They cannot be discussed separately as together they will shape our future.
We have been moving fast to be predominantly connected information societies across the globe. Just for clarity, an Information Society is a society in which the creation, distribution, and manipulation of information have become the most significant economic and cultural activity, and other ones as agriculture and industrialization became less relevant overall.
POWER UP YOUR BRAINS
We are also living a steep acceleration of new technologies development both regarding the breadth of innovation and depth of changes in information distribution, forcing us to adapt to new levels of productivity and online presence. That is the case of the "big data" and cloud-based solutions enabling virtual assistants, on-demand streaming, real-time collaboration, virtual meetings, traffic information exchange and much more. The pace is breath-taking if you consider that ten years ago there was no iPhone or cars equipped with GPS. That five years ago, virtual assistants, drones, cloud base software, Artificial Intelligence were limited to labs and hacking could not stop the entire electrical power grid throwing us to Armageddon. The signals are that the acceleration will just continue to grow. To a point, where the human brain will not be enough to follow and adapt. At that point, for us to be economically productive, we will have to leverage our virtual assistants powered by artificial intelligence to amplify our cognitive capacity, our data processing capacity and contextualization, and to point us to the better direction through power analytics. Computers will not only drive our cars but will shape our agenda, decision making and even behaviors. All that is not science fiction anymore, but pure linear projection.
SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE
I am a big believer that technology comes to help us have a better life overall, with more convenience and wealth to be distributed. But every historical big technology wave, known as Industrial Revolutions, came with a lot of pain for societies embedded in their nature - disruption. That means ordinary people lose their businesses or jobs and must be re-equipped to a new system usually through higher education and specialization. What is unique about the current fourth industrial revolution we are going through is the time we are giving people to adapt. The previous three industrial revolutions allowed people to be re-skilled over many decades. In our present one, we will have less than twenty years to adjust - what is not enough, and we are living on the brink of promoting the most profound social inequality of our recent history. The effect of that process could be devastating to our economy and hundreds of millions of people.
Here is the evidence of the path we are paving to ourselves. First, the economy has been growing, but wages are not at a decent pace. The disconnection might be explained by at least one simple fact - middle-class jobs have been steadily eliminated, and the new jobs available do not pay as well as the ones removed. Look at the data in this study. People are starting to be left out by new technologies, and they rarely can be practically re-skilled in time. Check what is beginning to happen on the west coast with the unprecedented growth of the homeless population. Those trends are real, and they will not get better without profound changes in our approach. We are not talking about few coal-related jobs anymore but millions and millions of office jobs being eliminated in few years among others. Our middle class is in jeopardy, and social inequality is on the rise. How long our social fabric can hold until it starts to tear apart?
GOOD AND BAD OF BUSINESS CONCENTRATION
Those trends are especially concerning vis-a-vis the contributions new tech and the tax reform in Congress can bring to the problem. If we do not look at the full picture we might end-up just accelerating the economic gap of our population, throwing more and more people under the poverty line and losing ground to some of the more developed economies in Europe and Asia.
The current fundamental question is how much concentration and autonomy should we allow tech corporations to have. Remember we are moving into an information society, and big tech companies are currently more significant than some countries, reaching market caps of over one trillion dollars. Denmark, for example, has appointed an ambassador to Silicon Valley given its higher impact on their nation.
Big companies bring bigger profits, given lower competition. Those gains might foster more and faster innovation, but at the same time contribute to higher income concentrations as they tend to eliminate jobs in every merger or acquisition and pay dividends predominantly to affluent investors. Concomitantly, big corporations can spend more on lobby to influence our legislators to rule in favor of their causes.
That seems to be the case of Net Neutrality vote this week. FCC has been ignoring the constant scream in favor of net neutrality, ruling in favor of the big Network companies. Todd Achilles clear explain in this article the effects of competition void in the industry. Now big corporations like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast can rule out small and medium businesses competitor's content, as they do not have deep pockets to pay for fast lanes and traffic tolls on the internet. The result is more concentration, less competition, more inequality. It is understandable that businesses must protect their interests and grow. And they will do that as their priority. Comcast, for example, has removed in no time their pledge in favor of Net Neutrality from their website just before the vote in FCC - shameful. That also tells us that the ethics discussion will tend to be less critical than profit potential and that Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman argument is no sense. Companies will rule our access to information the same way the Chinese Government controls it in China, just a different power ruler.
That is the case of the tax reform. By taxing the top 1% and the big corporations less, it will bring more income concentration and more social inequality to this already debilitated society. The bet that middle-class taxes will help to hold the deficit back is also not plausible given middle-class jobs have been eliminated faster than others. A rising debt will keep struggling our school system and lowering the quality of education to the clear majority of our kids, compromising their future. Higher and better education is the only way to move stronger through this new industrial revolution. It seems our legislators are tied to old paradigms, not understanding that jobs will be primarily virtual and mobile, and companies will employ better-prepared people in any country - there will be every time fewer borders for new jobs.
That will be the case of AI if we do not act fast. AI will create new jobs in the future, but there will be faster elimination first. Every WEF (world economic forum) study shows that. Today three companies concentrate AI development- Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, and there is no government agency overlooking its development and intermediating a healthy discussion with critical social groups. We need to bring everyone to their senses and answer how we can discuss ethics without slowing AI development. Check Oren Etzioni OP-ED in the NYT. It is time to understand AI social impact and implement the solutions to make our lives better, and not worse.
The FCC decision on net neutrality, the lack of action on AI and the tax reform direction in Congress tell us that social inequality will keep growing, wages not and the benefits of the economic expansion will be perceived only by the top 1% bracket of the population. The US will lose competitiveness as our kids are not adequately educated. Time to call our legislators and demand a different approach. Time to choose the companies you do business with and from whom you buy services. Time to invest in new businesses and new solutions to help create a better future. Join us at collectivebrains.