Next:Economy What is the Future of Work

Guy Bieber, 2015_11_24


O’Reilly saw a major problem brewing in the workplace and affecting the economy, so they decided to bring movitated people from government, businesses, and organizations together to solve these problems. The result was Next:Economy, which this document summarizes. I have re-organized the conference content into 5 groups: State of Work, Business, Education, Government & Policy, and Technology at Work.

If you want to find out more about what I am doing to enable the Future of Work checkout my upcoming book Potential and Karmas service to help people get more done, be more successful, and connect to their potential. You can also follow me on twitter @theguybieber.

State of Work

GDP growth is driven by labor supply and productivity, yet these two things have diverged. Productivity increases are not passed on to wage growth. Mass human potential is being underutilized (7.2B people on the planet, 3B people want to have a job, 1.3B have a job, and 1.1B are not engaged in what they do). If women alone were included in the workforce at the same level as men, it would add $28T to the global GDP. The Oxford study on job automation really should be relabeled as task automation. Only about 5% of jobs can be completely automated, yet 40% of the tasks contained in other jobs can be automated. This means a redefinition of many jobs will occur. The middle class continues to shrink and more of the wealth is going to the top 1%. This is creating many social challenges. This affects business, education, government, and technology. We need to match the rate of technical innovation to that of social innovation. We know many of the elements of bad work:

• Forced part time employment

• On call, inflexible, unpredictable scheduling

• Inconsistent income

• Poor wages and no opportunity for growth

• Lack of a safety net

If we were to summarize the elements of good work here is our list:

• Expertise (Growth and Development)

• Choice (Flexibility) — What, When, Where, and How Much

• Connection (Support, Inclusion, Transparency, Input)

• Meaning

• Reputation

• Shared Prosperity / Living Wages

• Safety and Stability


The firm used to be driven by three factors of production: land, labor, and capital. We are now adding the network. For platforms like Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, UpWork, etc. “the firm is the network”. These networks are allowing people the choice of when, where, how much, and what they work on. It is enabling supplemental income and bridging unemployment gaps. We are also seeing the rise of small unit manufacturing with companies like Etsy, Adafruit, Techshop and others leading the way. Entities like Kickstarter are enabling people to more easily fund many small ideas and bridging the manufacturing gap between 150 units to 50k units.


The new workforce needs to update it’s skills more often to remain relevant in the economy. This means disrupting the diplomas to jobs pipeline and replacing it with a skills to jobs pipeline. Efforts like Techhire and Rework America are trying to get people the skills they need to participate in the economy more quickly and less expensively. People generally don’t have a clue where to invest in themselves. Companies like LinkedIn are trying to help people figure this out. Key to reinventing education is changing how companies acquire talent, by getting them to decompose jobs into skills and to value skill mastery over general diplomas. Companies like Udacity are trying to democratize educations and turn people into lifelong learners.

Government and Policy

Technological Innovation often breaks policy, especially when it is happening at today’s speed. Supporting workers in the on-demand economy requires rebuilding the social safety net that was designed around W2 workers and at the end of the great depression. This means creating things like portable benefits and unbundling the services businesses used to provide into things individual workers can access. We are moving to a world where the majority of people will soon have more than one job and they will change jobs and need to re-skill more quickly. Employees need livable wages and should share in the profit / productivity growth of the companies they work for. A minimum wage of $15 is half way between the inflation growth of minimum wage and the growth in GDP. These wage earners are the customers that allow businesses to exist. Any policy that impoverishes the middle class is not good for growth on the whole. Some countries mandate that employees share in a percentage of the profits of a company. Education needs to be virtually free. There are many policy changes that are needed to support modern and independent workers.

Technology at Work

Platforms like uber already augment workers to allow them to participate in the transportation economy. We are seeing many more sources of augmentation coming including the third platform agents (like Cortana, M, Google, Viv, and Siri) and mixed reality (like Hololens and DAQRI). These are already being deployed in factories and on our smart phones. When the web came out, businesses needed a web presence. When mobile came out, businesses needed a mobile app. Now with agents, businesses will need an agent plugin. Agent platforms like VIV are taking complex requests and weaving together services on the fly to get the best answer.

