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Robots won't be stealing your jobs just yet, tech CEOs say

The election revealed the country's extreme anxiety over the future of jobs, but fears about robots and automation are overblown, technology executives said Tuesday.

Bots are over-hyped and not always that intelligent, said Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson. Messaging platforms that allow people to volley questions and answers back and forth with robot customer service agents are a long way off the type of technology that will replace actual human jobs, he said.

The comments came at Code Enterprise, a conference in San Francisco about the future of work.

Companies have figured out that people prefer to interact with bots for simple problems like changing a flight reservation, but people still need help from other people to handle more complex problems easily, Lawson said. There's too much optimism about where the technology is today, he added.


"We typically over-estimate the short term impact and under-estimate the long term impact and I think bots and AI probably falls in that camp," he said.

Automation has become a nice word and some things will be automated quickly, but machines will not replace people entirely, said TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot.

TaskRabbit connects 60,000 gig economy workers with 1 million users in 19 cities and is profitable in every city it operates, said Brown-Philpot.


Stacy Brown-Philpot, CEO of TaskRabbit.
Asa Mathat | ReCode
Stacy Brown-Philpot, CEO of TaskRabbit.

For its workers concerned about automation displacing jobs, the foreseeable future is safe, she said. TaskRabbit workers, which the company calls "Taskers," will continue to be employed in roles that require human-to-human interaction and trust. They will get hired over robots for jobs that require more complex skills, like household chores.

Beyond the next decade, it could be a different story, she admitted. The company has a responsibility to think about its role in shaping the future of work, Brown-Philpot said.

"As the future of work changes we will continue to focus on those jobs where people are needed," she said. "The emotional side of humans interacting with each other is what makes TaskRabbit what it is."


The conference drew together executives from many tech companies touting artificial intelligent bots, including Facebook and Slack, as well as California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

People are very concerned about jobs and economic opportunity, and Silicon Valley has an opportunity and responsibility to help address those problems, Newsom said. Tech companies like Uber have done a phenomenal job at creating new gig economy jobs, but in turn have paralyzed traditional industries like taxi companies, he said.

Lagging regulation and education has failed to keep up with technology and is failing certain communities — including many rural areas in California — disproportionately, he said.