BBVA’s Group Executive Chairman is convinced that technological advances will be accompanied by greater progress and well-being, but he is also calling for policies and structural reforms that are capable of mitigating the costs of the transition to the new digital society. Supporting research and education, promoting competition and transparency in the markets and developing new employment policies and social protection systems were among the recommendations Francisco González shared at an event organized by El Periódico de Catalunya and BBVA in Barcelona.
The exponential technologies (smart mobility, big data, cloud computing, biotechnology, etc.) that are characteristic of the technological revolution currently underway offer “incredible opportunities to boost economic growth and improve humanity’s well-being. But we are also facing a number of important questions and risks – from the future of employment, inequality and pressure on government welfare systems to catastrophic risks for our planet and our species,” Francisco González said. He spoke at the book launch of “The Next Step: Exponential Life”, published by BBVA as part of the OpenMind initiative.
This publication, which can be downloaded for free in both English and Spanish in different formats on OpenMind’s website, is a collection of the reflections of twenty leading authors in their fields, including Séan Ó hÉigeartaigh, Executive Director of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, who also participated in the event.
Compared to those who argue that we are headed toward a future of relatively low growth and high unemployment, both Francisco González and Séan Ó hÉigeartaigh did not hesitate to define themselves as techno-optimists.
BBVA’s Group Executive Chairman explained his confidence in a better future, saying we are “in a transition period, very much influenced by the effects of the financial crisis. Once this phase is over, we will move into the next stage, one of much higher growth, driven by technological advances.” He also indicated that “the methodologies being used to measure productivity are outdated” as they do not account for improvements in quality since production increasingly involves services and intangibles that are more difficult to assess.
However, Francisco González admitted that this transition period is often difficult and painful for many people. “And that’s where the powers of the government have to come in so that this process of change is not wild and uncontrollable, but a process that society can assimilate,” he added.
In the opinion of BBVA’s Group Executive Chairman, major efforts are needed in education especially in order to ensure equal opportunities and correct the imbalances created by the digital revolution. “The biggest challenge for the public sector is to stay ahead of what will happen in the future.” To do so, it is essential to support continuous professional development because: “It isn’t so much an employment problem as a mismatch between the jobs that are available and the skills of the people who can fill those positions.”
The key is “to protect people – not the jobs”
The key is “to protect people – not the jobs,” Francisco González affirmed, “and for that better passive policies need to be developed and especially, active policies for unemployment.”
In this framework, the digital transformation of banking will represent “a very powerful structural reform to promote global growth and reduce poverty and inequality,” BBVA’s Group Executive Chairman believes. More than 200 million companies and two billion people around the world who are currently excluded from financial services could gain access to them or have better opportunities to improve their lives.
Meanwhile, Séan Ó hÉigeartaigh expressed greater concern for the risks from advances in genetic engineering, nuclear weapons and climate change.
Humanity has always faced threats to its global survival from such things as asteroids and supervolcanoes recalled the Executive Director of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk: “And yet it’s possible that the most serious risks we’ll have to face could be the result of our own progress. We are developing technologies with unprecedented power, such as nuclear weapons and genetic engineering. We are also wiping out species, changing the climate and depleting the planet’s resources at an unsustainable pace as the global population grows.”
Despite everything, Ó hÉigeartaigh is convinced that “the advances that take place in the next century will also provide solutions to many of these major challenges.”