President Reif: We must build a future in which technology works for everyone

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In an op-ed published today in The Boston Globe, MIT President L. Rafael Reif has urged those at the vanguard of the technology revolution to help lead the way in ensuring that automation in the workplace has a positive impact on society.

“We must proactively and thoughtfully reinvent the future of work,” he writes.

In a recent Pew study, 72 percent of Americans reported feeling worried or very worried about a future where robots and computers can do many human jobs. However, Reif notes, past periods of technological and social upheaval have been smoothed by “deliberate, coordinated action,” ultimately leading to overall job growth and other important gains.

Ideas such as universal public education, the GI Bill, and the post-Sputnik focus on science education, he notes, were “broad, far-sighted investments in human development” that allowed the country to recover from disruptive technological and social change. Such coordinated action is needed again now, according to Reif.

“Automation will transform our work, our lives, our society. Whether the outcome is inclusive or exclusive, fair or laissez-faire, is up to us,” he writes.

Technology could be part of the solution, Reif notes. Online education platforms, for example, could enable “continuous uptraining” to help workers aquire new skills and adapt to new economic conditions. Other ideas could involve educators, corporations, unions, the government, and universities such as MIT.

“At MIT, we are deeply engaged in defining the current problem and forecasting challenges ahead, “ he writes in closing. “And we are urgently seeking allies who want to join in developing creative, collaborative solutions — and in building a future in which technology works for everyone.”