Newsletter 4

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The Singularity Approaches

There’s been a lot of talk lately about self-driving cars–but how real is that possibility? Well, the advertising world is already trying to figure out how to sell them, and Australian mining operations have been using giant robotic trucks, since 2008…so maybe they’re not so science-fictiony, after all.

In higher ed disruption news, some professors at UT have started a new model of online education that mixes a MOOC with a traditional in-person class. So far, it’s only got 50 not-on-campus students–but the goal is to get to 10,000. Teach Thought poses the question “what will education look like in 2028?”, while Inside Higher Ed surveys what current faculty are thinking about tech in the university today.

Are you a retail worker who hates inventory day more than anything? Just wait till your boss is making you wear Google Glass to ensure you’re not stealing.

Want to hack your brain so that you can finally have a decent conversation on a first date? MIT’s got you covered.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

ProPublica has a podcast up this week featuring Michael Grabell talking about his long-form story investigating conditions for temp workers. Did you know that in the 1950s, temp agencies had to post bonds ensuring that they had enough money to pay the wages of the workers they were hiring? Temp work isn’t just a US problem though, so some global unions are planning a worldwide day of action on October 7th, to protest “zero hour contracts,” as they’re called in the UK.

You can take a look at the “performance” of CEOs that rank in the top paid employees in the country? Institute for Policy Studies has a new report, downloadable here.

Meanwhile, the sharing economy & its new jobs is experiencing some controversy. Business Insider talked to an anonymous Task Rabbit, who pointed out that just maybe, not having a way to find out whether the client you’re working for is sane, and not being able to talk to other TRs about that client, isn’t exactly the safest way to work. Some argue that trusting strangers to give us a ride to the airport means there are fewer serial killers in the world. But if only workers’ reviews are visible, bad “employers” can just keep contracting out their grossest cleaning, without paying the real price.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it was like to work as an Amazon Mechanical Turk, wonder no more. Jeremy Wilson did the heavy lifting (er, clicking?) for this piece of research.   And the last word on this subject (well, at least for this week) goes to Tom Slee, who writes: “The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it’s the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money.”

Of course, there’s no giving up on whether talk of workers’  disruption is Luddite or prescient. Mark Sigal poses this question on GigaOm this week: “Would you feel differently if the creative destruction were a natural disaster instead of an economic one?” And finally, if you think Right-to-Work laws have given us nothing? Look, factories are coming here because it’s easy to lay people off!

In more positive sharing economy news, bike-sharing programs in the US are at an all-time high and poised to grow even faster. And I can’t wait till one of my neighbors buys a 3-D printer, and then shares it with the neighborhood, so I can print this

Final Thoughts

It would be hard for anyone, let alone a technologist, to get up in the morning without the faith that the future can be better than the past.

Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

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