“…that world is uncertain and full of novelty.”

Original Content

This week, I talked to Brett Scott, author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance, about Hacking the Future of Money. Watch here.

Geeking Out

“…that world is uncertain and full of novelty.” And that’s why robots need to learn to program themselves—so they can learn to load dishwashers. Not certain on the explanation for why my 11 year-old can’t learn the same skill.

Will you someday drive a 3D printed car (or will the robots drive it for you)? And before that robot-driven car can get on the road, what laws will we need to update?

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

What’s a happy medium between your public bus system, and a private  car service like Uber or Lyft? Check out Bridj, a new way of scheduling multi-passenger trips. And while we’re on the subject of ride-sharing, this new website lets you compare what you’d pay for the same ride on Uber, Lyft & using a traditional taxi.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Are you a Facebook Messenger user? You might be surprised to see how much data they’re collecting about you…even when the app’s not running.

Organizing Theory

This article looks at the evolution of independent media from the ‘70s to today, and wonders if the onset of the internet has robbed the politics from the DIY movement.

“…for every voter who registers through an app, there are many more who would be better served by making Election Day a national holiday…” On civic tech, and what challenges it should turn to, next.

From Partners

Amalgamated Bank has a new video out, featuring their commitment to creating an economy that works for everyone.

The New Economy Coalition is sponsoring a week of action asking a series of questions to get people thinking about what it will take to build the economy we need, October 13-19th. Organize an event in your town!

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

What exactly do we mean when we talk about digital labor? Is it the online freelancer? The programmer in India? The guy who mines minerals that are needed to make smartphones? This new paper looks at what those jobs—and others—have in common.

Do we need a new type of worker classification, something between permanent employee and independent contractor? In the words of my Magic 8 Ball, “Signs point to yes.” A long read, but an excellent paper exploring the ups & downs of the peer to peer economy.

“…overwork is not elective, it is part of a new social contract.” An essay about a little magazine that thought it could talk about work and technology in a new way…wonder why that appeals to me?

“The future of labour in the robot age has everything to do with capitalism.”

Original Content

Have you read our new post, “Interview with a Roboticist” yet? If you like our original content, consider supporting us through Patreon.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

It’s not just robot waiters that are bringing tech to restaurants. It’s the ability to crunch data that some chains are finding very attractive. But while we’re on the topic of food and robots—check out GoCart, a robotic food delivery system for nursing homes and other elder care facilities.

“The future of labour in the robot age has everything to do with capitalism.” Welp. Yes.

Are there GOOD ways for computer scheduling to work in retail and restaurant situations? Harvard Biz Review thinks you can make it work for employees and profit motives.

“The autonomous nature of labour is not unique to its unwaged digital variant.” A paper on unwaged digital labor? Yes, thanks, I will.

The Freelancers’ Union just put out a new paper looking at the 50M+ Americans who work, in some way, as freelancers.

If anyone should be able to explain why net neutrality is a workers’ rights issue, it should be someone who runs an online marketplace. Check out this piece by the CEO of Etsy.

Is it time for a four-day workweek? The folks at Social Media Week say yes.

Geeking Out

Visually disabled people are in the vanguard of using tech to make life more accessible. We’ll all be needing these advances, as we age–especially if we want to count on technology to help us make it through life.

Interview with a roboticist

Part of my ongoing interest in writing about technology and work is inspired by the feeling that there really is a lot of cool stuff going on in the world–it’s not all just about my worry that we might find ourselves automated out of jobs, without a plan to replace income from work.

After the announcement of our twitter chat on #robotwork, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to talk to a roboticist–and of course, I said yes. I was hoping to have this interview posted before the chat, but due to a schedule mishap of my own making, that wasn’t possible. But I’m still very excited to have conducted our very first (email) interview with someone who’s working to make the world a better place, through robots.

Meet M. Bernadine Dias, Associate Research Professor in Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

HtU: What was it that got you into this line of work?

Dias: I started in Physics because I was always interested in understanding how the world worked and using this knowledge to invent tools that serve humankind.  In university, I was introduced to Computer Science and was intrigued by the numerous ways in which computers can impact the world.  Robotics to me was the perfect marriage of Physics and Computer Science! So after University, and a double major in Physics and Computer Science, I went into grad school in Robotics.  However, I was born and raised in Sri Lanka, in a lower-middle-class family of six kids and one income, so people and community have always been very important to me. My undergraduate degree was also in the Liberal Arts.  So even though I double majored in Physics and Computer Science, I also minored in Women’s Studies, and took courses in Philosophy, Sculpture, Economics, and much more. So my vision was always to use technology to help preserve communities and their cultures while empowering each community to realize their vision of progress.  That is how and why I started my research group TechBridgeWorld after I completed my Ph.D. in robotics.

