The number of workers over 65 is growing fast.

29. September 2015

Date: 28-09-2015
Source: Technology Review
Subject: Aging Workers, New Technology

Technologists see a big business in helping the aging workforce.

The American tradition of retirement at age 65 is crumbling. As older workers stay on the job longer, challenges ranging from eyestrain to aching joints become increasingly prevalent. In response, technologists and ergonomics experts are rethinking working conditions.

As recently as 1992, less than 3 percent of the American workforce consisted of people age 65 and over. Today that proportion has nearly doubled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it’s expected to reach 8.3 percent by 2022. Most of these 13.5 million older workers will be between 65 and 74, but nearly 2.6 million will be 75 and over.

One reason for this demographic shift is improved longevity. American men who reach 65 can expect to live another 17.9 years on average, the National Center for Health Statistics calculates, while women can count on 20.5 years. Both figures are up more than a third from the norms of the 1950s. With so much life still ahead, high-status workers may not want to be idle, while low-paid workers often find that meager savings won’t let them quit. At the same time, thanks to the service sector’s steady ascendancy over manufacturing, many jobs require less physical stamina. Read the rest of this entry »


Work in Transition

28. September 2015

Date: 28-09-2015
Source: Technology Review

Digital technologies are changing the nature of the jobs we do. What does that mean for the future of work?
About five years ago, machine learning reached a point where software could, with guidance from senior lawyers, effectively take over the time–intensive task of legal discovery, in which one party in a lawsuit combs through its documents to determine what it must show to the other side before trial.

This is a job that junior lawyers, paralegals, or—increasingly—less expensive contract lawyers had traditionally done, and some fretted that the change might be just the first step in the computerization of the law. But while machine learning does well with structured tasks like searching for relevant words, handling documents similar to others already identified, and even reconstructing simple summaries of a baseball game, it is far less adept at constructing something like a legal memo, where persuasiveness can rely on developing novel arguments, explains economist Frank Levy, an MIT professor emeritus who, with Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, is researching computers’ impact on the practice of law. Read the rest of this entry »


On the Edge of Automation

28. September 2015

Date: 28-09-2015
Source: Technology Review

Jurvetson CCFive hundred years from now, says venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson (pictured), less than 10 percent of people on the planet will be doing paid work. And next year?

Production at Ford Motor Company’s new engine plant in Elabuga, Russia, will be 95 percent automated.

As a founding partner at the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and a board member at SpaceX and Tesla Motors, Steve Jurvetson spends a lot of time thinking about the future, often the distant future. One of Elon Musk’s biggest backers—Jurvetson boasts that he owns the first Tesla production Model S—he was also a founding investor in Hotmail, the precursor to Microsoft Outlook, and sits on the board of Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics, the constructor of the first synthetic cell.

His firm claims to have funded companies that have created more than 20,000 jobs in the past five years, and to have brought nearly two dozen companies to $1 billion in value before exiting. Jurvetson spoke to Business Reports senior editor Nanette Byrnes about why he thinks 90 percent of people will be unemployed in 500 years and how we might transition to that sharply different future.

Are today’s new digital technologies destroying or creating jobs?

I absolutely believe in the near to medium term there is going to be net job creation, as there always has been. Think of all the Uber jobs. The opportunity is not yet fully tapped to, in a sense, distribute [over the Internet] the service economy. The service economy is bigger than the goods economy, so the online equivalent should be even bigger and more powerful than the online marketplace for physical goods.

“Five hundred years from now everyone is going to be involved in some kind of information or entertainment … There will be no farmers, there will be no people working in manufacturing.”

Many of these new jobs, including those at Uber, are taking shape on what you call the “edge of automation.” Do you fear that these jobs might quickly disappear as technology keeps evolving?

Everything about Uber has been automated except for the driver. The billing, the fetching—every part of it is a modern, information-centric company. Interestingly, what that means is as soon as automated vehicles arrive, that driver is easily removed. You don’t have to restructure any part of that business.

What you’re farming out to humans today are those things that computers just barely can’t do. We know from Moore’s Law and improvements in computing that in two or three years [much of this] work will be automated.

