Vint Cerf and David Nordfors are the leaders of the i4j Innovation for Jobs Summit.
Some say all jobs may be automated. Perhaps next thing consumption will be automated, too, and then we are really in trouble. Seriously, something does not make sense with this way of thinking.
Instead, innovation may disrupt unemployment. With a new mindset that appreciates the value of people, innovation can drive unemployment "out of business." Everyone can have a good job.
It's not that we are innovating too much. The problem is that we are trying to run the new economy in the old way. The old way is about doing more of the same, more efficiently. It's about standardizing tasks, creating work manuals, and such things -- many of them very tedious and non-rewarding. Well, that's what machines are good at, so if this is only what the economy is about, yes -- we will be losing more jobs all the time. And now we are worried, because we can't imagine what people can do instead. So that's what we are lacking: imagination.
It's obvious: all people can create value for each other. There are no useless people. We "only" need an economy that lets people create value. People are more enabled than ever before. The smartphone is such an amazing tool that we are surprised every day by people doing new things we just didn't think of as something possible for people to do. Each unemployed person with a smartphone is in control of a super computer center packed with engineers, according to old norms. How can a sound economy of any sort avoid utilizing this amazing resource of empowered people? It's not like there are too few problems for people to solve or that people stopped wanting more out of life. How about fixing the climate, eradicating disease and stopping wars, to start with? There are an infinite number of new things to do.
If we become as innovative in creating good jobs as we are in creating innovative products and services, then the innovation economy is sustainable. Today there is a product or service being developed for every possible need and desire. Can the economy develop valuable jobs for every person, letting them do something that fits them like a tailored suit, creating the highest possible value and satisfaction for everyone involved? Then there will be an infinite number of job possibilities for a limited amount of people. People will be the scarce resource, not jobs. Imagine instead of getting a job because you can do something that other people (or machines) can do, you get a job because you are special in a way that creates real value for other people. An attractive aim for the innovation economy, we think.
What could this look like? Imagine starting a company that recruits you to their service, let's say it's called Jobly just to give it a name. With smart technology Jobly scans your skills, your talents, your passions, your experiences, your values, your social network, and so on. Joibly finds ways of testing the market for things you can do. Perhaps you say "I would like to paint pictures but I don't know how to earn money on it". Well, there is a fair chance among all the billions of people on the planet there are some people who are willing to pay you. Perhaps you try that for a few weeks, then you try something else, until you decide to settle for something that feels really meaningful that you do together with people you work well with. Finding the right job is a bit like finding the right partner, isn't it? Now, if Jobly takes a commission on what you earn, they have the incentive to make you as valuable as possible. Jobly will help you find the right courses so that you will earn better, increasing what they earn. Jobly may offer you health benefits, too, because if they have a few hundred million users, they can spread the risk, they will be your health insurance, too. You are the service they offer to their customers who buy work in order to create value. Jobly would be disrupting unemployment, tailoring jobs for the so called "unemployable". It's quite often that people carrying that label are among the best people we know, the ones that make us feel that something is seriously wrong with the labor market today. The ones that are amazing, only that they don't fit the slots, so sorry, too bad.
A business model like this one is good for both the micro and the macro-economy. It is for-profit driven, maximizes the value of people and minimizes the cost of tasks. It distributes wealth, creating happier workers and wealthier customers. It seeks and creates diversification, enabling people in society to do as many different things as possible together, thereby strengthening the ability of society and economy to deal with all types of challenges. It is a model for nurturing a middle class society in the innovation economy.
The value proposition is attractive. Think about it, only a fraction of all human capacity is being used today. So many people hate their jobs, The market size for disrupting unemployment is the difference between the value created this way today and the value created by all living people, fitted with tailored jobs they are passionate about, giving one hundred percent of their capacity. This might be the greatest business opportunity ever.
So what about automation killing jobs, then? Innovation is actually a very good thing in the economy we have described, because it frees up people so that they can do other things. But it has to be combined with innovation in tools, making people able to do new things that they could NOT do before. Smartphones are great. So is software for creativity and productivity.
