Category Archives: Media

Robots at the gate: Humans and technology at work


Barclays – Humans have often had a cautious relationship with new technology, particularly when it causes widespread disruption in the workforce. Yet historically, technological advances have not resulted in fewer jobs available to humans, but rather have led to the creation of new opportunities. Farriers and saddlemakers were hit hard when cars replaced horse carriages, but the petrol stations, mechanics, motels and related industries that sprung up created new, yet different, types of jobs.

More recently, the smartphone is a great example of technological advances creating new forms of work. Twenty years ago, mobile app developer was not a job; today, millions of such developers are at work around the world.

One of the most influential economists of all time, David Ricardo, flip-flopped on the issue. In 1821, he stated that while was a general good, he was now more worried about the substitution effect on labor. And the discussion was not always academic – the Luddite movement was an early example of workers resorting to violence to protest the use of technology in textile factories.

As the decades passed, the Industrial Revolution led to a visible, massive improvement in living standards. But the debate – on how technology affects work and whether it is an unequivocal positive – continued to wax and wane.

Machine learning represents a fundamental change. It is a subset of the much-abused term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and is grounded in statistics and mathematical optimization. The computer is fed vast data sets and a few general parameters to point it in the right direction. Then, the machine executes simulations of how biological neurons behave, uses that to recognize recurring sequences in the data, and writes its own rules.

Suddenly, it is no longer limited to applying algorithms that
a human wrote; the machine is designing its own. more (pdf)>

Updates from Ciena

From Land to Sea to Cloud
By Brian Lavallée – Submarine networks carry over 99% of all telecommunications traffic between continental landmasses making them easily classified as critical infrastructure. There’s also no “Plan B” for these submerged assets, so they’ll continue to act as the jugular veins of intercontinental connectivity for years to come and will thus require constant technology innovation to reliably and securely maintain this pivotal role.

But exactly what traffic is transported back and forth on seabeds around the world? According to respected industry analyst firm TeleGeography, it’s increasingly Data Center Interconnection (DCI) traffic, and LOTS of it.

It’s projected that Internet Content Providers (ICPs) will soon account for the majority of submarine traffic in all regions of the world. Impressive for a group of companies that just over a decade ago, were essentially non-players in the submarine networking market.

Given the astonishing amount of DCI traffic added to traditional wholesale traffic, several new technologies were introduced to address this extraordinary growth, which sits at around 40% CAGR worldwide, according to TeleGeography. more>

Enlightenment rationality is not enough: we need a new Romanticism | Aeon Ideas

BOOK REVIEW

Enlightenment Now, Author: Steven Pinker.
Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9, Author: Jim Kozubek.
The Will to Knowledge, Author: Michel Foucault.

By Jim Kozubek – Progress creates the illusion that we are moving toward deeper knowledge when, in fact, imperfect theories constantly lead us astray.

The conflict is relevant in this age of anti-science, with far-Right activists questioning climate change, evolution and other current finds. But is that really bad? Nineteenth-century Romanticism was the first movement to take on the Enlightenment – and we still see its effects in such areas as environmentalism, asceticism and the ethical exercise of conscience.

In our new era of Enlightenment, we need Romanticism again.

With science becoming a brutal game of market forces and patent controls, the skeptics and Romantics among us must weigh in, and we already are. In one study that provides free genome sequencing for newborns, only 7 per cent of parents wanted to take part, suggesting that the public is cautious about how data might be abused by insurers, business and government.

Pinker’s solution to the distortion is investing science with secular humanism, an elastic concept of goodness that plies against financial pressures. But can we depend on technologists for such a benevolent spirit?

Right now, in biotech, only the market rules.

Modern-day Romantics have a right to be concerned about the motives of scientists, if not of science itself. more>

The Failures of Globalism

BOOK REVIEW

Us Vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism, Author: Ian Bremmer.

By Gabrielle Levy – If the six and a half decades that followed the end of World War II were a triumph of globalism, an era of prosperity and peace as the world grew increasingly interconnected, the second decade of the 21st century has seen the rise of a new populism that has pushed back.

