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A3 and the BBC: An Inside View

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A3 and the BBC:  An Inside View
By Jeff Burnstein, A3 President

A3 is frequently asked to comment on issues involving automation. We’re quoted regularly in leading publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, and often appear on CNBC, Bloomberg News and other media outlets.

Last Friday our Director of Communications Bob Doyle was contacted by the BBC to see if I’d be interested in appearing on a live segment on Monday morning, September 14 to discuss the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the labor market and the global economy. In the invitation it noted that BBC News is seen by 80 million viewers worldwide.

Obviously, the answer was “yes” because this would be a great opportunity for A3 to spread its message about the positive impact robotics and automation has on saving and creating jobs. On a personal level, however, the thought of speaking live to 80 million people is a bit scary, no matter how many times you’ve done this kind of thing. I knew the best way for me to deal with the inevitable pressure on “game day” was to prepare extensively, so that’s what I did all weekend. I’ve written this blog to give you an “inside view” of what occurs prior to and during these live news stories.

Since BBC said they were hoping it would be a debate with noted economist Jeffrey Sachs who believes that AI and robotics will lead to painful job losses, Bob Doyle sent me material to help me research Dr. Sachs. His extensive bio took me forever to read – among his many accomplishments, he’s also friends with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, not exactly the crowd most of us run with! However, I noted that, like me, he was born and raised in the Detroit area, so I felt very comfortable discussing with him how automation is helping Detroit companies save and create jobs today and possibly could have helped the city avoid the downward spiral that eventually led to bankruptcy.

I also looked at what BBC News was saying about the segment, which was part of a larger series on Intelligent Machines. I noted that they were highlighting the results of an Oxford Research study that said 47% of the jobs in the US and 35% of the jobs in the UK were at risk due to automation. So, I read the Oxford report and watched videos of the report’s authors discussing it. I looked at the algorithm they developed to tell you whether or not your job is at risk. And, like most people who deal in the “real world,” I concluded that this study was extremely misleading and nothing more than an interesting research paper at best. The way the study was being held up as “evidence” of why people should fear AI and robotics was alarming to me and I wanted to be sure to mention it during the segment.

In fact, at 5 am I received a note from Greg Hollows, a member of the A3 Board, noting that he had seen the Oxford Research tool about what jobs are at risk. I told him I would be debating the issue that morning on BBC. Little did I know until an hour later that my “opponent” would be Michael Osborne, one of the study’s authors (I found that out at 6 am). I arrived at the office at 7:30 am to go over final preparations with Bob Doyle, and we drove a few miles down the road to a studio at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) where the satellite link was established.

The person at the U of M News Service, Mike Wood, was familiar with the issues being discussed, having worked at Ford Motor Company in the past. He was solidly on our side of the debate, having seen how automation created better, higher paying, and safer jobs at Ford. This helped relax me – the segment was only a few minutes away from starting.

Mike selected a background of a corporate setting to project on the green screen behind me (this reminded me never to assume that the background you see in live shots is actually where the person is speaking from).

Then, Mike put the earpiece in and had me stare directly into the camera. I would only hear what was going on at BBC when they brought me in to the discussion and would never see anything. I had practiced over the weekend staring directly at the mirror, figuring out the head angle I wanted, keeping my eyes straight forward, etc. I wanted to leave as little to chance as possible.

Finally, I was brought into the discussion and heard the host talking about the issues with Michael Osborne. It was my time to speak and debate. And, while my heart was beating extremely quickly prior to being brought into the discussion, everything returned to normal when it was time to speak. I had completely forgotten the millions of viewers and was now focused solely on trying to clearly communicate my points.

The time sailed by so quickly it seemed to be over before it started. There was so much more to say I wish I had another hour to debate. But, I hope I was convincing in reassuring people that robotics and AI will create better future (and present) opportunities and are not a threat to jobs or the economy.

I look forward to your feedback.