Rise of the Machines: We Can Stop Automation From Destroying Society

A Growing Gap

Widespread automation has the potential to amplify existing income disparities and produce an unparalleled level of economic inequality. As artificial intelligence (AI) improves and algorithms get more advanced, automated systems can replace more of the workforce, meaning fewer people are needed to generate the same (or greater) amounts of wealth for those at the top. If technology advances far enough, traditional labor may be rendered obsolete.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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The advancement of technology has never posed quite such a threat in the past as automation has traditionally created new jobs as it replaced old ones. The Guardian cites the example of bank tellers. ATMs appeared in the 1970s, but there are more human tellers now than back then. Today’s tellers do more than dispense cash, though; they sell financial services and provide advice.

However, the ATM example may not apply as AI improves. If ATMs can dispense cash and advise customers about their mortgage options, too, banks may not need human tellers.

This situation only matters if the ownership of wealth is limited, and at this point in the U.S., it is. Right now, unless you own capital, what you have is your wage. Unfortunately, although productivity has improved since the 1970s, wealth has moved toward ownership and more capital, not wages. Wages and labor are the only source of wealth for most people, and they are also one of the only ways workers can assert themselves in the workplace and advocate for change. If automation renders labor redundant, labor as a source of wealth and power in the workplace will evaporate.

Equity and Automation

The very wealthy are not likely to be affected by any of these changes. It’s the people working in industries like transportation, insurance, medicine, and customer service that will be hit the hardest.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that more people worked as retail salespeople (4.5 million) and cashiers (3.5 million) in May 2016 than any other occupation. Another 4.6 million people were working in transportation and warehousing as of 2014. Clearly, huge portions of the workforce will be affected by the presence of AI, but this disruption will not have a negative effect on the wealthiest people in the world.

The real issue here isn’t the tech itself — it’s the widening gap between economic classes and the incredible poverty it will cause, not to mention the erasure of the working class. Thankfully, there are several proposed solutions to this potential crisis of equity that don’t require slowing down technological advancement. They include universal basic income (UBI), a tax on robots that replace workers, and job guarantee programs.

UBI has been subjected to heated debate, but many, including Bill Gates and Elon Musk, believe it will be feasible in the near future. Former President Obama has also acknowledged that UBI will need to be seriously discussed within the next 10 to 20 years.

Bill Gates and others have argued that robots that replace human workers should pay taxes — or, more accurately, that their owners should. This would place the existing wage burden back on the wealthy and provide money into the “pool,” which could then be used for UBI or education for workers to take on the new jobs that automation creates. These taxes could also fund job guarantee programs.

Job guarantee programs through the government would guarantee a living wage for anyone doing public sector or non-profit work (depending on the program). This is similar in theory to 1933’s Works Progress Administration program. It also shifts the power away from private owners of wealth, who can demand that workers do whatever menial tasks they want at wages they set, and allows people to do anything from teaching to environmental cleanup for a decent wage.

With the National Bureau of Economic Research reporting that the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. households held roughly 42 percent of the country’s wealth in 2014, we can’t afford to let automation further widen the gap between the haves and the have nots.

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Three Major Reasons Automation Won’t Leave You Unemployed

Losing Jobs

Right now in the United States there is a duel raging on between who or what to scapegoat for the disappearance of certain jobs. One side blames Mexico and China, international trade, and outsiders generally. The other blames artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, the specter of robots stealing jobs. There is evidence that automation is making some jobs obsolete (almost none that points to trade or immigration). However, both positions are overlooking the real issue: the economy is changing in fundamental ways, and there is no way to stop that change.

By 2020, AIs could be powering 85 percent of customer service transactions, rendering them human-free. That could wipe out a career that, in 2015, employed about six percent of the total American workforce (8 million people) with retail sales and cashier jobs. There are 8.7 million people working in trucking in the U.S., and they are staring down the barrel of self-driving vehicles right now. Automation is also likely to replace humans in the food industry by the mid-2020s. Even back in 2013 it was estimated that about 47 percent of the American workforce were at high risk of losing their jobs to automation.

