Human Dignity and Social Status

Peter Drucker talked about this in “Concept of the Corporation.”

“It is perhaps the biggest job of the modern corporation — to find a synthesis between justice and dignity, between equality of opportunities and social status and function.”

One of the thesis discussed by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in their books was the hollowing out of the middle class primarily because the jobs and careers have been immensely transformed by technology.

What is technology doing to us? Perhaps that is the wrong question to ask. Technology is just a tool. People can use tools for both constructive purposes or un-constructive outcomes.

Is it possible to improve the situation? Leaving machine and AI progress unchecked, we might approach a situation where prosperity (wealth and power) will be reaped by just the precious few, while everyone else endures the hardship.

Some might say this is just natural selection at work. Survival of the fittest.

Many of us in my age group was brought up to be good corporate citizens, to contribute, and to grow with the organizations. In turn, the organization will share the success and prosperity with its employees.

I am not sure that is how the system works anymore. There are still some companies operating with that philosophy, but most organizations treat their people just as a line item in the budget spreadsheet.

I am in the camp of McAfee and Brynjolfsson where we, as a society, need to make some hard choices so the prosperity can be shared. With the participation of its citizens, the policy makers can do more in the areas of education reform, infrastructure investment, flexible immigration, and basic research.

Furthermore, I agree with Drucker… Provide dignity to everyone you work with simply because they are human beings.

Creating Our Digital World

Watched this informative video “Creating Our Digital World with Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee” on YouTube and produced by The Commonwealth Club of California.

The discussion over a bit over an hour long, but there were a few key points that I took away from the initial viewing.

  1. The world is undergoing three major digital trends: from “Mind” to “Machine,” from “Product” to “Platform,” and from “Core” to “Crowd.”
  2. What will technology do to us? It is important not lose sight of the fact that technologies have made us a more prosperous world overall. However, a challenge we should be cognizant of is that the wealth generated by technologies might not be fairly or equitably distributed.
  3. Human minds are biased and glitchy. Instead of worrying about the machines taking over the minds, leverage machines to support the human to make better decisions.
  4. Companies with large market share are not necessarily wrong or evil. Concentrated power deserves vigilance. We should act if the concentration of the power leads to consumer harm and stifling of innovation.
  5. The American middle-class has been left to its own device. Shared prosperity can still come from major policy choices we will be making on education reform, infrastructure investment, flexible immigration, and basic research.
  6. Work is meaning for many people. We should do everything we can to identify the new kind of work and retrain people to get into those work. The society should provide avenues that encourage people to change and to thrive in the new environment, rather than just living in the past.

News media and pundits love to discuss the pending doom that technologies and AI are about to bring onto the society. Instead of worrying about or resisting the coming changes that will happen regardless, how about we channel the AI energy to create positive societal changes for everyone?

Machine, Platform, Crowd

Some important lessons I learned by watching “Business Success in the Second Machine Age” by Andrew McAfee.

  • Drivers of the technology surge we are seeing today
    • A little new science – most advances have been built on top of theories or techniques that have been around for years
    • Rapid advance in computing power
    • Explosion of data volume and availability
    • A democratization of knowledge, digital power (cloud), innovation, etc.
  • Key characteristics of the organizations who become the disruptors of this second machine age:
    • Evidence-driven
    • Outward-looking
    • Platform operators, with
    • Geeky leadership
  • On decision-making, many organizations today still rely on the HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person Opinion). In the second machine age, the geeks are gaining ground, and the HiPPOs are in disadvantage.
  • The disruptors are outward-looking by seeking out help from the crowd to augment their core.
  • The disruptors build platforms (or digital environments) that allow others to connect and to collaborate.
  • The “geeky-leadership” are bold, rational, iterative, transparent, and experimental.
  • Can you turn the HiPPOs into a more evidence-driven species? Tell compelling stories, back them up with data, apply the human treatment and bring people along.
  • How do you change the culture in an organization, via quick-win or broader shift? The approach will likely require both quick-wins and larger movements. Most importantly, the cultural transformation must come from the senior leadership of the organization.

Solving Interesting Problems

Some points I learned from watching “EAC Panel on AI and Jobs” on YouTube.

  • The trend of hollowing of the “middle paying” jobs is real. One prominent example is the manufacturing sector where output has been increasing while employment has been decreasing.
  • American middle class has been built largely on repetitive work, either physically or cognitively.
  • The primary contributing factor for the divergence of the manufacturing output and employment trends is computerization/automation.
  • Labor force flexibility + economic growth + “downward mobility” generally has mitigated mass unemployment to some degree
  • Computers, robots, artificial intelligence are powerful tools that will make us wealthier and more productive. The challenge right now is how to equitably distribute the wealth generated by the tools.
  • Higher productivity from the use of technology and automation can have a significant impact on human activities. Human beings are hard-wired to want to be productive. As we automate more, we need to figure out how human beings can spend their time productively.
  • We have very little basic economic research on the nature-of-work or future-of-job topic. We need to do more in order to understand the ramifications better.
  • We have developed an interesting working relationship with automation. When the automation develops a bug, we carefully troubleshoot and spend the time to upgrade/improve the machine. When people develop “a bug,” we simply fire the people.
  • In addition to economic growth, we also need to think about maintaining the safety net for the people in society. Right now much of our safety nets (insurance and retirement benefits) are way too tied to whether we are having a classic industrial era job.
  • We have a poor revenue model for investing in infrastructure initiatives. Infrastructure improvements can promote economic growth, and economic growth solves a host of problems we are facing.

Finally,

  • There are many complex phenomena going on that impact the labor picture, and it is simply not prudent to try to explain all these undercurrents with just one simple cause-and-effect relationship.
  • As a society, we have no shortage of work to be done for the benefit of all people. We are also wealthy enough to be able to tackle many of the work that needs to be done. We need to work with each other more than ever to solve many of these interesting, and impactful, problems together.
  • Don’t stop innovating!