Innovation, Jobs, and Future Global Prosperity

Meeting photo

14 October 2017

Boston, USA

Chaired by William F. Weld


Today, more than ever, technological innovation is changing the way we live, work and relate to one another. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, blockchain, and automated vehicles (AV), have ushered in seemingly infinite possibilities to improve standards of living for citizens across the globe. Yet, while innovation continues to evolve at an exponential pace, it is imperative that global leaders understand both the associated opportunities and challenges.

As an example, labor markets in sectors ranging from manufacturing to financial services to retail sales have already been severely disrupted by new technologies. A rapid continuation of these trends threatens to exacerbate income inequalities and result in precarious work conditions. Meanwhile, it is still unclear what impact an even more rapid introduction of these technologies will have on citizens of less developed nations. Both positive and negative outcomes are likely, but considerable disruption must be expected. As the technological revolution continues to accelerate, it is imperative for experts from across different sectors to come together and share insights on how to best respond to foster opportunities and mitigate threats.

The InterAction Council is uniquely poised to address these wide arrays of issues. Founded in 1983, the InterAction Council was established to mobilize the experience, energy and international contacts of a group of statesmen who have held the highest offices in their own countries. The Council brings together former heads of state and government on a regular basis to jointly develop recommendations and practical solutions for the political, economic and social problems confronting humanity. Questions concerning innovation, jobs and future global prosperity must engage multiple stakeholders to develop policy frameworks that can be applied in multiple national contexts. Indeed, as technology is global in nature, so too must be the solutions. In 2016, at the Baku Plenary, the Council studied the interrelationship between technological advance and future employment, especially for young people.

The consequences of accelerating technological innovation are difficult to anticipate, and even harder to accurately predict. Kai-Fu Lee, the former head of Google China and a leading Chinese expert on technology, for example, believes that artificial intelligence is the “singular thing that will be larger than all of human tech revolutions added together, including electricity, the industrial revolution, internet, mobile internet because AI is so pervasive.” From his vantage point, he predicts that robots are likely to replace 50 per cent of Chinese jobs over the next few decades. There are indicators that he might be right. A mobile phone factory in Dongguan, China, for example, recently replaced 90 per cent of its 650 employees with robots, leading to substantial increases in productivity and reductions in defects by 80 per cent.

Darrell West of the Brookings Foundation notes that Google with an estimated worth of US$681 billion (as of June 2017) has 72,000 employees today, only 27 per cent of the employees of AT&T, the communications giant of an earlier era. West writes, “robots, artificial intelligence, computerized algorithms, mobile sensors, 3D printing and unmanned vehicles are here and transforming human life.”

Automation has already impacted deeply blue collar manufacturing jobs and now technology is challenging white-collar sectors such as retail, finance, and publishing. Like Kai-Fu Lee’s prediction for China, Michael Osborne and Carl Frey of Oxford University estimate that nearly half of the existing jobs in the United States will be automated over the next twenty years. Modern technology can create new and better jobs for some, but as the AT&T and Google comparison shows, it also creates fewer employment opportunities for the many.

If the pursuit of profits is the only principal that matters, workers may be in trouble. The Boston Consulting Group concluded that it begins to make sense for companies to invest in robots over people when the cost of a person is 15 per cent greater than the cost of a robot. Technology costs are plummeting in many areas. Algorithm development, cost of storage, and processing power are approaching a point where it will become possible for even very small companies to consider investments in automation. 

Across the United States, the number one source of employment in most states is truck driver or delivery person. It is inevitable that as autonomous vehicle technology matures, as only one example, the social consequences will be widespread. Given the great potential for disruption of labor markets, we must think beyond the pursuit of profits.

Forward-looking policy proposals are critical so that nations can be prepared when the tsunami of technological change, especially driven by artificial intelligence and related technologies, breaks over the existing world economy. The decentralization of powers that new technologies make possible will critically challenge governments in the decades to come. As the private sector becomes the leader on innovation – developing technologies that disrupt markets globally – states find it harder to adapt. Given the broad range of impacts of innovation, government legislators and regulators must quickly adapt to the fast-changing environment by embracing agile governance. Namely, they must collaborate closely with business and civil society to truly understand what it is that needs to be legislated and regulated.

The mandate of the InterAction Council is just that. The Council brings together experts and global leaders to develop proposals and communicates these proposals directly to their government leaders, other national decision-makers, heads of international organizations and influential individuals around the world. Members of the Council are free to reflect on their experiences and expertise, unbound from their national political contexts, to focus on the structural factors driving the global agenda. At its inception during the height of the Cold War, the Council came together to identify key priorities, such as nuclear disarmament and economic revitalization that would mitigate the consequences of the Cold War. Now, as the world struggles to adapt to technological innovation, the InterAction Council is well positioned to shape the conversation on innovation, jobs and future global prosperity.

The InterAction Council, in cooperation with Zhejiang University of Hangzhou Province, China, will convene an experts’ meeting to:

  • assess the economic, social and generational impact of robotics, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies;
  • suggest how the opportunities of new technologies can be enhanced while the disruptive impacts can be mitigated;
  • examine if the new technologies create wealth but not employment how can that wealth be used to equalize opportunity through mechanisms like a guaranteed basic income;
  • if the post war model of employment is changing, what policies are required to increase human betterment through education, lifetime learning, arts and cultural promotion, and encouragement of voluntarism;
  • probe the impact of these technological revolutions on the developing world as well as the OECD nations. Will the divide between Developed and Developing become even greater?

List of Participants

Associate Members

H.E. William F. Weld, former Governor of Massachusetts (US)


Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy, Chair of Public Policy, Massey College, University of Toronto (Canada)

Special Guests

Mr. Benjamin Bergen, Executive Director, Council of Canadian Innovators (Canada)

Mr. Stan Byers, Resident at TED and Cybersecurity Fellow at New America (US)

Dr. Muriel Clauson, CEO and Founder, Oppticity (US)

Ms. Jana Eggers, Chief Executive Officer, Nara Logics (US)

Dr. Kathryn Hume, VP Product & Strategy, (US)

Ms. Erin Kelly, President and Chief Executive Officer, Advanced Symbolics (Canada)

Dr. Quanzheng Li, Associate Professor of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School; Director of Center for Data Science in Health and Medicine, Peking University (China)

Mr. Guowen Lu, President, Zhejiang University Alumni Association of North America (China)

Nicolas Miailhe, Co-founder, The Future Society (US)

Mr. Jean “Coco” Montagu, Founder and President, Decision Biomarkers; Co-founder, Genetic MicroSystems; Founder, General Scanning; Founder, Mechanics for Electronics

Prof. Gautam Mukunda, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School (US)

Ms. Daisy Price, Education Specialist (US)

Mr. David Sloly, Principal Consultant, DAAS Consulting (Canada)

Dr. Matthew Wang, President, Cybernaut Investment Group; Chairman, Cybernaut International (China)

Dr. Ruhong Zhou, Distinguished Research Staff Scientist and Head of Soft Matter Science Dept, IBM Research; Adjunct Professor, Department of Chemistry, Columbia University (China)

The InterAction Council is grateful for the support of the Zhejiang University Alumni Association of North America, which made this meeting possible.