State of Work

There is a work crisis going on. There are 7.2B people on the planet, 3B people want to have a job, 1.3B have a job, and 1.1B are not engaged in what they do. That leaves about 200M people out of 7.2B that love what they do.

No Ordinary Disruption

James Manyika , Director of Business and Economics Research , Mckinsey global institute gave a summary of the state of work. We are in a world of accelerating events. The industrial revolution took 100+ years to double GDP in the UK, 54 years in the US, and now 12 years in China. Change is accelerating. GDP Growth is driven by two things: labor supply expansion (1.7%) + productivity growth (1.8%). We will be at peak labor supply in 2050. Productivity growth and wage growth have diverged. Companies are not sharing the gains with employees. 30% to 40% of working age population is underutilized. In some places like Greece and Spain youth unemployment is at 50%. Yet there is a 40M worker gap for highly skilled jobs. If women participated in the labor market at the same level as men it would add $28T to the economy.

McKinsey also clarified the Oxford study stating 45% of jobs could be automated away in the next 10 to 20 years. 5% of jobs could be entirely automated, 40% of tasks in 60% of jobs can be automated. This task automation will redefine various jobs. He closed with the key problems Mckinsey thinks needs to be solved.

• job to work (work may come in many forms including part time)

• wage to income (move to living incomes and aligning income growth back to productivity)

• skilling and role adapting technology (allow people to retrain)

• expanded labor market signals (reputation data)

• embrace expanded modes of work

• policy for adaptation rather than incumbency and entrenchment

What is a Good Job

Here is what puts forward as the principles of good work.

• safety

• stability and flexibility

• transparency

• shared prosperity

• livable wage

• inclusion and input

• support and connection

• growth and development

The Good Jobs Strategy

Zeynep Ton is the author of the book “Good Jobs Strategy”. This book lays out a framework for improving your business by investing in employees. Ford treated people as interchangeable parts, “Why do I get the whole person when all I want is a good pair of hands”. Toyota changed manufacturing by allowing its employees to understand and continually improve the system. Today’s mass production workers work in retail and fast food. They have bad schedules, low wages, and few opportunities for growth.

A couple of companies are chasing this. Mercadona doubled the minimum wage, provided predictable schedules, and reduced turnover. This dramatically improved their service. Quick trip made similar changes. Their businesses run on a human centered operating system. They operate with some slack, offer less products, cross train (which enables more predictable schedules), and standardize.

Enable People and They will Amaze You

Some companies focus on growing their employees. Dan Teran founder of Managed by Q employs hundreds of cleaners and handymen. He realized that to be the best service provider he needed the best employees and needed to be the best employer. His employees are constantly taught new skills, they use empathetic scheduling, and regularly poll their employees job satisfaction through Net Promoter Scores.

Reinventing the Labor Union: Social Networks as the New Union

The modern labor union may become a networked community. Platforms like give workers the ability to create a collective voice and drive change in their workplaces. Liz Schuler is the CFO of the Federation of Unions. About 11% of US workers are represented by a Union. It is more difficult to create a union these days due to fear / intimidation, anti-union tactics employers use, etc. They are working on two major topics: stopping the increase in work hours and static wages even though productivity is going up.

Flexibility Needed not Just for On-Demand Workers

Anne-Marie Slaughter was an advisor to Hillary Clinton, an Author, and CEO of New America. She believes we undervalue care giving in our society (children, elderly, etc) and she is trying to change the conversation about work. The US is below Japan for women in the workforce. Yet the majority of college graduates in the US are women and men who don’t go to college don’t do very well. Woman are a vastly underutilized resource. Daycare costs more than rent in all 50 states; yet caregivers are some of the lowest paid employees. A fundamental issue of caregiving is that it is unpredictable. You don’t always know when someone will need help. This requires jobs with scheduling flexibility. For there to be equality senior men need to take parental leave also.