If a startup or new business venture has created a job that involves human labor, it probably has done so in a way that is pretty marginal. Whether you’re a technology enthusiast or a detractor, the rate at which this will shift is probably going to be unprecedented. There will be massive dislocation.

Which jobs will survive?

In the long run, 500 years from now, everyone is going to be involved in some kind of information or entertainment. Nobody on the planet in 500 years will do a physically repetitive thing for a living. There will be no farmers, there will be no people working in manufacturing. To me it is an impossibility that people would do that. People might do it for fun. You might have an organic garden in your backyard because you love it. Five hundred years from now I don’t know if even 10 percent of people on the planet have a job in the sense of being paid to do something.

It’s hard to imagine what that life would be like.

It pretty much will be what life was like for most of human history—just without the gruesome servitude. The concept of a “job” is pretty recent. If you go back a few hundred years, everyone was either a slave or a serf, or living off slave or serf labor to pursue science or philosophy or art. We’ll live off the production of robots, free to be the next Aristotle or Plato or Newton. Unless we’re miserable without doing busy work.

Is there some way, some government policies or strategies, to minimize the pain of such a dramatic shift?

I don’t think that anyone in Washington is going to get their head around this and make meaningful change. No politician has a 50-year horizon. I see zero chance that long-term thinking will govern policy.

The knock on Silicon Valley today is that it’s not taking on big problems either.

I do lament how many investors focus on all the short-term sugar buzz of some marginal improvement in something—nothing history books are ever going to be written about. In many cases these are quick and easy ways to make money. I do think there are more and more entrepreneurs all the time that think big. Those are the people we should be finding and funding. Most of them will fail, but the ones who succeed will change the world, and that is progress.


How 3-D Printing is Revolutionizing the Display of Big Data

9. October 2014

Date: 09-10-2014
Source: Technology Review

3D Big DataIf you’ve ever struggled to make sense of an information firehose, perhaps a 3-D printed model could help.

One of the characteristics of our increasingly information-driven lives is the huge amounts of data being generated about everything from sporting activities and Twitter comments to genetic patterns and disease predictions. These information firehoses are generally known as “big data,” and with them come the grand challenge of making sense of the material they produce.

That’s no small task. The Twitter stream alone produces some 500 million tweets a day. This has to be filtered, analyzed for interesting trends, and then displayed in a way that humans can make sense of quickly.

It is this last task of data display that Zachary Weber and Vijay Gadepally have taken on at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. They say that combining big data with 3-D printing can dramatically improve the way people consume and understand data on a massive scale.

They make their argument using the example of a 3-D printed model of the MIT campus, which they created using a laser ranging device to measure the buildings. They used this data to build a 3-D model of the campus which they printed out in translucent plastic using standard 3-D printing techniques.

One advantage of the translucent plastic is that it can be illuminated from beneath with different colors. Indeed, the team used a projector connected to a laptop computer to beam an image on the model from below. The image above shows the campus colored according to the height of the buildings.

But that’s only the beginning of what they say is possible. To demonstrate, Weber and Gadepally filtered a portion of the Twitter stream to pick out tweets that were geolocated at the MIT campus. They can then use their model to show what kind of content is being generated in different locations on the campus and allow users to cut and dice the data using an interactive screen. “Other demonstrations may include animating twitter traffic volume as a function of time and space to provide insight into campus patterns or life,” they say.
Read the rest of this entry »


How Network Theory Is Revealing Previously Unknown Patterns in Sport

16. September 2014

Date: 16-09-2014
Source: Technology Review

Analysing the network of passes between soccer players reveals that one of the world’s most successful teams plays an entirely different type of football to every other soccer team on the planet.
Network Theory Soccer
If you’ve ever watched soccer, you’ll know of the subtle differences in tactics and formation between different teams. There is the long ball game, the pressing game, the zone defence and so on. Many teams have particular styles of play that fans admire and hate.

Innovations are common, with teams constantly adopting or abandoning new tactics. And given the international nature of football, new ideas spread rapidly, as players and coaches move from one team and country to another.

