Meet James Manyika, Google’s first senior VP for tech and society

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By Ben Ebuka/Face2Face Africa

WITH the global complaints about some activities of tech companies that are detrimental to society, Big Techs are making adjustments and reorganizing to address these concerns. Google, one of the Big Techs, is facing mounting criticisms and legal issues, including antitrust lawsuits, increasingly strict regulations, eroding privacy, protests over its treatment of employees, and accusations of not fighting misinformation.

In what is seen as a bid to adjust its operations, maintain a positive balance with society, provide more informed perspectives, and reduce the increasing backlash, Google recently appointed James Manyika as the Senior Vice President of Technology and Society.

James is tasked with the responsibility of shaping and sharing the company’s view on the impact of tech on the economy, planet, and society.

He is to focus on Artificial Intelligence, the future of work and the digital economy, computing infrastructure, sustainability, and other areas of possible significant impact on society. The appointment makes James the first person to ever hold the newly-created position, and he will report directly to Google CEO, Sundar Pichai. His appointment comes at a critical time when the world is witnessing rapid development in tech, which is causing some disquiet about the potential harm that might arise.

James Manyika can take on the task, judging from his over 30-year experience and research on global economic and technological trends. Throughout his career, he has advised chief executives and founders of many leading tech companies and co-authored many books and reports on technology, the future of work, and other global tech issues.

Before his recent appointment at Google, James held several senior positions in different organizations. In 2011, he was appointed to the U.S. National Innovation Advisory Board at the Department of Commerce during the Obama administration. He also served as the vice-chair of the United States Global Development Council at the White House. In 2019, he was appointed alongside Mary Kay Henry by Governor Gavin Newsom as co-chair of California’s Future of Work Commission.

He is part of several think tanks, including a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. He is on the Advisory Council of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, and on the advisory board of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. He is also part of the advisory board of the Oxford Internet Institute, a board member of the boards of the MacArthur Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and Markle Foundation, a trustee of the XPrize Foundation, and a senior advisor at Schmidt Futures.

James is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a fellow of the Institute for Human-Centered AI at Standford Univesity, a fellow in Ethics and AI at Oxford University, a fellow of DeepMind, and a fellow of Balliol College of Oxford Univesity.

Aside from work, James has co-authored books, including:

‘Decentralized Data Fusion: An Information Theoretic Approach’ (James Manyika and Hugh F. Durrant-Whyte, 1994).

‘No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends’ (James Manyika, Jonathan Woetzel, and Richard Dobbs, 2015).

Early Life and Education

James Manyika was born and raised in Zimbabwe. He attended Prince Edward School and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Zimbabwe. He earned a Master of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science and Doctorate in AI and Robotics from Oxford University.

James is a Zimbabwean American renowned for his research and works in the intersection of the economy and technology in areas of artificial intelligence, robotics, and the future of work. He was named one of the 100 Most Influential Africans in 2020 and 2022 by the New African Magazine.