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I have an article today in the Harvard Business Review, co-authored with legendary Silicon Valley marketer and venture capitalist Bill Davidow. It’s the first piece Bill and I have co-bylined since we wrote The Virtual Corporation twenty years ago. I don’t know if it will have the same impact as that book did, but it should.
In the article, Bill and I note that the current pace of technological change (though few people noticed, Moore’s Law basically went vertical in 2005), combined with the rise of artificial intelligence, robotics, and the Internet of Things, means that our machines are rapidly assuming an ever-greater role in our economic life. Henry Adams despaired in the 19th century that the rate of progress — about 2 percent — was almost too much for mankind to keep up with. We’re now running at 40 percent.
You’ve read the warnings from Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and other forward-thinkers that AI poses a potential long-term existential threat to humanity. In fact, we don’t have to look that far. As a growing number of jobs — mostly manual labor, but increasingly blue-collar and soon white-collar— disappear to automation we are already creating what Bill and I call the Zero Economic Value Citizen: people for whom artificial intelligence has rendered their skills or jobs without value. We suspect that many of those millions who have already dropped out of the workforce are just such ‘ZEV’ citizens.
What is the solution? We’re not sure there is one. Government is too slow and stupid. Education, even if the unions weren’t resisting change, probably can’t keep up either. And as our machines get smarter they will continue capturing jobs ever further up the IQ scale.
Are we all destined to become ZEVs? A good question. And what do we do then? I’d like to hear your thoughts.