WORLD INTERNET CONFERENCE, WUZHEN, CHINA: Panellists called for efforts to reform educational systems and retrain workers to mitigate the impact of automation, but also pointed to the digital economy as a positive force to reduce inequality.
Nicholas Rosellini, UN Development Programme Resident Representative (pictured, far left), noted solving global issues goes far beyond technology companies: “If we look at some of the societal issues impacting the workforce, incomes and the distribution of capital, we need to look at reforming the educational system, lifetime learning and perhaps the idea of a universal basic income.”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured, second from right) agreed technology is just one part of what is required to drive balanced growth, stating education reform is needed, in particular digital training: “Unlike in the past when people learned something they could use for the rest of their lives, most people now need to be retrained through the course of their lives.”
Amid talk of how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will change the nature of jobs, Pichai said it is important to understand new jobs will be created and employers must learn how to adapt.
“What we can do is democratise development, make sure governments and institutions are retraining people, and explore new models. When the industrial revolution happened, society learned how to adapt.”
Joshua Cooper Ramo, vice chairman and co-CEO of consultancy Kissinger Associates (pictured, centre), said while AI and automation are creating a mass employment problem which needs to be addressed, he also sees an interesting challenge in how we train future executives, scientists and leaders who manage AI systems as they become ever more important to our lives.
He explained humans increasingly won’t be able to understand how AI systems were produced because of black boxing, where the computations of certain algorithms are hidden.
Worth the pain
Rosellini pointed to the many positives the digital economy, AI and robotics bring including lowering the cost of delivering healthcare and education, and improving the quality of both.
He cited the example of how e-commerce is being spread to remote communities in China to promote business and reduce inequality: “But we also have to look at the lesson of globalisation, where on aggregate the world benefitted in terms of technology being a driver for lifting people out of poverty, but we also failed to consider properly those who lost out.”
Rosellini explained new technology will have a positive influence on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, but certain actions must be taken and a lot of forward planning performed to ensure the risks are mitigated.
Pichai believes we’re at the stage where technology is creating opportunities on a global scale and driving international e-commerce and cooperation: “It’s a big trend that is almost irreversible.”