She wants to change the conversation about work; reposition the conversation from women’s issues to middle class issues. In the US we identify people by their job; in Europe asking people what they do is considered boring. Unemployment is a driver of instability throughout the world and a loss of human potential. Restoring work life balance is going to require change. In Germany there are governing boards over corporate boards. In the US we are creating Benefit Corporations. We need better policy towards community based care for aging in place. This means multi-generational living and creating networks of support.


“The Firm” is the Network

Uber Platform: Everyone’s Private Driver

Uber is considered the defining company of the on demand economy. Uber augments drivers by enabling them to use their car to generate income. David Plouffe ran the Obama campaign and now is an advisor to Uber. Uber’s mission was to help friends get around town. 50% of drivers drive less than 10 hours a week to augment their income (when you need part of a job or an unemployment bridge). Uber drivers also set their own hours. They are not interested in the taxi market debate. They want to change the way people get around, give them the flexibility they demand, and even given them the option to get rid of their cars (consider that cars are our second largest expense and used less than 5% of the time). This market is 4x to 5x the taxi market.

With platforms like lyft and uber people never get stiffed on payment at the end of a ride because of the automated billing. On the other hand, driving your own car puts a lot of wear and tear on it. On demand workers often don’t understand the true costs and how they effect their true wages. Things like on demand rates also effect the transparency of earnings for drivers.

TaskRabbit Platform: Buy Yourself Some Time

The on demand workforce platforms serve as an unemployment gap filler, supplemental income, or for a few as a full time gig. Leah Busque, founder of TaskRabbit, started her company 1 year before Uber, with the marketing message “Buy yourself some time”. Right now there are 30K taskers in the network doing everything from waiting in line, to assembling furniture, to picking up food for you, etc. They are now teaming with Amazon home services, so when you buy something like a TV you can get someone to install it right at checkout time.

There are a wide variety of taskers from stay at home mom, to retirees, to young professionals wanting to supplement income. 10% of taskers do it full time averaging 2–3 jobs a day at 7K a month ($7K*12=$84K a year). Handymen and house cleaners are the most successful taskers. TaskRabbit is now focusing on streamlining bringing work to taskers. Taskers put in their schedules, rates, and work areas. Instead of bidding like the old platform, they now do task matching. In the new platform taskers are making 400% more money. It would be interesting to translate this platform to support retail workers. Because Taskrabbit does background checks on taskers, this leaves out workers that have a criminal record.

UpWork Platform: Matching Workers with Opportunities at High Velocity

Stephane Kasriel the CEO of UpWork has created a $1B freelance marketplace that connects workers to opportunities; UpWork is a celebrity agent for freelancers. About 50% of the work is software development and the other half is other forms of knowledge work. They are seeing an increasing number of Fortune 500 companies using this, with the biggest client having 10K freelancers. UpWork is a heavy user of their own platform with 250 employees and 750 freelancers all mainly working from home. With platforms like UpWork the nature of the firm has become a network. UpWork tries to remove the friction from job markets:

Location — Decoupling where talent lives from where jobs are. In many places the rate of rent is going up faster than salary increases. Often at scale locality breaks down in job markets (i.e. you can’t co-locate enough people).

Trust — As the duration of jobs trends down establishing trust quickly between employers and employees is critical. Upwork focuses on a robust reputation system.

Job Matching — Matching someone that is qualified, interested, and available needs to happen instantly.

The old resume used to have a job title and employer. The new resume is what you know and what your passionate about. With Upwork learning happens rapidly due to short length of tasks. They also have data on what people do based on 1000s of hours of tasks, even though people are incredibly non-self aware of what they are good at. The industry doesn’t provide feedback to the education system. Great workers still have limited capacity so UpWork has to continually create a pipeline of new talent. They split people into 3 categories (new people, rising stars, and established people). 5000 people sign up each day and about 5% will get a job.

