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.
People power, not robots, will overcome humanity's challenges (Financial Times, October 2017).
"We are in the thrall of an economic theory that says that wages and working conditions are entirely subject to inevitable laws of supply and demand, not recognising the rules and incentives we have created that ruthlessly allocate the benefit of increased productivity to the owners of capital and to consumers in the form of lower prices, but dictate that human workers are a cost to be eliminated. Judged by the hollowing out of modern economies, there is something wrong with that theory."
If Facebook makes you mad, it could be what you're clicking (CNN Tech, October 2017).
"Tech entrepreneur Tim O'Reilly tells CNN Tech's Laurie Segall why we're responsible for letting machines replace people in the workforce and how we have the power to fix it."
Re-evaluating the economics of tech (Marketplace, October 2017).
"I could see coming years ago that people were increasingly afraid of technology. And optimism about the future has been a huge, driving positive force in the economy. And once we become afraid of technology, we become afraid of progress. Bad things happen. And I feel that the tech industry deserves some of the blame for that. Because all we've been talking about is disruption—what we're going to destroy. And the kinds of values that are often espoused by the tech industry really are an anathema to the main street economy in which many people live."
Listen to the complete interview by Marketplace Tech's Molly Wood.
Tech entrepreneur asks "WTF? What's the future?" (The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, October 2017).
"I'm really sick and tired of hearing that the robots are going to take our jobs. They're only going to do that if that's what we tell them to do. And a lot of what we have to think about is: how are we telling them that? Why are we telling them that? And what do we do about it?"
"WTF?" author Tim O'Reilly says tech and business elites are setting the world up for "war and revolution" (Recode Decode podcast with Kara Swisher, October 2017).
"O'Reilly fears that today's prevailing philosophy of elevating profit above all other goals is setting the entire economy down a dangerous path. When Wall Street's priorities come before society's, he said, the financial markets become a 'rogue AI,' making choices that are ultimately bad for us."
"Tim foresees smooth sailing if society can better provide for those being left behind. In this, he cites the bogeymen of all tech optimists, the Luddites. But he suffuses his discussion of them with both empathy and optimism. Not the blind optimism of the naïve. Not the self-serving optimism of the wealthy libertarian. But the fact-based optimism of a thoughtful technologist who is, at bottom, a realist."
Listen to Rob's After On podcast to to hear his complete interview with Tim.
Algorithms have already gone rogue (Wired interview by Steven Levy, October 2017).
"If you think about the internet as weaving all of us together, transmitting ideas, in some sense an AI might be the equivalent of a multicellular being, and we're its microbiome, as opposed to the idea that an AI will be like the golem or the Frankenstein [monster]. If that's the case, the systems we are building today, like Google and Facebook and financial markets, are really more important than the fake ethics of worrying about some far future AI. We tend to be afraid of new technology, and we tend to demonize it, but to me, you have to use it as an opportunity for introspection. Our fears ultimately should be of ourselves and other people."
Read the complete interview—and find out why financial markets are the first rogue AI—here
a16z Podcast: Platforming the future (From Andreessen Horowitz, October 2017).
In this hallway-style podcast conversation, O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly and a16z partner Benedict Evans discuss how we make sense of the most recent wave of new technologies—technologies that are perhaps more transformative than any we’ve seen before—and how we think about the capabilities they might have that we haven’t yet even considered&hgellip; We are also in the midst of so much foundational change happening so fast, that we as a society have some very large questions—and answers—to consider.
Reality is an activity of the most august imagination: A conversation with Tim O'Reilly (Edge, October 2017).
"Our job is to imagine a better future, because if we can imagine it, we can create it. But it starts with that imagination. The future that we can imagine shouldn't be a dystopian vision of robots that are wiping us out, of climate change that is going to destroy our society. It should be a vision of how we will rise to the challenges that we face in the next century, that we will build an enduring civilization, and that we will build a world that is better for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It should be a vision that we will become one of those long-lasting species rather than a flash in the pan that wipes itself out because of its lack of foresight."
You can see how poetry, history, technology, and science are all telling us the same thing: "Make it new!" Watch the full interview here.
The secret of happiness and living a good life: "Make tea. Empty dishwasher. Hang laundry." (Thrive Global, October 2017).
Read Tim's responses to the Thrive Questionnaire, an ongoing series that provides an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world's most successful people.
The new world of work: A forum at the Churchill Club (Interviewed by Elizabeth Dwoskin, Silicon Valley Correspondent at the Washington Post, September 2017).
"We are seeing an economy increasingly dominated by giant platforms, and we have to start thinking about how do those platforms invigorate and enrich our society rather than just enrich their creators."
The Future and Why We Should "Work on Stuff that Matters" (Interview by Gretchen Rubin, October 2017).
"'Investors' are not really investors. They are bettors in the financial market casino, while the world's great problems—and the people who could be solving them—are no longer seen as the proper focus for investment. We have told our companies to optimize for 'the bottom line,' while treating people as a cost to be eliminated. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build an economy that treats people as an asset to invest in."
Ethics are fundamental to a company (CNBC Squawk Box, September 2017). In response to host Jon Fortt’s question about whether companies need a chief ethics officer:
"No. The CEO must be the chief ethics officer!"
Facebook Live video capture from Airbnb headquarters (September 2017). The second episode of Airbnb's Book Series, beamed out to Airbnb hosts around the world, featured a discussion of relevant themes from WTF?
"If in fact the future belongs to networked platforms, they actually have to become a source of employment; they have to become a source of income. It doesn't have to be the traditional job, but we do have to build this great circulatory system in which people get paid and create things that other people want, and that is the heart of what we call an economy."
Tech innovator Tim O'Reilly: Don't fear technology, robots or the future (The Press Democrat, September 2017).
"Right now I'm optimistic about the subject of jobs. What I'm not optimistic about are the moral values of business. You realize that our financial markets also are in an algorithmic system with an objective function, which is to maximize shareholder value. We actually just created our own rogue AI. The reason it is the most important one is because Google and Facebook and all the other AIs are answerable to it. That's why in some sense the financial markets are the master AI."
Tim O'Reilly thinks focusing less on shareholders might just save the world (TechCrunch, September 2017).
"Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media and author of a new book, 'WTF: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us,' thinks a lot of (Silicon Valley's) problems could be solved if only big tech would focus a little less on profits and more on enabling other companies to be built atop of, or in partnership, with their platforms. In fact, his book, which is part memoir and part case study, is largely an entreaty to do things differently before it's too late."
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.
Hey Silicon Valley: President Obama has a to-do list for you (Wired, November 2016).
"The best way for the tech industry to tackle inequality is for it to do what it's supposed to do: innovate in ways that create actual gains in growth and productivity—that don't just replace people but empower them to do what was previously impossible."
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.
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.