Without automation, there is no way to keep up with the demands of a growing world population, the CEO of Autodesk said at a Techonomy event in San Francisco this week.
Speaking to a group of technologists, investors, journalists, and entrepreneurs convened by Techonomy, Andrew Anagnost forcefully made the case that software and automation are creating more possibilities for society than they are taking away — that without it, the need for more buildings, roads, and other material things cannot be met.
“We already have a capacity problem,” he said. “There will be 10 billion people by 2050.  By one estimate, we need to build 1,000 more buildings a day to support the people who will be in the world.”
While acknowledging that the transition to a more automated world brings with it real challenges for many parts of the workforce, Anagnost said that the net effect will likely be substantial job creation.
The discussion took place in the gallery at Autodesk, a large flowing space by San Francisco harbor. The hall is filled with exhibits, products, and demonstrations of the ways that Autodesk’s software has helped design and create products and services. There is, for example, a 10-foot dinosaur made with Lego, as that company uses Autodesk design tools to create its most complex block creations. There’s a car-racing video game whose virtual space was created with Autodesk. There’s a prototype race car and many models of spectacular buildings, reflecting Autodesk’s long heritage of software for architects.
The discussion was part of Techonomy’s nationwide listening tour as we prepare for Techonomy 2018 this November. It follows a similar meetup in Detroit last month hosted by Ford.
“I represent the world of built things,” the Autodesk CEO said. Speaking of the demands of a rapidly-growing global middle class, he explained, “We don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough people and we do not have enough resources to respond to this. We want to harness the power of automation to help people build more — because we think more is inevitable.  We want them to do it with less negative impact on the world.”
The Autodesk CEO, loaded with energy and in an expansive and relaxed mood, said that while there was a real reason to be concerned about the impact of what he called “the automation economy” on mid-career workers, he was optimistic that the next generation of workers would be well equipped for the new world of work.
Anagnost conducted what amounted to a debate in absentia with Andrew Yang over the idea that universal basic income will be necessary to shore up those displaced by automation. Yang, who was not at the meeting, is running for president with a platform emphasiziing that government should give every citizen a guaranteed payment. He made that case at Techonomy NYC in May, where he won over a great many listeners. Anagnost said UBI could create a permanent underclass and would not that much help the people who need it most. The challenge is training people in new ways to help mid-career workers adapt to a more digitized work environment, he said.
“When I look at the world of built things,” he said.  “I see more possibilities than less.  There’s going to be a whole class of machines based on automation that is going to have people designing it, deploying it, managing it, programing it and using it day in and day out. That class of machine doesn’t exist yet.  We have a good 20 years of work to do.”
Anagnost spoke about the obligation of business to society at Techonomy 2017.  View that conversation here.