Post Tagged with: "work"

Report: 47% of U.S. Jobs At Risk of Being Automated Out of Existence

Report: 47% of U.S. Jobs At Risk of Being Automated Out of Existence

You’ve probably already seen news stories floating around a couple weeks ago about how 47% of jobs are in danger of being automated. The stories are based on a report that looked at 702 different occupations and ranked them based on how likely they are to be automatable based on advances in machine learning, machine vision and robotics. I took a look through the report and thought I’d share some thoughts.

Caveats Methodology aside, the report only predicts that probability that a job could, eventually, be automated, not that it will be automated. More on that later, but for one thing it means they can’t predict how long it will take for a particular job to be displaced (they suggest it will take a decade or two, and the most automatable jobs will go first), or what percentage of people in a field will be replaced. Also, they don’t talk much about economics of replacement — whether it might be cheaper to pay humans than to buy and maintain robots for some positions. One thing I’m not sure about is whether the 47% is meant to apply to the total number of job types (if so, I’m not sure what the cut-off point is) or if it means 47% of all currently employed people are at risk of being replaced (which I think is what they actually mean).

Automation Winners and Losers According to the report the safest jobs, predictably, are in engineering, health care and creative work. Managers and supervisors are also pretty safe. Journalists are relatively safe, but my old profession — computer support — is in danger. The hardest hit will be the working class. Even skilled workers like plumbers, welders, machinists and truck drivers — the sorts of skilled workers there are reportedly shortages of — are in danger (electricians, however, are relatively safe).

Other Potential Losers It doesn’t address other supply and demand issues. For example, there are more law school graduates now than ever, so although most legal work can’t be automated, it doesn’t make law a “safe” profession. It also doesn’t address the effects of some portion of work becoming automated, thus reducing the number of people needed. To use law as an example again, software tools make the discovery process easier, reducing the number of lawyers and paralegals required to do that task. In journalism, some types of reporting have already been successfully automated. I’ve argued before that most types of writing and reporting will still need to be done by humans, but more sophisticated tools could reduce the total number of journalists required to run a profitable publication. Many types of professionals, including engineers and doctors — could be vulnerable to such disruption as well.

Social and Cultural Factors It also doesn’t address social or political trends that might protect some workers. It’s my understanding — though I could be wrong — that freight trains could operate with far fewer human workers than they do, but the union keeps humans in many roles. Likewise, unions or professional organizations could protect some careers, like taxi drivers and truckers, by pushing for legislation that requires a human operator ride along with self-driving vehicles “just in case.” Some workers, like food servers, bartenders and black jack dealers, may be preserved by cultural norms.

Doom But even if only half the jobs they believe are likely to be automatable are actually automated, that’s still about 23.5% of all types of jobs. That means things will get worse for everyone as A) more people will be competing for the jobs that are left and B) unemployed people will spend less money, reducing the demand for the products and services provided by the non-automated professions. And while the industrial revolution created many new types of jobs to help replace those displaced by machinery, there’s no guarantee that will happen again. Even if it does, it could take years for enough new jobs to emerge to replace the old ones.

October 8, 2013 2 comments
Zero Hours: Precariat Design Fiction

Zero Hours: Precariat Design Fiction

Tim Maughan uses design fiction to sketch a vision of our precarious future:

Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with it’s familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.

She sighs, dismisses it. She’s not even sure why she still keeps that notification running. Starbucks, the holy fucking grail. But she can’t go there, can’t even try, without that elusive Barista badge.

Which is why she’s been betting like mad on this Pret a Manger auction, dropping her hourly down to near pointless levels. It says it’s in back of house food prep, but she’s seen the forum stories, the other z-contractors who always say take any job where they serve coffee, just in case. That’s how I did it, they say, forced my way in, all bright faces and make up and flirting and ‘this coffee machine looks AMAZING how does it work?’ and then pow, Barista badge.

Full Story: Medium: Zero Hours

Bram E. Gieben’s “Search Engine” is sort of a journalist/blogger’s version of this scenario.

See also:

Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving on Bitcoins

Willing to Work But Too Tired to Hussle

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman Talks About the Precariat

September 20, 2013 0 comments
Willing to Work, But Too Tired to Hustle

Willing to Work, But Too Tired to Hustle

willing-to-work

Community college teacher Nicole Matos writes:

There’s vanishingly little excitement, to tell you the truth. There’s just explicitly, and I don’t think entirely naively, the longing for a job where you do one thing, easily described, for a long term, and get predictably and sufficiently paid for what you do.

My students don’t want to be Astronauts. They want to be, sort of, Post Office clerks—with a 9-5 and a pension plan.

And, in that case, I don’t know how to break it to them. I don’t know how to sell the alternative—the more realistic future of work, that sort of chance, the chanciest chance I’ve ever sold.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the competitive capacity of my students; if anything, they seem more experienced in cutthroat competition than ever before. What is exhausted—just worn and jaded, from constant use, and such challenging odds of reward—is their inner reserves. Their belief that hustle can actually, well, work. And their trust that a hustle-world—a world of contingent, not permanent, labor; of setting your own path, not following the path of a established bureaucracy; and of preparing, always preparing, not for the present, but for the as-yet-unimagined-job-that’s-next—will be a good one, an equitable one, a world they’ll want to join. Or that will include a place for them, even if they do.

Full Story: Medium: Too Tired to Hustle

Sounds like precariat burnout to me.

September 18, 2013 0 comments
Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman Talks About the Precariat

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman Talks About the Precariat

Zygmunt Bauman interviewed on the subject of the “precariat”:

The notion of precariat seems quite general and vague to many people. Who are therefore the precarians?

The “general” and “vague” character of the notion of precariat bothers people accustomed to the division of society into “classes” and, in particular, to the phenomenon of “proletariat” or its idea, which the concept of “precariat” should, in my conviction (but not only mine), replace in the analysis of social divisions. In comparison to its successor, proletariat appears indeed almost as an emblem of the “specific” and “concrete”…

How easy it was, when compared to precariat, to determine its content and limits… But the fluidity of composition is one of the features defining the phenomenon of precarity; one cannot get rid of that fluidity without making the notion of “precariat” analytically useless. [...]

What issues do, in your opinion, differentiate precariat most distinctly from proletariat? To what extent can one connect the two notions? And finally: is precariat a social class?

Well, I have serious doubts about that. I would prefer to call precariat a social category. The mere similarity of situation is not enough to transform an aggregate of individuals bearing similar characteristics into a “class” – that is, into an integrated group willing to pursue common interests as well as proceeding to integrate and coordinate actions stemming from that will. If workplaces of the times of “solid modernity” were, irrespective of the kind of products manufactured, also the factories of social solidarity, liquid-modern workplaces are, irrespective of their business objectives, the producers of mutual suspicion and competitiveness.

Full Story: r-evolutions: Far Away from Solid Modernity (PDF)

(via [m])

See Also:

The Precariat – The new dangerous class

Temp Worker Nation: If You Do Get Hired, It Might Not Be for Long

Time Wars

September 2, 2013 4 comments
On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

Bull shit jobs

David Graeber writes:

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

Full Story: Strike! Magazine: On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

See also: Time Wars

August 24, 2013 1 comment
Mindful Cyborgs: Robotic Emoting Baristas from Enterprise Precariat

Mindful Cyborgs: Robotic Emoting Baristas from Enterprise Precariat

Mindful Cyborg

This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I discuss the rise of the “precariat” and what it means for the future of work:

One thing that’s really been on my mind with regards the Marketplace story about the BART transit strike and the tech industries’ response to that. There was a quote from the CEO of UserVoice, Richard White, and he said, “One of the guys in our team said he’d be putting in his two weeks’ notice once he found out what he could make working for BART.” White said jokingly. His solution to address those disgruntled BART workers, get them back to work, pay them whatever they want and then figure out how to automate their jobs so that this doesn’t happen again.

People have been talking about the automation of work and how technology is potentially displacing workers and there’s a good book on this called Race Against the Machine by some MIT academics. But you don’t really see a lot of tech CEOs who are openly calling for blue-collar workers, or any workers, to be replaced by technology. Forrester even did a report a couple years ago suggesting that tech company’s downplay the potential of technologies to replace workers. So, it’s really unusual to see the CEO of a tech company just openly saying, “I want these meddling workers to be replaced by machines. So the inconvenience that it causes me has diminished.”

It was a pretty surprising thing to see somebody really just come right out and say and there’s this subtext to it that really bothers me as well, the bit about, “Oh, you know, one of my workers was going to quit and go work for BART,” just suggesting that they already get paid too much even though as noted in the article they’re not actually making what their family needs to get by in the area. The BART workers aren’t. There is this sort of subtext like anybody who’s not part of the tech industry doesn’t deserve to get paid a living wage. That was really disturbing to me.

You can download the episode on Soundcloud, from iTunes or download the MP3 directly.

More notes, plus the full transcript inside.

July 30, 2013 0 comments
Union 2.0: How a Browser Plug-in is Organizing Amazon’s Micro-Laborers

Union 2.0: How a Browser Plug-in is Organizing Amazon’s Micro-Laborers

On the “quantified work” beat:

Researchers have estimated the average wage on Mechanical Turk is just $2 an hour, and some claim that’s an overestimate. Craigslist-style scams are common, in which requesters ask for up-front payments in exchange for later rewards, then disappear. If employers decide a completed task is unsatisfactory, they can decline to pay and still keep the resulting work. As a result, workers complain that many requesters decline work simply to get out of paying.

Experts estimate Mechanical Turk sees as much as $400,000 worth of transactions every day, but despite the money, Amazon has kept a hands-off attitude to the marketplace. Workers are left to fend for themselves.

