We’re still digesting all that happened at our 2015 conference. The theme of Re-Humanizing Society in a Technologized Age generated several days of fascinating conversation at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, California. There’s plenty to talk about (Program Director Simone Ross reviews some of them here). But four big items deserve special mention:
-Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced the department’s new Digital Economy Agenda, which for the first time articulates a set of principles to keep the Internet and digital technology growing the economy. It’s a major leap for the federal government, which up until now has not fully embraced the set of changes we all know are transforming our lives.
– On our closing session about the Internet of Things, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff had plenty to say about how that topic is underappreciated and why his company is focusing ever-more-closesly on helping companies use it to better serve customers. But Benioff had recently announced he’d adjusted the pay of women throughout his company, so the topic broadened to include what that meant. That got Benioff onto the powerful theme of “equality as a corporate value.” That radical new notion generated news, including this article at Business Insider. “We have modern human resource systems,” Benioff noted. “We know what everybody gets paid. It doesn’t take that long to actually say, ‘Are men paid the same as women at Salesforce?’ It’s, like, one query. We could write it in about a minute. So why hasn’t every CEO committed to making sure that women and men are paid the same?”
– Sean Parker struck everyone as way more thoughtful than how he was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, the misleading-but-entertaining movie about Facebook’s origins. My after-dinner interview with him ranged widely, and he spent a lot of time talking about how to fix a broken American political system and engender new enthusiasm among citizens. (He’s put energy into a startup called Brigade and a policy advocacy group focused on economic growth called The Economic Innovation Group, among other efforts.) But what got people talking, including in this article from the Guardian, was when he said social media has engendered mass narcissism and that he wouldn’t let his own kids use it.
– James Manyika of the McKinsey Global Institute unveiled a new paper called Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation, which for the first time puts concrete numbers on the prospects of automation-driven job losses in the American economy. While the report estimates that less than 5% of jobs are likely to be completely eliminated within the next few years, McKinsey was able for the first time to estimate what would happen to the remaining jobs. It found that 60% of jobs of all types would see more than 30% of their current existing functions automated. Even CEOs would typically see 20% of what they do now eliminated by machines. So the question the research raises is what will we all do with that freed-up time, and how ought we to prepare for such a world? Here’s a provocative line from the paper, that dovetails well with Techonomy’s theme of values and re-humanizing society: “As automation replaces more routine or repetitive tasks…employees [may] focus more on tasks that utilize creativity and emotion.”
We at Techonomy have decided that one overarching set of trends in tech-driven social change centers around the impact and meaning of the Internet of Things. It’s a phrase that is widely-used but poorly understood. So our entire 2016 will be devoted to exploring its meaning and impact in industry, society, and our personal lives. Next year’s Techonomy 2016 conference, Nov 9-11, will be entitled “Man, Machines, and the Network: How the Internet of Things Transforms Business and Society.” We’ll also have a one-day event in New York in May that tackles related topics. As tech continues its relentless march across our lives and society, there’s ever more for Techonomy to explore. We continue to be passionate believers that the only way the world can become truly inclusive, affluent, and cohesive will be if leaders and all of us embrace the fullest potentials of tech.