Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Machines are Coming – NYT Op-Ed

An excellent op-ed piece in the New York Times by Zeynep Tufekci is entitled The Machines are Coming.   I enjoyed this piece of writing because it touches on many of the issues this blog has discussed over the months, from the fact that computers are taking on, not just routine physical jobs, but also routine mental jobs; that the underemployment spectre will spread to white collar jobs as well; that the replacement computers and robots do not need to surpass our abilities, they just need to be good enough, even if mediocre.  And Tufekci ends by noting that these same technologies could empower us rather than disempowering our jobs ROI. I couldn’t agree more!

A Future with Underemployment

The April 2015 Atlantic contains an article by Kim Phillips-Fein entitled Why Workers Won’t Unite that provides a strong discussion of trends in underemployment, and why society is having a difficult time providing a unified response to this trend even as it happens before our eyes.  Phillips-Fein does a very good job of contrasting how labor pushed for systemic change during past crises with the present situation, where labor is defanged and where strategies for improving the situation are discussed academically, but not lowered into the den of political action. Some quotes:

Today, the labor movement’s decline is widely considered an irreversible reality– the inevitable outcome of globalization and automation, and the norm for a post-industrial economy, hardly worthy of comment.

..a narrow focus on skill building is an inadequate approach to tackling inequities, especially in an economy increasingly premised on short-term employment.

The realities of politics, visions of quality of life and labor power have changed so fundamentally that we are entering a space where our search for solutions is all about pioneering entirely new strategies; underemployment is a slippery slope that, like the gently heated water in a lobster pot, may just burn us far before disruptive events goad us into really responding like we mean it.

Products that think for people

Is this an April Fool’s joke? It isn’t, but the timing is right. Take a look at the website of the new Poppy products website.  Let the marketing wash over you. Some excellent quotes:

They anticipate your needs and make intelligent decisions to keep your family happy and healthy.

Nobody said new parenthood was easy — until now. While others stress over feedings, you’ll be worry-free with Poppy Formula.

We make products that think for you.

The marketing and product ethos are fascinating from the Robot Futures point of view because these products are supposed to basically replace parts of your brain for you. It is a balancing act between disempowerment and pleasurable convenience, and the boundary space here seems more humorous than serious. Will robots broaden our knowledge level and our potential for positive impact on the world, or will they replace various cognitive and manual functions a bit at a time? Did the copy writers talk to anyone who has actually had kids?