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7/9/2014
09:07 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google CEO: Fight Unemployment With Job Sharing

Google CEO Larry Page suggests we can reduce unemployment by dividing jobs in half.

In the future, we will work less and enjoy more leisure time, while being shuttled around in self-driving cars, attended by artificial intelligence that makes better decisions than we do.

That might sound like the setup for an episode of Star Trek, but it's the world Google's founders see ahead of us.

In a video interview published last week and moderated by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Google CEO Larry Page and co-founder Sergey Brin discussed a range of topics that spanned the company's history, its future focus, and its founders' views on economic issues.

[Are there (more) robots in your future? Read Robots Rising: 7 Real-Life Roles.]

After touching on the importance of Android, Google Now, Google's experimental projects, and machine learning to his company's future, Page asserted that we should be able to work less and be happier.

"I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like Peter Diamandis's book," said Page. "If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy -- housing, security, opportunities for your kids -- anthropologists have been identifying these things. It's not that hard for us to provide those things." (Certainly it's not hard if you're a billionaire.)

Driverless cars and other automation will eliminate jobs, say Google founders.
Driverless cars and other automation will eliminate jobs, say Google founders.

Abundance (Free Press, 2012) is a book by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler that reviewer Timothy Ogden describes as "techno-utopianism at its worst" because it sees every problem as something technology can solve. The New York Times review is a bit more charitable, finding the book's optimism appealing despite some quibbles.

Anyway, Page contends that people don't need to work that hard to take care of life's necessities. He also says people aren't happy when they're idle, so they need to be given something to do.

And it appears that idle workers will become more common. In a recent Fortune article, Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, argues there's mounting evidence that unemployment will remain high for years because automation obviates the need for a growing range of human skills.

Others have said as much. In a recent interview, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business and co-author of The Second Machine Age, said, "I don't know how you can make the case that [manufacturing] technologies are creating as many jobs as they're destroying."

Page's answer to all this is sharing, specifically job sharing. "I was talking to Richard Branson about this," said Page. "They don't have enough jobs in the UK. He's been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time. So at least, the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job. And it's a slightly greater cost for employers. I was thinking, the extension of that is you have global unemployment or widespread unemployment. You just reduce work time."

There is, however, a problem with this scenario. Sharing a job means a 50% salary cut, unless companies are keen to double wages across the board, and that isn't likely. With 50% less income, the things people need to be happy -- which probably extend beyond Page's list of housing, security, and opportunities for offspring -- become harder to afford.

According to a recent Zillow survey, San Franciscans spend an average of 40% of their income on rent. With half as much income, housing suddenly consumes 80% of available funds. Then comes food. Although Americans spend far lower a percentage of their income on food (less than 10%) than do people in many other countries, even this small percentage becomes significant when income is halved. Sharing a job in San Francisco would mean housing, food, and maybe a few dollars left over for Internet access.

Page doesn't appear to have taken steps to encourage Googlers to work less, and Brin voiced his disagreement with the idea, so don't expect widespread job sharing at Google or other Silicon Valley companies any time soon.

Yet without job sharing to mitigate technologically induced unemployment, more and more people might become idle. Khosla goes as far as to predict the need for a vastly expanded welfare program. "Looking 40 years out, I find it hard to imagine why we won't need to support half the population to not work but pursue other interests that are interesting to them," he said.

Just think, you could get paid to post cat pictures on Google+. Techno-utopianism indeed.

Network engineers need broader expertise for their careers to thrive in the coming software-defined networking era. Also in the new SDN Careers issue of Network Computing: Don't be a networking dinosaur.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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MarylandMike
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MarylandMike,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 1:42:59 PM
Job Sharing is not the answer
At first, I thought this article was a throw-back from 1955 when computers would make 'ordinary' work disappear.  That didn't happen and neither will the current evolution of job sharing.  I don't know about the rest of the world, but in the US, when you hire someone part-time (e.g. 20 hours/week) they are not eligible for 401k, vacation, paid sick leave, or medical/dental/vision insurance.  So, not only have you cut my salary in 1/2, you have removed any incentive that companies now offer.