So it’s easy to imagine that it’s hard to play a truly unique brand of football, using tactics and skills that no other team copies.

That’s not quite true, say Laszlo Gyarmati at the Qatar Computing Research Institute and a few pals. These guys have used a network theory approach to characterise the play of all the top teams in Spain, Germany, Italy, France and England. And they say this metric reveals that while many teams share similar styles of play, one team stands out as truly unique, playing a style of football that no other team can match.

Football aficionados won’t be surprised to learn that that side is the Spanish team FC Barcelona, one of the most successful soccer teams on the planet. Barcelona have pioneered a type of football called tiki-taka that no other team has been able to master (with the notable exception of the Spanish national side, which generally has a large contingent of Barca players in its ranks).

Tiki-taka is characterised by rapid short passes and fast movement by the players. The idea is to dominate possession of the ball. That’s in sharp contrast to conventional tactics that focus on player formations. Read the rest of this entry »


Love of Labor

25. August 2014

 Typical Nick Carr! (hfk)

Date: 25-08-2014
Source: Technology Review

Automation makes things easier, whether it’s on the factory floor or online. Is it also eroding too many of the valuable skills that define us as people?

WHY IT MATTERS: Automation is creeping into more of our work and our leisure.

Messages move at light speed. maps speak directions. Groceries arrive at the door. Floors mop themselves. Automation provides irresistible conveniences.

Carr Glass CageAnd yet automation can also be cast as a villain. When machines take over work that once required sweat and skill, humans atrophy into mere button-pushing operators. Laments about automation are as familiar as John Henry, the railroad steel-driver of lore who could not outlast a steam-powered version of himself. The latest is The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr, who worries about the implications as machines and software advance far past the railroad and the assembly line to the cockpit, the courtroom, and even the battle­field. Machines and computers now do much more than rote mechanical work. They monitor complex systems, synthesize data, learn from experience, and make fine-grained, split-second judgments.

What will be left for us to do? While economists and policy makers are debating what automation will mean for employment and inequality (see “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs,” July/August 2013), Carr’s book does not sort out those implications. It is about what he fears will be diminished—our autonomy, our feelings of accomplishment, our engagement with the world—if we no longer have to carry out as many difficult tasks, whether at home or at work.

The centerpiece of his argument is the Yerkes-Dodson curve, which plots the relationship between human performance and the stimulation our tasks provide. Too much stimulation makes us feel panicked and overloaded, but when we have too little stimulation—when our work is too easy—we become lethargic and withdrawn. Activities that provide moderate stimulation yield the highest level of performance and, as Carr argues, turn us into better people in the process.

Things reviewed

The Glass Cage: Automation and Us
BY NICHOLAS CARR
NORTON, 2014 Read the rest of this entry »


Three Questions for J. Craig Venter

31. July 2014

Date: 31-07-2014
Source: Technology Review

Gene research and Silicon Valley-style computing are starting to merge.

WHY IT MATTERS: The number of human genomes being sequenced is increasing exponentially.

Venter CCGenome scientist and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter is best known for being the first person to sequence his own genome, back in 2001.

This year, he started a new company, Human Longevity, which intends to sequence one million human genomes by 2020, and ultimately offer Web-based programs to help people store and understand their genetic data.

Venter says that he’s sequenced 500 people’s genomes so far, and that volunteers are starting to also undergo a battery of tests measuring their strength, brain size, how much blood their hearts pump, and, says Venter, “just about everything that can be measured about a person, without cutting them open.” This information will be fed into a database that can be used to discover links between genes and these traits, as well as disease.

But that’s going to require some massive data crunching. To get these skills, Venter recruited Franz Och, the machine-learning specialist leading Google Translate. Now Och will apply similar methods to studying genomes in a data science and software shop that Venter is establishing in Mountain View, California.

The hire comes just as Google itself has launched a similar-sounding effort to start collecting biomedical data. Venter calls Google’s plans for a biomedical database “a baby step, a much smaller version of what we are doing.”

What’s clear is that genome research and data science are coming together in new ways, and at a much larger scale than ever before. We asked Venter why. Read the rest of this entry »