Via Flickr
Credit: Spencer Cooper/ Flickr

Either we are living in a time which is historically unique for job loss and change, or this is just the next stage in an economic cycle. If the later is the case, then, just as workers moved from agricultural jobs into factories, we are shifting once more. This may sound ominous, but actually, it is good news. It means that there are at least three reasons that automation won’t leave you unemployed.

Trading In D-List Jobs

First, new technologies always usher in new jobs as they eliminate existing positions. Colin Parris, VP of Software Research at GE, explained in an interview with TechCrunch that fighting job losses doesn’t mean resisting automation:

The only way…is to train the talent that we have. Because in the future, we have to embrace robotics. It allows us to reduce cost. If I reduce cost, I have more money that I can use for innovation. The more money I have, the more new products I can create. The more products I create, the more workforce I can hire.

Second, when automation results in job loss, the lost jobs are typically positions that are tough to keep staffed.

“It might take employees out of what we call the ‘three Ds,’ a dull, dirty, or dangerous job,” says Bob Doyle, of the Association for Advancing Automation, to TechCrunch. But “[it] puts them hopefully in a different position that creates more value to the company,” he added. Parris agreed with the “three Ds” position.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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There is no question that automation will eliminate some jobs — “D-list” jobs. Automation frees humans from the jobs no one wants do, jobs that are costing us our health and our lives. And while we’re not always adept with cooperation, we’ll need to do better to thrive in our new economy. Instead of petty squabbling over how much unpleasant work we should each have to do, we might instead just agree to pay ourselves for entrepreneurship and volunteer work — fostering more innovation and more new jobs — through universal basic income schemes as necessary.

Third, our economy will almost certainly shift in ways no one can foresee. Economists today warn of the dangers of “job polarization,” the division of human workers into either highly skilled and unskilled classes, with middle-of-the-road jobs lost. However, part of the reason we may not be able to envision a new middle class yet is that we are not yet reeducating ourselves well enough to perceive what the new jobs of the automation era look like.

“We can’t predict what jobs will be created in the future, but it’s always been like that,” says Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University, said in an interview with the Economist. “[The video-game designers and cybersecurity specialists] are jobs that nobody in the past would have predicted.”

The important question isn’t who is “stealing” jobs, because they are gone — or soon will be — never to return. Why should we want dangerous, dirty, and dull jobs back; we can innovate and create new jobs as we have in the past. Now, we must either retrain our workforce to master these economic changes or face the growing gap between educated and non-educated workers. Let’s hope we choose the former.

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Society’s Most Vulnerable Citizens Might Not Survive in a Cash-Free World

Toward Digitization

Cash transactions are disappearing around the world as more networks adapt to touch-and-go mobile and contactless card technology. Some businesses just don’t accept cash anymore as the cash economy slips in status on its descent into extinction. Various cities around the world are pushing for all-digital economies. As they progress towards that goal, that means spare change and singles that would be tossed into donation boxes, handed to people on the street, and offered up as tips, will disappear.

What will the cashless economy mean for the poorest people in society? Are we moving toward a class-stratification that is even more sharply divided, with those at the lowest echelons of our cities excluded from commercial life and a mainstream existence due to their inability to participate digitally?

In November 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India announced that 500 and 1000 rupee notes would be removed from circulation (as of this writing, 500 rupees were equivalent to about US $7.75). This move was intended to force demonetization of the country, pushing it toward a cashless economy and forcing the untaxed corruption of the “black” economy into the light. The move also inadvertently moved the question of enabling access to the digitized world of consumerism for the poor to the top of the queue.

Part of the answer for Modi is creating “smart”, connected cities with digitized public services, e-pay for utility bills, and digitally-purchased services such as train tickets. This works well when you’re buying from the government, but when you’re a small vendor hoping to sell your wares, it’s trickier. Card readers are an outlay some can’t afford, and using mobile phones to operate Paytm payment transfers is proving difficult for many.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
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The cashless revolution is far more primed in the EU, where 9 of the top 15 “most digital-ready” countries are, according to a report by Fung Global Retail & Technology. The report cites Sweden as holding the pole position — most likely to go entirely cashless first—perhaps by 2030 — the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s Niklas Arvidsson tells The Guardian. However, demographic gaps persist even in Sweden, where older, rural people are less likely to be on board.

