Every industrial revolution even as it brings disruptions ultimately delivers more jobs, opportunity and progress, connecting people even more closely to the world around them. The invention of the steam engine reduced the need for raw human strength, canal systems and horses, as well as the blacksmiths who cared for them, but it sparked a new era of manufacturing, railways and shipping that created the arteries of the modern, global economy.
The advent of diesel, the internal combustion engine and electricity caused societal disruptions as workers moved from farms to cities, yet these innovations brought us Ford’s Model T, refrigeration, mechanised agriculture, and an age of mass production that produced a new global middle class.
The rise of automation, personal computing and information technology eliminated jobs like telephone operators and typists, and required fewer manufacturing workers, secretaries, travel agents and telemarketers, but also ushered in the Internet Age, which transformed the global economy.
Today, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the relationship between technology and social progress is once again being tested.
The convergence of social, mobile, data science, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) is accelerating the pace of change at an unprecedented rate. We should be optimistic about the endless possibilities that this new era will bring, but we should also prepare for how a revolution like this will impact us all – as individuals and as societies.
On the one hand, today’s technologies will create new jobs, including in emergent areas such as crowdsourcing, autonomous vehicles and the sharing economy. This continues a trend of workforce transformation. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, one third of jobs created in the US over the past 25 years – such as IT development and systems management – did not exist, or barely existed, a quarter of a century ago. In the coming years, companies like Salesforce that leverage technologies such as AI and IoT to create new business solutions will create millions of jobs.
On the other hand, increased automation could eliminate jobs in manufacturing, transport, retail, healthcare and administration. Looking ahead, the World Economic Forum finds that approximately 35% of the skills demanded for jobs across industries will change by 2020. Most children entering primary school today will work in occupations that don’t even exist yet.
Business leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the jobs and opportunities created by these technologies – now and in the future – are accessible to all.
First and foremost, this requires providing greater access to the education and skills training needed for the jobs of the future. Our experience at Salesforce, especially our work with partners and programmes like Trailhead, a free training programme, and Vetforce, a job accelerator for military service members, has been instructive and shows that progress can be inclusive.
But as important as the efforts of individual organisations are, achieving the social progress we seek will require collective action across sectors – from governments to non-profits to academic institutions.
To advance as just and equal societies, we need more than advancements in technology – we need to understand and prepare for the potential consequences of innovation, both positive and negative.
Carnegie Mellon University is playing an important role in this effort. It is establishing a new Center for Technology and Society that examines how emerging technologies impact the ability of workers of all skill levels to make a living in the 21st Century. And as we recruit more of the world’s leading scholars and leaders to study the economic and societal consequences of technological change, I hope that, as a society, we can develop innovative policy interventions to help ensure that these are widely shared, now and in the future.
As astonishing as today’s technologies are, we’re still only at the dawn of this Fourth Industrial Revolution. We have an opportunity over the coming decades – if businesses, governments, academia and societies are willing to truly work together – to make sure the benefits reach the largest number of people around the world. We can give current and future generations hope that – rather than being displaced by this revolution – they can lead it.