September 23, 2019
Here’s how tech-based public/private partnerships can change cities
Dell’s policy hack in Pittsburgh brings new ideas for the future of work
Story by Postindustrial Agency
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is sponsored by Dell.
The world’s economies, large and small, are in the midst of a major shift.
It’s often dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first three industrial revolutions allowed steam power to mechanize manufacturing; electricity to support mass production; and electronics to spur automation.
The fourth refers to the technologies that merge physical space and digital possibilities.
Think facial recognition technology that promises to automatically identify people by comparing their faces to public databases.
Think machine learning that could automate your drive to work.
Think robots inspecting and disposing of bombs.
“We have a lot of lessons that we learned. We were one of the wealthiest cities on Earth. We were Seattle before Seattle.”
The first three industrial revolutions significantly changed how people worked. While the reasons for the steel industry’s — and therefore major workforce sectors’ — decline in cities like Pittsburgh were numerous, automation — the third industrial revolution — played a big role. The fourth industrial revolution is similarly changing the world’s economies. And major companies such as Dell Technologies and the Comcast Corporation are working with universities and governments to conceive of how this shift can be managed, and how executives and workers alike can prepare for the future of work that’s evolving today.
On September 18, at Pittsburgh’s annual Thrival innovation and music summit, Dell Technologies organized a Policy Hack — with Dell spearheads at events around the world — designed to allow Thrival attendees to think about how government can work with corporations to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution doesn’t decimate entire sectors of the economy.
The hack involved a group of dozens of attendees who competed to present an idea that would be heard by a panel including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto; Comcast Chief Technology Officer Noopur Davis; Dell’s Vice President of Government Affairs for the Americas, Cris Turner; and distinguished computer science professor emeritus at Carnegie Mellon University, Lenore Blum.
The ideas were smart and varied — including proposals to shift education and transportation policy, and to change employment laws in Pennsylvania. (See all the ideas presented at #DellPolicyHack Pittsburgh here.) But the one that captured the panel’s imagination revolved around education.
As outlined in a proposal by Venkata Sanjay Renduchintala, Alexandra Egan (of Postindustrial Media), and Jacob Feldgoise — “Team Education,” as they were called — a major potential problem revolves around unfulfilled jobs in emerging technologies. “Workers lack technological skills” to fill jobs built around shifting corporate priorities, the group stated in a presentation shared at the event. And “opportunity for learning is limited.”
As a solution, they suggested that the City of Pittsburgh and companies such as Dell and Comcast collaborate and agree upon which skills will be most valuable to companies moving forward. They should then pool funds and work with local government and community colleges to build classes — and encourage enrollment — specifically for those needed skillsets. “Community college, local area, students, and local government all benefit,” they wrote.
The Policy Hack — and the ideas that emerged from it — inspired fascinating conversation among the panelists. From a government perspective, Pittsburgh’s mayor Peduto said that thinking about the fourth industrial revolution is “a chance to look at those communities that have been left out. There is 25 to 35 percent of this city that has absolutely no ladder of opportunity to what we are creating and investing in and expanding,” he went on.
Explaining how prior industrial revolutions affected Pittsburgh, he added: “We were involved in the first industrial revolution,” Peduto said. “We have a lot of lessons that we learned. We were one of the wealthiest cities on Earth. We were Seattle before Seattle.”
In business, Comcast’s Noopur Davis said that the fourth industrial revolution could actually create jobs in the aggregate rather than eliminate them, if people and companies start approaching education and hiring in a new way.
“You do not need a computer science degree to work in the tech space,”
“How do [companies like Comcast] attract people who are not like us?” she asked rhetorically, meaning those with technology-focused degrees from universities like Carnegie Mellon, where she served as a scientist in the Software Engineering Institute prior to taking her role with Comcast. She noted that NBC has a program that targets women who have been out of the workforce for a long time, and that more recruiting should be done in places such as community colleges and high schools.
“You do not need a computer science degree to work in the tech space,” she said, noting that many jobs in cybersecurity, for example, deal with so-called “front line incidents” — circumstances involving customers calling in to report anomalies in their service from Comcast. “A community college or a high school graduate can fill those roles. You won’t be writing cryptographic algorithms, but you break into the field,” she said. “Some of my most senior people started that way as a front line employee.”
A PowerPoint presentation from emeritus Carnegie Mellon professor Lenore Blum came to similar conclusions. “Continual education and (re-)training, as well as the capacity to be flexible, will be critical [to the future of work]m” she wrote.
That kind of thinking — about bringing more people and communities into discussions about data and its use — could help cities thrive in the future, said Cris Turner of Dell.
“I’m passionate about inclusion and opportunities, and how tech can help to drive inclusion in the future,” he said. “If you think about smart cities — the idea is great that you can get real time data to manage a city in a better way, to make sure you the bus routes work, trash pickup, where the potholes are. That stuff is awesome. But if only half of the city is providing data, then it’s only helping that half of the city.”
It’d Dell’s goal to help forster that kind of inclusion in cities across the world.
“We need to start thinking about how these changes can include and benefit more people,” Turner said.