Silicon Valley Realizes

A recent column of mine in the Dutch Financial Times has been shared over a 1000 times by its readers. Considering Dutch proportions, that is substantial. Apparently, the column strikes a chord. (You can read it here or the English version here). I wrote how the ICT-Revolution is eating jobs over many sectors — from travel agencies to car repair, from insurance to financial advisors. I also wrote how many governments prefer to shut their eyes, while murmuring the worn-out 20th Century mantra that lost jobs surely will be replaced by new ones. That is naive. Of course, new jobs will develop — robot repairers, for instance. But taking all sectors-in-danger together, many more jobs are going down the drain. Take the Chinese Foxconn factories where Apple produces its products. Hundreds of thousands humans are working there. Right now they are in the process of being replaced by robots. All jobs lost that way will definitely not be replaced by robot repairers.

In January our world leaders gathered again in Davos. The atmosphere differed substantially from one year ago. Back then in 2016, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things and Robotics were all the rage and consequently perceived as the ultimate providers of happiness for the human race. Now ecstasy is over and deeper worries come to the fore. Salesforce CEO Benioff speaks of digital refugees who see their jobs threatened by the AI-revolution and probably soon will perceive Silicon Valley’s tech companies as the next generation of bad guys. IBM CEO Rometty is afraid that the tech companies will earn in the public eye an odium of mighty disseminators of societal inequality. Bill Gates invites to dive empathically into the pains caused by tech disruptions on those who are finding themselves “on the wrong side of technological progress”. When the Valley fails to do so, adds Microsoft CEO Nadella, it might be confronted with down-spiraling public rage. Where this public rage can lead us, has been demonstrated by president Trump. Nadella continuous: “Will the enormous money surplus we are generating in the Valley only reach the Valleys’ top layers? Or will it be used for a more inclusive sense of growth?” Other Silicon Valley CEOs even discuss the idea of a universal basic income to fight societal inequality — and its expected increase.

Silicon Valley seems to open its eyes. Thanks to Trump and Brexit who have put collective anger on the world wide map. Also in Davos.