Convulsions of anger – at corrupt government elites, at the floods of refugees fleeing sectarian conflict, at the loss of jobs as workers are increasingly replaced by automation and artificial intelligence – culminated in the pair of 2016 events, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, that turned conventional wisdom on its head.

The biggest piece, I think, has already happened. When globalism started, after World War II was over, the United States recognized that we never want to have a flight like that again, so we’ve got to do something about it. We’re going to rebuild our former enemies – the Germans, the Japanese – and we’re going to build the United Nations.

More broadly, as it continues, it’s going to be a lot of opposition to the United States sending troops fighting in other people’s battles, like we’ve seen in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. It’s going to be a lot less support for immigration into the U.S., unless you’ve got a skill set or a lot of money, and we’re already seeing that start to happen.

And it’s possibly going to lead to more trade disputes, certainly in terms of big technology, where, instead of having one global free market, we end up having much more fragmentation of a marketplace with more strategic sectors.

And some of that is because the United States is not willing to promote free multilateral trade organizations, but some of it is because the Chinese are building an alternative system that has no global free trade at all.

It’s all just going to be linked to Beijing. So when you put that all together, you start to see what the future of this world will look like.

Globalization can turn a virtuous cycle into a vicious one – where globalization improves people’s lives, only to raise their expectations. That, in turn, raises frustrations when those expectations are met.

In China, the growing middle class and the rising wages risk threatening the very economic engine – cheap labor – that made that progress possible. Can developing countries avoid this trap? more>

updates from Chicago Booth

Why it’s so hard to simplify the tax code
By Dee Gill – Simplifying the tax code ostensibly has bipartisan backing. Both the Bush and Obama administrations advocated for simplification, in reports, as have House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat of Massachusetts). But when the Senate passed a tax bill this past December, there was no postcard.

What happened? The same thing that always does, suggest researchers. While simplicity is a stated goal, complexity wins the day. Hence companies and individuals will hire accountants to wade through the latest bill, interpret the new rules, offer guidance, and help work through the inevitable corrections and amendments.

And this comes at an economic cost. Research by James Mahon and Chicago Booth’s Eric Zwick, and others, collectively indicates that the complexity leads individuals and companies to fail to take advantage of billions of dollars in offered breaks, many of them presumably intended to stimulate the economy. In this way, complexity undermines what tax incentives are purported to accomplish. more>

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Trump’s lies corrode democracy

By James Pfiffner – Previous research has demonstrated that most modern presidents have told lies for a variety of reasons, from legitimate lies concerning national security, to trivial misstatements, to shading the truth, to avoiding embarrassment, to serious lies of policy deception. However, when a president continues to insist that his previous false statements are true, the institutions of government become corroded and democracy is undermined.

Of course, many of Trump’s lies are “conventional” lies similar to those that politicians often tell in order to look good or avoid blame. But the number of these types of lies by Trump vastly exceeds the lies of previous presidents. Glen Kessler of the Washington Post compiled a list of more than 2000 misleading or false statements in Trump’s first 355 days in office.

But aside from volume, Trump’s lies differed significantly from those of previous presidents. Some of his most frequent lies are bragging about his achievements in ways that are demonstrably untrue and contrary to well-known and accepted facts.

Trump’s refusal to admit the truth of widely accepted facts corrodes political discourse and is consistent with the practice of many authoritarian leaders. If there are no agreed upon facts, then it becomes impossible for people to make judgments about their government or hold it accountable. more>

Russia, Iran And Turkey Are Building A New Middle East

By Jonathan Wachtel and Albert Wachtel – Washington’s constructive role in the 20th century began in 1905 when President Theodore Roosevelt coaxed Moscow and Tokyo into signing the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War. A couple of months after Yalta in mid-century, Franklin Roosevelt died, but the Marshall Plan of Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, enabled post-war Europe to rebuild, including the creation of a democratic and friendly West Germany.

