London Mayor Sadiq Khan arrived this week in a place he called “the hipster capital of world” to talk about the promise and pitfalls of the fourth industrial revolution.
Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor, gave a keynote address at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Tex. Speaking to an audience of techies, marketers and entrepreneurs of all types, Khan called upon tech companies to ensure that the advancement of technology is used for the advancement of everyone.
What Khan referred to as the fourth industrial revolution is what others might call the tech or digital revolution. He drew parallels with earlier industrial disruption comparing the wave of nativist populism in the U.S., U.K., and Europe with the Luddites of England who responded to the first industrial revolution by smashing the machines that they viewed as taking their factory jobs and disrupting the skills they had spent a lifetime obtaining.
He commented that the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the rise of nativism in the U.S. and Europe is a result of a sizeable portion of society feeling left behind by the changes that technology is bringing and the disruption it is causing. One result is that some leaders and politicians have preyed on the fears of those that are left behind and directed their frustration at others.
Khan singled out the social networks and the gig economy. The social networks, for all the good they are doing, have also been used to create divisions within society through online abuse, misogyny and religious hatred. To make his point, Khan read some of the tweets that have been directed at him. One referred to him as a “gay, Muzzy terrorist” while another suggested that all Muslims be deported to “make London white again.”
Khan called on the major technology platforms to “live up to their promise to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and valued.”
Khan is mayor of a city which banned Uber. He discussed the gig economy and how in some cases it has driven down pay, bypassed hard-fought workers’ rights and eluded safety standards. He urged that “greater responsibility be taken by tech companies for the impact they are having on the world,’ adding, ”they can’t feel good about the negative consequences of their technology.”
Politicians also deserve a share of the blame, according to Khan. He criticized governments that have been passive while the tech revolution happened around them, something he described as “dereliction of duty.” (He did not comment on the fact that our government in the U.S. has not only failed to keep pace with technology but is now run by folks who seem to want to turn the clock back to 1950.)
Khan, who has in the past had some exchanges with Trump, did not mention the current Washington administration until asked about it after his speech. He said only, “It demeans your great country when your President tweets the stuff he does.”
The oft-repeated theme of Khan’s keynote was the need to “shape the future relationship between tech and society for the benefit of everyone.” That means becoming more inclusive and breaking down barriers for women and minorities. It also means training people for the jobs of tomorrow and embracing technology, using it to improve the lives of all communities. The alternative, according to Khan, is an “age of unprecedented inequality and division.”