Yay: Google is also worried about the robots

Chairman Eric Schmidt acknowledges that automation can hurt jobs. So what's he going to do about it?

Topics: SXSW, sxswi, Google, eric schmidt, Jobs, automation, Labor Market, ,

Yay: Google is also worried about the robotsEric Schmidt (Credit: AP/Vincent Yu)

Good news! Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman is “very, very worried” about the prospect that further advances in technology will negatively impact the job market. His concern is reassuring, since Google’s recent emergence at the forefront of robotics and artificial intelligence research and development puts the company smack at the cutting edge of potentially job-killing automation.

Schmidt made his comments at a panel discussion kicking off South by Southwest Interactive, the annual gathering of the tech tribes in Austin, Texas. He also acknowledged, according to a live blog hosted at MarketingLand, that “the average person hasn’t benefited from global growth” and “the tensions are getting worse in the Bay Area.”

“But there’s no way to hold back the technology. We can get though it with more education, openness, entrepreneurship, capitalism,” said Schmidt.

Other parts of the solution? “Immigration, and connectivity to the Internet.”



I’m not exactly sure how more immigration responds directly to the question of technology and jobs, outside of a potentially positive effect on overall economic growth. And that probably isn’t enough. The immense changes that further technological progress is likely to wreak on society is going to require a more aggressive stance than the same policy agenda that Silicon Valley business leaders would be advocating even if there was no link at all between tech and unemployment or increasing economic inequality. It’s not enough to be “worried.”

Still it’s a good sign that the potential negative consequences of dazzling tech progress are on the agenda at SXSW. That wasn’t the case a year ago this time, when I attended the festival. So that’s progress of a different kind.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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