Last night I was on a panel at IIT’s Stuart School of Business. The panel talked about the intersection of the future of work, design, engineering, and digital. The crowd was diverse, and the panel had diverse experiences and degrees. I was the only one without a PhD, but I have a lot of market experience to make it up.
We covered a lot of points in the wide-ranging discussion. It was a good discussion with a lot of difference of opinion, but no one shouted. No one attacked. Unfortunately, they didn’t tape it. This is the first time they have done it and I hope they do more of it. Another very cool fact is 200 people came to a tech event on a rainy night in Chicago to talk about issues in tech. That wouldn’t have happened a number of years ago and shows the tech community is growing, on point and engaged in Chicago.
I wanted to pick up a point or two and share them with you to see what you thought. There were lots of compelling questions. It’s hard to pick one.
One that was interesting to me was about tech companies and how they interact with their employees and the outside world. Should they be worried about the human implications of what they are building? The person that initially invented the ATM put people out of a job, but the convenience is pretty nice. Should that inventor have worried about it? Which leads the the question of taxing robots. Should we tax them?
Let me go backward. I don’t think we should tax robots because it is a tax on innovation. If we do that, we should tax washing machines, and other more mundane “robots”. I also think that technology is going to be built whether we like it or not. It moves forward relentlessly. We don’t know what kinds of jobs will be created but over the course of time our lives have been better for it. People learn new skills. I do think we are approaching a very disruptive time, but I also think that it is almost impossible for us to assemble all the pieces nicely the way our brains want them assembled. No one heard of the position, “social media coordinator” in 2000.
Even with a lot of AI, robots and other things that help bring humans to a decision; humans will still have to interpret data and set strategy and make decisions. They will have to critically think. STEM education isn’t enough. Go back and read Adam Smith, JS Mill, and David Hume. Critical thinking and creativity are skills that will never go away.
If you are a tech company you need to satisfy your customers. Delight them. You also need to satisfy your shareholders. You satisfy your shareholders by delighting your customers and getting more of them. But what about the janitor? The point was made the janitor at Apple isn’t an employee. They don’t have a stake in the business, but they do work around the facility and make life easier for employees.
If that’s the case and your company values it, give them some equity.
It becomes about corporate culture. Companies start building it right away. Corporate culture also becomes a marketing tool for companies to attract customers and more employees. If giving equity to “menial” people that are “working” but not working for the firm is important to you then give out some options or straight equity to that person.
One other point was made like this. “Name a technology that has been developed that hasn’t hurt people.” I mentioned heart transplants but there are plenty of others. Technology is never developed to hurt people unless you are talking about things built for the defense industry. Even then, defense technology and the methods of delivery hurt far fewer people today than they did in the past.
I am very optimistic about the technological advances that are coming. We are going to see the intersection of design crossing into all kinds of disciplines where it wasn’t considered before. It’s going to be very cool.