Category Archives: Book review

The future is emotional

By Livia Gershon – The truth is, only a tiny percentage of people in the post-industrial world will ever end up working in software engineering, biotechnology or advanced manufacturing. Just as the behemoth machines of the industrial revolution made physical strength less necessary for humans, the information revolution frees us to complement, rather than compete with, the technical competence of computers.

Many of the most important jobs of the future will require soft skills, not advanced algebra.

Back in 1983, the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild coined the term ‘emotional labor’ to describe the processes involved in managing the emotional demands of work. She explored the techniques that flight attendants used to maintain the friendly demeanors their airline demanded in the face of abusive customers: taking deep breaths, silently reminding themselves to stay cool, or building empathy for the nasty passenger.

A growing real-world demand for workers with empathy and a talent for making other people feel at ease requires a serious shift in perspective. It means moving away from our singular focus on academic performance as the road to success. It means giving more respect, and better pay, to workers too often generically dismissed as ‘unskilled labor’. And, it means valuing skills more often found among working-class women than highly educated men. more> https://goo.gl/hghbQM

Will robots make job training (and workers) obsolete?

By Harry J. Holzer – Automation eliminates the number of workers needed per unit of good or service produced. By reducing unit costs it raises productivity and, in a competitive market, product prices should decline. All else equal, this will raise consumer demand for the good or service in question.

Whether or not this rise in product demand is sufficiently large to raise overall employment for the product depends on whether the fall in workers needed per unit of production is proportionately lesser or greater than the rise in the numbers of units demanded; if lesser, than product demand will rise.

Labor economists believe that workers mostly pay for general skill development (often in the form of lower wages, when the training occurs on the job), while employers are willing to share more in the costs of developing worker skills more specific to their needs.6 A shift away from specific towards more general skill training will thus involve a shift of the costs of training away from employers towards workers (or the public), and less sharing of any risks involved in whether the market rewards those skills over time.

Some workers whose tasks can mostly be performed by machines will be displaced, while demand is enhanced for others who can work along with the new machines—perhaps as technicians or engineers but also in a range of newer tasks that the machines cannot perform, including more complex analysis or social interactions with customers and coworkers. more> https://goo.gl/pveH2W

Why Your Brain Hates Other People

By Robert Sapolsky – Humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture.

We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency; have complex taxonomies and classifications of ways in which we denigrate Thems; do so with a versatility that ranges from the minutest of microaggression to bloodbaths of savagery; and regularly decide what is inferior about Them based on pure emotion, followed by primitive rationalizations that we mistake for rationality.

Pretty depressing.

The brain’s fault lines dividing Us from Them are also shown with the hormone oxytocin. It’s famed for its pro-social effects—oxytocin prompts people to be more trusting, cooperative, and generous. But, crucially, this is how oxytocin influences behavior toward members of your own group. When it comes to outgroup members, it does the opposite… more> https://goo.gl/jv9WTY

The idea of creating a new universe in the lab is no joke

By Zeeya Merali – There’s an established principle in quantum theory that pairs of particles can spontaneously, momentarily pop out of empty space. Alex Vilenkin took this notion a step further, arguing that quantum rules could also enable a minuscule bubble of space itself to burst into being from nothing, with the impetus to then inflate to astronomical scales.

Our cosmos could thus have been burped into being by the laws of physics alone. Many cosmologists have made peace with the notion of a universe without a prime mover, divine or otherwise.

.. flipping the problem around, I started to wonder: what are the implications of humans even considering the possibility of one day making a universe that could become inhabited by intelligent life? As I discuss in my book A Big Bang in a Little Room (2017), current theory suggests that, once we have created a new universe, we would have little ability to control its evolution or the potential suffering of any of its residents. Wouldn’t that make us irresponsible and reckless deities?

We will not be creating baby universes anytime soon, but scientists in all areas of research must feel able to freely articulate the implications of their work without concern for causing offence. Cosmogenesis is an extreme example that tests the principle.

Parallel ethical issues are at stake in the more near-term prospects of creating artificial intelligence or developing new kinds of weapons, for instance.

As Anders Sandberg put it, although it is understandable that scientists shy away from philosophy, afraid of being thought weird for veering beyond their comfort zone, the unwanted result is that many of them keep quiet on things that really matter. more> https://goo.gl/GjCJpd

The crisis of expertise

BOOK REVIEW

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, Author: Tom Nichols.
Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Author: Philip Tetlock.

By Tom Nichols – Experts get things wrong all the time.

The effects of such errors range from mild embarrassment to wasted time and money; in rarer cases, they can result in death, and even lead to international catastrophe. And yet experts regularly ask citizens to trust expert judgment and to have confidence not only that mistakes will be rare, but that the experts will identify those mistakes and learn from them.

Day to day, laypeople have no choice but to trust experts. We live our lives embedded in a web of social and governmental institutions meant to ensure that professionals are in fact who they say they are, and can in fact do what they say they do. Universities, accreditation organizations, licensing boards, certification authorities, state inspectors and other institutions exist to maintain those standards.

Science is learning by doing. Laypeople are uncomfortable with ambiguity, and they prefer answers rather than caveats. But science is a process, not a conclusion. Science subjects itself to constant testing by a set of careful rules under which theories can be displaced only by other theories. Laypeople cannot expect experts to never be wrong; if they were capable of such accuracy, they wouldn’t need to do research and run experiments in the first place.

Democracy cannot function when every citizen is an expert … more> https://goo.gl/NpQgga

Public Education Vs. Public Schooling

BOOK REVIEW

Deschooling Society, Author: Ivan Illich.

