Lester Lewis, Deputy Director of Information Technology, City of Las Vegas
The title both belies my premise and describes the issue accurately. I have been a technologist my entire career in government and the energy, healthcare and insurance industries. The pace of change is creating as many difficulties as it is opportunities. This may have always been the case, but in particular, I am referring to the displacement of people. More to the point peoples jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I specialize in automating mundane tasks and enabling autonomous vehicles around downtown Las Vegas, but what does that mean in the larger scheme for my community and do I have a responsibility to address it? Does any organization for that matter? People sort of dismissively reference Darwin’s survival of the fittest. I don’t think being holistic in our approach to the application of solutions runs counter to that, but that the two are inexorably linked in healthy society.
One of the detractors to rampant advancements is the unintended consequences like the ‘digital divide’.” I am not referring to socio-economic factors just the role of introducing something new into any system without regard to the effects on the system.
One of the detractors to rampant advancements is the unintended consequences like the ‘digital divide’
It makes sense to the bottom line that automation may save money over the long term. No I’m not suggesting that change is bad or progress is evil. I have made a career enabling progress. I remember the transformation of the great city of Detroit into a shell of its former grandeur. The victims of this transfiguration had little say in, or even knowledge of, the coming changes that would so profoundly affect their lives. Consider that Detroit was a thriving metropolis where generations of families were able to make a living in middle-class jobs, then all of a sudden, strategies created in boardrooms tore that fabric apart seam by seam. I assign no blame and I’m not focused on right or wrong.
My question is, do we as individuals and organizations owe each other a modicum of compassion in our rush to deploy technology that could have a profound impact upon people’s lives. Consider my hometown of Las Vegas where automation could significantly affect the community. The majority of jobs here are in the service industry. A robot bartender is a novelty right now, but if it were to become common, what happens to all the human bartenders? On a recent visit to a downtown casino, I used its valet to park. As I was leaving, I gave the valet a large bill and asked for some change. He and another valet were unable come up with the cash. I told him to keep the change and wished them a Merry Christmas. Slow business for valets means fewer tips, and perhaps this is due to patrons favoring rideshares, like Lyft, especially when they plan to imbibe a little. If that is the case, what about all the potential impacts of lost revenue like parking garages, parking meters, car washes and so on? When we strive tomake life easier, should we consider what that means for everyone? In full disclosure, there is plenty of opportunity created by all of this technology. My hope is that we would all be a little more thoughtful in our consideration for people and not just in raw outcomes when it comes to how fast and how far we advance. I am conflicted even as I say this. I appreciate that my vodka and pomegranate juice can me mixed to the exact ratios that I prefer every time. Should I care beyond that and does technology have a heart? I wonder…