When Joseph Adjei enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology, he struggled as a newly deaf student from Ghana. “Where I lived,” Joseph said, “they believed that deaf people can’t do anything.” In class he tried to read lips, but he hadn’t yet learned American Sign Language. “It was very, very difficult.”
Everything changed when Joseph’s class began using Microsoft Translator—a program that uses artificial intelligence to create real-time speech captions. “The first time I saw it running, I was so excited,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, I can get information the same as my hearing peers.’”
Technology transformed Joseph’s college experience. It opened the door to new skills and allowed him to learn and communicate in innovative ways. Yet Joseph’s story is not unlike the billions whose lives have been touched by tech. All over the world, tech is unleashing new potential and building a stronger future for everyone.
Joseph is just one reason why I am proud to be a part of a community that is comfortable pushing boundaries and driving a rapidly evolving economy. Right now, the tech sector employs more than 7 million Americans and contributes $1.6 trillion to the economy. Indeed, I am hopeful we will be able to bring others into the fold given tech has more than 625,000 jobs just waiting to be filled, with the number of tech jobs increasing by about 200,000 each year.
That said, I am not blinded by my pride. Technology and technology companies are not unalloyed good. We are human beings and suffer from all the failings of our species. The recent headlines affirm that. Our industry takes these concerns seriously, and we understand the need for tech to advance responsibly – not only through our products but through our practices, too.
Our companies recognize the critical role we play in this uncharted period of technological advancement and are committed to the values that drive us as an industry, including transparency, trust and ingenuity. This moment is a chance for an open, honest conversation with consumers, policymakers and other key stakeholders.
This is not a moment for cheerleading for tech but our engagement on these critical societal issues must be grounded in reality. The tech sector is making grand public mistakes while, at the same time, helping to solve for some of societies most entrenched challenges, enhancing education and skills training, creating more jobs and economic growth, ensuring safer communities and developing better health care outcomes.
In San Antonio and Georgetown, Kentucky, our industry is helping middle-aged Americans find exciting careers in advanced manufacturing at a modernized auto plant. In Brooklyn and Chicago, we are developing schools and curriculum to train high-schoolers to become software developers – the demand for which is expected to increase by 17 percent from now until 2024. In Missouri, we are creating an inexpensive platform for a mom to support her family by selling quilts to customers across the world. And in other communities across the United States, tech is powering more than 6,500 American medical device companies to build machines that detect cancer earlier than ever before and provide new treatment options to live longer, healthier lives. These efforts cannot be overlooked or ignored as we determine our path forward.
Today’s innovations, like nuclear fusion of 70 years ago or radio waves and steam of 100 years are exposing many of the most troubling seams in society. This moment is an opportunity to work together, not talk past each other. Policymakers, community leaders and those of us in the tech industry must engage and develop and implement real, innovative solutions so we can continue to advance humanity and sustain our planet.
Tech has and will continue to define the possibilities of tomorrow— for our workforce, our families, our communities and our lives — but we must work together to build it.
Dean Garfield is the CEO and president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents more than 60 technology companies across the globe.