On March 15, 2017, a debate of the Club 2035, titled “Revolution in Technology and Social Stability: Responsibility of Business and the State”, took place in Moscow. The event was held as part of the Russian Business Week, a key event of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP).
Evgeny Kuznetsov, member of the expert council of the Government of the Russian Federation, opened the discussion. He noted that professional debates about the future have been actively pursued over the past few years, and their incompleteness has become evident. He identified two key shortcomings of this discussion in Russia. The first problem, he said, is its isolation from world processes. “We live in a world of our own problems,” Kuznetsov said. “The Russian vision is very outdated and reduced in comparison with the developed countries, and even the USSR.” The second problem is that over the past twenty years Russians have got used to speaking the language of interests, while elsewhere long-term public discussions are conducted on the basis of values in order to reach consensus. As an example, he mentioned electric cars, whose production is economically unprofitable, but absolutely justifiable in terms of values. “The technological revolution in the world comes as an opportunity to implement a world vision based on values through technological innovation, and we do not understand this language,” he said.
Fyodor Lukyanov, the discussion moderator and Academic director of the Valdai Discussion Club, disagreed. He urged not to idealize the situation in Western countries, because under the declared values, there is a world that does not imply equal access for all players to the opportunities that the technological progress offers. According to him, in the West the values and interests that are expressed in competition, coexist rather harmoniously.
Not Just a Tool: How Will We Respond to the Evolution of Information Systems?
Information systems have become something more than just a tool, and discussions about providing robots with a certain amount of legal capacity are not far off, Vladislav Shershulsky, Director for Technology Cooperation at Microsoft, said in an interview with Club 2035 (a partnership project of Valdai Club and the company RVC).
Vitaly Fridland, Vice President and General Manager of Fujitsu in Russia and the CIS, presented an overview of technologies of the future, which will change, and are already changing, the world. His list included eight technological areas: Internet of things, Big Data analytics, automation, bio-identification, quantum computers, thermo-photocells, new medicine, self-education, control systems adjustments and networks with reinforcement. According to Fridland, some of these technologies already existed in the 1970s, but now they have reached the consumer level. This leads to important social consequences, the key of which will be replacement of workers by robots, including in high-tech industries.
Speaking about social consequences of the technological revolution, Oksana Sinyavskaya, Deputy Director of the Institute of Social Policy at the Higher School of Economics, said that in Russia, there still remains a dilemma: either to create a social state or to develop the economy. In her opinion, this is a false alternative. “The Western countries came to understand that the market itself does not allow either to increase economic growth or to solve social problems. Inequality in incomes is perceived as a threat to development,” she said. According to Sinyavskaya, the focus of the government's priorities in Russia has not move toward the protection of consumers rights, private investors, workers, and, perhaps most importantly, toward priority investments in early education and medical care. Without this, the social readiness of Russia for the future is sharply reduced. “We rely on resources, not on human capital, and this is our failure. Problems of inequality threaten development, they cannot be solved without the state, and this has already been realized in the West. And in the new technological mode, the role of social policies will only increase: the state should equalize the starting conditions for the people,” the expert believes.
Viktor Morozov, director of the PwC Risk Analysis and Control Department in Russia, said that we are experiencing the fourth technological revolution, the essence of which is automation of entire ecosystems. Speaking about the challenges to social stability, he cited statistical data: 58% of Russian consumers believe that robotics is useful for society, and 25% hold the opposite opinion. At the same time, 58% of managers plan to reduce staff in connection with robotization, and the staff increase is planned only by 16%. But 67% of executives believe that robotics will create new opportunities for employees.
Vladislav Shershulsky, Director for Advanced Technologies, Microsoft Russia, dedicated his speech to the ethical issues of technological progress. “Business objectives are to help employees to adapt to the digital environment and create a new generation of ethical automated systems. The state’s task is to invest in social problems solving and to form the regulatory framework that regulates the digital environment and communication with robots,” he said. He also recalled the concept of information ethics by Luciano Floridi, and discussed the idea of moving to a new macroeconomic development model, where consumers make multiple micropayments for improving the quality of the living environment.
The subsequent debates were centered on how developers of new technologies can co-exist with the desire of economists to receive a 100% payback in the shortest possible time. Problems of possible information and cognitive inequality were also discussed. According to one of the participants, this is what prevents the development of technologies in Russia. Yevgeny Kuznetsov noted that the era of engineers was over and the production process is now managed by the entrepreneur. “Any investor should understand how a technical solution will be incorporated into the business,” he said.
In conclusion, Yevgeny Kuznetsov said: “We are witnessing the first technological revolution which the global community is entering consciously, discussing the social consequences of the new mode of life even before it comes. This gives ground for optimism that social and human sciences will develop and will not be left behind by the natural and technical sciences. And so far, the social and humanitarian tools are still weak.”