Lyft Platform: Reinventing Public Transportation

Logan Green, the founder of Lyft, is trying to reinvent public transportation so cities work better. After serving 3 years on a public transit board he wasn’t able to make any progress. Public transportation is heavily subsidized. Having suffered 3 hour commutes in LA, he noticed that most cars had empty capacity. Lyft enables people to use and monetize their extra capacity. He made a trip to Zimbabwe and found that anyone could start a public transportation business with a minibus. Lyft Line is trying to close the gap in public transportation from subway stops to your final destination.

Age of Small Unit Businesses

Small Scale Manufacturing — Adafruit

Limor Fried is a very different kind of hardware manufacturer. She is the founder of Adafruit which builds small batch hardware for hackers. Adafruit makes all their designs and software open source (they have over 500 github repos). THEY DON’T PAY FOR LAWYERS. She calls Adafruit a tutorial and education company with a gift shop at the end. Adafruit is a 50K sq ft facility, with 500 people, on site manufacturing, and $40M in revenue. It was completely self funded. Instead of advertising they use social media to teach people how to use electronics. THEY DON’T PAY FOR ADVERTISING. In addition, Limor really is helping get more girls into engineering.

Small Scale Manufacturing — Techshop

Mark Hatch, the founder of Techshop, is passionate about the businesses being built in Techshop. He wrote the book “Maker Movement Manifesto” and believes when you give people access to the tools of the industrial revolution you move to a place where 100M people could start a hardware company. He gave many examples of people with little or no knowledge creating businesses like the world’s faster electric motorcycle, jet packs, diamond manufacturing, underwater robots, etc.

Small Scale R&D — Other Labs

Saul Griffith is the CEO of Other Labs. Other Labs is a small research lab that competes with national labs for government research. They work on everything: flying wind turbines, inexpensive solar tracking system, robotic pneumatics (they inspired big hero 6), and exoskeletons. Most of their research spans 5 to 10 years to get out products.

Etsy: Unique well Crafted Things

Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, has made Etsy a certified B corp. Etsy has 1.6M sellers (18% of which are full time) and $200M in revenue in 2014. They take a 3.5% cut of items sold. Etsy manufacturing is trying to reimagine manufacturing that is community based. When people want unique things that are well crafted they go to Etsy.

Create your Own Work

Kickstarter Economy

Yancey Strickler CEO of Kickstarter talked about how kickstarter has shifted the filter for product development from venture capital to customer community. This is similar to how the internet shifted publishing from filter then publish to publish then filter. Some amazing things are possible when your not just in the business of making money. Kickstarter crosses the uncanny valley of manufacturing from 150 handmade units to 100K unit production. Kickstarter enables the 150 to 5000 and 5000 to 50000 unit ranges of manufacturing. This means you can do small batch customized production for very niche markets like board games.This turns product development back into art. This allows the creation of art and culture, as opposed to monoculture.

Workers in a World of Continuous Partial Employment

According to Carrie Gleason (Director of the Fair Workweek Initiative Center for Popular Democracy):

• 1 in 10 non farm jobs are in retail and they average $23K a year.

• Erratic hours in both time (due to on call scheduling) and number of hours makes it difficult to go to college at night, handle children’s schedules, etc.

• Hyper lean labor force practices use electronic scheduling to optimize for employer costs and not employee wellbeing. They need to move away from thinking of people as an expense to be optimized. Things like clopenings (opening the store right after closing it the night before) are detrimental to employee well being.

• Involuntary part time employment more than doubled between 2008 and 2010.

• 40% of hourly workers get their schedule with less than 4 days notice. Some revert to Facebook to swap shifts or paying people to cover their shift so they don’t lose their job.