HtU: What is the “problem” that your work is trying to solve?

Dias: In general, my work aims to empower technologically under-served communities with technology tools that cater to their needs and help them to overcome their challenges and move towards their vision of progress.  I therefore primarily work with people in developing communities and people with disabilities.  So we build tools such as low-cost devices to help blind children to learn to write braille using the slate and stylus method which is used in the developing world. You can see an article I wrote for Footnote.

Other relevant articles you may find interesting are:

Information & Communication Technologies for Development

ICT4D2.0: The Next Phase of Applying ICT for International Development

HtU: What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?

Dias: That’s tough.  I work on a lot of cool things :-) I guess I’ll pick my newest project – which is titled assistive robots for blind travelers.  We are exploring how different types of robots can effectively interact with and assist blind people in the context of future urban travel. This is a new project funded by NSF so we don’t have a lot of results yet, but you can follow our work on our website.

HtU: Are there places—conferences, conventions, online spaces, etc.—where roboticists talk about the future of work & what role they/you play in creating it?

Dias: Yes – this is an integral topic that many roboticists discuss both formally and informally – mostly under the banner of the ethics of robotics.  Here are some resources:

Robot Ethics (MIT edition)

Robot Futures

Robot Ethics (IEEE edition)

Center for Law & Society–Robotics (Stanford)

Ethics & Emerging Sciences Group (CalPoly)

Ethics & Robotics (CMU)

HtU: What are some jobs that might be created in the future, using tech that you are working on now?

Dias: I think the technology we are collectively building will lead to a lot more (primarily “technician” and service category) jobs where the job will entail things like calibrating robots (you’ll already see some of this in the medical industry with the higher end technology being used for things like imaging and surgery), overseeing teams of robots (this could be in security, agriculture, construction, etc.), deciding the rules and regulations for technology and robots (law and philosophy), working with robots to accomplish complex tasks (surgeons are already doing this with complex surgeries), designing, fabricating, programming, servicing, marketing, and distributing robots, and much more :-)

HtU: What are some of the ethical questions that are raised in your work, that civilians may not think about?

Dias: Some of the questions I wrestle with are how can we use technology to empower the disempowered? Or how can technology make society more inclusive? Or how can technology enable people with disabilities to lead more independent lives and increase their safety? Or what are the cultural implications of introducing a technology into a community and who should be a part of the decision of whether or not to introduce that technology and how can these decision makers be empowered to make informed choices?  We also think about the environmental consequences of the technology we build and the tradeoffs we have to make between environmental, societal, cultural, economical, and practical considerations.

HtU: What’s the one thing that you wish people who don’t work with automated technology knew about robots?

Dias: :-) Hmmm…It’s tough to pick one thing.  I guess I wish mostly that they knew real robots are not necessarily what you see in the movies (especially the blockbuster movies). We have been seeing more of a shift with the general public view of robots though.  We used to get visitors who always expected to see robots that looked like the Terminator. Now we get a wider variety of expectations and my son and his classmates assembled their first robot at the age of 2 with their daycare educators ((using a kit they bought from Amazon). These kids at the age of 3 now will tell you that robots come in many forms with wheels and legs and wings etc. We also had a blind teacher in a small school for blind childrern in India ask us for a robot that could help her carry her things around :-)  So perceptions are certainly changing! Robots, just like any other technology or machine or fashion trend are really what we make of them.  So we just have to make sure we include all the relevant voices in the discussions of what we should do with robots and make the best informed and inclusive decisions we can so that humans can be safer, have more flexibility in work location, spend their time doing more interesting things, and accomplish previously impossible things using the technology we build. Roboticists always talk about robots that tackle the 3 D’s: Dull, Dirty, and Dangerous tasks.

This is not your mother’s use of eye shadow

Original Content

Thanks to everyone who joined our tweet chat on the future of work on Labor Day evening—check out a storify of selected tweets.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

Wanna hide from facial recognition software? Here’s a good walk-through of how to use makeup to do it. Note: this is not your mother’s use of eye shadow.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Sure, you’ve used Uber to get from one place to another. But has the sharing economy reached your municipal government yet? There’s only so many potholes that one small town can fill in a year—why not share an asphalt spreader?

