Technology is killing jobs, and only technology can save them
- Created on 26 March 2017
In the recent presidential election, automation and robotics got a slight reprieve from the accusations that it has been the key driver in job losses in the United States. During the campaign, the conversation shifted, thanks largely to then-candidate Trump’s masterful scapegoating of Mexico and China, while calling out trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership as clear and present threats to U.S. manufacturing.
Indeed, the administration continues to downplay automation as a factor in the U.S. economy, because that explanation runs against the political policies it hopes to enact under the guise of improving the conditions of America’s workforce. On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin dismissed the prospects of artificial intelligence and automation eroding the workforce. In an interview with Axios , Mnuchin said:
“it’s not even on our radar screen…. 50-100 more years” away. “I’m not worried at all” about robots displacing humans in the near future, he said, adding: “In fact I’m optimistic.”
But even as some politicians look to divert attention from the issue, public focus returned to the evils of automation. The New York Times ran a story titled “ The Long-Term Jobs Killer Is Not China. It’s Automation,” while the Associated Press explained “Why robots, not trade, are behind so many factory job losses.” You get the picture. Technology is killing manufacturing jobs.
And there’s truth in all of these reports. Robotics and automation have been linked to lost manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and even the most pro-technology industry analysts would have a hard time disputing it. But that simple fact raises some complicated questions.
Are we living in historically unprecedented times for job loss? Or is this part of a cycle that predates even the Industrial Revolution? Is it possible to retrain our workforce for these changes? Or will the gap between educated and non-educated workers only continue to grow?
This exceedingly complex issue has no simple solution, and any attempt by politicians to villainize or sensationalize matters will only serve to further its negative impact. Industry and government alike need to take a long, hard look at the effect of automation on industries as a means of maintaining the United States’ role in manufacturing and innovation, while stemming domestic job loss.
A number of representatives of pro-automation companies and advocacy groups I spoke with used words like “scaremongering” to describe a spate of recent reports that have raised alarm around the role of robotics in job loss. But when pressed, those same organizations will ultimately acknowledge that automation has been a driver of factory job loss in the U.S., at least in the short term.
It’s pretty simple arithmetic, and something we’ve witnessed time and again. A much-cited Ball State University study suggests that automation has already proven a major driver of job loss this millennium. The paper notes that the decade between 2000 to 2010 marked the U.S.’s largest decline in manufacturing jobs in its history.
Those numbers are supported in part, by statistics from the Bureau of...
Sex and Gor and open source
- Created on 26 March 2017
A few weeks ago, Dries Buytaert, founder of the popular open-source CMS Drupal , asked Larry Garfield, a prominent Drupal contributor and long-time member of the Drupal community, “to leave the Drupal project.” Why did he do this? He refuses to say . A huge furor has erupted in response — not least because the reason clearly has much to do with Garfield’s unconventional sex life.
More specifically, Garfield is into BDSM . Even more specifically, he’s a member of the Gor community, an outré subculture of an outré subculture, one built around a series of thirty-odd books by John Norman which are, basically, “John Carter of Mars” meets “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Essentially–as I understand it–a community who are interested in, and/or participate in, elaborate (consensual!) sexual subjugation fantasies, in which men are inherently superior to women. I know all this because of Garfield’s lengthy public response to his ouster, self-deprecatingly titled “ TMI about me “:
Yes, I am one of those people … Despite the total lack of evidence that alternative lifestyle cultures offer any harm to anyone, there is still a great deal of prejudice and bigotry regarding it … someone, I do not know who, stumbled across my profile on a private, registration-required website for alternative-lifestyle people … that information made it to the Community Working Group (CWG), who concluded “there was no code of conduct violation present for [them] to take any action on” … in my first contact with Dries, he asked me “to step down from Drupal” … Drupal has been the cornerstone of my career for the past nearly 12 years … Dries wouldn’t budge on me leaving, including making it clear that it wasn’t an option, but an instruction … informing me that I’d been summarily dismissed from my position as track chair and as a speaker at DrupalCon, “per [my] conversation with Dries” … here I am, being bullied, harassed, and excluded because of my personal activities, which I don’t even publicize much less advocate for in tech circles.
