Labor, tech leaders discuss impact of machines on jobs

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Media Outlet: San Francisco Chronicle

Robots haven’t yet replaced most people’s jobs. But as the nature of work changes and machines become capable of taking over more tasks, it’s incumbent on society to think ahead. 

That was the message from Next:Economy, a San Francisco conference on the future of work on Monday and Tuesday sponsored by O’Reilly Media, a Sebastopol company focused on technology developments.

“A tsunami of labor disruption” lies ahead, said Andy Stern, a former Service Employees International Union labor leader who’s now promoting the idea of universal basic income, meaning a regular cash payment to all citizens regardless of their income levels. “Something like Hurricane Matthew is coming our way that is very disruptive potentially. We’d be foolish as a country … just to sit around and say it’s not going to happen, or education or the market will solve the problem, because they won’t.”

Mountain View’s Y Combinator, an incubator program for tech startups, is now experimenting with the income concept, preparing a pilot that will give about 1,000 Oakland residents guaranteed income for five years.

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Natalie Foster was a 2016 New America CA fellow. She is an advisor to the Aspen Institute Future of Work initiative and the Open Society Foundation.