Science & Technology

No, Robots Aren’t Killing the American Dream

New York Times: “At a recent global forum in Dubai, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said some of the economic pain ascribed to globalization was instead due to the rise of robots taking jobs. In his farewell address in January, President Barack Obama warned that ‘the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle-class jobs obsolete.'”

“Blaming robots, though, while not as dangerous as protectionism and xenophobia, is also a distraction from real problems and real solutions.”

“While breakthroughs could come at any time, the problem with automation isn’t robots; it’s politicians, who have failed for decades to support policies that let workers share the wealth from technology-led growth.”

The Robot That Takes Your Job Should Pay Taxes, Says Bill Gates

Quartz: “Robots are taking human jobs. But Bill Gates believes that governments should tax companies’ use of them, as a way to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment.”

“In a recent interview with Quartz, Gates said that a robot tax could finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with kids in schools, for which needs are unmet and to which humans are particularly well suited. He argues that governments must oversee such programs rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes. The idea is not totally theoretical: EU lawmakers considered a proposal to tax robot owners to pay for training for workers who lose their jobs, though on Feb. 16 the legislators ultimately rejected it.”

The Need for a Digital Geneva Convention

“Just as the Fourth Geneva Convention has long protected civilians in times of war, we now need a Digital Geneva Convention that will commit governments to protecting civilians from nation-state attacks in times of peace.  And just as the Fourth Geneva Convention recognized that the protection of civilians required the active involvement of the Red Cross, protection against nation-state cyberattacks requires the active assistance of technology companies.  The tech sector plays a unique role as the internet’s first responders, and we therefore should commit ourselves to collective action that will make the internet a safer place, affirming a role as a neutral Digital Switzerland that assists customers everywhere and retains the world’s trust,” Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith writes.

“While there is no perfect analogy, the world needs an organization that can address cyber threats in a manner like the role played by the International Atomic Energy Agency in the field of nuclear non-proliferation.  This organization should consist of technical experts from across governments, the private sector, academia and civil society with the capability to examine specific attacks and share the evidence showing that a given attack was by a specific nation-state.  Only then will nation-states know that if they violate the rules, the world will learn about it.”

The Damaging Impact of the Relentless Pace of Automation

MIT Technology Review: “The White House report points in particular to the current wave of AI, which it describes as having begun around 2010. That’s when advances in machine learning and the increasing availability of big data and enhanced computation power began providing computers with unprecedented capabilities such as the ability to accurately recognize images. The report says greater deployment of AI and automation could boost economic growth by creating new types of jobs and improving efficiency in many businesses. But it also points to the negative effects: job destruction and related increases in income inequality. For now at least, ‘less educated workers are more likely to be replaced by automation than highly educated ones.’ The report notes that so far automation has displaced few higher-skill workers, but it adds: ‘The skills in which humans have maintained a comparative advantage are likely to erode over time as AI and new technologies become more sophisticated.'”

“The problem is that the United States has been particularly bad over the last few decades at helping people who’ve lost out during periods of technological change. Their social, educational, and financial problems have been largely ignored, at least by the federal government. According to the White House report, the U.S. spends around 0.1 percent of its GDP on programs designed to help people deal with changes in the workplace—far less than other developed economies. And this funding has declined over the last 30 years.”

The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Could Be Coding

“The Valley employs only 8 percent of the nation’s coders. All the other millions? They’re more like Devon, a programmer I met who helps maintain a ­security-software service in Portland, Oregon. He isn’t going to get fabulously rich, but his job is stable and rewarding: It’s 40 hours a week, well paid, and intellectually challenging. ‘My dad was a blue-­collar guy,’ he tells me—and in many ways, Devon is too,” Clive Thompson writes for WIRED.

“Politicians routinely bemoan the loss of good blue-collar jobs. Work like that is correctly seen as a pillar of civil middle-class society. And it may yet be again. What if the next big blue-collar job category is already here—and it’s programming? What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant?”

Even in a Digital World, Globalization Is Not Inevitable

Pankaj Ghemawat: “…a significant number of experts continue to believe in the virtually unlimited potential of globalization. Most of them focus on digitalization specifically and on communications technology, though some attention continues to be paid to transportation infrastructure (e.g., Parag Khanna’s Connectography).”