Work Rules: Lessons for Google’s success

Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google, wrote the book “Work Rules!” to describe the evolution of Google’s hiring practices. Google used to hire based on SAT scores, GPA, and elite Schools. They found out that these measures held no correlation to job performance after the first few years of employment. They found the most predictive thing was a work sample test and general cognitive ability. Their old way of hiring also missed “connectors” that made everyone work better, but weren’t themselves superstars.

Google transformed hiring practices in silicon valley (creativity / independent thinking evaluation, portfolios / samples, structured interview questions, and a second team that looks at transcript only to eliminate bias). Google did the first diversity report and are working to improve numbers for women, neuro-diversity (asbergers), eliminating gender pay differences, etc. Because there is a large employee base the change will take years. Google continues to rethink work at their re:work site (


Employers and educators need to move from the slow and expensive diploma to jobs pipeline to the faster less expensive skills to jobs pipeline. Employees need to be able to adapt quickly, become lifelong learners, and add skillets throughout their lifetime.

Disrupting Diplomas to Jobs Pipeline

Zoe Barren author of Rework America believes we need to rework the education to jobs pipeline for the networked era. We have gone from eras of agriculture, to industrial, and now to the networked age. Rework America is providing a system to better match workers and jobs. Right now if you want to economically succeed you need a diploma; that is something that 70% of Americans don’t have. Employers need to break jobs down into skills instead of diplomas. Rework America is being piloted in Phoenix Arizona right now.

Managing Talent in the Networked Age

Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, believes you build your network over time, not your employer. His vision is to enable people to become the CEOs of their own career. He wants to better connect people to work. LinkedIn wants to help people figure out the best way to invest in themselves to improve their economic curve. People generally don’t have a clue where to invest in themselves to better engage in the economy. We have $1T in college loans and flat or declining wages. Lynda is one way of providing skill enhancing content for people (LinkedIn does not intend for Lynda to be the soul provider).

TechHire: Rewiring the US Labor Market

Bryson Auguste, Managing Director of Opportunity@work, has been promoting Techhire. In 1950 the highest earning city in america was Detroit. There is a $8.5T labor market in the US. In terms of human capital accounting, $150T to $200T roughly estimates the value of US labor. That is 4 to 5x corporate assets in human capital. Techhire helps people get skills (like the ability to code) to get better jobs. Techhire is making training accessible, automating / accelerating training, and trying to move businesses from requiring pedigrees to focus on mastery instead. Techhire is now in 31 US cities.

Exponential Teaching

Kimberly Bryant runs Black Girls Code. They focus on exponential learning; if you teach one girl, she will naturally turn around and teach fix, six, or 10 more. Women of color only receive 3% of Computer Science degrees, native american women less than 1%, and latino women less than 1%. More than 40% of colored girls don’t graduate from high school. Black Girls Code gives girls great skills and creates positive images that break biases.

Democratizing Education

Sebatian Thrun was on the winning team for the DARPA Grand Challenge for driverless cars and is changing education with Udacity. Udacity wants to:

  • Democratize education
  • Promote lifelong learning so people are relevant their whole lifetimes
  • Measure success not by degrees, but how many life’s they can change

Government and Policy

Civic innovation has not been keeping pace with technological innovation. This section describes some of those issues highlighted by the conference.

Supporting Workers in the on Demand Economy

Big firms used to be the way to reduce transaction costs (“Nature of the Firm”). Platforms are now dramatically reducing transaction costs. Is the new corporation an algorithm and are you above or below the API?

Nick Grossman of Union Square Ventures gave an interesting view on the unbundling of the “firm” to support the “gig economy”. The services in the next picture were provided by the corporation (also see the book on the topic:

We are rebuilding the social safety net of a corporation for the individual.

There are many startups trying to fill these gaps:

Accessible, Affordable Education

Efforts like TechHire and free community college are making education more accessible and enabling people to participate in the economy more effectively.

