This is the talk I gave January 12, 2017 at the G20/OECD Conference on the Digital Future in Berlin. I talk about fitness landscapes as applied to technology and business, the role of unchecked financialization in the state of our politics and economy, and why technology really wants to create jobs, not destroy them. (There is a separate PDF version, but some readers said the notes were too fuzzy to read.)
It isn’t technology that wants
to eliminate jobs “Technology is the solution to human problems. We won’t run out of work till we run out of problems.” Nick Hanauer
Some global grand challenges technology
can help us to solve • Climate change. • Rebuilding and rethinking the infrastructure by which we deliver water, power, goods, and services like healthcare. • Dealing with the “demographic inversion” — the lengthening lifespans of the old and the smaller number of young workers to pay into the social systems that support them. • Income inequality. • Displaced people. How could we use technology to create the infrastructure for whole new cities, factories, and farms, so people could be settlers, not refugees?
The use of automation by
business to reduce labor costs and increase profits is a social and political choice, not an economic law!
Fitness Landscapes The way in
which genes contribute to the survival of an organism can be viewed as a landscape of peaks and valleys. Through a series of experiments, organisms evolve towards fitness peaks, adapted to a particular environment, or they die out. Image source: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/side_0_0/complexnovelties_02
Fitness landscapes are dynamic When
conditions are stable, a population chooses one fitness peak and stays there. But when conditions change rapidly, populations must migrate to a new fitness peak.
Local Maxima Once you are
on a peak, it’s hard to get to another one, even if it’s higher. You have to go back down. It may be easier to get to the top if you are already starting from a valley floor.
Technology also has a fitness
landscape In my career, I’ve watched a number of migrations to new peaks, and I’d like to share with you some observations about what happened, and why. And then we’ll talk about some lessons for digitalization of the overall economy. Personal Computer Big Data and AI Smartphones Apple
What is the result? Voters
are moving away from the fitness peak of the neoliberal consensus. We don’t know yet where that new fitness peak will be, but the migration is telling us loud and clear that the economy needs some fresh thinking.
Users post 7 billion pieces
of content to Facebook a day. Expecting human fact checkers to catch fake news is like asking workers to build a modern city with only picks and shovels. At internet scale, we now rely increasingly on algorithms to manage what we see and believe.
Every day, they are inspecting
the performance of their workers and giving them instruction (in the form of code) about how to do a better job In digital systems, the workers are programs, and software engineers are their managers
“This isn’t just how we
should be developing software. It’s how we should be developing policy.” Cecilia Muñoz, Director, White House Domestic Policy Council