By Paula Klein
We live in extremely paradoxical and contradictory times. Economics and technology are no exceptions. “Digital progress makes the economic pie bigger, but there’s no economic law that everyone, or even most people, will benefit,” said Erik Brynjolfsson (pictured, above), Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), at a summit on April 27.
Moreover, while the pace of AI and machine learning –including robotics, image, and speech recognition– accelerates exponentially, skills, education and organizations are lagging. How do we unravel these contradictions and bridge the gaps?
Many economists, executives, and technologists see prediction models, mobile apps, and data analytics algorithms poised to improve healthcare, banking services, and even agriculture. For others, the tools create more problems than solutions, breaching privacy and displacing workers. All of these considerations were examined during a day of absorbing conversations, panels, and debates at The Future of Work: Capital Markets, Digital Assets, and the Disruption of Labor conference, held in New York. The event attracted more than 350 attendees, and offered diverse perspectives among experts from the financial, tech, academic, and business worlds.
Hilary Mason, General Manager, Machine Learning, at Cloudera, and Claudia Perlich, a Senior Data Scientist at Two Sigma, spoke of correcting biases –both human and machine—infiltrating technology tools, as did author and data scientist, Cathy O’Neil. One solution, the human resource platform, Blendoor, was created to eliminate algorithm-bias in hiring, said CEO Stephanie Lampkin.
In the financial sector, Adena Friedman, President and CEO of Nasdaq, and Brian Moynihan, Chairman and CEO, Bank of America, addressed the need for better privacy protections, the promise and perils of cryptocurrencies, and AI-driven applications that can ensure accessible consumer services. Their firms are racing ahead to keep pace. Bof A is building its own leading-edge speech-recognition app, while Nasdaq is closely watching Blockchain developments.
One common theme was clear: Disruption is apparent everywhere. Workers in all fields must be more like rock climbers than ladder-climbers, as they navigate today’s circuitous career paths, according to Lavea Brachman, VP at Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. She is optimistic that some regions of the country, like Detroit, will find new opportunities for growth and technology jobs as old labor models are upended. Social media, meanwhile, is caught up in a web of false news, as Professor Sinan Aral explained, and just about everyone blames education for failing to train tomorrow’s workers.
Summarizing the mixed messages of the day, IDE Co-director, Andrew McAfee, noted that despite many anxieties, global innovators—like those in the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge—are rising to the challenge: Using technology to provide greater benefits and access to the digital economy. Events like this one, he said, remind us that while tech advances will continue, it’s up to society to determine how they’re harnessed and used.