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The first self-driving big rig licensed to operate in the US

Via Engadget:
“A Daimler-built autonomous truck can now legally operate on the highways of Nevada. Gov. Brian Sandoval has officially granted the “Freightliner Inspiration Truck” a license for road use in the state, making it the first of its kind to navigate public roads in the US.”

Read more…

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China Plans a Wholesale Replacement of Workers with Robots

The N.Y. Times has begun a six-part multimedia series titled Robotica about the effect robots are having on “way we do business and conduct our daily lives.” This first part examines the Chinese government’s rush “to develop and deploy a wide variety of robots for use in thousands of factories.”

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Paul Tudor Jones II: Why we Need to Rethink Capitalism

In his TED Talk Paul Tudor Jones II said:

“… we as a society have come to view our companies and corporations in a very narrow, almost monomaniacal fashion with regard to how we value them, and we have put so much emphasis on profits, on short-term quarterly earnings and share prices, at the exclusion of all else. It’s like we’ve ripped the humanity out of our companies.”

To try and restore some humanity he has created a new non-profit called Just Capital which plans to create an index of corporate social responsibility. This index, to be called the Just Index, will be based on data from polling the American public. The top 1000 companies will be ranked according to the index. Then, consumers and investors can decide which companies they wish to support. More info in this Financial Times article: ‘Just Index’ sets sights on market solution to inequality.

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Robert Reich Says Our Economic Model is Failing Us

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In a post titled “Why automation means we need a new economic model” former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains why our current version of capitalism is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. He starts by comparing the numbers of employees in companies now with the numbers in the past:

“At its prime in 1988, Kodak, the iconic American photography company, had 145,000 employees. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

The same year Kodak went under, Instagram, the world’s newest photo company, had 13 employees serving 30 million customers.”

He explains that technological advances are driving this vastly reduced need for labor. He also points out that machines today are not just replacing human labor but that they are also replacing human thinking. Being a knowledge worker no longer insulates you from being replaced by new technology.

Reich goes on to show how these trends are increasingly concentrating wealth in a very small percentage of the population:

“One of the young founders of WhatsApp, CEO Jan Koum, had a 45 percent equity stake in the company when Facebook purchased it, which yielded him $6.8 billion.

Cofounder Brian Acton got $3 billion for his 20 percent stake.

Each of the early employees reportedly had a 1 percent stake, which presumably netted them $160 million each.”

While a handful of people are raking in fabulous sums the rest of us are increasingly stuck in low-paying service jobs which, so far, have been resistant to replacement by technology. The problem is now becoming that the masses can no longer afford the products that are being increasingly being produced by technology rather than workers.

Reich concludes:

“A future of almost unlimited production by a handful, for consumption by whoever can afford it, is a recipe for economic and social collapse.

Our underlying problem won’t be the number of jobs. It will be – it already is — the allocation of income and wealth.”

Reich acknowledges that many people look askance if the word “redistribution” is mentioned. However, we have to seriously consider whether there are any better approaches. Reich’s post also links to a post titled “Redistribution: The ‘R’ Word” which examines this question.

And while wealth becomes increasingly concentrated at the top, less-educated workers are suffering the most: “Why American Workers Without Much Education Are Being Hammered.”

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Book Review: The Internet Is Not The Answer by Andrew Keen

The Internet Is Not The AnswerAndrew Keen is not keen on the internet and where it’s taking us. Keen has taken on the conventional wisdom that the internet is a democratizing force lending power to the little guy and disrupting the old school “bad guys.” A strongly opinionated polemic, the passion of the converted believer is palpable in his writing.

I come at this book with three “given” premises: (a) There is no human work endeavor that cannot be done by a machine – either already or relatively soon; (b) There is no way to stop technological advance – if it can be done, someone will do it and the rest will have to keep up; (c) Technology is now advancing on the steep part of the exponential curve. So while I may well agree with Keen’s observations and conclusions about the way things are right now, I judge that his diatribe is helpful only in that it may serve to ignite conversation about where we are going. That is a goal I can get behind.

Keen segmented the book well. Along with other topics, he separately addressed the network, money, and the Silicon Valley culture of celebrating failure. But it did not take long before I was bored with the same theme being repeated in each segment. So I was looking forward to getting to the chapter titled “Conclusion.” Sadly, I still had to slog through more demonstrations of who is lined up on his side of the argument and why. I was looking for a definitive answer, or at least strong suggestions of viable alternatives, and found none.

It’s a conversation that needs to take place in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, and the other centers of digital power in our networked world. The time is now ripe for this.

Keen, Andrew (2015-01-06). The Internet Is Not the Answer (Kindle Locations 3944-3946). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The above quotation is a conclusion which I and the many folks with whom I’ve been discussing this topic have already drawn. I’m thankful for the support, yet we haven’t moved the conversation forward with this book. To be fair, there were some “mild” suggestions including taking regular holidays from technology, refusing to shop on-line and other individual actions. Yet those suggestions tend to back-up the three premises rather than give us a viable way forward.

There is some hope for things not progressing too fast down the road to dystopia. Recent articles indicate there may be a move toward having my on-line purchases delivered to brick-and-mortar facilities. It seems that several “pure play” on-line stores are building out physical stores. That may be a welcomed compromise, but we will not stop the evolution and adoption of technology. Consumer convenience will definitely win.

See book on Amazon.

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When Machines Replace Middle Management

This post on the Forbes website describes how managers are now being replaced by automated systems.

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100% Unemployment Video

Our new opinion/documentary video, 100% Unemployment, is now online. This 7-minute video looks at the increasing trend of displacement of workers by robots and smart machines. This trend is also leading to increased income inequality. But some people see the potential for a new renaissance in a world where no one needs to work. Could this be a real possibility? What would need to happen in order to make this a reality?

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The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn

What happens when we teach a computer how to learn? Technologist Jeremy Howard shares some surprising new developments in the fast-moving field of deep learning, a technique that can give computers the ability to learn Chinese, or to recognize objects in photos, or to help think through a medical diagnosis.

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Fei-Fei Li: How we’re teaching computers to understand pictures


In this TED Talk computer vision researcher Fei-Fei Li describes major advances in the ability of computers to recognize objects in photos. At the same time, she recognizes current limitations. One important point she discusses is a change in the strategy for creating smart algorithms. Instead of software engineers trying to codify all the rules the computer is being taught to learn.

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Legal Profession Threatened by Computers

Lawyers, Attorneys

Thomas H. Davenport, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says:

[The legal profression is] “on the verge of a major transformation involving automation and the use of technology to make intelligent legal decisions. The legal profession, already suffering from an excess of supply over demand, could be decimated unless lawyers embrace smart machines much more than in the past.”

Read the article at WSJ.com.