Monday, May 29, 2017

IBM Watson the ICON of Unemployment. What this means for Africa.

IBM Watson the ICON of Unemployment. What this means for Africa.

 With 30 years of marketing, while working for the poor, it is both fascinating and cruel to watch the IBM Watson Ad campaign. While millions of viewer think technology is cool and the ads of the very human Watson are fun, those of us in the social industries know the flips side of this Smiling Tiger. The Watson ads send a message to consumers of greater accuracy and convenience. However, to the CEO they convey a message of eliminating high paying positions in every industry imaginable. Not to mention Watson is unconditionally loyal and without an ethical conscious. If he says no, just reprogram him, perhaps why he is male. Not so sure if you do that with an IBM Stella.   IBM ironically refers to Watson as the “New Guy” in its’ ads. The “New Guy” that replaced the expert or a team of old guys.

By building one of the first technology centers in New York City I witness how in a few years
desktop PCs and LANs eliminated thousands of New York secretarial jobs. While working on the first ATM projects for Chase we talked about how these systems will eliminate retail banking positions, and yes in the 80's we saw this could be done one day on phones. While at GE we also saw the elimination of high-level analytical positions in banking and stock analysts. There was talk about how the code could write code, self-diagnose and robots building robots. In the 80s we already had code that could debug code. My dad saw this while he used a slide rule to work out how we could send a signal back from the moon on the NASA Apollo project. While we all were excited about the prospects of what we had created, and a few of us also feared the social consequences. The planet was for families, not corporate machines. We knew that science fiction had finally caught up with us.

IBM Watson is now the third wave of automation revolution to come. He replaces medical interns, engineers, coaches, music, cooking recipes for Campbell's Soup and even is targeting Bob Dylan’s music. IBM is clearing sending a message to CEOs around the world that they can replace labor, and artists, at all levels of the organization all the way down to intelligent buildings. It seems so clean and perfect like some idyllic planet visited in a 60's Star Trec show. But the dirty little secret is the world's slums are growing.  Violence by desperate people is getting exceedingly more bizarre and random. Not just in the Middle East but in the US as well.

Yet we are told to look they another way. While US and European Alt-Right talk radio talk shows deliver political preaching blaming immigration as the reason for low wages and underemployment, it is a distraction from the truth of automation.

We have seen in history when classes split too far for a variety of reasons, but this is new. While US politicians and corporations sugar coat what is happening negative sociological forces are apparent at alarming rates. In the 60's US oppression of the poor and lack of opportunity lead to riots and later social reforms. However, today it is different, at that time the poor was not armed and we had people like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Today media honors revenge and thug behavior. The US has perhaps over 2,000,000 gang members, with another two million in jails. They are armed (like the NRA folk) have Internet technology, money, fast cars and are globally organized. The US and global urban poverty are under ever increasing levels institutional, economic and social segregation. If we are not careful a flash point will be reached when it is one viral racist event to many.  We can even argue that we that the US has already crossed that line. The use of US ICE Mexican incarceration is one of many reactions that the US is Alt-Right is pushing too far.

At some point government, companies and community will need to come together. We will need to stop the viral hate talk shows in order to develop a coherent strategy to keep the American (and European) Dream from unraveling. Soon all the election promises to re-employ thousands of mine workers, and other jobs will surface as impossible promises, hostility will boil over. Hundreds of miners jobs will never come back because they have been replaced by what a few can do with industrial machines. The 2016 6,000 retail US stores closed by Amazon's automation are not coming back. These are the inconvenient truths that no amount of finger pointing will solve.

We seriously underestimate how deep this has traveled into the human experience and the internal rage it is creating. In old days we used tools to do a job. Today systems drive people to do the work for corporate profit. Tools/systems, such as FEDEX use people now. Ask you delivery person about how they feel about the wand they carry tracking their every move. It is a new type of slave labor ball and chain that on a daily basis jobs are being squeezed out by automation. This is happening while at the same US citizen safety nets for health retirement, school and even food are under threat. While salaries are in a race to the bottom the wealthy believe the workforce should manage the money better for health insurance and other benefits. This clueless thinking will come to an end one way or another.

While media analysts try to find reasons, or a political group, to blame for US killings in our schools and malls the real demon is not Russian influences, angry talk shows or hateful religious leaders. Perhaps the real sickness is both the pathological greed of the wealthy and the helplessness of everyone else. Being automated out of jobs. Nature has a way of restoring balance, and it rarely a pleasant sight when it does.

The relevance of these forces in Africa could not be more timely or relevant. One strategy would be to integrate with the massive automation of Amazon. This is great for Burundi coffee sales. The other strategy might be to develop small local business in African countries. Perhaps Africa needs a clear strategy for developing a micro-economies in Africa's towns and villages that lean on cultural tastes. Africa many local cultures develop local fashion, housing, furniture, and architecture could retain economies. I am not an expert, yet it seems that countries need both global and local strategies to grow and protect labor jobs. African government, small companies need to work together to protect; markets, jobs and the peace.

Stark contrast between wealthy and the poor has yielded the lessons of the US Dust Bowl, revolutions of Rome, China, Russia and the genocide of Rwanda. The fleecing of the global poor has limits we must all face.

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