By Kerry McDonald – Until we separate public education from public schooling–to truly “de-school” our perspective on learning–we will be mired in a debate about reforming one, singular method of education (that is, mass schooling), while ignoring other methods of education that could be better.

The industrial model upon which compulsory public schooling was founded in 1852 is no longer relevant in a new economy that increasingly values creativity over conformity, knowledge workers over factory laborers. Despite the fact that sociologists and economists believe we have left the Industrial Age for the Imagination Age—an era defined by creativity and innovation and technological application—American education is stuck with an outdated system of mass schooling. Instead of adapting to the changing needs of a creative culture, American schooling has sought to become even more restrictive and entrenched. We need a new model of learning, separate from our modern experiment with mass schooling, that taps into the innate, self-educative capacity of humans.

A perfect example of educational webs, as opposed to funnels like school, is the public library. Libraries are ideal examples of existing, taxpayer-funded, community-based, non-coercive learning hubs. They are openly accessible to all members of a community and, unlike public schools, do not segregate by age or ability. They offer classes, lectures, cultural events, ESL lessons, computer courses, mentoring opportunities and a whole host of other public programming. They are brimming with gifted facilitators who love “learning, sharing, and caring” and who are eager to help guide community learning. more> https://goo.gl/heaclm

End-times for humanity

BOOK REVIEW

Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, Author: Claire Colebrook.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Author: Naomi Klein.
Antifragile, Author: Nicholas Taleb.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Author: Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Social Contract, Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

By Claire Colebrook – The panic isn’t merely about civilisational threats, but existential ones. Beyond doomsday proclamations about mass extinction, climate change, viral pandemics, global systemic collapse and resource depletion, we seem to be seized by an anxiety about losing the qualities that make us human.

Social media, we’re told, threatens our capacity for empathy and genuine connection.

How did we arrive at this moment in history, in which humanity is more technologically powerful than ever before, and yet we feel ourselves to be increasingly fragile?

What contemporary post-apocalyptic culture fears isn’t the end of ‘the world’ so much as the end of ‘a world’ – the rich, white, leisured, affluent one. Western lifestyles are reliant on what the French philosopher Bruno Latour has referred to as a ‘slowly built set of irreversibilities’, requiring the rest of the world to live in conditions that ‘humanity’ regards as unlivable.

And nothing could be more precarious than a species that contracts itself to a small portion of the Earth, draws its resources from elsewhere, transfers its waste and violence, and then declares that its mode of existence is humanity as such. more> https://goo.gl/1nriI9

The Difference Between Real And Pretend Strengths

BOOK REVIEW

The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, Author: George Bradt.

By George Bradt – Real strengths are made up of talent, knowledge and skills. It’s not enough to study a subject. Expertise is born of practice.

Real strengths enable people to do what they need to do. Pretend strengths may be intriguing at first, but end up disappointing.

Too many people think they should be able to sell because they’ve worked with salespeople before, either as buyers themselves, providing support to sales, or making products or services that others sell. They can’t sell. Selling requires talent, knowledge and skills born of practice.

Too many people think they can teach because they’ve been students.

Frontier Communications bought AT&T’s wire line services in Connecticut. They were excited because the transaction was going to: “be accretive” and “improve Frontier’s dividend payout” while customers “will have the same products and services that they currently enjoy”. (From their press release.)

Wasn’t true. The day of the transfer, my voicemail service got “disabled”. And it stayed disabled for 11 days. Each of the four times I called Frontier I was informed that they would “open a ticket”. I didn’t want a ticket. I wanted voicemail.

Frontier’s not a real phone company. It just plays one on TV. more> https://goo.gl/pH2m1L

Our obsession with GDP and economic growth has failed us, let’s end it

BOOK REVIEW

Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth, Author: Lorenzo Fioramonti.

By Lorenzo Fioramonti – The idea that the economic “pie” can grow indefinitely is alluring. The “growth first” rule has dominated the world since the early 20th century. No other ideology has ever been so powerful: the obsession with growth even cut through both capitalist and socialist societies.

But what exactly is growth? Strangely enough, the notion has never been reasonably developed.

For common sense people, there is growth when—all things being equal—our overall wealth increases.

Paradoxically, our model of economic growth does exactly the opposite of what common sense suggests.

Here are some examples. If I sell my kidney for some cash, then the economy grows. But if I educate my kids, prepare and cook food for my community, improve the health conditions of my people, growth doesn’t happen.

If a country cuts and sells all its trees, it gets a boost in GDP. But nothing happens if it nurtures them. more> https://goo.gl/k6G27r

Why Wall Street Went Astray: Eight Ways To Humanize Finance

BOOK REVIEW

The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return, Author: Mihir Desai.

By Steve Denning – Why did Wall Street go astray?

For most of the last several centuries, bankers and financiers were the pillars of society, the bastions of morality, the people in society that everyone respected.

Yet over the last few decades, Wall Street has become almost a synonym of evil. What went wrong? What can be done to restore the financial sector to the level of respect that it once enjoyed?

For people outside finance: Finance is deeply misunderstood, and we need to make it understandable to people so that they don’t demonize it. The way to do that is not through equations or graphs, but through stories. Finance is central to our lives and ignorance of it is very costly on an individual and societal level.

For people in finance: The core ideas of finance are quite life affirming and very noble — we should make people in finance aspire to them rather than expect so little of them. If finance is going to rehabilitate itself, and I do think it’s broken in many ways, the way to rehabilitate is not through regulation, or outrage, but rather returning to its basic underlying ideas, which are actually quite wonderful. In the long run, that’s how we make finance better — by getting back to the core ideas. more> https://goo.gl/Kr4Mnj