Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella voiced his concerns about the economy to reporters in New York yesterday. Asked about the worries of Northwestern University economic Robert Gordon, he couldn’t help but agree.
Gordon believes that the advance of technology hasn’t led to the widespread productivity and economic growth that was expected. In fact, he argues that the United States is on a slow productivity decline.
“The foundation issue for us since at least that dawn of the industrial economy has been that any activity better lead to broad economic growth,” Nadella responded. “Quite frankly, I am worried.”
Having been at Microsoft since 1992, you’d expect Nadella to have a fairly firm grasp on the productivity industry. He told reporters that while the industrial revolution had a “broad sectorial impact in productivity in growth”, the same hasn’t been true for information technology thus far.
A Disaster, or an Opportunity?
Despite this, Microsoft’s CEO has a lot of hope for the future. He’s made it clear in previous speeches that he sees the lack productivity as an opportunity, not a failure. The company’s mission statement is about helping everyone achieve more, and tech is only evolving.
With the advance of key technologies such as AI and quantum computing, tech could indeed have a more profound impact. However, those additions are likely to cause more issues. Nadella wants AI to make workers more effective, rather than replacing them. Unfortunately, though, there will always be those looking to make more profit via automation.
The truth is that the tech will cause many jobs to be lost for short-term gain, while those workers will have to reskill before they can pump money into the economy as consumers. Microsoft seems to want to act like a balancing force in this equation.
“The fundamental need of every person is to be able to use their time more effectively, not to say, ‘let us replace you’,” he said in 2017. “The most exciting thing to me is not just our own promise of AI as exhibited by these products, but to take that capability and put it in the hands of every developer and every organization.”
Among other things, Microsoft is working on a brain-computer interface, which could enable productivity for those with accessibility issues. It’s also testing Fluid Framework, a way to tie all of its applications together in a natural way.