The Dark Side of Tech: No Jobs for Humans?

WGSN’s Retail and Insight team are live from Web Summit 2016 in Portugal this week, reporting on the future of tech and what it means for retail industries and our wider society. Last night the packed schedule of talks kicked off, and the opening topic that kept everyone on the edge of their seat was, what does evolving tech industries mean for us, our jobs, and this uncertain age?

The uncertainty around today’s US elections, combined with a challenged Europe, and a future where tech may lead to a jobless future, was the central focus of these opening talks.

Goldman Sachs’ José Manuel Barroso described how there is currently a general intellectual shift towards pessimism, as Europe works to deal with Brexit, amid a landscape where the refugee crisis is driving a shift towards xenophobia and nativism. But that this is not a problem that is happening only in Europe, with the US blocking the TPP trade agreement.

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“Globally there is a backlash against globalisation,” he said.

But the younger generations are driving a silent revolution to more openness – particularly around technology, as technology is not a concept that has traditionally recognised international borders.

“There is a very existential fight globally between the forces of openness and protectionism,” he said, adding that the result of the US election will be very important for the future of open economies.

This is all being driven by a feeling of abandonment felt by many workers, a sense of being left behind, particularly as technology disrupts even more markets.

Some eight out of 10 jobs are being lost to new technologies, not trade, and governments need to prepare workers for that reality.

New technologies: the threat of drones?

New technologies: the threat of drones?

For instance, Roberto Azevêdo, director-general of the World Trade Organization questioned what will happen when delivery happens by drones or self-driven trucks. There are 3.5m truck drivers, but there are also the ancillary services that will be disrupted by this – the road side cafés, motels and service stations that help them.

“Politicians need to find ways to support the people being left behind,” he said.

The relocation of Web Summit from Dublin to Lisbon highlights how politicians are trying to prevent their countries being left behind by the transition to a tech economy.

Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave emphasised in his opening comments how the Portuguese government courted the summit, in the hope that new start-ups might be convinced to move their businesses to the country.

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The value of technology companies to the future of the nation’s economy was highlighted by the country’s secretary of state for industry, João Vasconcelos, saying: “In this country, technology CEOs will be the new rock stars.”

While the world’s future remains uncertain, one thing we know is that technology, and the people creating it will be playing a starring role.

Like this? Follow Petah for live updates from Web Summit on Twitter here.

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