New Safety Net for the 21st Century Economy

Felicia Wong author CEO Roosevelt Institute, Zoe Baird CEO of the Markle Foundation, and Neera Tanden President of Center for American Progress had a discussion on what policies we should change. A system that favors capital kills the customer because it kills the employee. History tells us that technology enables people to do more and creates more wealth. The economy is not like the weather; it is not something that happens to us it is something we cause. Some of the ideas for policy change included:

• Push for finance reforms. Attack financialization of the economy and put capital where it is beneficial.

• We need to make massive investment in human capital; things like broadband access, practically free education, child care, paid leave, and family leave.

• Technology and Globalization are ubiquitous forces. There has been no real wage growth for the bottom 90%. We must grow the middle class.

• Better profit sharing with employees.

• Free or virtually free higher education

• Expand jobs available to the middle class. 70% of jobs are created by small and medium size businesses.

• Enable small and medium businesses to reach world markets.

• Distinguish between investment and spending in government policy.

Living Wages

Humans Need Not Apply, Not so Fast

Nick Hanauer has written many articles on how we need to enable the middle class. He is best summed up by this quote, “I am a very successful capitalist. Capital does not create jobs… Customers create jobs and we are screwing employees so there are no customers.” Jobs are the consequence of a feedback loop between customers and businesses. Impoverishing workers is a policy that will not work out. Nick has successfully got a $15 minimum wage passed in Washington and it is actually growing that economy. A $15 minimum wage is half way between inflation growth of the minimum wage ($10) and GDP growth rates ($20). We need to restructure work and the social safety net. Technological innovation is the source of all prosperity, but with it comes disruption. We must match the rate of technical innovation to that of civic innovation. Increasing labor supply costs does not necessarily reduce labor demand, because those workers can now be greater consumers of goods and services.

Universal Basic Income

Some of the discussion went to disrupting welfare by providing a universal basic income of $1000 a month. However this seems like we are giving up capturing human potential at a livable wage.

Portable Benefits and the Shared Security Account

Laura Tyson, Nick Hanauer, and David Rolf had a discussion on the idea of portable benefits through a shared security account. The middle class is under attack and shrinking. The degree to which we include people in the economic system drives our overall success. Many workers are forced into part time work because corporations don’t want to pay benefits. In fact, franchising was created to avoid pensions and health care costs. Corporations like Walmart create poverty and put their operating expenses on the government. Though Walmart has $27B in profits, they have over 1M employees living in poverty.

American public corporations spend $700B on stock buybacks alone, which is 4% of GDP and 54% of corporate profits. What we hope will be remembered is that when the American dream was at its greatest risk, a few people stood up and did something about it. Portability of benefits can help this. What we need to do is redefine the responsibility of employers for fair wages, non discrimination, reasonable hours, and safe work environments. Then we need to give employees portable benefits. The Huffington Post best describes the Shared Security account (ref)…

“Social Security, the minimum wage, and unemployment insurance, and the 40 hour work week were the foundation for the middle class in the 20th century”…

“The middle class is the source of all growth and prosperity in a modern technological economy, and economic security is the essential feature of what it means to be included in the middle class.” David Rolf …

“Shared Security Account each employer would pay a share of benefits into the account based on how many hours an employee worked for them based on a 40 hour work week. Each employer would pay its share of existing benefits required by the federal government or states, including Social Security, Medicare, an employer contribution toward health care, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and disability. In addition, the employer would be required to pay for new benefits, including paid sick days, family leave and vacation, and a contribution to a 401(k)-type retirement account.”

Employee Profit Sharing Mandates

Some countries, like Mexico, legislate that companies must share 10% of profits with employees.

Benefit Corporations

B corps are trying to be the best companies for the world, i.e. using power of business to solve social and environmental problems. A benefit corporation is a new legal constructs for corporations whose mission is to benefit society. Where as a B corp is certification a Benefit Corporation is a new legal construct for businesses that intend to improve the world.

