A Critique of Responsibility and Technology
Responsible technology can play a crucial role in moving our country forward
Published on December 1, 2016
By Brad Smith
President and Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft Corporation
Brad Smith reminisced, “Two weeks ago, I had the chance to visit Wisconsin, where I grew up. It’s a state that has obviously been in the news lately in the context of the presidential election. It’s also a state with a rich history of industrial innovation that helped propel the United States to global leadership. The country’s first hydroelectric power plant, built in my home town of Appleton in 1882, helped light the way towards the future that includes the electronic devices we enjoy today. Yet Wisconsin, like many states, also faces new and complex challenges due to the nonstop pace of societal and technological change and the issues that arise with it.”
A wee bit of a stretch here, insofar as importance goes. Now if that hydroelectric power plant led to many, many more than you’ve got something. It was not the start of a trend. These types of power plants are the cleanest and safest types. They only produce 6.1% of the electricity in the US. I wish it were a lot more.
Brad Smith stated, “Visiting a political battleground state whose voters helped decide the tumultuous presidential election led me to reflect on what’s ahead for our country. Among other things, our recent election laid bare the struggle of many Americans who feel left out and unable to participate in the economic growth and opportunities created by our rising digital economy.”
Why do people harp on so-called battle ground states? We all determined who got elected.
It is not so much that they are left out of the recovery it is more that the recovery has happened yet. When 1/3 of the workforce is not working at all and a sizable portion of those that are left are underemployed then we have not had a recovery. The unemployment rate is not less than 5% it is over 30%.
Brad Smith posited, “This frustration is felt by more than a few of the people of Wisconsin. And what’s happening there mirrors what’s happening across our country and more broadly in a number of other nations.”
Yes it is being felt worldwide. Computer technology is partially responsible for a net of loss over 1 million jobs, in 14 large economies per year for the next 5 years, starting in 2015, at least.
Here is a short essay of mine that shows what I am talking about.
Net employment outlook by job family, 2015–2020
Employees (thousands, all focus countries)
According to the World Economic Forum–
The focus countries are:
- GCC—Arab states around the Persian Gulf
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- United States.
Job gains, in 1000s:
+492 Business and Financial Operations
+405 Computer and Mathematical
+339 Architecture and Engineering
+303 Sales and Related
+66 Education and Training
This adds up to a Gross gain of 2,021,000 jobs.
However, the net loss of Office and Administration jobs alone more than offset this increase. Add to this the other losses and we have:
Job Losses in 1000s:
– 4,759 Office and Administration
–1,609 Manufacturing and Production
–497 Construction and Extraction
–151 Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, Media
–40 Installation and Maintenance
Gross loss of 7,165, 000 jobs.
So, we have a net loss of 5,144,000 jobs worldwide. This is an average of just under 1.03 million lost jobs per year.
This goes to what I have been saying and that is, automation has reduced the need for workers overall. The jobs technology creates is more than offset by the jobs it eliminates, to the detriment of the world at large.
All for the sake of productivity and making the rich richer. Meanwhile, poverty has not decreased. It has in China but the rest of the world it is about the same or worse.
Also, more importantly is that the people who lose their jobs will not be the ones that get the open tech jobs.
This is hardly ethical!
Notice that this does not even consider the damage done over the past 40 years or so.
Building a cloud for everyone
Brad Smith posited, “I believe the IT industry has a special role to play in moving our country forward. The IT sector is creating new opportunities, companies, and jobs on a weekly basis. Yet technology is also disrupting businesses, automating tasks, and sometimes even displacing jobs. We need to be mindful as an industry and a country of both sides of this coin. And we need to address with shared responsibility across the private and public sectors the broad needs of the population and not just those who benefit the most readily from rapid change. That, perhaps as much as anything else, is one of the principal lessons of this year’s election.”
It is basically too late to think about the people that technology has hurt. As I stated above the net loss of jobs due to technology is horrendous.