People with disabilities, or who have suffered severe social challenges or who have been ill, don't have an easy time on the job market. But with the right tools they can be just as attractive as anyone else. They often have special skills that people with less challenging lives lack which can make them even more valuable. You won't find these things in the job descriptions of listed jobs.
Or look at those who are unique in other, very special ways, for example those who say they can see auras around people. It's not a recognized skill. A lot of scientists and other presumably rational people will say they are fakes. They are often into healing or alternative medicine which isn't accepted by the healthcare systems. Insurance won't cover it.
You won't find a single job description saying "we are looking for people who can see auras". There isn't a big market for aura healers. In 2012 researchers found a possible explanation to seeing auras. It's a condition called "synesthesia", crossed wires between the senses. There are people who see colors when they hear music, often excellent musicians, such as Tori Amos or Leonard Cohen. Research suggests that people who see auras have 'emotional synesthesia', their eyes see an augmented reality, colored by their feelings. This is a very valuable gift In a world where so many people are out of touch with themselves. People with emotional synesthesia will often be better at seeing when people are troubled, or spot when someone is lying, because they are emotional seismographs. They can excel in anything that requires gut feeling, which is quite a lot. They can be excellent neuropsychologists, work with improving human-computer interaction, or work with making video conferencing technology more efficient.
Almost no one knows about the 2012 research paper. Why should they? There is no incentive. Synesthesia is a very unusual gift and it's not like aura healers are important for the economy today. You won't see any job descriptions talking about it. This is a type of value that a company like Jobly can cultivate. Their intelligent system will be following the research and relevant discussions. They will know if you are a healer, because it's obvious from your emails. They will notify you, saying something like "you can be very good at reading people, check out this 2012 paper and these other sources if you want to know more". Jobly might go on asking "are you interested in working with something like building a new educational system in Country X?" because it turns out that country X, a place you like going to, is working on an anti-corruption program and are restructuring their educational system. They need people who are empathetic and can spot honest people that can be put to work with coaching kids. You already know people in country X that are involved in the project, it's only you aren't aware of it. They aren't aware that you might solve their problem, and they definitely don't know the 2012 research paper. Even if they know you are a healer, they won't make the connection to their project. Jobly will not tell you all it knows, it needs to keep discretion, but links can be made in each case. Let's say you are thrilled by the idea of spending some time in country X doing good work, and you are pretty excited about the 2012 paper which explained a bit more you who you are at the same time as suggesting how you might create value with it. So Jobly now gets in touch with your friends in country X, the ones working with the education system, presents them with the idea that people with emotional synesthesia might be relevant for building a corruption-free system. If they say this is something they would like to look into, Jobly lets you know, and then its up to you to get in touch. Jobly will let you know that some of your contacts might be good entry points. If you decide to go for a project together, Jobly will give you all the administrative tools you need to fix visas, taxes and so on. And 20% of the money goes to Jobly, for reinvestment in continued refinement of job and talent mining.
How big is the potential market for job innovation startups? Well, to start with, there is $100 billion in cash spent each year on unemployment insurance. Perhaps a part of that money can be used as incentive for job seekers and companies like Jobly to get going putting people's most valuable talents into use.
But unemployment not only costs tax dollars. That's the small part of it. Human capacity is probably the world's most underutilized resource, the worlds largest potential market. Think about it: In an average western country, only about half of all people are in the work force. About a tenth of those are officially out of work. So there might be a doubling of GDP already there.
Next, consider this joke: A visitor is being shown around a large workplace. He asks "Who many people are working here?" His host answers "About fifty percent". We all know it's true. There is perhaps another doubling of GDP just there. The market for disrupting unemployment might, in principle, quadruple the GDP. Can we even imagine a larger market opportunity?
To be honest, we must also not forget: not all of the work we depend on is paid work. It's a lot, spanning from being a good parent to community work, engaging in democracy, or developing Linux and Wikipedia. We DON'T even want this to be paid work. So disrupting unemployment means more than giving people paid jobs. It is about how we create wealth and wellbeing for everyone.
The i4j summit is a new leadership network bringing together business, policy, education and media leaders to share new ideas about innovation, learning and jobs.