All over the world, urbanites of the middle and upper classes prefer digital payment options, and are increasingly avoiding consumer options that are less convenient. Meanwhile, those “stuck” in the cash economy stay there. Wealth is, and has been, the controlling factor in who moves into the evolving digital economy — and who gets left behind.

Widening Gap

Regardless of the country, the gap between the rich and poor widens as the cash economy gasps on its deathbed. In Amsterdam, the street magazine Z! — which is sold by city’s homeless —  is on its deathbed too, as its sellers are struggling to find cash customers. Although Z! trialled iZettle card readers in 2013, card payments didn’t work for them; largely because of their complexity. They needed to carry their magazines, mobile phones, and a card reader — a challenge for many small businesses, nonetheless those that operate entirely on the streets. However, this limitation is already overcome by newer technologies: vendors could easily use ID codes on badges with lanyards for hands-free sales. Access is the real issue—as it usually is for the poor.

Kenyan citizens use a cashless system connected to cheap mobile devices called m-Pesa. The system lets people store funds digitally and transfer money by sending text messages; all without opening and maintaining a conventional bank account. EcoCash, a similar text-based service, is thriving in Zimbabwe.

Consult Hyperion director of innovation Dave Birch told The Guardian that advocating for the cash economy on behalf of the poor doesn’t help anyone. “If you keep people trapped in a cash economy, you leave them to pay higher prices for everything, you leave them struggling to access credit, and more vulnerable to theft,” he says. “We’re going to replace cash with electronic platforms,” Birch adds.

“I don’t think poverty or being unbanked is necessarily a barrier, because everyone has a phone. Given the technology we have, we can develop new ways of moving digital cash around, even on the most basic of phones.”

The real obstacle is to make sure that platforms evolving along with smart city and cashless economy initiatives are inclusive. Not only that, but they must be connected in ways that make them accessible to everyone — which means finding a common payment ecosystem that’s workable.

Blockchain Opportunities

Bitcoin and other digital currencies based on blockchain technology provide a viable money storage and spending alternative for people who don’t have bank accounts. The vision of money economies being central and universal is actually a fairly First World generalization; in many parts of the world, the money/currency economy has never been as strong or ubiquitous as it is in the U.S. This is great news, because it suggests that once we realize it, economies are more flexible than we may think. Ultimately, there are multiple options available to us.

“Money already works fairly well in America and Europe,” bitcoin thinker and digital currency innovator Jed McCaleb told Wired. “Today, the promise of these digital currencies is most seen in the developing world.”

Networks like McCaleb’s Stellar connect micro-finance institutions (MFIs) digitally provide bank-like services, including loans, and allow for the transfer and receipt of money. These services are particularly needed by people without access to banks. Companies like Stellar offer digital infrastructure for exchanging money, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be currency. The next step is to harness the power of blockchain technology to allow people to engage in these transactions without needing the MFIs, which may add costs to the process without adding real value.

Founder and CEO of blockchain application BanQu, Ashish Gadnis, points out to Devex Newswire that it is expensive to be poor in the developing world. As it stands, there are billions of people living in extreme poverty. For Gadnis, this is because, “multiple organizations interact with the poor in silos.” In other words, even a person who is the “named beneficiary” for multiple nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, and social enterprises can’t break the cycle they’re in due to lack of access.

A farmer living in poverty in the developing world does not “own their own identity” with regard to the organizations and institutions they interact with. They may get seed subsidies from the government in one form, participate in capacity building in another, use m-Pesa and their phone to buy supplies, and have to court investors on their own financial turf. The result is multiple data silos and lack of access.

For Gadnis, the solution to this problem is putting leverage and access back into the hands of the people by making governments, NGOs, social organizations, financial institutions, and others operate using blockchain — a distributed ledger that gives people an economic identity that is transferable across systems and that they control. Gadnis sees this as the key to economic resilience in a time of tumultuous change.

While blockchain technology pushes cash out and digitization in, it also presents opportunities for improved access. This is another salient example of why internet access for all is a core human right. Going completely cashless without enabling these kinds of solutions will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. We need to find a way to ensure no one is left behind.