The old way of systems analyst work that provides systems that someone asked for has been replaced by create the system first and hope to market it once it is completed, if not, before. The former was a good way but the latter is an insult to humanity. You create something then say we need it and that we cannot live without it. This is wrong.
You are rushing so fast to see if you could that you fail to ask, let alone answer, if you should. It is called ethics. I sincerely believe that ethics and business are two mutually exclusive terms.
I feel that this introspection by business will never happen!
Brad Smith stated, “There is both good and bad news that we need to consider.”
There usually is.
Brad Smith continued, “The good news starts with the new and democratizing opportunities that technology is creating. Cloud computing is enabling people and organizations everywhere to harness massive computing power from datacenters distributed across the country and around the world. This shared computing power enables the smallest businesses in our economy to access the same tools and technology that benefit our country’s largest enterprises.”
This is good? The idea is not even new, per se. This is the old Thin Client- Thick Server model of the 1970s and later. The only thing new about it is that it is applied to the Internet (WAN—Wide Area Network). Back then this model was restricted to LANs (Local Area Networks.) The LAN is much more secure than a WAN could ever hope to be. Granted some LANs has RAS (Remote Access Systems) but even this far more secure than the Internet. This problem of security is what concerns me. As much as companies like to show you all of the Cloud’s benefits and their mentioning of security they will never be all of that secure. If I were a company I would not have company sensitive data on the Cloud.
Brad Smith wrote, “I witnessed this phenomenon in Wisconsin. Award-winning new businesses in Wisconsin touch everything from human health and transportation to agriculture, the water supply and infrastructure. They show that every company is becoming a digital company. This offers new opportunities for our workforce, technology in all forms, and our education system.”
I was not even going to write against this essay until I saw education system mentioned here.
I am sure that the Cloud is permeating all aspects of life and business. That does not make it right though. The Cloud and the Internet in general are not needed in schools, K-12 and most colleges majors for that matter. While there is a wealth of information in the Internet there is enough in textbooks and handouts that makes the Internet superfluous. The Internet is a case of information overload. There is just so much out there that nobody can possibly read it all or understand it all.
Never use a cannon to kill a fly! —Confucius
You will rarely use all of your tools in your toolbox, unless you have very few. Just because you can (use the Internet or Cloud) does not mean that you should.
Brad Smith declared, ”Yet there is bad news as well. While the transformative power of the cloud has helped organizations and people around the world improve their businesses and lives, this economic boon is not shared by everyone. We need to recognize that many people today are unable to benefit from the emerging digital economy because they lack the appropriate skills and opportunities to master them.”
You are assuming that all can be a computer scientist. Nothing is further from the truth. Very few are suited for a STEM career. Again, the ones that lose their jobs will NOT be the ones taking the new IT jobs, at least, for the most part.
It is not a matter of lack of appropriate skills and opportunities to master them except to say that companies will not hire someone and then train them for something specific. They expect schools to do this for them. They say I am not in the training business.
Creating a learning economy
Brad Smith submitted, “What this means for business is clear: you can only be a healthy business if you are a learning business and are investing in the continued training of your own employees. What it means for a digital economy is that we must be a learning economy and pursue the same goal as a nation.“
I do agree with the training of your employees but most companies will not do that. A learning economy fuels innovation. So what? Again, innovation hurts the world’s people more than it helps. Should we continue to hurt people? This is the question that no one will answer.
Brad Smith wrote, “You can see this in the data on national employment growth over the last quarter century. In the United States, there are 7.3 million fewer jobs available for people with only a high school diploma than there were in 1989. Yet for the past quarter century, we’ve seen steady growth and a doubling in new jobs for people with at least a four-year college degree. That’s a big gap.“
Doubling in new jobs for people with a 4-year degree, since 1989? We have also greatly increased the number of people with bachelor’s degrees over that time. Now, we have a glut of college graduates. We have slightly more than ½ of all college graduates are NOT in jobs that require a bachelor’s degree. Many are in retail sales taking the jobs that high school drop outs and high school graduates should be doing.
