“We’re removing labor, error and waste.”

robot error

What’s Going on in the Workforce

We’ve got a whole lot of robot stories this week. I’m sensing a trend…

I don’t know what servo motors are, but these machines sure are building a lot of them, without human intervention. And BMW is pushing the envelope, with robots that are safe for humans to work side by side with.

The beauty of military robots is that they can prevent soldier injury & death, by going into situations that are too dangerous for humans. But what happens when soldiers start to empathize with robots?

“We’re removing labor, error and waste.” Well. I guess that’s that then–robots are replacing pharmacists in some Pennsylvania nursing homes.

On the manufacturing side…with the renaissance of American manufacturing, we may need to clarify: “Made in America” does not always mean “Made by Americans.” And electronics manufacturing is coming back to Haiti. At a wage of $200 per week…

The Singularity Approaches

Well, robots might make us obsolete at work, but our dogs will still love us, right? Or will they

If you’re sad about your dog loving a robot more than you, here are some tips for drowning your sorrows by maximizing service from your friendly neighborhood robot bartender. (Shouldn’t we program the robots better, instead of the humans?)

Is our world really “photocopiable?” That reality is certainly closer with a 3D scanner. Our roads might also start charging our electric cars. It’ll only cost a trillion dollars or so.

“We will become cyborgs and it will be seen as just a normal thing.” Now you’re just teasing me, Wired.

Economic Sharing & Solidarity

The Shareable blog has come out with a new report showcasing policy advice for cities that want to encourage the sharing economy. Ecuador’s government is taking this idea seriously–they’re working with the Peer-to-Peer Foundation’s Michel Bauwens to re-imagine their country based on the principles of open networks and good living.

new app from UC Davis aims to create a social media platform for workers in low-paid, precarious employment to create solidarity with each other.

How can co-ops do a better job of working with each other to really promote and coordinate each others’ success? One proposal would see the services and apps of the sharing economy transform themselves into co-ops.

Here’s an interesting theory about the self-driving car: “People will not buy robotic cars, they will subscribe to them. But maybe you don’t want to share a car with a stranger…how about your boat?

Are you one of those people who always cooks too much food for dinner? This new online community connects Greek eaters with people who have extra food to share–for a nominal price.

Geeking Out

It may not be as reliable as a doctor, but given that 90% of all concussions go undiagnosed, I think football parents everywhere are probably saying, “Thank God there’s an app for that.” And on a related note–would you agree to real-time monitoring of everything that goes on inside your body? What if it would help detect cancer?

Final Thoughts

“Markets are an information technology. A technology is useless if it can’t be tweaked. If market technology can’t be fully automatic and needs some ‘buttons,’ then there’s no use in trying to pretend otherwise. You don’t stay attached to poorly performing quests for perfection. You fix bugs.

And there are bugs! We just went through taxpayer-funded bailouts of networked finance in much of the world, and no amount of austerity seems to be enough to pay for that. So the technology needs to be tweaked. Wanting to tweak a technology shows a commitment to it, not a rejection of it.”

Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future


The Robot Sings of Love

musical robots

What’s Going on in the Workforce

Why is labor’s share of American income falling? Economist Timothy Taylor breaks it down. With charts! The New America Foundation just released a study showing that policies that make up the “low wage social contract” are not overcoming the impact of low pay on America’s service sector. The first step toward fixing it? A higher minimum wage, and more progressive taxation.

Want to develop some understanding of why companies want to move to a more flexible work arrangement? Here’s a good piece by Roger Martin.

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 11.36.45 AM

No LinkedIn for blue collar workers? WorkHands wants to work with union halls to maximize hiring. Another new platform, Zipments, wants to make it easier for couriers to maximize the work of same-day delivery. (Does it come with that cool green t-shirt?)