“I like to refer to such exaggerated perceptions of globalization as ‘globaloney,‘ a term coined in the 1940s by Clare Boothe Luce. Thomas Friedman’s famous proposal that, thanks to the internet, the ‘world is flat’ (advanced in a 2005 book bearing that title) articulates this idea in a way that is clear and simple — and wrong.”

“While I agree that digitalization can facilitate globalization in certain respects (e.g., by making it easier for small firms to export) here are eight reasons why I am unconvinced that digital technologies are sufficient, given everything else that is going on in the world, to drive globalization forward…”

Why Donald Trump Shouldn’t Neglect ‘Invisible Infrastructure’

Julius Genachowski: “In his early days in office, true to his campaign promises, President Donald Trump is promoting a $1 trillion plan to upgrade the nation’s aging physical infrastructure. To maximize job creation, investment and benefits to all Americans, he should also focus on our ‘invisible infrastructure’ — the unseen airwaves that enable wireless connections.”

How Immigrants Have Made America a Leader in Technology Innovation

“The vital role of immigrants in American technology innovation is so well documented that it shouldn’t need repeating. But in light of last week’s executive order that blocks access to the United States by citizens of seven countries with a collective population of well over 200 million, a few reminders might be timely,” John Villasenor writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“America’s well-deserved reputation as a global leader in technology innovation is inseparable from its tradition of welcoming people from other countries. The list of American companies co-founded by immigrants includes Google, Yahoo, eBay, Qualcomm, VMware, Facebook, and many more. A 2016 study by the National Foundation for American Policy found that over half of the 87 tech start-ups valued at over $1 billion at the time of the study were co-founded by immigrants and that each of these companies had created an average of 760 jobs.”

“When children of immigrants are included, the impact on job creation and economic prosperity is even larger: A 2012 report from a group of business leaders and mayors from across the political spectrum noted that ‘more than 40 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant.‘”

 

What Science Tells Us About How to Combat Fake News

Michael Pasek: “In a 2011 study published in the journal Media Psychology, psychologists Melanie Green and John Donahue give a small window into the human psyche that explains why fake news is so powerful. The authors asked two questions: (1) How do we respond when we learn someone has misled us, and (2) do we change our beliefs and attitudes when we find out that something we read is fake?”

“The researchers used random assignment to place people in one of four conditions. Everyone was asked to read a narrative. One group was informed from the beginning that the narrative was false. The second and third groups were told—only after reading the story—that the narrative was false and informed that the problem was either (1) an accidental error, or (2) intentional deception. The fourth and final group was not given any reason to doubt the veracity of the story.”

“The findings shed light on the impact of fake news. All readers who learned that they were provided with false information responded negatively to the information source. But, despite learning after the fact that this information was false and even being upset when they learned this, readers continued to be influenced by the contents of the narrative. The story changed participants’ attitudes and this attitude change persisted even after they learned that they had been deliberately mislead.”

How to Make America’s Robots Great Again

Farhad Manjoo: “In 2013, China became the world’s largest market for industrial robots, according to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry trade group. Now China is working on another big goal: to become the largest producer of robots used for factories, agriculture and a range of other applications. Robotics industry experts said that goal could be a decade away, but they see few impediments to China’s eventual dominance.”

“There’s a way to address this problem, but it’s politically perilous: The United States should invest in robots.”

“If we don’t, robot scholars said the president’s plans for a resurgence in manufacturing could backfire. Today, we buy a lot of stuff made in China by Chinese people. Tomorrow, we’ll buy stuff made in America — by Chinese robots.”

U.S. Cities Are Getting Smarter and You Probably Didn’t Even Notice

Quartz: “Trash bins in some airports and streets compost themselves, street lights monitor traffic and parking, and sensors prevent sewers from overflowing into rivers during floods. This kind of ‘smart’ technology, in which basic infrastructure like water, power, transportation, and sanitation is connected to the internet, is being piloted in the US in places like Boston, Massachusetts; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Washington, DC; San Francisco, California; and South Bend, Indiana.”

“The average citizen in those cities may not have noticed the effects because they aren’t as flashy as something like driverless cars, which are now on the road in Pittsburgh and other places.”