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Work Futures Daily - Robots, AI, Everywhere

Electricity Grid Drones | Robot Janitors | Feeding AI Data | Agri-Bots | Avoid Women At All Costs | P

Work Futures

December 6 · Issue #1043 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Electricity Grid Drones | Robot Janitors | Feeding AI Data | Agri-Bots | Avoid Women At All Costs | Perennials, Not Millennials | Juno Sells To Get | Helen Hester and Social Reproduction

Beacon NY - 2018-12-07 — I just added a new task to my to do list, with a due date of 1 January 2019: predictions for next year. Will include robots and AI.
I’m headed to Work Awesome in NYC on 7 December. Looking forward to catching up with various folks and meeting some for the first time in meatspace.
No WFD on Friday because of the disruption.
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AI and drones turn an eye towards UK’s energy infrastructure | Adam Vaughn reports on the UK National Grid’s use of drones and AI:
National Grid has turned to artificial intelligence to help it maintain the wires and pylons that transmit electricity from power stations to homes and businesses across the UK. The firm has been using six drones for the past two years to help inspect its 7,200 miles of overhead lines around England and Wales. Equipped with high-res still, video and infrared cameras, the drones are deployed to assess the steelwork, wear and corrosion, and faults such as damaged conductors.
Historically, such work was undertaken by engineers climbing up pylons or using helicopters.
[National Grid’s chairman John] Pettigrew said that while the company’s electricity network only accounted for about 3%, or £35, of a typical dual-fuel energy bill, protecting consumers was important. But he said ensuring returns were reasonable under the new regime was key to attracting investors, he said. “Many investors today are global, they can choose to invest in the UK, the US or Europe.”
He conceded that the reforms would mean a smaller National Grid in future. “The changes are likely to reduce some headcount,” he said.
Oh, really? And he doesn’t hide that reality by claiming that the displaced workers will be reassigned to more creative pursuits.
In similar news, Robot Janitors Are Coming to Mop Floors at a Walmart Near You Pavel Alpeyev tells us. Walmart’s vice president of central operations, John Crecelius says the BrainOS that controls the robots,
is a powerful tool in helping our associates complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks within role and spend more time serving customers,
But really, if you are rolling out 360 robot floor cleaners obviously that will reduce the hours of workers who formerly washed the floors.
In the Coming Automated Economy, People Will Work for AI | Eliza Strickland writes about the new jobs tagging photos or other data sets to assist in machine learning algorithms:
Everyone wants well-trained AI. In years to come, AI systems may scan your medical X-rays, drive your car, and decide whether or not you get a mortgage. AI promises vast gains in efficiencies, and, when combined with robotics, may replace human workers in many dull and repetitive jobs.
The humans currently doing those jobs will likely not be happy about being replaced. Many experts believe that AI will also make inroads on white-collar jobs, and say the transition to an AI economy will put vast swaths of people out of work. Kai-Fu Lee, the former head of Google China, recently predicted that 50 percent of the world’s jobs are in danger.
Techno-optimists argue that as AI does away with some jobs, it will create new ones, as has happened before in history—for example, in the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy.
But the question remains: Will humans want these new jobs?
Prepping data for AI is certainly a growth area, says Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution’s center for technological innovation and author of the recent book The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation. “These are the new-style jobs that will be created by AI and automation: part-time, paid based on tasks completed, without benefits,” he says. “We do have to think about the quality of jobs that are being created.”
West argues that workers are about to suffer from a one-two punch, with increasing levels of AI and automation coming at the same time as a transition to a less-secure gig economy. “It’s the combination of technological revolution and the change in business models that will produce the long-term impact,” he says.
Oh boy.
Robots in the field: farms embracing autonomous technology | A report on small agri-bots that will be provide sharecropping-as-a-service:
To ease financial pressure on farmers reluctant to make big one-off investments in equipment, the Small Robot Company plans to sell its services as a monthly subscription, charging 600 pounds ($765) per hectare a year.
With a bright orange 3D-printed body and beefy all-terrain wheels, Tom resembles an oversized roller skate. Their light weight means these robots won’t compact soil the way tractors do, Scott-Robinson said.
On Butler’s farm, Tom trundles along crop rows taking hundreds of thousands of high-resolution pictures during the growing season. The images are fed to Wilma, the artificial intelligence platform, which is being trained to tell the difference between wheat and weeds.
In 2019, the company will start trials for two more robots, Dick and Harry. Dick will deliver fertilizer directly to soil around roots, instead of wasteful blanket spraying and use a laser or micro-spray chemicals to kill weeds. Harry will insert seeds into the earth at a uniform depth and spacing, eliminating the need for tractors to plow furrows.

