March 13 2017
The SXSW, a conference that brings celebrities and innovators from music, film, and technology to talk about emerging issues including the issues that arise between technology and society.
One of the biggest issues is the impact of automation on the American workforce. We’ve been covering this issue quite a bit lately, because the exciting and rapid development of technology is creating new opportunities for many Americas, but also has adverse impacts for some workers.
At SXSW, Steve Case the former CEO of AOL, acknowledged that the feeling among workers that they’ve been left behind is not psychological but real and something for us not to ignore. Records captured his comments:
“This issue of people feeling left behind — it’s not just a feeling,” … “They have been left behind.”
And one problem, Case outlined at Recode’s Code Work event today at SXSW, is that too much attention — from investors, media, etc. — is focused on Silicon Valley and New York, citing a statistic that 78 percent of venture capital investment last year went to three states: California, New York and Massachusetts.
“If you’re funding disruption in a few places like Silicon Valley, some of that, naturally, is going to result in destroying jobs in different sectors, many of which are in the middle of the country,” Case said, interviewed by Recode executive editor Kara Swisher. That creates a situation, Case said, where people there feel like they’re not benefiting, “but are getting hurt by digitization and globalization.”
Case argues that funders need to spread their funding around to the rest of the country. The middle of the country can probably use private investment and possibly that would spur more entrepreneurs in these parts of the country to develop solutions that create hiring. That all sounds good, but may be easier said than done.
We often point to the disruption that Henry Ford’s assembly line brought to transportation – and just about every other industry. However, Fortune recently highlighted another interesting example: the shipping industry was transformed in the 1960s when giant cranes replaced manual labor in moving shipping containers. Ships were loaded and unloaded much faster which led to better process and more choices for consumers. Efficiency also spurred global trade, but displaced massive numbers of workers.
Although many port cities have been transformed, the well-paying jobs for longshoremen and the working-class communities that they supported have not fared as well.
From an in-depth documentary on this historical story, host Alexis Madrigal sums up the situation of automation in an interesting quote: “[M]ost of the jobs that people think have gone to Mexico or Asia or elsewhere, have just been made obsolete by automation . . . No executive order or tariff can turn the clock back and recreate the old economic system.”