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Is America ready for the future of technology?

“Automation and Anxiety” from The Economist

A 2016 study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that nine percent of jobs internationally are at high risk of being automated. An earlier study done in 2013 by Oxford economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne estimated that 47 percent of today’s U.S. jobs are at risk of computerization. From these statistics, automation may be the biggest challenge to the future labor market, but Washington isn’t acknowledging that.

Silicon Valley, on the other hand, is taking notice. Nigel Cameron, the president and CEO for the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies (C-PET), is one of the most vocal advocates for creating an action plan in response to widespread automation. In less than five years, companies like Uber or Lyft could be completely driverless. The ridesharing industry is among those that will suffer the most, and most politicians aren’t considering this as a serious issue. Cameron’s new book, Will Robots Take Your Job? explores a future of automation. He argues that policymakers have resisted discussing automation, but that it could be a complete disaster if America is not prepared for the inevitable shift- and America is not prepared.

C-PET, along with several other organizations and vocal leaders in the debate concerning automation, are fighting to raise these questions in Washington. But the issue may be larger than Washington. The nation’s capital struggles to introduce legislation in time with continuously shifting technologies. Cameron has begun to ask the question of whether Washington is even right for the job. Could it be possible that America’s capital could be moved to Silicon Valley?

This seems like a far-fetched idea. But Cameron argues that the United States has become a West Coast oriented country. Silicon Valley is at the epicenter of American innovation, and if the American economy relies almost entirely on that innovation to grow, should Silicon Valley also become the center of American political life? And if that’s the inevitable direction of policy-making, when will that shift occur?

In Washington, most politicians are old-timers. Most politicians have little more than a basic understanding of Microsoft Word, and aren’t in tune with the influx of modern technologies. Silicon Valley, on the other hand, is composed of young innovators, and millennials focusing on a future of tech and media. Silicon Valley may very well be the only city that can answer the question of inevitable automation, but with little policy influence, economic disaster could be a reality that we need to accept looking forward. Especially with the current administration, run by the oldest president we have had in American history, it seems unlikely that the power will shift to millennial thinkers anytime soon.

So how is America supposed to tackle a problem like this? Cameron proposes that the education system could be the long-term answer, but not the short-term one. It’s difficult to significantly change education policy, which has been evident in the last two decades especially. And even if we changed the education policy now completely, it will be another twenty years or so before the newly-educated generation enters into the American labor force. In that case, the only answer right now is to continue to pester policymakers about automation and the approaching effects of modern technology, and hope that understand the scope of the problem.

Original Story: “Politicians Aren’t Talking About the Biggest Challenge to the Labor Market” The Atlantic, Nov. 6, 2017.

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