when a highly-visible community member’s private views become public, controversial, and disruptive for the project, I must consider the impact … all people are created equally. [sic] I cannot in good faith support someone who actively promotes a philosophy that is contrary to this … any association with Larry’s belief system is inconsistent with our project’s goals … I recused myself from the Drupal Association’s decision [to dismiss Garfield from his conference role] … Many have rightfully stated that I haven’t made a clear case for the decision … I did not make the decision based on the information or beliefs conveyed in Larry’s blog post.
Sigh. This sad mess is something of a perfect storm of Code of Conduct conflicts. It is one which raises...
Lyft to let passengers round up their fare and donate the difference to charity
- Created on 26 March 2017
Lyft is looking at one of its biggest potential opportunities to make up some ground on its rival Uber, given the latter company’s ongoing and worsening PR crisis. So it makes sense that Lyft would go even further in the opposite direction, with a new program that lets riders top off their fare to the nearest dollar, and donate the difference to one of a group of selected charities....
Is it a bird? Is it a bug? No it’s a biomimetic microdrone with flapping wings
- Created on 25 March 2017
UK biomimetic engineering startup Animal Dynamics is building a microdrone with wings inspired by the flapping flight of a dragonfly. The project, which started in June 2015 with a feasibility study, is being funded with £1.5 million from the UK Ministry of Defence, via DSTL , the Defence Science and Technology Lab.
Last fall the company switched from researching the feasibility of the concept into phase two: actually trying to build the thing. They now say they’re confident they’ll have a flying prototype of their Skeeter drone to demo by this summer — with the tech potentially deployed in the field by the end of next year.
To be clear this microdrone has not yet got off the ground. At this point all they’re showing publicly is the bug-like model on a stick, pictured above. But Animal Dynamics co-founder and CEO Alex Caccia says he’s confident it will take to the air in “two to three months’ time”. “One of the challenges with something that flies is that everything has to work for it to work at all — but we’re pretty close to it now. The ‘ah-ha’ moment of it flying is almost the last thing that happens,” he adds.
The team is also looking to raise around £4 million in Series A funding in the next few months for continued development of Skeeter but also to fund some potential spin-out technologies they’ve created along the way — such as a high efficiency linear actuator designed for the drone which they reckon could also be used for other use-cases, such as in medical pumps and for road vehicle propulsion.
“We’re fundamentally interested in developing commercial products from studies and understanding of how nature reaches these tricks that allow greater performance and efficiency,” says Caccia.
Drones with flapping wings do exist — including a DARPA-backed drone that resembles a hummingbird , built by US company Aeroenviroment back in 2010 — but it’s fair to say that flapping drones are the exception not the rule. A far more typical animal in this space is the buzzing quadcopter.
Yet rotary blades have drawbacks. They don’t support stable flight in windy conditions. They’re noisy. They can even be dangerous. And they can require a lot of power to stay airborne. Hence the MoD’s hope of driving development of a more robust flight technique that can withstand tough in-the-field environmental conditions.
“It’s a very extreme challenge, set down from them — DSTL came up with the requirements — which is can you make something at this scale operate in high wind and difficult environmental conditions,” says Caccia, discussing the MoD’s requirements for the Skeeter drone.
“They’d been using small drones in Afghanistan and Iraq with quite a lot of success because when the environmental conditions are right they are extremely useful for soldiers on the ground to go out and see what’s round the corner… they need to be small so that they can’t be seen, so that they’re easily carried and so that they’re quiet. However as soon as there’s a slight wind — anything above 5 meters per second — they get blown out of the sky… So they’ve...
Tobias Stone talks about identity, cryptography, and the future of citizenship
- Created on 25 March 2017
In this episode of...