Author Archives: Illah R. Nourbakhsh

About Illah R. Nourbakhsh

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Automation and Employment: a new book

This Sunday’s New York Times book review had a cover story on Rise of the Robots, a new book by Martin Ford. Ehrenreich describes how Ford is talking through the ongoing threat to jobs that is posed by automation technologies.  Refreshingly, she dives into the question of “innovating our way out of this,” recognizing, as Ford does, that innovation alone is no longer going to compensate for all the job loss invoked through automation that increases company productivity with scant employment requirements. I will order and read Rise of the Robots and provide my own analysis in short order.

Ehrenreich explains that Ford’s proposed solution, a $10,000 minimum annual salary for all, is the best our clever but feeble minds can put together just now. I beg to differ. This minimum salary does not solve the problem- far from it. We need livelihoods and senses of purpose; and we need to rethink the externalities of automation, and how we distribute their true cost in society.

It’s all about Interaction

Mark Bauerlein in the New York Times just published a Sunday Review piece, What’s the Point of a Professor, in which he points to the very important role teachers play by engaging with students, not just in class time, but during office hours, for career advice and for general advice. As we think about educational technology and cognitive tutoring, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that teacher-student communication is an incredibly important, empowering part of education. Technology does not change that most basic calculus that applies, today, to our educational system just as well as it did fifty years ago.

Economist AI short-piece

The Economist’s print edition has a leader, The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence, that notes ominous opinions regarding the future of A.I., then presents a surprising salve for our worries: recall that many human-created entities are ‘autonomous,’ in a way: governments, corporations, stock markets. There, see? None of them have killed us off, and regulation and transparency stop these autonomous agents from doing too much harm.  It’s hard not to disagree with almost every aspect of this argument, but I leave that to each reader. Suffice it to say that plenty of harm has come of non-human intelligences created with the best and worst of intentions; and none of these mistakes makes me feel better about what role A.I. might have in our future.  What’s more, this nonstop focus on A.I. still continues to distract the ways in which automation and robotics today- well before the advent of strong A.I.- continues to change society ever more rapidly.

Replacing Humans with Robots

Oh I can’t wait to share this. Thanks to Randy Sargent for discovering Robotica, a short video series by the New York Times that released a first episode about China’s program that is called, literally, Replacing humans with robots.  The video is absolutely stunning in its sincerity: humans today are inferior workers to past; we can now start replacing humans with robots en masse.  The real kicker comes at the end of the video, which you should watch in its entirety. The Vice Director of Economy for Shunde, China, notes that the employees losing their jobs ought to go back to their homes in rural China. And when asked what will happen when the factories back home decide to automate also, he says, sure, that’ll happen. And they’ll automate just the same. You will want to watch the end of the interview twice, just to be sure you hear it right.