CEOs can talk about this new model but they seem to forget that not everyone is a 'desk' job.  The plumbers, electricians, service workers of the world will still be working full time because anything less puts them at a poverty level.

 
AlanE728
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AlanE728,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 1:42:31 PM
Who pays my mortgage?
This is from the leader of one of the largest corporations in the world?  So I do half my job, get paid half my salary, does that mean Mr. Page will pay half of my mortgage and half of my bills?  Or do I get foreclosed, evicted from my house and live on the street so Mr. Page's Utopian vision can proceed? Can I get half of a McDonalds job then?  I guess Mr. Page doesn't really mind because if he shares his job (yeah I'm sure that will happen) he still will bring in HALF a gazillion dollars, so why should he care?  I'm really trying to get out from under Google's thumb, but it does seem near impossible
zaious
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zaious,
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 1:37:40 PM
Re: Job sharing doesn't have to be 2 for 1
A copmay might offer, "Look, I cen get another employee to work with your group of 5 people. Your workload will decrease, but your pay will go down by 20%" Will anyone agree? It is getting difficult for people to save for retirement funds these days. Creation of jibs has to come through some other way.

Again, it is true that many companies reduced theri workforce but the workload is , essentially, the same. This is a kind of burden on existing emplyees.
Henrisha
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Henrisha,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 1:24:32 PM
Re: Job sharing doesn't have to be 2 for 1
It is more idealistic than realistic or practical. In this day and age where you can get cheaper labor elsewhere, where jobs and money and budgets are tight, and everyone is just looking to scrimp. Don't even get me started on outsourcing.
Henrisha
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Henrisha,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 1:23:36 PM
Re: Job sharing doesn't have to be 2 for 1
Unfortunately, for most firms, higher revenue > happy employees, so unless some great shift comes that'll convince upper management to sign off on that and get more people for job sharing, then I don't see that happening just yet.
anon8304916915
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anon8304916915,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 1:22:37 PM
Obstacles to Techno-Utopia
So the only obstacle to job-sharing and techno-utopia is the high cost of housing?

Even the Soviets were able to provide affordable housing to their workers.

Unfortunately though, it isn't an engineering problem.

It is a political problem called Proposition 13.
JasonO599
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JasonO599,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 12:57:54 PM
Re: Yeah Sue...
"I notice there was no suggestion that, to help with ongoing diminution of pay for the average worker, the CEO's should pay share. "

Market forces say that a CEO is harder to replace than a worker bee. And if you add all the IP and secrets in the mix, a company that does not pay its CEO riskes the danger of losing serious competitive advantage. 

I am not a big believer in such a pay disparity and it does seem unethical, but large companies do have a dilema if they want top leadership talent. The best solution is that consumers stop buying products for these type of companies and patron other companies. 
anon6027605817
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anon6027605817,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 12:57:43 PM
Re: Job sharing could work in some instances
Exactly.

The model I'm thinking of is you have 2 100% unemployed people.  If the job is right, they both could work 50% which is better then 0% and still come out ahead and bring in more than an unemployment check. This also gives them the opportunity to get their foot in the door.  This is also attractive to stay at home parents who want to ease back into the workforce.

I can see how employers could abuse this and make all jobs 50% to save on benefits. That would suck, but they would run the risk of losing their entire employee base.

Make it an option like 4/10 and 3.5/12
JasonO599
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JasonO599,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 12:53:17 PM
Re: Propagate wealth at the low end of the income scale
"Some innovations concentrate wealth, and some propagate wealth. "

Great point, thanks for that. The not so humorous thing is that laize faire types always talk about the latter but not the former. I am pro technology and a capitalist, however I do realize there are limitations and if we aren't open about these limitations and how they effect our society in the next 10 years, we may be in for a rude awakening. 
JasonO599
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JasonO599,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 12:49:49 PM
Re: Disconnected...
"If you cut the work week to 20 hours and halve the salary, the talented will just get two jobs.  Effect on unemployment -- zero."

Some will get a job, but many will freelance and start their own business, so the effect is much greater than you illustrate. 
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