberg could, on a whim, place his thumb on the Facebook newsfeed and fill it with content and stories that veer to either the Left or Right points of view. Elon Musk has already developed powerful space programs that are starting to challenge public sector aerospace and are innovating quickly for future world exploration and transportation. These powerful entrepreneurs not only own and control the data and technology we use daily, but they are also able to fund the nonprofits of their choosing through incredible wealth that sometimes outmatches public sector spending.

To protect the human economy, should we have an “off” switch for computer intelligence? How do we influence, manage, or even control advanced robotics and artificial intelligence systems that will eventually become superior to human intellect? Should there be a standards board, a set of legislation, or even a security force that manages robots? Beyond the fears of most dystopian science fiction films, what can we do now to set the groundwork before these technologies are self-sufficient without human support. For example, scientists seek to create a system of checks and balances for advanced robots that ensure humans have fail safes, power-offs, and other security measures that could provide forms of safety. Today, technology is dependent on humans to be created, managed, and supported. Tomorrow, a new level of co-dependency will evolve. On the day after, advanced technology may be independent of human support — will we be ready for this future?

So there you have it: three distinct topics that are set to reshape the economy of the future. You can see the themes of technology overtaking human jobs, those who own these technologies, and ensuring we have balance points for safety. All these and other pressing issues will demand our top insights and ingenuity in order to prepare us all for the next phases of technology, business, government, society, and the economy.

 (photo by Pexels)