Michael Priddis is the founder and CEO of Faethm, a one-year-old Australian company that already operates at international scale.
Faethm’s mission is to work with companies, governments and communities to help them create economic and social value from emerging technologies such as AI and robotics. He tells us how these technologies are opening a new era for work, and how to make sure we won’t leave anyone behind in the transition.
What gap were you looking to fill when you started Faethm?
My background is that I am a product guy. I spent 15 years designing and building tech products and companies, and I have worked at the forefront of technology. Across all those industries and countries, I saw the same pattern: as technology and innovation take hold, companies often need fewer staff. The automation of work was a byproduct of the innovations I was working on. At the end of 2014, while I was a partner at the Boston Consulting Group, I co-led a 9-month research programme with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to look at the effect of technology on jobs in Australia. I then left BCG about a year ago to set up a company that builds analytics using data science to help companies and governments understand the implications of these new technologies.
Your star product is called Tandem. Can you explain what it is?
Tandem helps companies and governments look at the effects of technology on any given population (a company, a business unit, a team, a community, a city, an industry, etc.). We gather data about the nature of work and the specifics of an industry, and about when technology will have an effect on it. We then model that in order to provide insights to help companies understand how to transition their workforce, and to help governments make decisions around industry investment, employment policy, immigration, fiscal policy, and so on.
So it’s very broad.
Yes it is. We’re going to change the world!
What do you bring to companies and governments that they don’t have as an inside resource?
We are building a community of R&D technologists, and I have been fortunate to be able to hire a very capable team. Collectively we span data science, operations, strategy, products, operating models, business models, investment, forecasting, and so on. And we synthetise these different views around the data to provide our partners with helpful insights.
What are the socieconomic implications of what you do?
We are not just looking at the effects of technology on companies, but also on communities. Let me use an example with Amelia, a social AI developed by IP Soft: Amelia is designed to replace the first line contact when you call a support center. Most call centers are in small regional cities, which means that the salaries have a strong effect on the local communities. As products like Amelia become more sophisticated, call centers will close down. Which is great for everyone - who likes calling a call centre? - except for the community that hangs off these salaries. I think it would be a very smart idea if the governments involved in running this community could forecast now what the social effects might be. Because we are not just talking about a company transitioning, but about welfare safety nets, relocating people, training and skill development, life-long learning, etc. All these things can be informed if the people who run these organisations have insight about the way in which technology will change work. That is what we are providing.
So, does the responsibility of accompanying these social changes fall on governments or companies?
It really depends on the country and the relationship between governments, companies and unions. But I think there is an opportunity for the OECD and the World Economic Forum to provide guidance on the way that these issues will unfold. Let’s take another example: 83.4% of Bangladeshi export GDP comes from readymade garments, and Bangladesh has an outsized dependency on their export GDP. Now, it is still very hard to automate garment making, but a lot of companies are working on it. And when it becomes cheaper to automate the production of garments at home, Western companies are going to do just that. And that is a problem for developing countries that have zero welfare safety net. There are ripple effects through many parts of society, at international level, which we also try to inform.
Is there one project that you are particularly excited by?
We have built a Future Workforce Index for every single country in the OECD. It shows the effects of technology on the largest industries in these countries. The Index will be used by governments to inform policy about industry investment, employment planning, fiscal planning, and by companies for competitive planning, strategy, transformation and so on.
Is there something that you dream of working on?
Today, there is a lot of discussion around the universal basic income, based on the idea that there will not be enough jobs. I do not share that view. We are not going through the end of work, but the beginning of a new era of work. I often say that computers are good at the jobs we find hard and bad at the jobs we find easy. So we need to talk about the three “A”s together: there’s automation, but there’s also the augmentation of existing jobs and the addition of new jobs. So what I would like to have achieved at the end of this work, is to help countries understand what the opportunities are for people. Our goal is not to replace work with universal basic income. It is to help people, through education and skill development, to embrace new types of work.
What is your hope for the future of Faethm and the future of work?
My hope is that Tandem becomes the global standard that every single company and government uses for insight and data about the future of work. My personal goal is that people are able to access education and learning that help them transition from the jobs they do today to jobs that allow companies, communities and people to be happy.
More than a 100 experts from around the world will take part in the WFRE from 17 to 19 October to discuss the technological, societal and economic upheavals of our time and present their reflections and good practices.