And while we’re on the subject of public-private partnerships, why not read up on Secaucus, NJ’s experiments with an entirely new kind of public transit system? Solar-powered, no less.

Will the full fruition of the sharing economy make us lonelier?

In the EU, and have stuff in your house you’re willing to share with a neighbor? This project will give you stickers to put on your mailbox, showing what you’d be willing to share.

Would a basic income make a more equal society in the UK? New Statesman says yes.

Organizing Theory

Wonder what a day in the life of a social media organizer is like? Here’s an interesting interview with meme slinger Joe Solomon of Upwell.

If you’re working to increase digital innovation within a pre-internet era organization (perhaps, a union?), you should check out these best practices from a panel at last year’s South by Southwest.

Amnesty International launched a partnership with Tinder (swipe right?) to raise awareness that not all women have the right to pick their own partners, on International Women’s Day.

From Partners

Open-source map-making software that can use data from XML feeds, Google Fusion Tables and other online data? Sign us up for MapMaker!

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

When are most Americans at work? NPR’s Planet Money produced this helpful infograph to chart what time different job classifications work during the day. Sadly, organizer doesn’t make the cut.

Southern California Uber drivers ally with the Teamsters.

Want to join the battle for Net Neutrality? September 10th will be Internet Slowdown day—click to join.

Last week, we wrote about Uber’s decision to start short-term, same-day delivery service. This week, they’ve opened their API to new app developers. Conclusion? You’ll eventually Uber everything. Uber for Pizza? Uber for Cat Litter? I just hope they bring back the Uber Kitten program.

Would you buy “Inglorious Vegetables”?

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

One French supermarket chain had an idea about how to reduce food waste—by selling “Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables.” And while we’re on the topic of food waste—what if the leftover grounds from your local coffee shop could be turned into home heating fuel?

Australian Ikea and AirBnB are teaming up for a promotion where the winner gets to spend the night in an Ikea. Sharing meatballs, I suppose?

Uber is taking on Google & Amazon with its new on-demand delivery service.

Organizing Theory

Most of this post, by Quinn Norton, on what to bring with you when covering a protest is as good for activists as it is for journalists.

From Partners

Politics nerds: NGP VAN is expanding their dominance of data! Let’s all be happy about this, it seems amazing.

In NY? Why not hit this forum on how to impact global supply chains, on September 11th. http://bit.ly/1p2i2Ae

Geeking Out

The UK is about to launch a GPS system that can locate you down to the the centimeter.

The Verge takes a jokey look back, from 2035, on the development of self-driving transportation.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: net neutrality is a workers’ rights issue. Video creators have just launched a new site to talk about why it matters to them.

I kinda don’t understand how the NFL thinks they are exempt from state labor laws. But this is why cheerleaders don’t even make minimum wage, in most places.

Shorten the workweek? Sure. But why do we have to maintain 40 hours?

The European Freelancers’ Movement is writing a new book on independent worker rights. They’ve just released the first five chapters, and are crowd-sourcing funding to pay for the rest.


Don’t forget to join our tweet chat next week–Monday, 9/1 at 8 pm Eastern (US)–use the hashtag #robotwork.

Robots vs. Apps: What’s an Organizer To Do?


When I started writing this blog, around this time last year, I wanted to get more folks in the economic justice community thinking about technology, and the ways it is changing work. Historically, the labor movement has been painted as a foe of technological change, and I didn’t (and still don’t) think that’s an accurate picture. But I also get that the rapid pace of technological change makes all but the most tech-savvy nervous, at times. And those times seem to be increasing.

In the intervening year, it feels to me as if this topic has gotten a lot more coverage in the mainstream, particularly when it comes to the apps of the sharing economy. There was a little worry, a year ago, about Uber and what it might do to the taxi industry–but there hadn’t been, yet, local government taking action against the company (or Lyft, or any of the other big ride-sharing apps). There was some concern about what AirBnB might mean for hotels, but there hadn’t yet been regulatory action pushing them to pay taxes, or to protect their users. It feels, now, like we are starting to have more of a conversation about the gig economy and what it means for workers today–and I’m happy to have played some very small role in that conversation.

But I’m also worried that we haven’t started yet having the bigger conversation, which to my mind is not about apps, but robots. I’m going to use the term “robot” here pretty broadly–basically meaning any mechanization of work that was formerly done by humans.

If you haven’t yet watched this video that was linked in this week’s newsletter, go do it.

