The role of technology companies has arguably never been as important as it is in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. election. During this time of hyper-partisanship and misinformation, the role technology companies play in the creation, dissemination and distribution of information is unlike any other. And with race, inclusion and diversity at the top of the priority list this election cycle—and in the world at large—how AI and algorithms affect our view of reality is key.
Edelman’s Anna Sekaran, head of Tech, East, hosted an event on how technology’s next age of disruption can expect to play out in the coming few months. Here’s what we learned.
Automation replaces tasks, not necessarily jobs. The big consequence of increased automation means that people will see jobs changed and displaced. But where this happens is key. For Marcus Casey, a nonresident fellow at The Brookings Institution, this happens to people already at the low end of the wage scale. That means that both public and private sectors need to ready themselves for a massive upheaval and figure out their strategies moving forward.
Possible solutions: Those most vulnerable aren’t going to enjoy the benefits of this increased productivity afforded to them by increased automation. For corporations, the priorities will be to:
- Get the people highest at-risk reskilled—and private companies who are adopting automation will have to do this immediately
- The government will need to step in to help subsidize this massive retraining
- The education curricula will need to also be changed so people aren’t left behind when they do enter the workforce—and retaining should start at that level as well
- Figuring out who within your company is likeliest to be affected by this and then pre-empting that with retraining is key
The bottom line: This will need a robust and well thought out public-private partnership. The keyword here is social insurance—and corporations have to step in to do their part.
Sidebar: AI isn’t stealing people’s jobs—that’s overly simplistic. The evolution of technology has always meant changes and there’s always a fear that jobs will disappear. Instead, focus on the acceleration of technological change, which will change people’s lives faster than, say, the automobile replacing the horse and carriage did.
Tech’s responsibility to diversity and inclusion is growing. Diversity is good for business. That’s a known fact. But when it comes to AI, AI is a “function of what it’s taught,” said Harvey Anderson, general counsel, HP. “It learns what you teach it and it learns what you don’t teach it.” So, the implications of giving AI limited data or data with implicit bias has real-world implications on the business.
Quotable: “What are the social consequences of how you implement your business? That’s a whole new frontier,” said Anderson.
Technology is now a nationalist game. Sean Hather, svp, international regulatory affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued that tech nationalism is on the rise. Here’s why:
- Call it Silicon Valley envy. The policy prescription that enables Silicon Valley to rise is the envy of other tech hubs, domestic and international
- The pandemic itself has accelerated 10 years—or more—of technology adoption in a brief six months, which has meant the government needs to be appreciative of and have command of technology like never before
- The rise of China has meant everyone may want to do business with China—but they also recognize the need to make tradeoffs if they want to
- There is more of an interface between national security and technology and how to evaluate inbound investment in companies—and its impact, if any, on national security
For corporations, solutions vary. Some choose to get local, as Microsoft’s announcements of making investments in Europe—specifically Greece—to build locally. Others choose to simply hold on and hope this passes by before they get caught up in it. And thirdly, people choose to get creative by creating new levels of data security and privacy and standard clauses to ensure everyone is on a level playing field.
Zooming out: Trump has “upended that world order” of the old American laissez-faire approach with the would-be TikTok or WeChat bans. “While we may not approach digital authoritarianism here in the U.S., there is an increasingly protectionist vibe at play,” said Axios tech editor Kyle Daly. And regardless of the election outcome here, a “Balkanization and nationalism” in tech will continue to play out with other world leaders remaining where they are.
Remember the election? “Either a Biden administration or a second Trump term won’t change these trend lines,” said Heather. Instead, Congress’ makeup may have more effect on this than anything else. While disruptions around automation and others are talked about, nobody seems to have a clear policy framework or understanding of the infrastructure needed to address it—not from the Trump administration nor from a potential Biden presidency. This means that despite the specter of millions of people being displaced out of their jobs, there is no major voice figuring this out. And within the context of Covid-19, there’s a bigger job crisis at play right now.
What else is up in the air:
- The likelihood of a federal privacy law does increase after the election, especially after California’s CCPA goes live. The concern now is a confusing patchwork of 50 different laws for 50 different states.
- The next stage of conversation around data governance moves out of this “privacy” lane and more about how companies choose to access data and share that between them.
- This now gets new importance as data becomes “weaponized,” as Anderson puts it. That means regimes are now requiring that you keep your data and manage data flows and transfers out of your country—that now becomes less a matter of tech policy and more one of nationalism.
We’ll leave you with this: The Pax Americana world we grew up in is no longer what the next decades will look like. Both the public and private sectors are now planning for a far more complicated future, one more influenced by China than ever before.