The Case for Inclusive Innovation. Why We Should All Care

By Shannon Farrelly and Devin Cook

Odds are you’ve recently been warned that a robot is going to take your job. According to daily headlines dominating the media landscape, AI is coming for our paychecks. Bill Gates has even proposed taxing robots after they’ve absconded with our livelihoods. The subject has captured the international imagination, and while there are many current trends disrupting business, AI is generating the most scrutiny…and for good reason. Advances in AI and robotics are making it increasingly possible for machines to perform both physical and cognitive tasks. Within an astonishingly short amount of time, new AI systems have emerged that can learn to perform tasks on their own.

But the outlook is not all bleak. MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) co-founders Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have defined the era we live in as the Second Machine Age. In their prescient, best-selling book, they proposed that the way forward is not to preserve the jobs of the past, but to create new paths for more people to share in the prosperity that digital technology creates.

And at the IDE, we are putting those words into action. Economic inclusion has become a key IDE objective. We see that even while digital technology is creating unprecedented wealth, it remains concentrated among relatively few people, compared to the broader economic gains driven by previous technological advancements. Simply put, this economic paradigm is not sustainable. The grand challenge of our time is to accelerate the pace of job-creating innovation and the reinvention of work, while easing the transition for those whose jobs are lost in the process. No one is immune to this challenge. But luckily, a visionary cohort of entrepreneurs is facing it head on.

At the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC), the flagship program of the IDE, we believe that Inclusive Innovators, focused on human-centered, technology-driven innovation, will ensure that opportunities in the future of work are even better than those of today. Two years ago, the MIT IIC was formed to identify, reward, and promote these innovators and their solutions that are already driving greater economic prosperity for all, as we face some of the most disruptive changes in human history.

Inclusive Innovators from around the world are addressing the toughest questions of our time: What does the growing tension between old jobs and rising jobs mean for those in the middle of the economic ladder? What about low-skilled workers, many living in emerging markets?

As new technologies and improved access create pathways for increased economic participation, will there be enough work to go around? How can we reasonably prepare for the future of work, when by 2020, one-third of jobs will require skills that aren’t common in today’s workforce? That feels like training for the Olympics without knowing what the sports will be!

Despite the enormity of these questions, solutions came pouring in, and the IIC lived up to its charter. We awarded over $1 million to global organizations that are using technology to shift job creation into high gear and create greater economic opportunity. With the help of a global network of outreach partners and visionary funders like Google.org, we’ve identified thousands of organizations — for- and non-profit — whose practical solutions are determining what skills will be needed in the future and how workers can connect with jobs once they are properly trained. These programs, businesses, and organizations are actively helping people around the globe ‘plug in’ to the digital economy today, creating widespread opportunity. Their innovative work impacts all of us now and in the future and we are shining a light on their efforts. There is good reason — and now with proof! — to be hopeful about the future of work. Not only do scalable solutions exist, but that there are many ways for digital technology to benefit more people working in the global economy.

Based on data from the 2016 Challenge, we determined that Inclusive Innovators accomplish their goals primarily in four ways. These four paths make up the 2017 IIC Award Categories.

· Skills Development & Opportunity Matching: Inclusive Innovators enable entirely new industries and jobs to flourish in the digital economy, and help workers to succeed in and access the jobs of the future.

· Income Growth & Job Creation: Tomorrow’s jobs will be very different from today’s. Inclusive Innovators are helping ensure that workers earn sufficient and growing incomes to achieve satisfactory quality of life and living standards. They are also reimagining struggling industries and creating new opportunities for work.

· Technology Access: In today’s digital age, access to technology enables a new-found level of economic opportunity. Inclusive Innovators connect more people with Internet and technology access, regardless of age, location, education, or ability.

· Financial Inclusion: Inclusive Innovators are working to ensure financial security and stability for more people, and enabling them to access the benefits of financial services.

Regardless of whether or when AI displaces large swaths of workers, the MIT IDE is not looking to the past for solutions. With the IIC, we are facing steadfastly forward with an eye on a realistically hopeful future, celebrating and supporting emerging Inclusive Innovation mechanisms for more accessible job creation, skills development, technology availability, and financial inclusion.

Celebrate the Stars of Inclusive Innovation and Learn What the Future Holds

The 2017 IIC recently concluded our judging of Inclusive Innovation organizations from across the globe. An international team of over 160 expert Core Judges scored and commented on each completed application assigned to them.

Our top scoring Finalists will now advance to our Champion Committee, which will select four grand prize Winners to each receive $150,000. The remaining 12 Finalists will each receive $35,000. Look for the announcement of our 2017 Finalists on August 10 on MITinclusiveinnovation.com.

On October 12, 2017, the IIC will announce and celebrate the Winners at a dazzling event at HUBweek, Boston’s festival for the future, featuring Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet; Leila Janah, Founder & CEO of Sama Group and LXMI; Joe Eastin, President and CEO of ISN; Andrew Dunckelman, Economic Opportunity Lead of Google.org, and more. The IIC Awards Celebration will be held at the HUBweek “pop up” gala event site located at City Hall Plaza and is free to the public. The dramatic temporary exhibition space is constructed from 60 shipping containers, 3-D printed installations, and four giant geodesic domes featuring video projections, music, live art performances, and delicious refreshments. Tickets can be reserved online beginning August 16 at HUBweek.org. Leading thinkers from academia, government, business, and the arts will demonstrate the power of the Inclusive Innovation movement, inspire us, and help us better understand our roles in promoting economic inclusion. The global pool of IIC Finalists will be celebrated and awarded over $1 million.

Join the Movement

The IIC is dedicated to the promotion of sustainable, scalable global Inclusive Innovation. We engage U.S. and international media to report on solutions that can be harnessed today rather than ‘click bait’ robot apocalypse stories that alarm without substantive facts. We also seek to inform local and federal government on policy interventions and expansions. The right policies, we believe, can give us the best of both worlds: all the benefits that come from the AI breakthroughs of today and tomorrow and jobs that provide dignity and a good paycheck. We invite you to join us by embracing and supporting Inclusive Innovators and their equitable solutions to reinventing the future of work for all humans, not just an elite few. Learn more at MITinclusiveinnovation.com, or contact us at iic@mit.edu.

Shannon Farrelly is Director of Communications and Media Relations at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy
Devin Cook is Executive Producer of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge.
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