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Humans and Technology Are Becoming One, and It’s Changing Everything

Mental and Sensory Trickery

As machine learning produces virtual reality that feels more real than ever, the divide separating “human” and “machine” is shrinking. We are teaching AI to beat us at our own games, and it’s proving to be a limitlessly powerful student. The world in which the phrases “seeing is believing” and “show me” mean something is receding in the rearview mirror rapidly, giving way to a reality where you can’t always trust your sensory data. Which — like any other data — can be hacked or faked. Though, in this case it could be at your own direction — and to your advantage.

The human brain evolved to keep us safe in a world of predatory animals, deep, unnavigable waters, high cliffs, and sharp edges. Optimization for survival and reproduction of our genes demanded accurate sensory input, and generations of reliance on that data led to hard-wired fears that feel as real as anything we experience. Something moving fast at the periphery of your field of vision startles; the sight of a sheer drop opening into yawning space causes the heart to pound. Danger! Avoid, survive.

Now, we have learned that we can work, learn, and play at our highest levels by tricking our minds into perceiving what isn’t there. Like a wizened mentor, turning the lessons inward to the self, we shape the lesson and provide the interpretation for our own brains, translated into unmistakable sensory data. In other words, we provide ourselves with learning opportunities that are based in sensory experiences.

Smart sensory devices are changing the depth to which we experience virtual reality. Oculus earbuds, for example, along with acoustic filtration apps like H_ _ r provide a sense of true immersion in a virtual environment — something that’s only been recently made possible. It’s also possible now to smell things without a nose, thanks to advancements in “artificial olfaction” technology produced by companies like eNose. We can taste things that aren’t there and even “send” them to each other online for tasting. If these artificial sensory experiences were to work in tandem, we might not be able to tell the difference between virtuality and the real thing beyond actually telling ourselves what is real and what isn’t.

In fact, virtual experiences may soon provide more sensory data than we can get by any conventional means; an even more “realistic” experience than reality. This would be even more powerful, as TechCrunch points out, with the help of chemical stimulation strengthening the synapses that cement our memories.

The irony of relying on our brains to remind ourselves of what’s real—precisely because we know we won’t be able to trust whatever data our brains themselves come up with—is itself amusing. One of our most fascinating cyborg moments of the coming years may be the merging of technologies with the human body in the pursuit of more realistic virtual experiences.

Our Virtual Future: The Virtual Reality Headsets of Today and Tomorrow
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Opening Up New Worlds

The implications of the abilities we’ve developed to trick our brains are more than amusing. They are changing the way we learn, work, and relate to each other as well, not to mention motivating us to learn how to recapture neuroplasticity and use it to our advantage. The quest for the perfect virtual experience is opening up new worlds for anyone who’d like to experience them.

Right now it’s possible to drive through sandcastles or map enemy territory. We are using VR to learn and teach, taking trips through museums, and learning how human organs work. VR is changing the way we work, too: easing pain for patients and allowing developers to prototype apps. Even porn is going virtual — because if we’re going to take work to the next level, play is definitely coming with it.

All of these things would be little more than novelties if our technologies were not so adept at tricking our sense. Thanks to better tech and improved sensory swindling, though, each of these virtual applications holds deeper meaning for us as a species.

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Nokia Begins Work to Bring 5G Technology to the World

Better, Faster, Stronger

A fast internet connection is a necessity in today’s world. Currently, the fastest available internet runs on what’s known as fourth generation — or 4G — technology. The fastest among 4G technology is called LTE, which is capable of delivering download speeds of 50mbps. However, a number of telecommunication companies (or telcos) all over the world are testing the next generation of internet technology; the so-called 5G. In India, telcos are working with Nokia to make 5G a reality.

India’s top telco, Bharti Airtel, together with state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Nokia to convert existing network infrastructure to support 5G.

“Thoughts behind these MoUs would be to introduce 5G here, and what are the steps required for the same, besides identifying applications to define the target segment, which will lead to a complete 5G strategy for telcos,” explained Sanjay Malik, Nokia’s head of India market, speaking to the Economic Times. “It is more of a preparatory phase for getting into 5G.”

Field, content, and application trials are scheduled to begin in 2018.

