The “Future of Work” addressed in Silicon Valley Forum

by Edward Kang

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics experts, tech industry leaders, and policy academics shaped guidelines for the technological improvement of society at the “Future of the Workforce” event on June 12 in the UCSC Silicon Valley campus, hosted by the multicampus CITRIS and the Banatao Institute headquartered at UC Berkeley.

Leila Takayama, former Google X Senior User Experience Researcher and now associate professor of computational media at UC Santa Cruz (one of four CITRIS campuses), explored the importance of the human in human-robot interaction. Responding to societal anxieties around workforce replacement, Takayama says, “Robotics isn’t there yet.”

For instance, the mobile remote presence systems she helped pioneer at Willow Garage was developed in response to the shortcomings of working by remote. She demonstrated a user-controlled, face-streaming device on wheels that offers an “informal communication system” to (1) show the user’s commitment to the company, (2) capture the attention of coworkers, and (3) provide a social connection that increases productivity. “That’s how you get to know people as human beings… not just to transact with,” says Takayama.

Mark Nitzberg, executive director of the UC Berkeley Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence (CHAI), evaluated the question of the predominance of AI over humans: “Are we there yet?” Looking over the industries most affected by technological innovations, he says, “there is still a lot of work to do” to overcome human reasoning.

“Social context is a huge part of intelligence,” says Nitzberg. “It is better to collaborate [with technology] than to replace.” For example, an amazing AI might detect a disease correctly 99 percent of the time, but that 1 percent might die as a result. Human experience is thus integral to the maximization of AI and tech effectiveness.

John Zysman, director of CITRIS’s Future of Work research thrust and UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus of political science, asserted that a choice exists through policy on where and how we use technology. “It depends on the rules,” says Zysman. “There is more than one route.”

Zysman examined affected industry not in a singular vacuum but rather holistically — effects are contingent on specific production traditions. Overall, while he concluded that we know very little when it comes to the consequences of technology on society, he conveyed the possibility for hope. “A whole army of outcomes depends on deployment strategies,” says Zysman, “Start with the outcomes.” 

Scott Mauvais, Microsoft Director of Tech and Civic Innovation, emphasized the human side of the workforce and emerging technology, screening a video on how people will interact collaboratively with futuristic technologies in their everyday lives, from workplaces to mobile devices in remote locations (citing the prediction that 60 percent of current office space will have been vacated by that time). He also raised the issue of digital inequality, offering another prediction,“CITRIS is going to lead the way to alleviate inequality in the digital era.”

Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan and now CITRIS Senior Research Fellow, offered several tech policy ideas to address inequality. First, society must consider data as labor and pay people for their data. “Our classification system is outdated,” says Granholm. Second, “learning that’s inclusive for all” should be expanded into lifelong-learning accounts. Then, AI could power learning to “make training great again” rather than reproducing existing inequality in data sets. Technology, for Granholm, is a tool to empower humans and give them “superpowers,” not render them meaningless.

A panel of all five speakers lead a discussion after Granholm concluded her presentation, addressing such topics as the need for diversity. Takayama said that diversity must engage all stakeholders that will be affected down the line. Granholm reasserted the need to mitigate the reinforce of inequalities via technology. Mauvais added that “algorithms can change” with human intervention.


Photos: Edward Kang

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners. Find out more at