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The WTF Economy

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Abstract

What do self-driving cars, on-demand services, AI, and income inequality have in common? They are telling us, loud and clear, that we’re in for massive changes in work, business, and the economy. We are heading pell-mell towards a world being shaped by technology in ways that we don’t understand and have many reasons to fear.

Just about everyone’s asking WTF ? (“What the F*?”) but also, more charitably “What’s the future?”) Where is technology taking us? Is it going to fill us with astonishment or dismay? And most importantly, what is our role in deciding that future? How do we make choices today that will result in a world we want to live in?

What is the future when more and more work can be done by intelligent machines instead of people, or only done by people in partnership with those machines? What happens to workers, and what happens to the companies that depend on their purchasing power? What’s the future of business when technology-enabled networks and marketplaces are better at deploying talent than traditional companies? What’s the future of education when on-demand learning outperforms traditional universities in keeping skills up to date?

We are at a very dangerous moment in history. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a global elite is eroding the power and sovereignty of nation-states at the same time as globe-spanning technology platforms are enabling algorithmic control of firms, institutions, and societies, shaping what billions of people see and understand and how the economic pie is divided. At the same time, income inequality and the pace of technology change are leading to a populist backlash featuring opposition to science, distrust of our governing institutions, and fear of the future, making it ever more difficult to solve the problems we have created.

The biggest changes are still ahead. Every industry and every organization will have to transform itself in the next decades, in multiple ways, or fade away. We need to ask ourselves whether the fundamental social safety nets of the developed world will survive the transition, and more importantly, what we will replace them with. We need a focused, high-level conversation about the deep ways in which global computer networks and platforms are transforming how we do business, how we work, and how we live. This talk frames that conversation.

About the speaker

Tim O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. He publishes books, runs conferences, invests in early-stage startups, urges companies to create more value than they capture, and tries to change the world by spreading and amplifying the knowledge of innovators. Tim is also a partner at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early stage venture firm, and is on the boards of Code for America, Maker Media, PeerJ, Civis Analytics, and PopVox.

Over the years, Tim has built a culture where sustainable innovation is a key tenet of business philosophy. His active engagement with technology communities both drives the company’s product development and informs its marketing.

He graduated from Harvard in 1975 with a degree in Classics. He began working as a technical writer, and soon began writing and publishing his own books on technology topics. Since 1978, O’Reilly has been a chronicler and catalyst of leading-edge development, honing in on the most significant technology trends and galvanising their adoption by amplifying “faint signals” from tech innovators. His company is publisher of the iconic “animal books” for software developers, creator of the first commercial website (GNN), organiser of the summit meeting that gave the open source software movement its name, and he was a key figure in the “Web 2.0” renaissance after the original dot-com bubble burst. In 2009, with his “Gov 2.0 Summit,” he framed a conversation about the modernization of government technology that has shaped policy and spawned initiatives at the Federal, State, and local level, and around the world. He has now turned his attention to the implications of AI, the on-demand economy, and other technologies that are transforming the nature of work and the future shape of the business world.

An archive of his writings, speeches and talks can be found here

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This talk is part of the Technology and Democracy Events series.

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