Innovations in fields such as artificial intelligence, coupled with new ideas around why we work, could provoke changes across business and society. We asked some of the most prominent business leaders in the world for their thoughts on the coming revolution.
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer, Microsoft
Successful companies are often founded on great ideas created by the staff present at the very beginning. These ideas spring from the amazing capabilities of those people, and the implicit culture around them. But what happens to these ideas when a growing business has to scale up and fill the gaps in its structure? After all, there’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine – nothing lasts forever. The lesson I’ve learned over the years is that culture matters more than anything else. I’m a consummate insider – I’ve been at Microsoft for more than 27 years.
The thing I’ve realized over that time is that, even through we’ve had great success, culture must be considered the most important thing. And companies need to be able to translate their culture as they go forward. So, if you are betting on your people, and their ability to create great things on behalf of your customers, then you need to invest in the technology around them. I love companies that think about their people, that recognize technology is just a tool – it doesn’t do anything except help people do big things.
Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive officer, Uber
AI has been proven over the years to be a job creator on an aggregate basis, but there will be certain parts of society that can’t enjoy those advantages. Technology can create jobs, but as a society we haven’t yet focused on the impact upon folks who don’t have a great education. As countries invest in intellectual property and take advantage of automation, retraining existing workforces must be a priority. We have to take responsibility, alongside government, for retraining programs to help those workers at risk of displacement. They need help to figure out where there are good careers and to figure out what education to pursue or what apprenticeship programs are right for them.
It’s not enough to outsource this to government. There will be a major transition, and there will be displacement. We have to protect workers during this period, so that they can get back on their feet. Again, that cannot be the duty of the state alone – government and business must work together. Change is now happening so fast that we cannot depend on traditional education systems to provide retraining. We can’t just look at a diploma, we have to provide retraining in a more dynamic way, through a public partnership. Companies and governments must work together to achieve this, or we will have real disruption across society.
Ginni Rometty, chair, president and chief executive officer, IBM
We believe that AI will change every single job. Because of this, we must ensure everyone can participate in this world. That can’t mean everyone having to have a university or advanced degree just to live. The future must be inclusive – an idea summed up in a phrase we’ve coined: ‘new collar’. We believe all jobs will live at this intersection of emerging technologies and someone’s skills.
Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman, Google
This technology, which is currently the realm of specialists, can become generally useful to humans. Government should fund research into AI solutions that will benefit us all, because those solutions can make us smarter. My argument is that we will not have a material shortage of jobs for people, but that we will have too many open jobs. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests workers in complex jobs can be more productive – and get higher wages – if they can call upon some kind of assistance.
In Europe and the US, society is getting older and the number of people working is getting smaller. So in order for governments to generate adequate tax revenues and pay for services such as the police and firefighters, those working people are going to have to become more productive. The best way to make them productive is to use AI to make them smarter, quicker and scalable. The net positive of AI is that it will help those people do their jobs.
Arthur Sadoun, chief executive officer, Publicis Groupe
In the case of our industry, AI is critical to identifying and leveraging talent. That will be its biggest role. Right now, we don’t know what talent we need for the opportunities available to us, because we don’t have the data required to calculate that information. But if we were able to understand those things with AI, then we could leverage opportunities and manage our talent more effectively. We expect that AI will bring our company more knowledge.
Stewart Butterfield, chief executive officer, Slack
The good news for most people is that this doesn’t apply. However, thinking of people who have knowledge-intensive positions, there will be a greater reliance on human intelligence and creativity as we automate and therefor augment the abilities of humans. We will automate the things that people do poorly – remembering things or doing arithmetic. There are many things computers can do that are not otherwise possible, such as sharing hundreds of billions of items with each other and detecting patterns.
The ingenuity required to make good use of those capabilities is going to be in demand, as will an understanding of the use of these tools and the development of strategies to get more out of them. One simple example is the spread of analytics and data science. It’s the application of that to recruiting inside a large organization, or to spend management or IT, that will pay huge dividends. And knowing how to operate the software, as well as knowing what it is capable of, will lead to a lot more time spent on things that are more interesting to people.
To gain more insights into the working world of tomorrow, grab a copy of The Drum’s August issue, where we hear from WPP chief transformation officer Lindsay Pattison; find out how workspaces, advertisers and agency models are changing with the times; and question whether machines could ever replace marketers.