Tim O'Reilly
Credit: Peter Adams / Faces of Open Source

Tim O'Reilly: From the WTF Economy to the Next Economy

An archive of my talks, interviews, and articles relating to technology, the economy, and the future of work.

The Future of Economic Leadership (July 2017). The World Affairs Council produced a short video of my thoughts on the lessons of the US government's post-WWII spending program, which fueled an unprecedented period of economic growth and prosperity across the country. While the challenges we face today are enormous—climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and a growing wealth gap among them—bold government leadership can provide solutions that will make the nation stronger. "The leadership we need is not 'Let's somehow encourage the market through some magic fairy dust to produce jobs.' It's to exert leadership about what needs doing!"

Uber's Scandal Provides a Chance to Remake Silicon Valley (Wired.com, 6/29/17). I reflect on Uber's scandals and consequent management turmoil, and put them in the larger context of the incentives that lead to bad behavior:

"The saddest thing about Uber is that it isn't an exception. It is what we get when we tell companies that creating shareholder value is the primary goal of an organization. Creating real value for customers, workers, and society becomes secondary to creating value for investors."

Live from the Aspen Ideas Festival. I talked with NY Times bestselling author Charles Duhigg about my forthcoming book in a Facebook Live broadcast from the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 29, 2017. We talked about some of the key messages in my book, but also reflect on some of the ideas in Charles' book The Power of Habit and how they relate to anxiety about AI and the rise of Trump.

Charles and I also did a more formal interview about my book at the Festival the next day, enlivened by an active Q&A with audience participants including Steve Case, whose "Rise of the Rest" tour is exploring entrepreneurship outside of Silicon Valley. In addition, I participated in a number of panels, including one on The Future of Intelligence with Gary Marcus, Michael Chui, and Erik Schatzker. (That one drilled down into industries most likely to be affected first by AI.)

Do More: What Amazon Teaches Us About AI and the "Jobless Future". I reflect on the fact that Amazon added hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers at the same time as they added 45,000 warehouse robots. Rather than simply pursuing efficiency, Amazon has upped the ante, improving their speed of delivery (which is now same-day for many products in some locations) and continuing to drive what Jeff calls "the flywheel" of Amazon's success.

"Amazon reminds us again and again that it isn't technology that eliminates jobs, it is the short-sighted business decisions that use technology simply to cut costs and fatten corporate profits.

This is the master design pattern for applying technology: Do more. Do things that were previously unimaginable."

Rep. Tim Ryan, Tim O’Reilly, and Peter Hirshberg want to connect Ohio with Silicon Valley (Venturebeat, July 2017). Maker City held an event in May 2017 with me, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, and moderator Peter Hirschberg talking about technology and its impact on jobs in the heartland. I made the case that it isn't just about retraining, but about changing the incentives we've built into our markets to encourage companies to eliminate jobs:

But the biggest thing that we’re doing is we’re not focusing anymore on work. What I mean by work is things that need doing in our society. Because companies are no longer incented to invest in the real economy. Why would you invest in training your workers? Why would you invest in a new speculative product if you can actually improve your stock price which is the measure of your success by simply buying back the stock? We’ve ended up with an economy where people are buying and selling these financial assets rather than taking those profits and putting it in the real economy. If you look at a company like Amazon or Tesla what’s so interesting is they’re using the financial markets the way they’re supposed to be used, which is they’re basically saying, “We’re doing this really amazing thing, trust us.” And invest in the real economy and they actually are creating jobs and they’re transforming their various segments of the economy sometimes in ways that are disruptive and challenging but at least they’re investing in making something, doing something. Again I think the biggest thing we do is change the incentives for financial engineering.

My talk at the White House Frontiers Conference. I opened for President Obama at the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh (October 2016), talking about the lessons of the first industrial revolution for the AI driven future. I thought it was pretty cool that the White House comms team approved a talk with the title WTF? They gulped, but then said OK.

Discussion with McKinsey's James Manyika about The Next Economy. I discuss my ideas about the Next Economy with James Manyika, senior partner at McKinsey & Company and director of the McKinsey Global Institute. Part one discusses what I consider the central design pattern of technology: to enable people to do things that were previously impossible, resulting in new kinds of productivity. But I worry that "We have created an extractive economy. We have abandoned the idea that growth is only good if it leads to prosperity for all." In part two, James and I talk about the applications of this design pattern to business.

Why we'll never run out of jobs. Excerpt from my talk at the O'Reilly AI Conference, 9/26/16. The full talk is available on Safari.

A deficit of idealism. In July 2016, I spoke with John Battelle about why I believe that is not just the obligation, but also the self-interest of every company, to build a robust society. I also discuss why I called my book "WTF," how to ensure that tech's role in society is as a force for good, how I feel about the B Corp designation, and the magic of unicorns. One of the nice things that John did is provide a transcript along with the video! This is probably one of the best condensed presentations of my key ideas on the subject of tech and the economy.

Makers and Takers. I interviewed Rana Foroohar at the World Affairs Council (June 2016). I loved Rana's book, Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, and we enjoyed a wide ranging conversation about the role of the financial industry in the rise of inequality in America and around the world.

Let's optimize for the long term An interview with Peter Leyden, founder of the Reinventors Network. "Let's stop optimizing for the short-term. Let's start optimizing for the long-term, and think about how to make the society we want," I said. I acknowledge that technology may be destroying jobs today, but only because we've built incentives into our economy to encourage those choices.

Measuring the Economic Impact of the Sharing Economy — March 2012. While at our Strata Conference, I stopped by +John Furrier’s Cube for an interview. We talked about a lot of things, but this is probably the first public airing of some ideas I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, namely how we can best measure the economic impact of what Lisa Gansky calls the sharing economy.

I start with a paper I read in the 70s, Steve Baer’s “Clothesline Paradox,” which pointed out that when people hang their clothes on the line rather than putting them in the dryer, that reduction in demand doesn’t go on our energy books as a credit to the renewables column, it just disappears from our accounting.

The same is true of open source software, or, for that matter, of most of the products of what +Clay Shirky calls “cognitive surplus.”

This discussion is important in many contexts. For example, when talking about SOPA/PIPA, the movie industry talked about economic impact while the internet industry talked about freedom. Yet it’s quite clear to me that there is a new economy of content that is quite possibly larger than the old one, but just not as well measured, because we measure value captured, not value created for users.

In other fields, we celebrate lower prices for consumers and expansion of demand, but here, paradoxically, we are ignoring it, as well as ignoring the many real economic transactions that do occur. I intend to pull together some people to change that.