Our movement can be great at reacting–and it’s easy to feel, in the light of so many challenges that face us RIGHT NOW that we don’t have bandwidth to think about what might happen in ten, fifteen or twenty years. But if we don’t, who will be worrying about the impact of widespread job displacement on workers of all kinds?

Next month, as my own celebration of the US’s Labor Day, I’m hosting a tweet chat about robots and work. Please join me–8 pm Eastern, Monday 9/1/14. #robotwork will be the hashtag.

Can basic income develop a passion for washing the dishes?

Original Content

This week’s challenge–Robots vs. Apps: What’s an Organizer To Do?

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Would a universal basic income give you a passion for washing the dishes? One German startup founder wants to find out. I’m willing to let him experiment on my teen and tween.

The story about building a cooperative economy in Jackson, MS is consistently uplifting to me. Here’s more, on how they’re transforming the poorest state in the US.

Sustainable communities that locate intentionally near one another have more support, if something goes wrong in one.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

You say you haven’t seen enough farmers talking about data privacy & protection? You wanna see a guy wearing a tractor hat talk about bleeding edge technology? Done. Apologies—the video gets a little choppy.

Organizing Theory

Voting technology seems like some of the least sexy technology there is. And yet, people strive to make it better, though open source.

In a week where national journalists have been detained by police for covering the increasing militarization of Ferguson, MO—it’s not just every activist who should read the EFF’s updated cell phone guide. Every American should read it. Because you never know when you’ll be caught up in history.

From Partners

Last week, the Steelworkers passed a resolution at their convention promoting worker-owned co-ops. On a related note, USW’s Rob Witherell launched a new blog promoting worker ownership.

Geeking Out

Civic tech sometimes gets a bad rap (reporting potholes? is this the best we can do?), but these five projects are designed to use tech to solve real problems for low-income communities.

Oh, so your government is making you participate in mandatory job search in order to get benefits? Why not hack together a Google Chrome extension that automatically searches for and applies for jobs for you?

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

The Pew Research Center has been asking industry leaders what they think will happen with the future of jobs. Here’s their report (this may be the first white paper I’ve ever seen with suggested tweets embedded in the text).

Workers at a non-union grocery store in MA walked off the job, to protest a shift to a more shareholder-priviligeing form of management. PBS seems perplexed.

Headed to an Aloft hotel near you—the robot butler.

Sure. In the face of job-killing robots, just become a robot investor in order to ensure your economic survival. Sounds easy enough.

Final Thoughts

“even if Baxter is slow, his hourly cost is pennies’ worth of electricity, while his meat-based competition costs minimum wage. A tenth of the speed is still cost-effective, when it’s a hundredth the price.”

I guess I can retire this blog now.

“To have democracy in our society, we must have democracy in our economy.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“To have democracy in our society, we must have democracy in our economy.” Why union coops are spreading in the EU and the US.

Here’s an innovative idea for dealing with exorbitant student debt: the Salish Sea Cooperative is refinancing high interest student loans and returning the savings to their members.

It’s not okay to “share” the parking rights to a public parking space—but this new British service wants to help you rent out your driveway.

London is running out of room…so it’s developing waterfront—and water-based—housing options.

Organizing Theory

Micah Sifry on what has—and hasn’t—changed in politics, after a decade of online organizing.

Do you have a website that’s optimized for search? If you want to keep it that way, you’re going to want to transition for HTTPS, as Google announces that they’re changing (slowly) their search algorithms.

Justin Ruben (formerly of MoveOn) has been thinking about how progressive organizations can learn to scale up, from 12-step movements.

Geeking Out

If the robots are coming, how many of us will they accidentally kill, before they reach perfection?

Do you wish you understood more about how computers work within networks? Quinn Norton’s got you covered.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

Yeah, wearable computers that let your boss know when you need a break. That couldn’t possibly go wrong, could it? And while we’re on the topic of tech that many of us would be uncomfortable with, at work—I introduce you to Moodhacker.

No longer just a fancy costume for a Matt Damon movie…Japan tests robotic exoskeleton for shipyard workers.

Final Thoughts

“Levying additional taxes involves a simple principle: go where the money is. Since money has been increasingly going to the top, that’s where additional tax revenues have to come from. It’s really that simple. It used to be said that the top didn’t have enough money to fill the hole in the deficit; but that’s becoming less and less true. With those in the top 1 percent getting more than 20 percent of the nation’s income, an incremental 10 percent tax on their income (without loopholes) would generate revenues equal to some 2 percent of the nation’s GDP.”

Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality