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Archive for the category “business”

Robots and the union label in Korea

So my last post in tymshft was about robots, I guess.

And I haven’t written about guaranteed income in a while.

And I don’t know that I’ve ever written about Korea.

Put those together, add trade unions, and you get this:

As far as job security is concerned, Hyundai Motor is touted as the best place for workers as the automaker’s militant trade union safeguards them against any attempts by management to cut payrolls.

However, they seem not to be content with the status quo as the union is asking the company to guarantee that their jobs will be safe even after the full-fledged introduction of robotic production, possibly controlled by artificial intelligence (AI).

In a sense, this is not about technology at all. Change “robots” to “Chinese immigrants” (or, in the case of my own country…Chinese immigrants) and the issues are the same. An established labor order is upset by the introduction of low-cost workers who require less salary and benefits. Of course, in the case of robots, “salary and benefits” becomes maintenance and upkeep.

There are two prevailing thoughts in all of these situations. One is that the high-salary jobs that are taken by these low-cost workers (carbon-based or otherwise) are not coming back, and that we’ll need some type of “guaranteed income” mechanism to keep society from falling apart. The other is that the old high-salary jobs will be replaced by high-salary jobs in new industries, and the economy will adjust like it always has when horse-and-buggy dealers, tobacco farmers, and coal miners saw job losses.

But what happens in a country like Korea? I plead ignorance about Korean society and customs, but what happens in such a country where people no longer work in traditional jobs – or perhaps no longer work at all?

Or am I kidding myself when I believe that the go-getter U.S. society can adjust to this more quickly than so-called traditional societies? After all, even though we haven’t been around for all that long, we have our own traditions…

No, the robots aren’t killing us…yet

Let’s go back to July 7, 2015, when this tragic event occurred in Michigan:

An employee of Ventra Ionia Main, an automotive stamping facility, died after being caught in a robotic machine, police said.

The accident happened about 2:20 p.m. Tuesday, July 7 at Ventra, 14 N. Beardsley St., Ionia Public Safety Department officers said.

More details were revealed this month, when the inevitable lawsuit was filed.

[Wanda] Holbrook, a journeyman technician, was performing routine maintenance on one of the robots on the trailer hitch assembly line when the unit unexpectedly activated and attempted to load a part into the unit being repaired, crushing Holbrook’s head.

By the time this filtered through several sources, the press was referring to a rogue robot, conjuring an image of a sentient being taking out its vengeance on an unfortunate carbon-based life form.

The lawyers don’t go that far, but they interpret this as a machine that was improperly programmed by a host of companies named in the lawsuit.

In this respect, it’s no different than any piece of machinery – or, frankly, any manufactured item. No one accuses a shovel of being a sentient rogue being, but it can kill also.

Studies published in the Lancet and the American Journal of Cardiology, among other outlets, show that the incidence of heart failure goes up in the week after a blizzard. The Lancet study, based on death certificates in eastern Massachusetts after six blizzards from 1974-78, demonstrated that ischemic heart disease deaths rose by 22 percent during the blizzard week and stayed elevated for the subsequent eight days, suggesting that the effect was related to storm-related activities, like shoveling, rather than the storm itself. Similarly, the AJC article, based on medical examiner records from three Michigan counties, found that there were more exertion-related sudden cardiac deaths in the weeks during and after blizzards, and that 36 of the 43 total exertion-related deaths occurred during or shortly after snow removal.

Perhaps some day we will have a true rogue robot, with independent decision-making capability, that performs an action that results in a death. But we’re not there yet.

Can the @AINowInitiative achieve its goals?

Confession – when I first saw Marshall Kirkpatrick’s tweet, I thought that it sounded too much like Newspeak. Most of you probably won’t react that way, but I did.

AINowMarshall

“Preventing fascism through AI?” After the recent Wikileaks revelations about purported CIA listening technology, you kinda wonder if the AI would be used to IMPLEMENT “fascism” – whatever “fascism” is.

But when I went to the AI Now Initiative website (which, as far as I can tell, does NOT use the f-word), it looks like they have a valid point. But can they get where they want to go? And where DO they want to go?

First, let me introduce the AI Now Initiative itself.

Led by Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, AI Now is a New York-based research initiative working across disciplines to understand AI’s social impacts….

The AI Now Report provides recommendations that can help ensure AI is more fair and equitable. It represents the thinking and research of the experts who attended our first symposium, hosted in collaboration with President Obama’s White House and held at New York University in 2016.

The thing that struck me in the details was their discussion of bias.

Bias and inclusion

Data reflects the social and political conditions in which it is collected. AI is only able to “see” what is in the data it’s given. This, along with many other factors, can lead to biased and unfair outcomes. AI Now researches and measures the nature of such bias, how bias is defined and by whom, and the impact of such bias on diverse populations.

I wanted to read the report (PDF) of the first symposium – since the second symposium hasn’t yet been held, its report has (I hope) not yet been written – but the definition of bias is a key step here. If you’re wearing a MAGA hat or have one of North Korea’s approved hairstyles, then anything involving Barack Obama and the city of New York is already hopelessly biased, infused with New York values – one of those values being the Constitution and laws of the United States.

While reading the report, it appears that “bias” is defined as “lack of fairness.”

As AI systems take on a more important role in high-stakes decision-making – from offers of credit and insurance, to hiring decisions and parole – they will begin to affect who gets offered crucial opportunities, and who is left behind. This brings questions of rights, liberties, and basic fairness to the forefront.

While some hope that AI systems will help to overcome the biases that plague human decision-making, others fear that AI systems will amplify such biases, denying opportunities to the deserving and subjecting the deprived to further disadvantage.

An example will illustrate the issues involved.

Person A and Person B are applying for health insurance. What data is required to evaluate the risks from insuring each person? Do we need to know their ages? Their genders? Their races? What they ate for dinner last night? Their genetic test results? Some will argue that all of this data is not only desirable, but necessary for decision-making. Others will argue that collection of such data is an affront to the aforementioned “New York values” enshrined in the Constitution.

So should an AI system have access to all data, or some data? And should it be neutral, or “fair”?

One sentence in the report, however, justifies the common scientific plea that more research (and funding for research) is needed.

It is important to note that while there are communities doing wonderful work on these issues, there is no consensus on how to “detect” bias of either kind.

 

Before that pendulum shifts away from the cloud, check the full story

The secret to writing success, political success, or whatever is to make an outlandish statement which gets people so angry that they can’t help but read it. I haven’t quite gotten to that stage yet, but my 2014 post The pendulum is shifting away from the cloud. Told you so. was admittedly a bit of a contrarian attention-getter. Not that I’m negating my basic point – that we switch between distributed vs. centralized computing in a pendulum-like fashion – but back in 2014, you could clearly get more attention by saying that the cloud is out.

Well, cloud is still hot – in fact, my employer deployed a cloud-based solution last year – but people are beginning to question whether the cloud is totally wonderful.

And so we have this Geektime article:

With a steady increase in concerns for our cyber security, people will begin to move away from the cloud to secure their data and provide their own solutions.

Why? Because Yahoo, apparently. At the time that I write this, Yahoo (and its acquirer Verizon) are dealing with the fallout from a revelation of a second attack on Yahoo’s accounts – this one netting information from a billion accounts. Because of this and other threats, people are looking at non-cloud solutions.

Last month, CNET reviewed home storage solutions that cost less than $100, making it affordable to store data locally in one’s own “Cloud in your Attic.”

Even the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said, “As people assert control over their data, the web will ‘re-decentralise,’ reducing dependency on technology giants, returning power to individuals and businesses and allowing developers a rich space for innovation.”

And who would know better than the man who got us all online?

However, before you jump ahead and spend $99.99 to get your own server, ask yourself – are you a better cybersecurity professional than Yahoo’s cybersecurity professionals? Because if you’re not, then your system will be LESS safe than Yahoo’s system, which was breached at least twice.

Because one thing is constant whether you’re dealing with public cloud, private cloud, or your own box – someone is going to have to secure the thing. While I’ll admit that Yahoo is a much more tempting hacker target than, say, Joe’s Server in the Hall Closet, both need to be secured.

In my case, I am not a cybersecurity expert, so if I were to implement a home server, I’d need to get someone to secure the thing for me. And even people who are cybersecurity experts are not necessarily going to know all of the threats that could affect a home server.

I’m not saying that there aren’t valid reasons to move off the cloud in some instances. But before you move off the cloud because it’s “not secure,” think through the ramifications of selecting an alternative.

Will our robot overlords come with payment dispensers? (Obama and AI inequality)

As I write this, people in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are approaching a major holiday. While the holiday itself falls on a Sunday, many people will celebrate the holiday on Monday.

For these people, this will be a paid holiday, in which they will get money even though they don’t do any work.

But what if this situation becomes permanent, as robots come in and do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do?

The concept of guaranteed income has been bandied about for a while. As I noted in a 2013 post, the theory is that as robots take over jobs and massive unemployment results, governments will be forced to pay guaranteed income to keep citizens afloat.

There’s a second point of view – one that I expressed in 2013, and still hold today. I believe that as the robots are implemented, new jobs will be created.

Well, now a third point of view has been expressed, by a guy named Barack Obama. In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s the President of the United States. Yes, I know that if you read Twitter, you’d get the idea that Donald Trump is President of the United States, but technically he won’t take power for nearly a month. So in the meantime, Obama gets to do Presidential things and say stuff:

In a report examining the economic impact of AI, the Obama administration trumpeted the technological advances that are expected in the coming years, but warned that automating mass amounts of jobs could exacerbate wealth inequality.

“AI should be welcomed for its potential economic benefits,” the report reads. “Those economic benefits, however, will not necessarily be evenly distributed across society.”…

Tuesday’s report laid out a number of recommendations for Congress and the next administration to help mitigate any negative economic impact that AI could have on the workforce. The recommendations include strengthening the social safety net, raising wages and investing in retraining and education to keep up with the shifting demands of the economy.

Now a “safety net” isn’t necessarily the same thing as “guaranteed income.” We’ve had a safety net for a while, which was described by the noted NGO The Clash in a multimedia presentation entitled “Know Your Rights”:

You have the right to food money
Providing of course
You don’t mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers
Rehabilitation

And it could be argued that “raising wages” would have the effect of actually INCREASING the use of robots to replace people. Think about that the next time that your favorite food establishment provides a super cool app to let you place your order. That app is cheaper than a $15 minimum wage order taker.

The report is addressing present concerns as expressed by voters. But what’s the chance of the report being consulted a month from now, when (as I noted) we have another President?

Donald Trump was propelled during the campaign by his argument that free trade agreements were depriving Americans of manufacturing jobs, but he spoke little about the threat that automation posed to employment.

So what’s going to happen? The federal government isn’t going to do anything, blue states are going to jack up the minimum wage, red states are going to give tax breaks to corporations, the corporations are going to continue automation, low wage workers are going to be unemployed, no guaranteed income will be implemented at the federal level, and even California and Washington won’t implement it at the state level. And then in 2020, we’ll get two Presidential candidates that will make the 2016 ones look like massively adored heroes. (Michael Moore vs. Michelle Malkin?)

That’s my prediction, and my predictions are always right.

Usually.

OK, not so much.

As modern distribution channels are swiftly trumped

When I first read the story that I’m about to share with you, I didn’t know if it belonged here in tymshft, in my music blog, or my business blog.

But first I had to figure out the truth behind Dave Schilling’s article in the Guardian on Taylor Swift’s new channel.

Millennials! Don’t sell your TVs just yet. You might be bored silly with the wasteland that is cable programming, but DirecTV’s new cord-cutting over-the-top service, DirecTV Now, will feature a 24-hour channel dedicated exclusively to the work of pop star Taylor Swift….

…the Guardian has obtained the launch day lineup for Taylor Swift Now in a journalistic coup that will surely be criminalized as soon as Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January.

It’s one of these articles that states that the information in the article WON’T BE FOUND ANYWHERE ELSE. Yeah, one of those.

(Excerpts from Schilling’s piece: the 6am show will be called #SquadGoals, and the 11am show will be called Bad Blood.)

So just when I was starting to doubt the whole thing, I ran across Lanre Bakare’s tweet about the article.

swift-channel

So Schilling didn’t make up the entire thing. I subsequently confirmed via MTV that Swift had launched the Taylor Swift Now channel in partnership with AT&T/DirecTv.

Swift is one of the biggest brands in music today, and she is the one who is best equipped to create her own channel. And while she’s still working through intermediaries such as AT&T, the time will eventually come when major musical artists will be able to sell their music directly without any intermediaries. Prince tried to do this, but was ahead of his time (and also past his former commanding stance in the industry).

Swift is making this move at the right time, which should make for some interesting negotiations when her contract with Big Machine expires. Will she opt for her own label partially owned by someone else (a la Madonna’s former label Maverick Records), or will she try going completely independent?

Well, if Swift wants to look for a model, she can look outside of the musical realm. There’s a man who has determinedly avoided the middlemen and roadblocks in his industry, and who is carrying his message directly to his customers.

You know who I’m talking about.

trump-twitter

Say what you will about him, Donald Trump has been the most innovative Presidential candidate since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt used the radio to speak directly to the American people. Trump uses Twitter, a service that allows people to send short messages directly to other people. I mean, things like that didn’t exist in the days of Trump’s father Fred Trump – or did they?

Now Twitter, of course, is its own company, so Trump is dependent upon someone else to provide his megaphone. But Twitter is having its own problems as of late, which raises an interesting question – could Trump, in partnership with some other rich people, buy Twitter himself?

Now that would be really interesting.

Give thanks for your automated chauffeur

Good old Edith. Literally old, she’s a character that appeared in my 2013 post about medical advances. But Edith had to get to the doctor’s office in 2023:

So in May 2023, when Edith was 95 years old, she still scheduled her doctor appointment for the first Tuesday in May, and she still took a cab to the doctor’s office….An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Edith was the expert on driverless cars. Outside of the techie circles, most individuals didn’t own driverless cars. But the cab companies that Edith used sure did. While some cabdrivers protested over their job losses, many of them got jobs with churches, nursing homes, and other groups that didn’t have the money – yet – to afford a driverless car. Edith was secretly pleased with the elimination of cab drivers – all of the cab drivers in the past had listened to that horrid country music, and Edith liked the freedom to choose her own music on the way to the doctor’s office. Edith, of course, usually listened to oldies music – early Katy Perry was her current favorite.

Well, we have a little over six years to go to see if my prediction will come true, but we’re moving a little closer. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who may be unemployed in a couple of months, is still working at his job.

Today I am announcing the launch of a new Automation Proving Ground Pilot Program. Through this program, the Department will designate facilities as qualified proving grounds for the safe testing, demonstration and deployment of automated vehicle technology. We believe that by designating facilities as part of a Community of Practice, we can foster a safe environment for these entities to share best practices related to testing and developing this technology.

As everyone in the United States is well aware, both state and federal governments are essential when revising regulations for technology advances. Certain states have done their part to advance driverless testing, and the U.S. Department of Transportation is doing its part also.

My “Edith” character from 2013, and Vinod Khosla (again)

Yes, I am Ann Landers. I re-use old posts whenever I can. But in this case I have a reason for doing so, because a fiction story that I wrote in 2013 has the potential to become less fictional.

The story was called “You will still take a cab to the doctor’s office. For a while.” It described a 95 year old woman named Edith and her May 2023 visit to the doctor’s office. She took a cab there:

Edith had booked and paid for the cab a month before the appointment, using the online Gacepple Calendar service. (Gacepple, of course, was the company that resulted from the merger of Google, Facebook, and Apple – the important merger that saved the tech industry in the United States from extinction. But I digress.) An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Anyway, she gets to the doctor’s office. No doctor or nurse is present, but a voice guides her through the quick and painless examination.

!!!SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT!!!

After everything is done, Edith has a question.

“You’ve been very helpful. But I’ve always wondered exactly WHERE you were. If you were in Los Angeles, or in Mississippi, or perhaps in India or China, or perhaps even in one of the low-cost places such as Chad. If you don’t mind my asking, exactly where ARE you?”

“I don’t mind answering the question,” replied the friendly voice, “and I hope you don’t take my response the wrong way, but I’m not really a person as you understand the term. I’m actually an application within the software package that runs the medical center. But my programmers want me to tell you that they’re really happy to serve you, and that Stanford sucks.” The voice paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Edith. You have to forgive the programmers – they’re Berkeley grads.”

As time goes by, this scenario is becoming more and more realistic. We are already working on robot doctors that can navigate down the hall to a patient to take readings.

Meanwhile, Vinod Khosla is working on the other part of the scenario – the part where a software package, rather than a human, does the diagnostic work. I’ve mentioned Khosla before – once in regard to “meat”, and once in regard to medicine. Now, prompted by a Scott Nelson share, it’s time to look at a more recent article about Khosla.

When Khosla looks 10 or 15 years into healthcare’s future, he sees a medical landscape seething with data-hungry, intelligent algorithms like Google’s AlphaGo instead of doctors as we know them today.

“Medicine has improved a lot as a practice,” Khosla said. “But I think it’s time to take this practice of medicine and turn it into the science of medicine.”

To make that happen, Khosla thinks we have to hand medical expertise over to the machines.

Specifically, Khosla wants big data and big databases to do the heavy lifting that no single human could do.

Khosla said you can diagnose disease with a single biomarker—the chemical signature of sickness—or you can diagnose disease by looking at 300 biomarkers. You can look at the patient in front of you and compare them to the last few you’ve seen, or you can scan a database of 100 million patients for the last hundred or thousand with the same condition….

According to Khosla, Medicare patients have seven major conditions on average. Wouldn’t it be better to have AI look at those conditions comprehensively—and one doctor, not seven, talk the results over with the patient?

Note that in Khosla’s case, we would still have doctors around, but they would be hired for their empathy skills, and not necessarily for their ability to read every medical journal.

However, I still think that my model, in which there is no doctor at all, is the more accurate one.

Why?

Because of how business works.

The average American publicly-traded company, when forced to choose between a 100% computerized system with no doctor and a 100% computerizied system with a doctor, will choose the lower cost option.

After all, if you don’t have any employees, then you don’t have to pay for healthcare.

Have you heard about these new cameras that print physical pictures?

Because of my involvement in marketing, I’m subscribed to various services that talk about sales. From reading these, it appears that one of the main issues affecting sales today is the ability to give gifts to your salespeople to encourage them to sell more stuff.

So I’m reading one of these publications, and it talks about a special gift; the “instax” from Fujifilm. The name “instax” refers to a group of products with one thing in common.

Stay with me, because this is pretty weird.

As all of my readers know, a camera is a device which captures images through a lens and stores them on the camera itself. From there, you can transfer the images to other devices so that you can upload them to your website or whatever. Here’s an example of a very important image taken with a camera.

img_1635edited

(This was taken at Keno’s Restaurant in Anaheim, California. I didn’t take a picture of the lunch itself because I ate it.)

Even if you only have a camera with 16 GB of storage, you can capture plenty of riveting pictures like this one.

But if you’re a quota-beating salesperson and receive an instax camera, you get something amazing and miraculous. Once you take the picture, THE PICTURE PRINTS OUT ON A PIECE OF PAPER. Imagine that!

Now how can a camera just magically print stuff? Well, the instax camera requires you to load something special into the camera, called “film.” And for this particular type of film, the image that you capture is printed on the film, ejects from the camera, and then you have your physical image.

Now of course, film can’t continue to print images forever. The film itself can only print ten images. But – and here’s the magic part here – YOU CAN BUY MORE FILM!

Can’t you just see millennial salespeople going gaga when they earn this gift item?

However, some older salespeople seem to be grousing that this is just like some “roid” thing that used to exist a long time ago. Maybe they’re talking about this company, which is still around (although it went bankrupt twice along the way).

The cutback gamble at the New York Times

It’s no secret that these are tough times for firms that process wood, throw ink on it, and send the processed wood to readers. Even the big boys, such as the New York Times, are not immune to economic pressures. So even as papers move their operations online, they also make decisions about where to focus their activities.

If you are a Times subscriber who lives outside of the five boroughs, this will affect you.

The New York Times this week quietly ended its coverage of restaurants, art galleries, theaters and other commercial and nonprofit businesses in the tri-state region, laying off dozens of longtime contributors and prompting protests from many of the institutions that will be affected. They foresee an impact not only on patronage but, in the case of the nonprofits, on their ability to raise funds to survive.

In short, the restaurateurs who have just opened a tony new restaurant on Long Island – one that would be attractive to the average Times reader – can’t count on the Times to enhance their marketing any more.

When I originally saw this article shared by my friends on Facebook, they felt that the Times was shooting themselves in the foot. If the suburbanities can’t get local information from the paper…they’d just go find another paper.

On the other hand, if the Times is concentrating on being a world paper of record, it knows that its readers in Moscow or Beijing aren’t going to care about yet another restaurant in Long Island.

And there are opportunities for others. The article quotes a reviewer from Eater New York, who praised the Times’ local restaurant critic Joanne Starkey. But what wasn’t said – now a lot more people will be visiting Eater New York.

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