AI and the Future of Impact Investing

Jun 20, 2019

As a venture-capital investor, I see a particularly strong role for a new kind of impact investing.

I foresee a venture ecosystem emerging that views the creation of humanistic service- sector jobs as a good in and of itself. It will steer money into human-focused service projects that can scale up and hire large numbers of people: lactation consultants for postnatal care, trained coaches for youth sports, gatherers of family oral histories, nature guides at national parks, or conversation partners for the elderly. Jobs like these can be meaningful on both a societal and personal level, and many of them have the potential to generate real revenue—just not the 10,000 percent returns that come from investing in a unicorn technology startup.

By Dr. Kai-Fu Lee

Fink’s Letter and the New Impact Investing

Jun 18, 2019

When a man overseeing $5.7 trillion speaks, the global business community tends to listen. So when BlackRock founder Larry Fink, head of the world’s largest asset management company, posted a letter to CEOs demanding greater attention to social impact, it sent shockwaves through corporations around the globe. In the letter, titled “A Sense of Purpose,” Fink wrote,

We . . . see many governments failing to prepare for the future, on issues ranging from retirement and infrastructure to automation and worker retraining. As a result, society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges. . . . Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. . . . Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.

By Dr. Kai-Fu Lee

A Trial by Fire and the New Social Contract

Jun 13, 2019

The challenges before us remain immense. As I outlined in an earlier blog post, within fifteen years I predict that we will technically be able to automate 40 to 50 percent of all jobs in the United States. That does not mean all of those jobs will disappear overnight, but if the markets are left to their own devices, we will begin to see massive pressure on working people. China and other developing countries may differ slightly in the timing of those impacts, lagging or leading in job losses depending on the structures of their economies. But the overarching trend remains the same: rising unemployment and widening inequality.

Techno-optimists will point to history, citing the Industrial Revolution and the nineteenth- century textile industry as “proof” that things always work out for the best. But as we’ve seen, this argument stands on increasingly shaky ground. The coming scale, pace, and skill-bias of the AI revolution mean that we face a new and historically unique challenge. Even if the most dire predictions of unemployment do not materialize, AI will take the growing wealth inequality of the internet age and accelerate it tremendously.

By Dr. Kai-Fu Lee

Market Symbiosis: Optimization Tasks and Human Touch

Jun 11, 2019

The private sector is leading the AI revolution and, in my mind, it must also take the lead in creating the new, more humanistic jobs that power it. Some of these will emerge through the natural functioning of the free market, while others will require conscious efforts by those motivated to make a difference.

Many of the jobs created by the free market will grow out of a natural symbiosis between humans and machines. While AI handles the routine optimization tasks, human beings will bring the personal, creative, and compassionate touch. This will involve the redefinition of existing occupations or the creation of entirely new professions in which people team up with machines to deliver services that are both highly efficient and eminently human. In the risk-of-replacement graphs from a previous blog, we expect to see the upper-left quadrant (“human veneer”) offer the greatest opportunity for human-AI symbiosis: AI will do the analytical thinking, while humans will wrap that analysis in warmth and compassion. In that same chart, the two quadrants on the right-hand side of the graph (“Slow Creep” and “Safe Zone”) also provide opportunities for AI tools to enhance creativity or decision-making, though over time, the two left-side AI-centric circles will grow toward the right as AI improves.

By Dr. Kai-Fu Lee