MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future

February 27, 2018

To the members of the MIT community,

Last November, President Reif issued a call to action, for the nation and especially for MIT:

“Automation will transform our work, our lives, our society. Whether the outcome is inclusive or exclusive, fair or laissez-faire, is up to us. Getting this right is among the most important and inspiring challenges of our time — and it should be a priority for everyone who hopes to enjoy the benefits of a society that’s healthy and stable, because it offers opportunity for all. In this work, those of us leading and benefiting from the technology revolution must help lead the way.”

Today, I am pleased to announce a vital step in our institutional response: the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future.

You can read more about it here.

With a team of more than 20 researchers, this new effort capitalizes on the distinctive strengths of the MIT community, bringing together pioneering technologists of every stripe with world-class experts in labor economics, political science, history, anthropology, urban planning, management and the science of how people learn. As we have invited faculty to join the Task Force, the response has been overwhelming; this societal challenge is attracting a remarkable team. A list of members appears at the foot of this letter.

Task Force members will work with outside leaders from across the country and around the world who represent industry, government, labor, education and the nonprofit sector, as well as with representatives from regions across the nation, including those that have been hardest hit by technological transformation. Together, they will tackle three questions:

  • How are emerging technologies transforming the nature of human work and the skills that enable people to thrive in the digital economy?
  • How can we shape and catalyze technological innovation to complement and augment human potential?
  • And how can our civic institutions – existing and new – ensure that the gains from these emerging innovations contribute to equality of opportunity, social inclusion and shared prosperity?
     

Researchers across MIT work every day to shape technologies that will shape the work of tomorrow, from robotics, machine learning and 3-D printing to augmented reality.­ Also of great relevance is the MIT Intelligence Quest, our newly announced effort to explore the frontiers and intersections of human and machine intelligence and to speed the development of customized AI tools that will advance research in every domain.

By design, our work in all these fields challenges conventional approaches. Left to market forces alone, the technologies we develop could also serve to increase inequality of incomes – and outcomes. The MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future takes as a guiding premise that addressing the social and human implications of technology should not be an afterthought, but instead should be a first concern that pervades how we design, innovate and take our ideas to market, as well as what we teach our students, the technologists of tomorrow.

Past MIT reports have helped government leaders shape new policies and have inspired new inventions, in fields from energy to advanced manufacturing. We aim for findings and recommendations of similar scope and influence, both here and abroad, as we seek ways to shape technology to achieve a better world for all. Because these topics are already of great public concern, we also intend for the Task Force to help inform the national conversation.

As Task Force members begin their work, I extend our deep appreciation to Professors David Mindell and David Autor, and Dr. Elisabeth Reynolds, who will lead this effort. I also want to thank the hundreds of members of our community who responded to President Reif’s letter on the future of work last fall. As we turn our attention to shaping the work of the future, we hope that – through field research as well as seminars, practicums, conferences and speaker series – all interested members of the MIT community can engage in our shared effort to invent a better future.

Sincerely,

Marty Schmidt

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MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future

Chairs:

Professor David Autor, Economics; Associate Head, Economics

Professor David Mindell, Aeronautics and Astronautics; Science, Technology and Society

Executive Director:

Dr. Elisabeth Reynolds, Executive Director, Industrial Performance Center

Task Force Members:

Professor Suzanne Berger, Political Science

Professor Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT Sloan; Director, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

Professor John Gabrieli, Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Professor John Hart, Mechanical Engineering; Director, Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity

Professor Yasheng Huang, MIT Sloan

Professor Jason Jackson, Urban Studies and Planning

Professor Thomas Kochan, MIT Sloan; Co-Director, MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research

Professor John Leonard, Mechanical Engineering

Professor Paul Osterman, MIT Sloan; Co-Director, MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research

Professor Iyad Rahwan, MIT Media Lab

Professor Daniela Rus, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Director, CSAIL

Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma, Mechanical Engineering

Professor Julie Shah, Aeronautics and Astronautics

Professor Tavneet Suri, MIT Sloan

Professor Kathleen Thelen, Political Science

Professor Catherine Turco, MIT Sloan

Professor John Van Reenen, MIT Sloan

Professor Christine Walley, Anthropology