Business Leaders at Davos Put Job Loss Blame on Technology

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Dusk falls on Davos. Image: World Economic Forum / Ciaran McCrickard

Dusk falls on Davos. [Image: World Economic Forum / Ciaran McCrickard]

World leaders, business and otherwise, are gathered for a top tier economic forum in Davos, Switerzland, bringing the Swiss town’s population from a mere 11,000 to over 30,000. This forum, described by the NY Times as “the world’s most expensive networking event”, is attended this year by political leaders such as Theresa May, Britain’s Prime Minister, as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping. Also to be found at this year’s star studded event are the likes of Matt Damon and Formula One driver Nico Rosberg.

It’s not just stars and presidents, however, in fact it is supposed to be primarily about business with the majority of attendees being corporate executives such as Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook. Oh, and the parties, we mustn’t overlook those, despite the fact that nobody we have ever known would even know somebody who was invited. NY Times reporters Michael J. de la Merced and Russell Goldman explained what had been on offer in the past at Davos’ celebration scene:

Shakira Mebarak, Forest Whitaker, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Hilde Schwab, Chairperson and Co Founder, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship during the 2017 Crystal Award Image: World Economic Forum / Valeriano Di Domenico

Shakira Mebarak, Forest Whitaker, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Hilde Schwab, Chairperson and Co Founder, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship during the 2017 Crystal Award [Image: World Economic Forum / Valeriano Di Domenico]

“There are several official cocktail receptions, but the action really lies in a galaxy of events hosted by corporations. Some are small, intimate dinners that feature the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Bono. Others are dazzling affairs: JPMorgan Chase, for example, has previously taken over the Kirchner Museum Davos for drinks with its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. Google’s annual party at the InterContinental Hotel has become the hottest ticket in town. The investor Anthony Scaramucci, now an adviser to Donald J. Trump, for years has hosted a reception at the famed Hotel Europe featuring a sometimes eye-popping list of high-end Champagne and Bordeaux red wine.”

The theme for this year’s Davos meetup is “Responsive and Responsible Leadership.” And during their serious engagements, these leaders have decided that one of the reasons for the loss of quality jobs is that robots are just getting so darn good at doing what people used to do. Chief Executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Meg Whitman warned that as a result of advancing technologies:

“Jobs will be lost, jobs will evolve and this revolution is going to be ageless, it’s going to be classless and it’s going to affect everyone.”

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Eduardo Bontempo, Co-Founder, Geekie, Brazil, speaking during the session: Coding for a Better Future [Image: World Economic Forum / Ciaran McCrickard]

Yes, it’s true, even CEOs will feel the effects of job loss to automation. However, for them, unlike the rest of us, the change has come in the form of larger compensation packages for themselves when the money previously invested in workers is cut significantly. When profitable companies turn to automation in order to increase profits, it is those at the top who benefit and those who were making a living who suffer. The choice of whether to add an extra $25,000 to a multi-million dollar compensation package (that’s what they are called when you make it big, for the rest of us, it’s just a paycheck) lies with the company, not with unstoppable forces of technology advancing and stealing our jobs in the night.

This argument is as hollow as the one that suggests that all of our jobs are being stolen by immigrants. No matter where these CEOs and CFOs look, it is never their own fault and yet it all seems to work out quite nicely for them. CEO of Lloyd’s of London Inga Beale tried to strike a note of solidarity with the worker in her remarks:

“CEOs feel reasonably confident we are not going to be replaced by artificial intelligence. But I’m sure there will be a time.”

Mixed Reality Space at the Annual Meeting 2017 Image: World Economic Forum / Christian Clavadetscher

Mixed Reality Space at the Annual Meeting 2017 [Image: World Economic Forum / Christian Clavadetscher]

I’m sure they had a hardy laugh, but the line falls flat with workers who are watching good jobs disappear and even bad jobs be lost in cost saving measures designed to fatten the purses of those who already have the most. Laying the blame at the feet of advancing technology is a red herring. In fact, technology is also creating a number of jobs. Not enough to offset the reduction in employment opportunities, but good jobs for a segment of the world’s working populace.

It’s easy to blame technology if you come to work one day to assemble cars and the next day you don’t have to because there is a robot in your place. The key is that it was a decision at some point to use that robot rather than use you. The question is, is it always the best decision to replace people with technology? It depends on what your goals are for ‘best’. If by ‘best’ you mean: working to create an environment in which humans interact with each other, have gainful employment, and can live with dignity and respect gives you one set of answers. If, however, by ‘best’ you mean: the bottom line of the company profit sheet, then you make a different set of decisions.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, admits he under-estimated the potential of Artificial Intelligence Image: World Economic Forum/Sikarin Thanachaiary

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, admits he under-estimated the potential of Artificial Intelligence [Image: World Economic Forum / Sikarin Thanachaiary]

CEOs can only offload so much of their own responsibility for creating job loss in order to rake together even greater earning for themselves and their shareholders. The only conversation worth having at this gathering would be on where they explore the way in which their leadership can provide sustainable ethics in order to operate their businesses in a world that they themselves wouldn’t mind living in rather than simply searching around for a scapegoat for their own profligacy. To take liberties with Pogo: I don’t think technology is the enemy, rather, it is us.enemy_square

Maybe it starts with corking a couple of those bottles of champagne and examining their own roles in the direction business is heading. After all, they are supposedly so much in charge as to be irreplaceable. Without this, the word ‘responsible’ is just a hollow buzzword, and the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Discuss in the World Economic Forum forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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