20th century America led the effort to build a better world, and nations depended on that.

In the 21st century, that crucial role has often been abdicated. Barack Obama tried to sidestep crises, naively dismissing emerging Islamic State militant group (ISIS) terrorists as a “J.V. team.” He threatened to bomb Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s installations because he used chemical weapons but didn’t follow through. His red lines were pale, and his attempts to lead from behind were pale policy.

Enemies advanced destruction, chaos, and despair, and by the time Donald Trump took office, Iran was asserting itself across the Middle East, not just in Syria and Lebanon, where Hezbollah dominates the national army, but in Iraq and Yemen as well.

Mr. Trump is perplexingly outsourcing American policy in Syria. more>

Tech Upheaval Means a ‘Massacre of the Dilberts’

By Fergal O’Brien and Maciej Onoszko – The Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said there are a lot of “routine cognitive jobs,” at risk, in what he termed a “massacre of the Dilberts” — a reference to the satirical American comic strip about office workers.

Technology and the fourth industrial revolution are having untold impact, he said, and it’s going to take huge efforts to make sure workers ultimately benefit. The effect of automation is just one part of the change and examples of the seismic shift can be seen in finance, where many “unglamorous” data entry jobs have already been transformed.

“Get a grip on the scale of the problem. Assess and address,” he said.

Carney added that part of the solution could require major social change, with workers having to extend or return to education in later life to prepare themselves for the new world of labor. He acknowledged that wouldn’t be simple, when many people will have mortgages and other financial responsibilities, and added that up to now not everyone is getting training right. more>

The Labor Market Basis For Populism

By Carl Melin and Ann-Therése Enarsson – All over the world, populist parties and movements are growing ever more strongly, and established parties appear to lack effective strategies to combat this.

Changes in the labor market will not have the same impact on all groups. Routine tasks are more vulnerable to automation and we can see that many low-skilled men, often in jobs that have had a relatively high status and income, are more vulnerable than others. But traditional working-class jobs are not the only ones affected, as digitization and the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) are also affecting many white-collar employees.

The trend of increased populism that we have seen over the last decade mirrors what happened during the Great Depression in the 1930s when such movements seized power in countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain, with the disastrous consequences we all know.

The question is: what can be done to counteract a similar trend.

Even if automation may mean that some people lose out, there is no alternative as the new technology is a precondition for old jobs not simply disappearing, but also being replaced by new ones.

What can be done, however, is to reduce people’s anxieties and the personal cost of these changes. On the-job-training and other forms of education are the most important tools, but security in times of change is also about effective unemployment insurance.

Far too many politicians have chosen to respond to populist parties by adopting their world view. Instead of trying to deal with the concerns that are driving people to these kinds of movements, many politicians have often chosen to confirm and reinforce them. more>

Updates from Adobe

WALL TOGETHER NOW
By Jordan Kushins – Las Vegas is known for its garish signage: flashy, flamboyant, all-neon-all-the-time. But now an entirely different kind of marquee has stolen the spotlight. It’s more than 16 feet long, just under ten feet high, and almost five feet deep. It weighs a whopping 770 pounds and is composed of nearly 50 modular MDF forms.

It was meticulously designed in Adobe Illustrator CC, built by hand in England, shipped in pieces across the ocean, then reconstructed in Nevada. And it’s greeting participants at the Adobe Summit.

For the past five years, Adobe has worked with artists on the conference identity, which corresponds to an annual theme. This year’s theme is “experience,” and creative director Angela Fisher was inspired to go beyond 2D constraints to bring the theme to life. “I started thinking, ‘What if the identity was a physical structure?’ A camera panning around, and in and out, could reveal a kind of experience within the branding itself.”

She began making paper models at home on the weekends to explore two facets of the idea. These geometric forms and patterns became building blocks—like DIY Legos—that took on the feel of an abstract cityscape in one, and the shape of an “X” in the other. They were promising, but the concept wasn’t quite there yet. more>

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