Could tech increase inequality in New York City?

In a live interview at City & State’s Digital NY Summit & Awards, New York City Chief Technology Officer Miguel A. Gamiño Jr. weighed in on the growing ubiquity of technological innovations as well as the role of technology in creating new jobs and whether major tech firms are good actors.

The next wave of technological innovation won’t be limited to developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality – it will also be driven by an increasingly seamless interaction with these technologies, according to New York City’s top technology official.

In a live interview at City & State’s Digital NY Summit & Awards, New York City Chief Technology Officer Miguel A. Gamiño Jr. weighed in on the growing ubiquity of technological innovations as well as the role of technology in creating new jobs and whether major tech firms are good actors.

C&S: Last year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his New York Works initiative to create 100,000 well-paying jobs over the next decade – many of them in the tech sector. How can the city achieve that?

MG: Nearly a third of those 100,000 jobs have been targeted and identified as the tech sector, starting with a bunch of stuff we’ve been doing on the cybersecurity front that’s an obvious opportunity, and others are emerging. It’s also safe to say that the jobs in these other identified sectors, to some degree or another, the growth is driven by technology. So the important thing is that the beauty of New York is its diversity, and I don’t mean that in the diversity people sense, which is part of it. I mean the diversity of industry. Here, technology isn’t just technology for tech’s sake, the way it might be in Silicon Valley. Here, tech is really contributing to the transformation of industries that have existed in significant form in New York for decades or centuries. So when you talk tech here, it’s different. In terms of creating jobs, a lot of the job creation is driven by that transformation that’s occurring, and the city has done a great job in focusing on how we can make investments that can specifically grow those jobs in a way that is consistent with the equity principles of the administration.

C&S: Isn’t there a downside to technological innovation, in that it can eliminate jobs, including through automation? Couldn’t that increase inequality?

MG: That’s evidenced in the jobs plan you referenced. It wasn’t just, let’s attract as quickly as we can the 100,000 highest-paying, highest-profile or easy to get jobs. If you look at the plan, it’s pretty intentionally specific. It’s good-paying jobs for all New Yorkers. That is what the administration is doing really well. We want to make all this progress, we want to do it in a way that’s equitable. I know every single one of my colleagues who has spoken here today has mentioned the word fairness – that’s not an accident, and it’s not just a talking point. It’s a part of the value system, that we genuinely want to make sure that all these things we’re doing are contributing to that fairness objective of ensuring that this opportunity reaches as many New Yorkers and as many diverse scenarios as possible. Being very intentionally focused on that is a big part of that equation, to reduce the potential negative effects of some of that growth.

C&S: The New York Times Magazine recently explored whether Google is becoming too monopolistic, like Microsoft before it. Concerns have also been raised about Twitter and Facebook being used by Russians to meddle in U.S. elections. Are these big tech firms good actors?

MG: Are we serving beer? Because this is a long, deep conversation we’re about to have. I’m not going to pick on Google or single them out, but I understand that was the subject of the piece, but the question was more general than that. Sometimes we have seen some of those companies do really great things that have benefited communities and people all over, and we’ve seen them make mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, it’s very early. Some of us feel like Google has been around our whole lives. It actually hasn’t. It wasn’t that long ago we didn’t have these, and now we all take them for granted. So we also recognize the stage of evolution the industry is in, and it’s bound to make mistakes. I think our job is to be paying attention to those things. We need to make sure that we’re holding them accountable, the way we would hold others accountable, that we took tens of years or a hundred years to figure out what accountability meant in some of those industries. That’s not a position of the administration, that’s my personal response to that concern – we have to be paying attention to it. It absolutely can and should get better, but it’s a work in progress.

C&S: What innovations are on the horizon 10 years from now?

MG: One thing is it’s not going to be a user interface. The way we interact with technology is going to be less and less obvious and more and more imbedded in our lives. We already see it. Many people talk to someone named Alexa in their home, who also didn’t exist not that long ago. But that has become the interface to your home. Turn the TV on. Order me some Doritos, whatever it is you’re into. That’s going to continue pretty significantly to that point that it’s not going to be: I go to this screen and I interact with something that way. Machine learning and AI, augmented reality, all of those things are going to combine to change the way we interact with things. And the interaction with a “technology” is going to be less and less obvious to us. It’s going to become more ubiquitous. The way that machines and humans interact is going to change pretty significantly. Some people talk about, machine learning is going to do this, and AI is going to do that, augmented reality is going to do this other thing. I think that’s true, but more and more they’re going to come together to change the way we live and interact with each other and with those machines.