This is the Fastest Internet on Earth
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Much Needed Speed Upgrades

In India, where network carriers have been criticized for not upgrading their technology fast enough, this effort by Airtel and BSNL is a welcome change. It’s certainly a long-sought upgrade — as internet speed in the country is still relatively slow. Market research firm Counterpoint noted that more than 90 percent of India’s existing mobile subscribers — exceeding a billion in total — were still on 2G networks at the end of 2016.

Commercial access to 5G technology might take about four to five years more, given the necessary infrastructure preparations, as well as overall viability. But it will be worth the wait: 5G internet can go 30 to 50 times faster than existing 4G technology. Access to uberfast internet speeds will make for a world of a difference in overall user experience. For example, downloading videos online — which often takes minutes, if not hours on very slow networks — would talk a matter of seconds with 5G.

But more than just for its entertainment and recreational value, 5G internet can actually save lives. It will boost the performance of self-driving softwares in autonomous cars and improve remote tele-surgery, among other technology that relies on the internet to facilitate operation.

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Trump Asks For “Border Wall” Designs. Engineers Create Hilarious (And Useful) Alternative

Engineers Propose Loop-tastic Solution

The Trump administration has called for border wall proposals, and a group of engineers called MADE Collective just responded in truly epic style. The group submitted a proposal for a “wall” that’s really a $15 billion hyperloop — that’s $6 billion less than the current estimate for a simple barrier from the Department of Homeland Security. MADE Collective estimates that such a loop would create $1 trillion in jobs.

Trump Asks For “Border Wall” Designs. Engineers Create Hilarious (And Useful) Alternative
Credit: MADE Collective

MADE Collective, a group of Mexican and American urban planners and engineers, calls their project Otra Nation. This hyperloop transportation network would transform the border from unusable, dead space into a shared nation, with an independent local government and nonvoting representatives in the legislatures of both countries.

Border Benefits

The Otra Nation hyperloop network would span 2,000 km (1,250 miles) and replace existing border fencing. Stations along the hyperloop would allow people to board, and the network would be powered by solar farms alongside it. Equal numbers of Mexican and American workers would be used to build the hyperloop system and staff it once it was operational. The group has posted a petition asking for support for their proposal.

“The existence of the border wall has become more a signifier of status than a barrier that each population sustains in its own form of isolation towards the opposite side,” the designers explained in their proposal. “The 19th century brought us boundaries, the 20th century we built walls, the next will bridge nations by creating communities based on shared principles of economic resiliency, energy independence, and a trust-based society.”

Via MADE Collective
Credit: MADE Collective

Other innovative, future-facing designs for the border wall include an “Inflatoborder” made of plastic bubbles, a binational park, and a wall covered in solar panels. In June, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will announce the 10 companies it wants to hire to create prototypes.

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Skype Can Now Translate Your Voice Calls Into 10 Different Languages in Real-Time

Breaking Barriers

With the advent of the internet, there are fewer barriers to communication than ever before. Distance has basically become negligible in terms of talking to each other. Ongoing developments have continued to make it even easier. Now, in many cases, language is no longer a barrier.

Microsoft and Skype have added another language to it real-time translation service. The software giant announced last week that it is adding Japanese as its tenth language. The other languages are English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. The services are available on Skype as well as all Microsoft Translation services, such as Microsoft Translator Live.

Other services offered by Skype allow for similar communications barrier-busting. It also offers text translation of more than 60 languages.

Worldwide Collaboration

These innovations are not just useful for social or business purposes. More scientists are collaborating across the globe to further our understanding of the world around us and the universe beyond us.  Increased functionality from services such as those provided by Microsoft and Skype will allow such collaboration to be even more widely, and readily, available.

The spirit of international collaboration is one of the defining features of the International Space Station. Multiple nations are working together to study space in hopes of unlocking all of its mysteries.cc

Technology has a trend of democratizing the field in which they are applied. For example, SpaceX’s recent launch of the first refurbished rockets is going to play an immense part in widening the field in terms of who will be able to launch people and technology into space.

Blockchain technology also has the potential of being a revolutionary step toward breaking down all international barriers. The tech could help to completely root out corruption and allow the world to work together safely, reliably, and with unprecedented transparency.

So whether its direct language translation, cheaper spaceflight, or revolutionary record keeping, technology is one of the greatest tools humanity has to unite us all.

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