I wrote a piece called Forty Acres and a Bot last year, where I suggested low cost and competent bots might allow workers displaced by automation to support themselves as homesteaders in exurbia:
While we may see the creation and rollout of new training programs, it’s unclear whether they will be able to retrain those displaced from traditional sorts of work to fit into the workforce of the near future. Many of the ‘skills’ that will be needed are more like personality characteristics, like curiosity, or social skills that require enculturation to take hold. Individual training – like programming or learning how to cook – may not be what will be needed. And employers may play less of a role, especially as AI- and bot-augmented independent contracting may be the best path for many, rather than ‘a job.’
Homesteading in exurbia may be the answer for many, with ‘forty acres and a bot’ as a political campaign slogan of 2024.
Prepare for that future.
Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost | Gillian Tan and Katia Porzecanski one of the side effects of #MeToo may be gender-based segregation of women by fearful executives:
Across Wall Street, men are adopting controversial strategies for the #MeToo era and, in the process, making life even harder for women.
Interviews with more than 30 senior executives suggest many are spooked by #MeToo and struggling to cope. “It’s creating a sense of walking on eggshells,” said David Bahnsen, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley who’s now an independent adviser overseeing more than $1.5 billion.
This is hardly a single-industry phenomenon, as men across the country check their behavior at work, to protect themselves in the face of what they consider unreasonable political correctness – or to simply do the right thing. The upshot is forceful on Wall Street, where women are scarce in the upper ranks. The industry has also long nurtured a culture that keeps harassment complaints out of the courts and public eye, and has so far avoided a mega-scandal like the one that has engulfed Harvey Weinstein.
Now, more than a year into the #MeToo movement – with its devastating revelations of harassment and abuse in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and beyond – Wall Street risks becoming more of a boy’s club, rather than less of one.
“Women are grasping for ideas on how to deal with it, because it is affecting our careers,” said Karen Elinski, president of the Financial Women’s Association and a senior vice president at Wells Fargo & Co. “It’s a real loss.”
There’s a danger, too, for companies that fail to squash the isolating backlash and don’t take steps to have top managers be open about the issue and make it safe for everyone to discuss it, said Stephen Zweig, an employment attorney with FordHarrison.
“If men avoid working or traveling with women alone, or stop mentoring women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment,” he said, “those men are going to back out of a sexual harassment complaint and right into a sex discrimination complaint.”
The pendulum swings, and then swings back.
Perennials, not millennials, will trigger the next wave of talent retention efforts | Corinne Purtill explores the idea of ‘perennials’ – older workers – staying employed longer than historic norms:
Older workers—or “perennials,” as this cohort has sometimes been called—are now the fastest-growing population of workers, with twice as many seniors as teenagers currently employed in the US.
In the 30-year span from 1994 to 2024, workers aged 55 and older will go from being the smallest segment of the US working population to the largest, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other industrialized nations are seeing similar trends; in Japan and South Korea, the workforce is aging even faster.
I intend to work into my seventies, or longer, so long as I still have my marbles.
Strangely, few companies are adapting to how seniors want to wind down their working years: a little at a time.
Only 19% of US companies offered some form of phased retirement to workers in 2017, according to the Society of Human Resource Management, and less than a third of those companies offered the option through formal programs. More commonly, it’s a perk given only to the highest performers. But addressing employees’ requests this way, on a case-by-case basis, opens the door to charges of age discrimination and can lead to valuable employees leaving altogether.
Have to get that into the mix as soon as possible.
From the Archives
Juno sells to Gett, drivers get screwed | Stowe Boyd April 2017:
At the macroeconomic view, Juno is perhaps simply a small, failed experiment in the burgeoning ride-hailing marketplace. But for the Juno drivers who held out hope for a piece of the pie, it’s another example of being at the mercy of the whims of the owners of the ride-hailing services, who seemingly can do whatever they want and get away with it.
Quote of the Day
The household as it currently stands (typically in the form of the nuclear family, in popular imagination, if not in reality) came into being largely through changes in working relationships. Expectations about what “the family” is and does have actually had a crucial role to play in determining things like wages, working hours, and public services. The official poverty line in the United States was designed on the basis that every household would include a housewife who could act as a shrewd domestic manager, shopping carefully, cooking skillfully, and making all the meals at home. The reality is that many households never had access to this fantastic resource of social reproduction, with a full-time home economist, so that the cost of living is really much higher.
Moving away from the single-family dwelling could offer more sustainable and energy-efficient ways of living, as well as cutting the labor needed for basic maintenance. If we are imagining households beyond the family, we might be picturing the formation of self-selecting groups living together—a mixture of relatives, friends, comrades, lovers. These new kinds of family could be based on affinity, affection, and shared worldviews rather than something as flimsy as mere genetic coincidence.
In my planned graphic novelization of the future of work that I wrote about in A Working Future - Carla Paredes in the Cab, 2027, I mentioned her being part of a ‘grouped marriage’:
Something more about the grouped marriage — which I envision as a Gen Z response to economic disruption. Groups own things in common, rent a large house or collection of small apartments plus common area, relaxed attitude to sex pairings, group child rearing?
Or to use Hester’s term, group social reproduction.
crossposted from
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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508