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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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Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
7/10/2014 | 5:51:02 AM
Re: Here's Reality For You
Interesting dynamics at play -- a few companies have an interest in technology to be implemented, while on the other hand, a few companies don't want technology to be implemented because it might hurt their profit margins.

Economics solves many of these problems, it allows for a process to bring into widespread adoption the technologies that are cheaper for everyone. Fuel Cells are good but when compared to Natural Gas, it can cost around three times as much to produce hydrogen that can be implemented in a Fuel Cell to deliver energy, infrastructure (filling stations, etc.) requirements that would be needed to support a Fuel Cell automotive industry is another concern.

Sometimes it is easy for the incumbent to advance to a more efficient technology, but decides not to because they fear that their customers will not be able to match the investment needed from the customers end. For example, 220v AC distribution systems are more efficient compared to 110v, and power distribution companies would only need to upgrade their last mile (transformers). However, consumers will have to convert all of their appliances that run on 110v into appliances that accept 220v.  
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
7/10/2014 | 5:12:53 AM
Re: Yeah Sue...
Good point, the planet does not have infinite resources to produce an infinite supply of shoes. I think as new materials are discovered shoes might become hybrid, for example, a flat would be able to convert into a heeled shoe and vise-vasa. There are already Nano materials that are being applied to the exterior of shoes, this helps to keep the shoe to look like new and makes cleaning it easier. However, such advances are just going to decrease long term demand for new shoes.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
7/10/2014 | 4:50:19 AM
Re: Yeah Sue...
Interesting point about the trade-offs that companies need to make in deciding the salaries of their CEO. I guess, as the job of the CEO becomes diluted and other C-suites become an absolute necessity in every company, this could cause the average salary to increase, while decreasing the CEO's salary -- much like splitting the CEO's job responsibilities from a one person show to a team effort.
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
7/9/2014 | 10:59:41 PM
Re: Revolution = Non-Participation
A revolution takes a ton of organization -- so much so that we haven't had anything resembling it since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
eagle94
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eagle94,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 9:22:40 PM
Re: Nice Joke
I did very welll the last three years,averaging over 800,OOO. Approximately 4% came from investments while the remainder from my small business I pay 9% state and 39.5% federal. I write off my home mortgage and a couple of other minor deductions. Maybe 40k when all said. Please explain how I can get to an effective tax rate of 11%. Because I feel very foolish paying so much.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 6:47:45 PM
Re: Sharing work a future necessity
It's a unique concept, not totally new when you think of shift work where many folks share responsibilities.  I wonder if this will change the overall business hours, since when you think about it, we are going to be moving towards a truly global economy, which means supporting all time zones.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/9/2014 | 6:33:15 PM
Sharing work a future necessity
In the future people will share work both by necessity and choice. They'll try to compensate for the limits on income by finding ways to forestall some of the costs of modern life. They will barter for skills and services with friends and through online exchanges. They'll use more computer skills to attend class, shop and recreate. They'll also spend more time training youth to use components to build their own basic electronics -- computer, music player, phone. They'll work growing food, fixing bikes, repairing a window or roof, generating energy. In the necessity of doing so, they'll end up doing something else they always meant to do -- live and work more closely together, proliferating local skills and founding neighborhood businesses. But it probably won't work out without first encountering painful disruptions and lessons.
Banker666
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Banker666,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 6:25:14 PM
Re: Sure thang
From USA Today "'Practical' Google exec caught in tangled sex web"  See what did I tell ya!
Christ!
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Christ!,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 6:06:29 PM
Livable Wages or Adult Dependency?
He wants to lower the Non-Livable wage even more?  

People can't afford their own residence as it stands now.


Banker666
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Banker666,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 5:30:21 PM
Re: Disconnected...
"Bingo. For example, how do you like your chances of starting, say, a streaming video service if Verizon gets its way? And even if the net neutrality issue gets favorably sorted, it's only one example."

 

Absolutely right, look what happened to Aereos who got spanked by the SCOTUS or Kim Dotcom when the storm troopers raided his residence.     

 
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