But a new tool may give Turkers a secret weapon of their own. It’s called Turkopticon, a browser plug-in that aims to turn the tables on requesters by giving workers a chance to rate employers by reliability.

Full Story: The Verge: Union 2.0: how a browser plug-in is organizing Amazon’s micro-laborers

See Also

The Quantified Man: How an Obsolete Tech Guy Rebuilt Himself for the Future

What if Your Boss Tracked Your Sleep, Diet, and Exercise?

July 4, 2013 0 comments
What if Your Boss Tracked Your Sleep, Diet, and Exercise?

What if Your Boss Tracked Your Sleep, Diet, and Exercise?

I wrote for Wired:

Inside most companies, the typical health and wellness program includes regular blood pressure checks, a list of fresh foods for the office fridge, and some sort of exercise guru who shows up every so often to tell people they should work out more. If you’re lucky, you might even get some coupons designed to encourage healthier eating — and cut company insurance costs.

But at Citizen — a Portland, Oregon company that designs mobile technology — things are a little different. Employees at the company are now uploading data on how much they exercise, what they eat, and how much they sleep to a central server, as part of an effort to determine whether healthy employees are actually happier and more productive. The ultimate aim is to explicitly show employees how they can improve their work through better personal habits.

This system is called C3PO, short for “Citizen Evolutionary Process Organism.”

“We didn’t think we’d stick with a normal corporate health and wellness program,” says Quinn Simpson, who helped develop the system. “We’re already data visualizers. We already do quantified self.”

Kickstarted by Wired’s Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, the quantified self movement aims to glean more insight into our general well-being through statistics. Typically, this is a personal undertaking, but the same ideas are now moving into the business world. Chris Dancy, a director in the office of the chief technology officer at BMC Software, tracks his life in an effort to prove his worth to employers, and now Citizen is taking things even further.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: What if Your Boss Tracked Your Sleep, Diet, and Exercise?

I think it would be pretty interesting to participate in something like this, but like many others I worry about what it would be like if there were either mandated or if there was just social pressure to participate. At the moment the Citizen folks are doing this mostly for fun, and as I should have made clear in the article, the only data they have is what you share. You could put completely false information into RunKeeper or a diet tracker.

But at companies like Whole Foods, which offers its employees discounts for having a lower body mass index, things can get Orwellian quick.

April 17, 2013 4 comments
New Study Exposes Gender Bias In Tech Job Listings

New Study Exposes Gender Bias In Tech Job Listings

Help Wanted

I wrote for Wired:

Only 11 percent of all engineers in the U.S. are women, according to Department of Labor. The situation is a bit better among computer programmers, but not much. Women account for only 26 percent of all American coders.

There are any number of reason for this, but we may have overlooked one. According to a paper recently published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there could be a subtle gender bias in the way companies word job listings in such fields as engineering and programming. Although the Civil Rights Act effectively bans companies from explicitly requesting workers of a particular gender, the language in these listings may discourage many women from applying.

The paper — which details a series of five studies conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Duke University — found that job listings for positions in engineering and other male-dominated professions used more masculine words, such as “leader,” “competitive” and “dominant.” Listings for jobs in female dominated professions — such as office administration and human resources — did not include such words.

A listing that seeks someone who can “analyze markets to determine appropriate selling prices,” the paper says, may attract more men than a list that seeks someone who can “understand markets to establish appropriate selling prices.” The difference may seem small, but according to the paper, it could be enough to tilt the balance. The paper found that the mere presence of “masculine words” in job listings made women less interested in applying — even if they thought they were qualified for the position.

Shanley Kane, a software product manager in the Bay Area, says these subtleties should not be overlooked. “It’s worth paying special attention to how the ‘masculine-themed’ words they tested for — competitive, dominate, leader — denote power inequalities,” she explains. “A leader has followers. A superior has an inferior.”

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: New Study Exposes Gender Bias In Tech Job Listings

March 12, 2013 2 comments
Poverty On The Rise In Silicon Valley

Poverty On The Rise In Silicon Valley

sacremento-tent-city

A rising tide does not lift all boats:

The Silicon Valley is adding jobs faster than it has in more than a decade as the tech industry roars back. Stocks are soaring and fortunes are once again on the rise.

But a bleaker record is also being set this year: Food stamp participation just hit a 10-year high, homelessness rose 20 percent in two years, and the average income for Hispanics, who make up one in four Silicon Valley residents, fell to a new low of about $19,000 a year— capping a steady 14 percent drop over the past five years, according to the annual Silicon Valley Index released by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, representing businesses, and the philanthropic Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Simply put, while the ultra-rich are getting even richer, record numbers of Silicon Valley residents are slipping into poverty.

Full Story: Huffington Post: Silicon Valley Poverty Is Often Ignored By The Tech Hub’s Elite

Meanwhile: Biggest Risk Factor for Depression: Low Income

Photo: a Sacramento tent city, by ThinkingStiff

March 11, 2013 0 comments