What does the future of work look like? – Lee Ullmann

See the livestream video from

MIT’s Future of Work conference, held Aug. 29,  2019, in São Paulo, Brazil

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What does the future of work look like? How are emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, creating opportunities for new types of jobs and demand for new types of skills? Where should industry leaders invest to foster competition, increase productivity, and create a more inclusive workplace? And what can policymakers do to ensure that the next generation of employees have the education and training to succeed?

These are pressing questions for our global economy and they are especially urgent here in Brazil. In the aftermath of a severe economic crisis and recession, Latin America’s largest and most industrialized economy is facing a slow and uneven recovery. More than 10% of the country’s workforce is unemployed, and a quarter of the unemployed population is between the ages of 18-24. Meanwhile, about 13 million Brazilians work less than they could or would like to.

Addressing these challenges and coming up with solutions requires new ways of thinking and innovating together. In that spirit, MIT has created an institute-wide task force to study the evolution of jobs in an era of technological advancement. The goal of the task force, which involves a number of interdisciplinary research projects, is to help guide the development and implementation of policy to offer broad opportunity and prosperity for society at large.

Recently, MIT has also teamed up with PageGroup, a leading provider of recruitment services, to host a conference in São Paulo centered on the Future of Work in Brazil. The conference convenes MIT and MIT Sloan faculty, business executives, government officials, academics, and researchers, to discuss a range of issues pertinent to Brazil’s changing economy and workforce. By bringing together people from different perspectives and fields, we hope to spark a dialogue about how new digital technologies are shaping Brazil’s workplaces of tomorrow—and how best to strive toward a more equitable future for all.

Of course, this task force and conference are not the panacea to all the world’s problems. We can’t possibly solve Brazil’s challenges in a day. The country’s economy is vast, and its issues are deep-seated. Alleviating Brazil’s climate of economic uncertainty and anxiety is a monumental task.

But complacency is not the answer. At the dawn of the Digital Age, the success of Brazil’s economy—and the global economy for that matter—requires that we recognize and anticipate the role that human work will play in a future in which machines accomplish many of our traditional cognitive and physical tasks. We must seize the opportunity to shape that future—and make it a better one.

Our lineup of speakers is impressive. Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at MIT, will discuss the future of work in the context of education, ethics, and AI. Gustavo Pierini, MIT alumnus, will address the history of labor markets.

Jason Jackson, Assistant Professor of Political Economy and Urban Planning at MIT, will explore how Uber and other digitally-enabled platforms are changing the markets for on-demand work and inner-city transportation. The dominant narrative around Uber and its counterparts suggests that global corporations wielding sophisticated machine learning algorithms and ‘big data’ will radically remake urban mobility markets in their image. But Jackson’s analysis challenges this idea by showing how the effects of “Uberization” vary across different social, political, and economic settings.

Another aspect of the conference will focus on the findings of a five-year research project entitled Innovation in Brazil: Advancing Development in the 21st Century. Starting in the early 2000s, the Brazilian government enacted numerous policies and programs in an effort to stimulate innovation. It boosted investment in science and technology; encouraged deeper collaboration between industry and universities; and promoted the creation of new institutions whose primary aim was to facilitate greater private research and development spending. Despite significant progress, the country continues to face a number of challenges, including a heavy tax burden and a lack of a skilled workforce. In his talk, Ezequiel Zylberberg, who is a Research Affiliate at MIT’s Industrial Performance Center and one of the lead investigators on the project, makes the case for a bold, forward-looking agenda aimed at exploiting emerging opportunities to advance development in Brazil.

Gary Gensler, Professor of the Practice of Global Economics and Management at MIT Sloan, will speak on AI and the future of employment as it relates to fintech. Roberto Rigobon, the Society of Sloan Fellows Professor of Management and Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan, will discuss the difficulties of calculating the value that new digital technologies contribute to economic well-being. And Ilan Goldfajn, Former President of the Central Bank of Brazil and MIT alumnus, will deliver closing remarks.

We hope that this event will spur further conversations and deepen MIT’s relationship with Brazil. Together we can help shape and invent a future where humans thrive and complement emerging technologies for a more equitable and better world.

If you would like to hear from our speakers on how emerging technologies are creating new job opportunities, tune into our livestream of the Future of Work conference! Visit this page at 8:30 am UTC, 7:30 am ET on Thursday, August 29th.

Read the full post in Portuguese at MIT Sloan Management Review Brazil. 

Lee Ullmann is the senior director of MIT Sloan’s Latin America Office (MSLAO) in Santiago, Chile. The MSLAO’s Future of Work Conference will take place on August 29 in São Paulo.

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