Google’s (GOOG) self-driving cars are really cool but they could also put a lot of people out of work if they catch on quickly. Google chairman Eric Schmidt seems to grasp these implications, but at the New York Times’ DealBook conference on Wednesday, Schmidt said the potential problem of highly automated services causing widespread unemployment could be overcome by giving young Americans the right kind of education.
“I don’t think anyone can say the answer, but we can state the risks [of automation creating higher unemployment],” Mr. Schmidt said. “The way to combat it is education, which has to work for everyone, regardless of race or gender. You’ll have global competition for all kinds of jobs.”
Even so, Schmidt acknowledged that current trends in technology, combined with a more globalized economy, could exacerbate the problem of massive wealth disparities where only a small elite prosper while most people languish in a world where work is increasingly hard to find.
“Given the trends of globalization, automation and demographics, there will definitely be a small number of people who will be very prosperous,” he said, while also adding that he was “acutely aware that my economic and personal success depends on having a great number of customers and educated employees.”
Or put another way, Schmidt knows that he can’t continue to make money if all of his customers and potential employees are a pack of uneducated beggars who have lost their jobs to robots.