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Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg on the Future of Jobs

Interesting thoughts from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg in an article in Marketwatch:

Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates built billion-dollar technology companies in two very different areas, but they both agree on the biggest threats to American jobs.

At his Harvard University commencement speech on Thursday, Facebook chief executive Zuckerberg,  had some tough words for the Class of 2017. “Our generation will have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks, ” he said, adding, “When our parents graduated, purpose reliably came from your job, your church, your community, . But today, technology and automation are eliminating many jobs. Membership in communities is declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void.”

Gates, the founder of Microsoft  earlier this month, sounded the same warning. Gates said he didn’t want to sound like the guy from “The Graduate, ” which celebrates 50 years this year. In that movie, old Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) was given this very famous piece of advice: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word …Plastics, ” And today? That word would likely be “robots.” Gates took his 34.8 million Twitter followers by the virtual shoulder and said “artificial intelligence” would have a huge impact. In other words, why not join the revolution? After all, that’s exactly what Zuckerberg and Gates did with social media and computer software.

But that’s not the only response to the robot revolution. Last February,  Gates also told Quartz that robots should free up labor “and give graduates an opportunity to focus on jobs that only let us do a better job of reaching out to the elderly, having smaller class sizes, helping kids with special needs. You know, all of those are things where human empathy and understanding are still very, very unique.” Gates said there is a counter-intuitive way of approaching the rise of robots. “So if you can take the labor that used to do the thing automation replaces …then you’re net ahead.”

Zuckerberg too spoke about finding meaningful jobs and purpose in this new automated economy. “Class of 2017, you are graduating into a world that needs purpose. It’s up to you to create it, ” he said, adding, “Taking on big meaningful projects is the first thing we can do to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. The second is redefining equality to give everyone the freedom they need to pursue purpose. Many of our parents had stable jobs throughout their careers.” Today’s graduates, he said, will need to carve their own path, but have the freedom to fail and to try again.

They’re not wrong: Robots are expected to create 15 million new jobs in the U.S. over the next 10 years, as a direct result of automation and artificial intelligence, equivalent to 10% of the workforce,  a recent report by Forrester Research found. The downside: robotics will also kill 25 million jobs over the same period. So in one way Gates is correct. Artificial intelligence and automation is an area undergoing a seismic shift, just like computers did in the 1980s and plastics did 30 years before that, and how people around the world changed how the communicate and share information about themselves (and, yes, data about themselves) 10 years ago.

And what field will be hot 50 years from now? Some 65% of Americans expect that within 50 years robots and computers will “definitely” or “probably” do much of the work currently done by humans,  according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. Some 38% of jobs in the U.S. are at “high risk” of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years, a separate estimate by consulting and accounting firm PwC found, which is still lower than Germany (35%) and the U.K. (30%).

Author: Yuri Punj

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