Most of the jobs around Austin Texas have been retail sales type and a few healthcare. You are told that Austin is a high tech Mecca. Most of the high tech jobs are being filled by people coming here but not by locals, Even though we have unemployed college graduates here. Yes there are some software jobs but I would think more retail sales jobs.
Brad Smith stated, “We feel this wide skills disparity in the tech sector. As a nation, we have 600,000 open computing jobs but last year we produced only 40,000 new four-year computer science graduates. In Wisconsin, there are 7,699 open computing jobs, but the state’s universities and colleges last year added only 890 computer science graduates to fill them.”
How is this possible when fully 1/3 of computer science graduates will never get a software job?
Your statistics are a bit misleading. You did not say that there were 600,000 new jobs.
I had heard that we will have about 660,000 software jobs open over the next 10 years and only about 400,000 computer science graduates to fill them. If this is true then there is still too many computer science graduates. The average job lasts only 4 years (if that many). So, in a 10 year period a person (Computer scientist) will need 2.5 jobs. So, the 400,000 computer science graduates will need 1,000,000 jobs over that 10 year period or about 340,000 jobs short, Hence, we will have 1/3 too many computer science graduates.
660,000/2.5 = 264,000 So, we have enough jobs for 264,000 graduates. But enough jobs for only 264,000/400,000 = 66%, so fully 1/3 will never get a software job.
So, there is no gap. There is a glut.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that through 2024 66% of all jobs will require a high school diploma of less. That is 39% will require the graduate and 27% will require the dropout.
That 27% is the same as the need for college graduates. That is broken down as Associate’s degree 4%, Bachelor’s degrees 18%, Master’s degrees 2%, and PhD’s 3%. Some college but no degree or certificate is 7%.
Brad Smith posited, “It’s also not a gap that starts in college. It starts much earlier.”
Again, there is a surplus and not a gap!!!!
Brad Smith lamented, “Across America we have 37,000 high schools, but only 4,310 — a mere 12 percent — offer an advanced placement (AP) course in computer science. In Wisconsin, of 500 high schools in a strong public education system, only 80 high schools offer this AP course. As digital technology continues to turn every company in part into a digital business, this need for employees with these digital skills will continue to grow.”
Whether an AP exists or not, does not equate to computer science majors. True computer scientists will naturally gravitate to the field on their own. They do not need AP courses.
AP courses should not exist!!! High school should have only high school courses. AP in computer science without the mathematics to back it up makes no sense. Computer Science relies heavily on mathematics as do a lot of sciences. But Age appropriate classes should be the norm. AP courses are wasted. Many do not pass the test and actually get advanced placement. There should be no dual enrollment either. Let college wait until after high school. What is the rush?
Brad Smith declared, “Yet it would be wrong to conclude that this issue is solely about coding and digital skills. As a country we also have unmet needs in a variety of other fields. Increasingly these involve so-called middle skills that require less than a four-year college degree but some type of post-secondary or community college credential.”
Again, where? Only 4% of all jobs in the near future will require Associate’s degrees and 7% some college. That is only 11% total. This is hardly a big problem!
We have slightly over 40% with an Associate’s degree or higher, according to << https://www.ohe.state.mn.us/dPg.cfm?pageID=1814>>.
Again, only 27% of all jobs will require an Associate’s or higher. As I have said we have a glut of college graduates. We almost twice as many college graduates as we need.
THERE IS NO GAP!!! THERE IS NO STEM SHORTAGE!!!
Brad Smith wrote, “I saw this broadening phenomenon in two recent examples. In October I spent a day in Switzerland, where youth unemployment hovers at a low four percent, learning about the country’s highly-valued apprenticeship programs. We started the morning at CSL Behring, a company in Bern that is a leader in plasma protein therapeutics. I talked with high school students in the apprentice program and learned how they spend three days a week at the company mastering – and getting paid for – skills that go beyond what I remember from my high school chemistry class.”
