Reflecting on the views of Larry Summers, Bill Gates and Basic Living Income.

In a recent opinion article in Washington Post article titled “Picking on robots won’t deal with job destruction“, Mr. Larry Summers argues against the tax on robots proposed by Mr. Bill Gates as a away to counter the effect of Robots on unemployment and declining wages.

There is half truth in these opinions of both these eminent leaders! We need an approach that combines them. Here are some suggestions:

The role of IT (Digital technology in general) has been to replace human centered activities through information and physical labor by “machines” that can standardize information processing (Microsoft products!) and their applications. Hence machines can read, write, compute, analyze and make decisions as well as move objects locally (Robots) or over distances (Drones), etc. This leaves only low wage jobs – REPLICATION SOLUTIONS – that are standardized and de-skilled. Only these jobs have been growing and hence the noted low unemployment without wage growth in the recent years.…
These Replication Solutions leads to a large no.of jobs that need no skills and hence no education in many cases. These are also the jobs that can be automated, outsourced and de-localized. The large majority of manufacturing jobs that have been lost – and which are not coming back – belong to this category.

This new economy also leaves room for a small no. of jobs – which every one is clamoring for – with better wages, where new skills to conceive, develop and deploy NEW SOLUTIONS.

This is the BINARY ECONOMY that has been evolving across the globe for the past four decades.

The few jobs that require a constant stream of New Solutions need “major reforms of education and retraining systems” as suggested by Mr. Summers. We need to recognize this much needed education as a combination of academic education, hands on training and formalized education/training on System Thinking and Transformational Skills. 

Mr. Summer’s proposal for better education, etc. are part of the set of well known solutions. Proposals by Mr. Sanders for free college tuition for all gained traction during the recent POTUS election. But, Mr. Sanders or his campaign never addressed the question of creating more new jobs to employ all the new graduates (albeit without student loans). Proposals by Secretary Clinton were modest and more in terms of promoting vocational education and hands on training in addition to free tuition at public colleges. But this would have been like staying afloat in the current stream with out creating new jobs in massive numbers needed to offset the effect of DT, IT, AI, Robots and Drones.

Republicans have advanced promises of massive infrastructure spending, “bringing back mfg. jobs” by renegotiating trade treaties and accelerated GDP growth through massive tax cuts mostly for the businesses and the rich. U.S. voters have signed up for these policies for a minimum of two years if not four years. Promises like these are based on the assumption that jobs have been merely displaced outside the country and are readily available to be brought back. This assumption seems counter to the realities of the Binary Economy outlined above and the constant and progressive role of DT, IT, AI, Robots and Drones to deplete the human centered jobs.

We need job creation at a rate much faster than they are depleted. Also what happens when you are well educated and trained and you don’t have jobs since, AI, IT and Robots and drones have taken away most jobsda that humans can do?  Higher and better education may not be all the answer we need as proposed by Mr. Summers.

Also how do you create more no. of well paying jobs and how to fund them are the unanswered questions? You can not create more jobs by simply making existing jobs more efficient and productive through IT and Robots — this has been the case for the past four decades – with what is left leading to large no. of low wage deskilled worker needs.

We need to create  more jobs for humans than we deplete through AI, IT, Robots and Drones. These jobs can come if America as a global leader thinks “World and humanity’s needs and opportunities are U.S. Opportunities”.

New Jobs with good wages will come only when we invest massively to solve existing problems of the humanity and new opportunities for human kind looking across the globe. We need to think beyond looking at Manufacturing as the job creation engine.…  This requires few clear objectives:

  • Recognize that Technology is not “IT” alone as perceived in common language today. Instead TECHNOLOGY is the exploitation of SCIENCE, ENGINEERING and MANAGEMENT in all areas of studies and exploration.
  • Relentlessly foster all sciences and their technologies that can create NEW SOLUTIONS that meet the unmet needs of humanity and creating new ways for betterment of humanity across the globe.
  • Focus away from the use of IT and AI technologies  solely on eliminating human centered efforts and more towards creating new opportunities for human endeavor (work or jobs).

But this will require large investments. Such investments have to come from Government initiatives – such as the NASA program to put the man on the moon.  Suggestions that such massive investments for new explorations have to be driven by private sector seems flawed based on our experience over the past four decades. Private sector and investors have the singular goal to maximize their returns while minimizing the risk in that process. This invariably drives the focus towards “Replication Solutions” of the known rather than exploration of the unknown to conceive and create “New Solutions”.

Where will the money come for this? It has to come from those who are the beneficiaries of the current IT and DT revolutions. This can come in the form of

  • Higher taxes for the top 1%. This will require a break in the tax policies of the Republican leaders.
  • It can also come from a smaller tax through the beneficiaries of IT revolution – most of whom will be the customers of Bill Gates IT empire.
    • This will include beneficiaries like myself, Mr. Summers and Mr. Gates who can write and post our views on line for millions to read with minimal marginal cost!
  • In the end some revenue can from   investors who merely replace current jobs with robots as suggested by Mr. Bill Gates.

The worst solution is a living income pay out for all citizens as proposed in some European countries. Example: Finland to consider introducing universal basic income in 2017. Similar proposals have been floated in other countries as well. That may be the killer of “Self Esteem” and the worst outcome in nurturing the creativity and drive of the human spirit. One could equal argue why bother about the human spirit when human body is wasted through unemployment and poverty? The fact we have to ask this question at the beginning of 21st century is a sad commentary of our evolution in technology and their unbridled use for the benefit of the few at the expense if the many in the past four decades.


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