Automation Anxiety

26. January 2015

Date: 26-01-2015
Source: by Daniel Akst

The automation crisis of the 1960s created a surge of alarm over technology’s job-killing effects. There is a lot we can learn from it.

In Ulysses (1922), it’s been said, James Joyce packed all of life into a single Dublin day. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he found room in the novel for Leopold Bloom to tackle the problem of technological disruption:

A pointsman’s back straightened itself upright suddenly against a tramway standard by Mr Bloom’s window. Couldn’t they invent something automatic so that the wheel itself much handier? Well but that fellow would lose his job then? Well but then another fellow would get a job making the new invention?

Notice Bloom’s insights: first, that technology could obviate arduous manual labor; second, that this would cost somebody a job; and third, that it would also create a job, but for a different person altogether.

Surprisingly few people have grasped this process as well as Joyce did. Aristotle pointed out that if the looms wove and the lyres played themselves, we’d need fewer people to do these things. The Luddites, active in 19th-century England, didn’t take the mechanization of textile making lying down. And in 1930, no less an economic sage than John Maynard Keynes fretted about temporary “technological unemployment,” which he feared would grow faster than the number of jobs created by new technologies. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting big impact from big data

24. January 2015

Date: 23-01-2015

New technology tools are making adoption by the front line much easier, and that’s accelerating the organizational adaptation needed to produce results.

The world has become excited about big data and advanced analytics not just because the data are big but also because the potential for impact is big. Our colleagues at the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) caught many people’s attention several years ago when they estimated that retailers exploiting data analytics at scale across their organizations could increase their operating margins by more than 60 percent and that the US healthcare sector could reduce costs by 8 percent through data-analytics efficiency and quality improvements.1

Unfortunately, achieving the level of impact MGI foresaw has proved difficult. True, there are successful examples of companies such as Amazon and Google, where data analytics is a foundation of the enterprise.2 But for most legacy companies, data-analytics success has been limited to a few tests or to narrow slices of the business. Very few have achieved what we would call “big impact through big data,” or impact at scale. For example, we recently assembled a group of analytics leaders from major companies that are quite committed to realizing the potential of big data and advanced analytics. When we asked them what degree of revenue or cost improvement they had achieved through the use of these techniques, three-quarters said it was less than 1 percent. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tinkerer’s Apprentice

19. January 2015

Date: 19-01-2015
Source: Project Syndicate

Eric Schmidt is Executive Chairman of Google.

BERLIN – The best inventions are never finished. When the German engineer Karl Benz invented the first petroleum-powered automobile, he did not just create an engine with wheels; he set in motion an industry that revolutionized the way society was structured. Similarly, the English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee did not only build the world’s first Web site. He laid the groundwork for the World Wide Web. Neither could have anticipated the impact of what he was doing.

If there is one lesson that economic policymakers should heed in 2015 and beyond, it is this: Just as invention is dynamic, so are the industries it creates. As we learned in 2014, it is a lesson that has yet to sink in entirely.

When Google was launched, people were amazed that they were able to find out about almost anything by typing just a few words into a computer. The engineering behind it was technically complicated, but what you got was pretty rough: a page of text, broken up by ten blue links. It was better than anything else, but not great by today’s standards. Read the rest of this entry »

Information technology: Computing, fast and slow

16. January 2015

Date: 15-01-2015
Source: The Economist

IBM is not about to go down, but life in the cloud will be tough

Rometty CCIBM’s Rometty dives into the cloud

SOME ingredients are missing: the ping-pong table, cheap furniture, and inappropriate T-shirts. But otherwise this could be a shared workspace for internet startups: people sit around long tables and in front of large screens; others lounge on bright orange couches; the walls are full of sticky notes saying things like “I’m happy” or “be yourself”—the products of a brainstorming session.

However, this office in a building in central London belongs to IBM, an information-technology giant long known for its buttoned-down culture and blue business suits. The new “interactive experience lab” is one of four, soon to be ten, such places where teams of employees from IBM and its customers jointly think up new online services and apps. Such projects, the firm hopes, will help it grow again.

IBM’s revenue has declined, year-on-year, for ten straight quarters. Its recent third-quarter figures were particularly disappointing: sales were $22.4 billion and earnings per share $3.68, both well below analysts’ expectations. One reason was that IBM had decided to pile on the bad news: it also scrapped its long-held goal of reaching earnings per share of $20 for 2015. When the firm reports fourth-quarter earnings on January 20th, analysts expect the numbers to look better, since global demand for IT appears to have strengthened. Read the rest of this entry »

The future of work: There’s an app for that

2. January 2015

Date: 30-12-2014
Source: The Economist

Freelance workers available at a moment’s notice will reshape the nature of companies and the structure of careers

HANDY is creating a big business out of small jobs. The company finds its customers self-employed home-helps available in the right place and at the right time. All the householder needs is a credit card and a phone equipped with Handy’s app, and everything from spring cleaning to flat-pack-furniture assembly gets taken care of by “service pros” who earn an average of $18 an hour. The company, which provides its service in 29 of the biggest cities in the United States, as well as Toronto, Vancouver and six British cities, now has 5,000 workers on its books; it says most choose to work between five hours and 35 hours a week, and that the 20% doing most earn $2,500 a month. The company has 200 full-time employees. Founded in 2011, it has raised $40m in venture capital.

Handy is one of a large number of startups built around systems which match jobs with independent contractors on the fly, and thus supply labour and services on demand. In San Francisco—which is, with New York, Handy’s hometown, ground zero for this on-demand economy—young professionals who work for Google and Facebook can use the apps on their phones to get their apartments cleaned by Handy or Homejoy; their groceries bought and delivered by Instacart; their clothes washed by Washio and their flowers delivered by BloomThat. Fancy Hands will provide them with personal assistants who can book trips or negotiate with the cable company. TaskRabbit will send somebody out to pick up a last-minute gift and Shyp will gift-wrap and deliver it. SpoonRocket will deliver a restaurant-quality meal to the door within ten minutes. Read the rest of this entry »