Tax and Accounting Tools for the Franchise of One

Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, thinks of his company as a 32 year old startup. Since 25% of the economy runs through quickbooks, Intuit often has better labor data than the government. From their data 79% of the self employed work part time. 76% of on demand workers have 3 sources of income. They predict the day of the average worker having just one source of income is going away. Everything has been designed for the W2 worker and Intuit sees the opportunity to better enable the new class of workers. Intuit is integrating their platform with the on demand platforms to automatically collect things like deductible mileage, which is saving the average driver about $3800 a year in taxes. They are also working to change policies so that online banking records are as valid as paper receipts.

Technology and Work

Augmented Workers

Technology can automate workers away or augment them. Uber is augmentation for anyone with the basic skill of driving and a vehicle. This is not the race against the machines, but our race with machines. Microsoft funded scifi writers to write about this possible future (you can get the ebook here).

Satya Nadella talked about the 3rd runtime for software of speech becoming a first class user interface. The first runtime was the PC, then the browser, and now the agent. This is a new app ecosystem where the agent surfaces your data and user interface when it is relevant; the system affectively aggregates apps. For instance bringing up your shopping list when you are at the store. We see this as an movement from apps to micro interactions.

This agent based world is driven by technology like Azure ML which democratizes machine learning. Microsoft wants to help people get higher returns on their time. Time / attention is our most scarce resource and we need better feedback loops for it. Hololens and Augmented Reality provide a new medium where we mix worlds instead of mimicking them on screens. Right now we might see people talking to agents as weird. This is a similar situation to when people talking on headsets was seen as unusual.

Augmented Reality in the Factory

Brian Mullens, CEO of DAQRI, is building an augmented reality smart helmut for manufacturing. DAQRI wants to connect people, data, the world around them. They see augmented reality as the user interface of Internet of Things (IoT). They even blur the physical and digital worlds by reading an analog gauge with the helmet and having the data put into the digital world. The helmut can let you see the thermal signature of the world, drill into objects around you as you get closer, etc. One deployment saw a 40% increase in productivity and reduced downtime of 50%.

Personal Assistants and Hybrid Intelligence

Personal assistants and smart phones have given average people access to things only the elite or nation states used to have. Adam Cheyer, founder of VIV and formerly Siri, says that every business needed a website, then every businesses needed a mobile app, and now every business will need an assistant plug-in. With VIV they want to be able to compose services to take actions for complex queries like “On the way to my brothers house I need a wine that goes with a lasagna.” They call this weaving of services together exponential programming. For the Siri assistant personality was important; they wanted to sprinkle in some “delight nuggets” giving Siri some human characteristics, but not a strong personality that would dominate the situation.

Alexandre Lebrun, working on Facebook M and formerly from WIT.AI, wants a personal assistant that does tasks for you. Right now there 700M Facebook users and M is being tested by 10K. They are targeting a neutral personality for M.

The movie “Her” was really about emotional computing. Connecting to people on an emotional level and in the case of “Her” teaching an AI emotions is a difficult task. Can we get the human touch with AI?

Jerry Kaplan (author of “Humans Need not Apply”) noted a divergence in the software development field between autonomous (AI taking people out of the system) and augmenting (HCI integrating people into the system). Agents are definitely a move back toward augmenting people.

Kris Hammond from Narrative Science uses an AI called Quill to extract a narrative from large sets of structured data. The only affordable way to do this kind of analytics for small businesses is to automate it. He predicts a Robot Journalist will get a Pulitzer prize in two years.

Creating Better Teams

Stewart Butterfield is the founder of Slack. They built exactly what was in their original pitch deck, it just took a few years longer to do. Slack is a messaging app for teams. Messaging is the fundamental application in our computing lives. It helps us maintain relationships at higher scales. Slack serves 1.7M people with 500K paid subscribers at $8 a month. Slack is a way to drive transparency into an organization. The amount of content in a Slack group does become untenable at a certain scale (typically greater than about 30 people).

Reinventing Healthcare

Linda Chin is applying IBM Watson to healthcare to capture oncology expertise. The Oncology Expert Advisor is in the early stages of capturing expert knowledge to enable less skilled doctors to provide better care.