This is what the Executive Chairman of Google, the leviathan of web services foresaw at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Eric Schmidt responding to a question about the future of the web concluded: “I will answer very simply that the Internet will disappear.”
Of course he didn’t predict the actual cessation of existence of the World Wide Web, but rather our sense of it as something separate from everything else. “There will be so many IP addresses, so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with that you won’t even sense it,” he said, adding that Internet “will be part of your presence all the time. Imagine you walk into a room and you are interacting with all the things going on in that room.”
Joining the panel with him we saw the senior representatives from Vodafone, CEO Vittorio Colao, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. The debate was questioning the fear that the fast pace of technology and prevalence of machinery is overtaking citizens’ jobs. The debate “has been around for years”, Google’s boss cited. “Everyone is worried about jobs,” acknowledged Sheryl Sandberg, adding that with so many changes in the technology world, “the transformation is happening faster than ever before”.
Her attention though, was to soothe the fears. “Tech creates jobs not only in the tech space but outside” she insisted. According to a new study conducted by Deloitte & Touche and commissioned by Facebook, the predominant social network contributes US227 billion ($277 billion) impact to the real economy and 4.5 million jobs in 2014. The report takes into consideration the businesses that maintain pages on Facebook as well as the mobile apps and games that consumers play on the site, and measures all the economic activity that result. It also includes the demand for gadgets and online connectivity services that are generated by Facebook.
Schmidt brought up statistics supporting that every tech job creates between five to seven jobs in different areas of the economy. So, despite the fact that machine improvement phenomenally replaces current jobs, it also gives birth to new job categories that are not necessarily connected to technology. “If there were a single digital market in Europe, 400 million new and important new jobs would be created in Europe,” which is sinking into high levels of unemployment.
Of course inequality came up as an angle of looking automation. “Are the spoils of tech being evenly spread? That is an issue that we have to tackle head on,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft highlighting that she is unquestionably optimistic. “If you are in the tech business, you have to be optimistic. Ultimately to me, it’s about human capital. Tech empowers humans to do great things.”
Miss Sandberg said the Internet in its early forms was “all about anonymity” but now everyone was sharing everything and everyone was visible. “Now everyone has a voice … now everyone can post, everyone can share and that gives a voice to people who have historically not had it,” she said.
Sharing the same opinion, Mr Schmidt added that it is now impossible for a country to step out of basic assumptions in banking, communications, morals and the way people communicate. Isolation is no working anymore in a highly globalized world.
This highly optimistic outlook of the biggest worshipers of globalization and its fruits is not to be accepted blindly. It can be overshadowed by simply remembering a study revealed in late 2013, regarding jobs being in jeopardy due to automation. Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne at Oxford University found that about 47% of total U.S. employment is in the “high risk” category of being automated–meaning these employees are likely to be overtaken by machines in the next two decades.
The impressive is that not only manual labor jobs could be affected: The study reveals a trend of computers taking over many cognitive tasks thanks to the availability of big data. What is left to see is if people will have the time to adjust in a new labor market speeding barrier free.