Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Give 3D Printers to Indian Villages to Keep Their Stores Open

  • Executives discuss impact of tech at World Economic Forum
  • Sandberg, Nadella talk robots, female leadership, 3D printers

On a panel at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Mahindra & Mahindra’s Anand Mahindra were among the executives offering bold claims about strategies technology companies should consider if they want to help change the world for the better.

"Put 3D printers in villages"

India’s Mahatma Gandhi and economist E. F. Schumacher shared a vision of preserving local economies -- but they were missing 3D printers, said Mahindra.

“Theoretically India’s on a springboard ready to take over from China. Meanwhile 65 percent of the population is still in villages,” Mahindra said. “What you really need is to stop migration, put 3D printers in the villages, allow the local shops to remain, create surplus right there locally -- it’s the missing link to Gandhi and Schumacher. There’s going to be an explosion of productivity.”

"Stop calling little girls bossy"

Having more female leaders starts with giving women better access to data and connectivity, education and health care, Sandberg said. The rest is about how boys and girls are raised, she said.

“Men still run the world, and I’m not sure it’s going that well,” Sandberg said. “Things need to change. We need to stop calling little girls bossy, and we need to nurture nurturing in our boys.”

Research "artificial empathy"

Mahindra said he’s not scared of technological change, except when teenagers stare at their phones instead of talking to each other. He called on Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc. to research “artificial empathy” instead of artificial intelligence, so that digital communication platforms can encourage interaction and bring people together instead of isolating them.

“I used to always be puzzled when people talked about fear of technological change. But when at dinner the other night a group of girls sat down and played on their phones for 15 minutes without saying a word, I was scared,” Mahindra said. “It’s like the essence of human interaction was recorded but never existed. There needs to be empathy, that’s why I ask how do we program not artificial intelligence, but artificial empathy?”

"The oldest of all skills"

New technology will drastically change the way people are required to do their jobs, and that may mean robots take over some tasks, Microsoft’s Nadella said, noting that it mostly means some of the world’s oldest skills are getting a whole lot easier.

“The digital revolution has gone from simple white-collar productivity to a true digital revolution that’s changing things like agriculture, the oldest of all skills,” Nadella said. “Not everyone needs to be a computer scientist or a coder. Digital technology can bring skills to an under-skilled population because of ease of use.”

"Safety Check for man-made disasters"

Sandberg confirmed plans to activate the Safety Check tool more broadly to help people flag that they’re safe during human disasters, and said Facebook is playing an increasing role in bringing together donors, volunteers, and even connecting refugees.

“When disaster strikes, the ability for us to come together, let each other know we’re safe, and also provide help is something really important,” Sandberg said. “We’re thinking of using Safety Check more broadly for disasters man-made and natural.”

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