How does someone trained in the world of international affairs become an expert in the future of work and artificial intelligence (AI)? Jeff Brown ‘04 first became fascinated with AI during a discussion on the “future of work” in Boston. As a result, Jeff’s current position highlights how the changing nature of work is developing into one of the most intractable public policy challenges that local communities and policymakers will face over the coming years.
The discussion that kindled Jeff’s interested in AI occurred during a Transatlantic Policy Lab project, which focused on crafting policy solutions to address income inequality in Boston and Athens, Greece. During the project, Jeff considered the question, “How do cities currently generate jobs and opportunities for workers?” As conversations continued between city leaders in Boston and Athens, the question needed to be reframed to, “How will tomorrow’s jobs change based on emerging technology, particularly AI, and how can cities best prepare for these changes?” Jeff and his team recognized a growing need to educate policy makers about how to implement emerging AI technology in a way that not only sustains employment today, but creates a roadmap for how to grow jobs as new technology is implemented.
Jeff now manages a slate of projects on the future of work and AI at the Washington, D.C.-based Bertelsmann Foundation, a think tank focusing on digital topics through the lens of transatlantic relations. Jeff explains, “My interest lies in how humans will ultimately govern the development and scaling of technologies such as AI. People are very concerned about how technology is impacting their jobs, tasks, incomes, and their personal lives. In particular, AI technology is at the beating heart of many people’s fears – and hopes. While we have a lot to gain from new technologies, the past few years have shown us some of the negative consequences bred by such “progress.” Far from solving all of our problems, new technologies will breed new challenges that will require very human solutions.”
For example, Jeff is currently leading a team project that is focusing on helping American and European policymakers at the local level craft policy around the future of work. Jeff says “we have been working with policymakers in Las Vegas, Orlando, and Riverside on how they can prepare their citizens and their workforces for the rapid implementation of technology and automation.” His team is creating a future of work microsite that includes videos, illustrations, and a written “scroll” detailing strategies for how each city can approach the future of work. For example, Jeff will release a video in mid-December highlighting the potential threat of robot bartenders on low-wage, low-skill work in Las Vegas. Jeff adds that the most important strategy for now is awareness. If policymakers understand that the future of work is a policy challenge, they can learn to steer productive conversations with constituents and communities.
What’s next for Jeff? “I value the ability to travel around the world while stitching together projects that have measurable impact. Such projects often involve negotiating with people in other cities, states, and countries. For example, I recently spoke on the future of work at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and I earlier in the fall, I presented a talk titled, ‘People-led Innovation: Toward a Methodology of Solving Urban Problems in the 21st Century’ at the Paris Peace Forum, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron,” said Jeff. And, while he’s not sure exactly what lies in his longer-term future, he’s confident it will involve travel, exploring the workforce aspects of new technologies, and doing something that offers a tangible and positive impact on the world.