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Google Launches $50 Million Effort on the Future of Work

The nonprofit, philanthropic arm of online-services giant Google announced this week a new two-year, $50 million initiative "to help people prepare for the changing nature of work."

The effort will focus on connecting job seekers with jobs, improving job training, and improving job quality for low-wage workers, according to a blog post from Google.org President Jacquelline Fuller.

Fuller wrote that the organization recognizes "that the way we work is changing, and we want to make sure that as many people as possible can make the most of the new jobs, industries, and opportunities that are emerging."

The future of work is an increasingly hot topic. Automation and the rise of industrial robots have already had a major impact on the U.S. labor market, resulting in millions of manufacturing job losses and impacting everyone from farmers to paralegals to radiologists. 

With the rise of artificial intelligence and the declining cost of hardware and software, such trends appear likely to accelerate rapidly. Anywhere between 9 percent o 47 percent of jobs in developed countries are at risk of being lost to automation in the coming decade or so, according to researchers from OECD and Oxford University. And the nature of just about every job will change somehow, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, which published a recent analysis of the extent to which various "constituent activities" of different jobs (such as data processing, and routine physical tasks) are subject to automation.

Google.org's initial grants will go to other nonprofits who are working in the field. Among them:

  • Code for America, which has "created new technologies that help job-seekers more easily use government services for help in finding jobs," according to Fuller's blog post.
  • Social Finance, which Fuller wrote is "looking at which youth-training programs most effectively use contributions from trainees, governments and future employers to give people the best chance of success."
  • The National Domestic Workers Alliance, to expand a service through which low-wage domestic workers can pool money that can be used by injured members to survive financially while taking time off to recover.

As tech-journalism outlet Recode noted in its coverage of the announcement, however, Fuller and Google.org declined to make "any mention of the exact tech transformations that are actually displacing workers and reshaping entire industries—advancements like automation or artificial intelligence, two areas in which Google is among a small set of hard-charging tech pioneers."

Fuller was in Washington Wednesday to discuss the announcement alongside Democratic Senator Mark Warner, of Virginia.

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