Yes a lot of European countries do this. That is why they have over 90% high school graduation rates. They have redefined high school. They have two tracks through high school. One track is more traditional academic and the other more apprenticeships. We have apprenticeships here to but after high school.
Personally, I would rather know that the high school graduate I had in front of me, if I was employer, had taken the academic track and not the apprenticeship person. How do they know that they are not creating too many, let’s say, plumbers and not enough carpenters?
Even exposure to this chemistry is a waste of time. What does the company get out of it? Does this result in more chemists? Is there that big of a need for chemists?
Brad Smith declared, “Just a week ago I was struck in a similar way by a tweet from the Appleton Post-Crescent in Wisconsin. It highlighted a $1.7 million expansion at the Fox Valley Technical College to expand its lab for welding and metal fabrication. Why is this investment important? Because there is a need to keep up with job openings in the field and workers can earn paychecks that increase by up to 35 percent or more by combining the right type of experience with the right kind of post-secondary credentials.”
Is there that big of a need for welders? Again, how do you know what is needed and what will be needed more than 3 years down the road. Major employers do not look more than 3 years down the road, at the strategic level and even less at the tactical level and even less yet at the operational level. The operational level is one that will do the hiring. Small companies do not look very far down the road. Nobody has a functional crystal ball.
One needs credentials to weld? One needs college to weld?
Brad Smith stated, “What, then, is the outlook for America’s changing workforce, and how do we educate people and make sure that the IT sector plays a positive role? If we’re prepared to look at concrete examples both near and far, there is an abundance of answers.”
Again, education has little to do with the jobs. The jobs will go to the cheapest labor force not the most educated. In Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error, 2013, she quotes, “Krugman [Paul Krugman?] concludes: “So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education is not the answer—we’ll have to go about building that society directly.” [87,88]
So education is Not the answer!
Brad Smith wrote, “There are many opportunities to better align the needs of the labor market with the courses and degrees offered by our community colleges and universities. We also have opportunities to modernize ongoing learning offerings with a more agile method of delivering certificates, training and apprenticeships. And while we focus on the question of affordability, we must simultaneously do a better job of helping those students who start college to finish it as well.”
Since technology is changing very fast then how can one know what the needs will be and so how can we prepare for it . Answer is we can’t! Even at the Community College level the fast change cannot be kept up with. Here is a personal example:
In the 2012-2013 school year, at Austin Community College I was going for an AA degree in GIS (Geographical Information Systems). In the Fall of 2012 I used ESRI’s ArcMap 10.0. In the Spring of 2013 I used ESRI’s ArcMap 10.1, in an advanced course. My point is by May of 2013, ESRI was already announcing its version 10.2. So, I was not even completed my 2nd semester yet and it is already obsolete.
Brad Smith submitted, “We all need to chip in and consider new opportunities for innovation. Educational institutions can build on their recent successes by continuing to adapt to the labor market needs of a changing economy. The public sector as a whole has a critical supporting role to play. And the tech industry can better support the economy’s broad-based needs with services and tools to help meet these needs.”
Innovation is just a fancy word for change. We have too much of that now and you want more? Innovation does not necessarily mean good. All change is bad, at least initially. A necessary byproduct of change is chaos. Chaos is always bad. Changes ought to be wanted and proven better than the old method or product or service before its introduction. This is clearly not being done.
You entitle this with the word responsibility. But yet you seem to be pushing for more and more innovation. Why? I fail to see the specifics of the responsibility part.
Brad Smith wrote, “Right here on LinkedIn, we can see the potential of what tech companies and tech nonprofits can contribute with services and tools that help individuals build new skills and connect with new jobs. And as we at Microsoft think about our potential combined future with LinkedIn, it’s clear we’ve only started to scratch the surface with what we can achieve.”