How is technology changing education? Joel Klein has some ideas  And on the higher-ed side, Google’s getting into the MOOC game.  But not to worry, the Chronicle of Higher Ed assures us that companies don’t want to hire people who have online-only degrees. What makes that assertion confusing is that Wharton is putting their first year MBA curriculum online. My guess is that they’re not worried about getting grads placed.

On the health care side, did you know that Kaiser Permanente has a fake hospital set up to allow healthcare workers to use/test new tech in a realistic setting?

Economic Sharing & Solidarity
Are you a handy person? Think about starting up a repair cafe in your neighborhood, so people can get stuff fixed, instead of throwing it out & buying something new:  Or how about starting a cooperative bank? (I think they might be called credit unions, but w/e). The Transition Network just released this report on the transformative potential of re-localizing our economies through inter-locking & mutually-reinforcing businesses. Another slightly older (but still worthwhile) report on the success of interconnectedness of the collaborative economy was produced last year by the Peer to Peer Foundation. Finally, the trade association for co-ops in the UK just put out a report showing that the co-op economy has outperformed GDP growth in the UK for the fourth consecutive year.
Will Byrne argues that it’s time for social do-gooders to link up their collective purchasing power, and move corporate America through the power of the purse.  Some people are already trying to adopt a better food distribution model, by breaking the May-October farmers’ market cycle in favor of year-long distribution of locally sourced foods.

Folks in the co-op crowd, here’s an interesting discussion about how to take lessons learned from the open source movement and apply them to other parts of the sharing economy.

The Singularity Approaches
A carpenter in South Africa has made his 3-D printable robot hands an open source design, in order to make sure it’s accessible to amputees regardless of their ability to pay. China may be the first country to legalize package delivery by drone. Worried about your pacemaker being hacked? Researchers at Rice are figuring out how to encrypt them, so that can’t happen. Meanwhile, maybe you should practice being the kind of person no one wants to murder in a completely diabolical way…

If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention. A new report from Oxford shows that nearly half of American jobs will be automated in the next 20 years. After all, who’s going to need an optometrist when your smartphone will be able to write you a scrip for glasses?  On the flip side, a new report from the IT Innovation Fund argues that there isn’t anything to see here–no jobs will be harmed by the production of new technology.  Apparently, they haven’t been hanging out on this subreddit much.
It seems like much of our online stock trading economy is now happening too fast for humans to react to in time to do anything about it. Hi robot overlords. We love you! Please don’t destroy our 401Ks.

Maybe the real reason to embrace a future without work is that it will finally give us the ability to appreciate leisure? We’d all be happier with more time to participate in crowd-sourced movies.

Geeking Out
Are you ready for furniture printed out of salt? Does it come with ketchup?

Final Thoughts
Today’s picture (and subject line) come from this amazing article documenting the fight the American Federation of Musicians waged against recorded music in the movies, after The Jazz Singer came out. I’m pro-serendading robots, for the record. But pro-serenading humans, too.

Newletter 5


This week’s image is from a reader who had to wear it on his arm in a to-be-unnamed warehouse, where he worked packing boxes…

Economic Sharing & Solidarity

Some elected leaders in the City of Edinborough wants to do politics differently–so they adopted a cooperative model for soliciting citizen input (and are developing co-ops for childcare, social care, energy & housing). In other co-op news, here’s an in-depth look at the university run by the Mondragon Co-op, where the highest-paid worker can’t earn more than three times what the lowest-paid worker makes. They also serve as the R & D arm for the Mondragon Corporation, which is a set of interlocked co-ops.

If you’re interested in starting a co-op of your own, there are tons of helpful guides and how-tos here. And while we’re on the topic of co-ops, Giles Simon has a helpful piece about why we should talk about our values when promoting them.

While most of the articles about sharing economy services talk about individual users as consumers–here’s an example of Mechanical Turks moving science forward by creating a dictionary that linked words with emotions. And here’s a good article from the Freelancer’s Union about how to use community purchasing power for good.