Potential maybe but it is just that. It may not actually happen. But you fail to see the potential bad that is being done and has been done and will continue being done by all of this innovation. I fear that it will never be done. More people will be hurt than helped by innovation.
Building infrastructure to support a digital economy
Brad Smith declared, “All of this is also timely as the nation looks ahead to 2017 and the potential for new investments in the country’s infrastructure. This is because 21st Century infrastructure requires not only improved roads and bridges, but access to the internet that has become indispensable for economic opportunity.”
Where in this country is the Internet not being accessed? Opportunity do what precisely?
Brad Smith submitted, “In Wisconsin, as elsewhere, many people live in communities with no high-speed broadband access at all. According to the 2016 FCC Broadband Progress Report, 10 percent of all Americans – 34 million people – lack access to quality broadband.“
Again, 10% is a very small percentage. It also means that 90% do have high speed broadband. This does not mean that they do not have some access to the Internet though. We do Not all have to be wired. In fact we all need to disconnect.
People call me pessimistic (I prefer to think of myself as realistic). You harp on the 10% that do not high speed Internet connection instead of praising the fact that 90% do have it.
The Internet is not necessarily all of that important. It is not a necessity. It is a nice luxury to have.
Brad Smith put forth, “Vilas County in northern Wisconsin, which I visited over many summers while growing up, provides a great example of schools, businesses, and the state and local government banding together to secure FCC funding to spread broadband to 90 percent of the rural county. This successful public-private approach is an example for others to consider.”
What did you do before the Internet? What was the ROI ( Return On Investment)? Why is there FCC funding for this?
Forging new ways to work together
Brad Smith posited, “Regardless of our politics, this is a time to look beyond disagreements and divides, find bold solutions to common problems, and forge new ways of working together. Those of us in the tech sector need to ask: how do we help address the challenges of this era of technological change?”
Maybe you could start with not ramming technological innovation down our throats,
Brad Smith wrote, “The answer needs to start by heightening our own sense of curiosity. We have a lot to learn about how we can better equip people across the economy to master the skills they will need for success.”
The problem is businesses must hire people and then train them on the specific hardware/software system that they have, once they have the degree necessary. They must realize that skills do transfer. They must stop with the age discrimination. They must realize that 3-5 years of experience is not needed and probably, even if they do have the 3-5 years of experience, the experience will probably be wrong. It is knowledge and the ability to learn the employers should be hiring.
Brad Smith continued, “But causes for optimism exist all around us. While in Milwaukee, I visited an old but elegant warehouse that dates to 1875 and Wisconsin’s first decades of statehood. Inside I visited Gener8tor, a nationally-regarded accelerator. I learned from co-founder Joe Kirgues about the new businesses they are supporting and met the young people starting companies there. I found myself talking to people who could hold their own with the best and brightest individuals I’ve met at similar facilities in Seattle, San Francisco, Berlin, and Shanghai. I was excited to see them bringing new successes in such an exciting way to the state where I had grown up.”
Yes I am sure that there are a number of examples of successes but there are more examples of failures. More businesses fail rather than succeed. Why can’t people be realistic?
Brad Smith concluded, “This example and their work won’t provide all the answers we need. But without question, their work – and the inspiration of their example – has an important role to play in our collective future.”
Even though your examples exist they may not soon. Again, many are startups and more fail.
My biggest complaint as I was writing this essay was I was hoping for the answer about technology and responsibility.
You talk about mastering the skills needed, as if it our responsibility to learn your changes. We could just reject your innovations. It is like you are saying we are deficient in some manner and you, in your infinite wisdom, must help us through programs and services you create to cope with the technology you create that nobody asked for.
This is a never ending cycle but in the meantime people around world are hurting for jobs and therefore sustenance.
Forgive me for asking but what does a lawyer know about technology?