Peer-to-peer is inevitable–but how we make it work is up to us, as outlined by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation at last spring’s OuiShare Fest. He’s recommending two hacks that can help move us from a for-profit to a for-benefit system. Watch, it’s 20 minutes out of your day that you won’t regret.

Here’s a great interview that describes how Brazilians built their version of the solidarity economy, on the Shareable blog. They’ve even got it all mapped out!

A new service raised $6 million last week to put the sharing economy to work in managing major vehicle fleets, causing Wired to ask the question–do we need less democracy to spread the sharing economy?

What’s Going on in the Workforce

In a follow-up to last week’s news about changes to higher education, here’s one MOOC star who just refused to teach that way again, after being asked to license his course for sale to other schools, saying, “When they talk about lowering the costs, I think that they are creating a rationalization for the state legislatures to cut back on funding to the state universities.” In other e-learning news, this British startup aims to be the Netflix of that ecosystem.

London School of Economics professor David Graeber asks a trenchant question in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Why aren’t we all working less, by now?” And as if to answer him, entrepreneur.com shows us why everyone will someday be an entrepreneur, in this helpful infographic that’s designed to make you loathe the future. In more positive news, at least one tech investor is thinking about the labor impact of technological innovation. While we’re on the topic, why not join the campaign for a 4-hour workday?

Business week shows us how even construction jobs can be outsourced, this week. And McDonald’s just ordered 7,000 touchscreens, to replace cashiers in Europe.

The Singularity Approaches

Remember that Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, where ads were pitched to individuals walking down the sidewalk? Did you ever think that a billboard  would be able to recognize your car? And while we’re on the topic of cars & engineering–are you ready to drive one using only your brain? Or do the Imperius Curse from Harry Potter (while playing a videogame)?

This file may be outdated. New computer programming systems need to move toward natural language, and away from the structures that currently exist.

Electronic skin (no, really) may someday take your vital signs, and allow you to have the kind of subvocal conversations that parents today can only dream about (come on, like you’ve never reverted to high school French to attempt an adults-only conversation with your partner?). But first they’ve got to figure out how to make it bend right.

Final Thoughts

“It’s about knowing what the underlying values are of the social systems that you’re using.”

Michel Bauwens, Peer-to-Peer Foundation


Newsletter 4



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

Do You Know Where Your Job is Going?

It’s Labor Day, and I have an important question for you: do you know where your job is going?

It’s an important question because, to quote the Harvard Business Review, “Growing number(s) of employers are increasingly committed to not being committed.”

In the late 20th century, Toyota’s Just in Time theory of inventory management revolutionized the way that US auto factories ran, after Toyota spent a few years eating GM’s lunch. Today’s employers have adopted a similar philosophy, only they aren’t worried about inventory oversupply–they’re fighting against any worker downtime.

Whether called “zero hour contracts” in the UK, or “day labor” or “contingent work” in the US, the phenomenon of employers wanting more flexibility from their workforce is on the rise. And for the most part, they’re getting what they want.

The question is–what are we getting in return?

It’s a funny thing to say on Labor Day, but I’m going to say it anyway:

Why do we all still have to have full-time jobs?

I know that there are practical reasons for it, in our current economy. If you don’t have a full-time job, you don’t have a full-time income, and you don’t have health care, and you don’t have any kind of retirement security, or ability to save for the future (you might not have that even if you have full-time work, of course).

But let me ask it again:

Why do we all still have to have full-time jobs?

Productivity is up.
Profits are up.

What’s not up? The standard of living for most people in the United States. Because we have a society that’s fundamentally based on the idea that everyone has to work 40 hours a week, in order to earn a living.

That idea is the product of the labor movement in the early 19th century, and it was a radical idea at the time. “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what you will.”

8 hours

Why are will still demanding to work full-time, as if it’s the 19th century?

What could we demand, instead?

It’s an interesting question to ponder on Labor Day.