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And then they shape us. | Emerson Brown
 

Work Futures

October 10 · Issue #1008 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

And then they shape us. | Emerson Brown

Beacon NY - 2018-10-05 — I didn’t attend Facebook’s new Flow event, but it sounds like Workplace is evolving very quickly, and in a different direction than SlackMicrosoft Teams, and most of the other competitors in the work technologies space. Check out the long take, below.
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Long Takes
Workplace by Facebook introduces multi-company chat groups and video calls | Ingrid Lunden and Josh Constine summarize the announcements from Flow, the new Facebook Workplace event:
In a big upgrade to the “chat” features of Workplace (conversations that happen outside the news feed, first launched last year), users will now be able to start chats, calls and video conversations either one-to-one or in groups, in the style of WhatsApp or Messenger. Facebook is also making it easier to navigate through high volumes of messages in your channels by adding in replies, do not disturb and pinning features — Facebook’s first move to bring in algorithmic sorting to Workplace. And Facebook is also bringing its Safety Check feature from the main app to Workplace, delivered via Workchat, as a tool that can be controlled by admins to check on the status of employees during a critical incident.
Workplace has had multi-organizational chat for some time, but they are now offering voice or video calling without having to use a separate app. So, headed in a real-time communications direction, and in a way that supports communications across different companies.
Harry McCracken in his coverage of the event makes the smart observation that many of the 30,000 companies now using Workplace have highly mobile workforces, like Delta and Starbucks:
One thing a lot of these companies have in common, other than being large, is that they have lots of employees who don’t sit in front of a PC. Instead, they’ve got workers who are up and about and access Workplace on a phone. Julien Codorniou, the Facebook VP in charge of Workplace, told me that this use-case scenario turned out to be more powerful than Facebook initially realized. And the the fact that Workplace has found traction outside the bubble—rather than as, say, a Slack archrival—might help explain why it hasn’t attracted that much attention.
It makes sense that Facebook would be pulled into the direction of workforce communications – a mobile-first UX – rather than the Slack work chat UX – a PC-first UX.
Could an artificial intelligence be considered a person under the law? | Roman Yampolsky lays out a legal framework through which AI could attain corporate personhood, and then argues that it’s not so great an idea.
First, the legal set up that he attributes to Shawn Bayern:
Giving AIs rights similar to humans involves a technical lawyerly maneuver. It starts with one person setting up two limited liability companies and turning over control of each company to a separate autonomous or artificially intelligent system. Then the person would add each company as a member of the other LLC. In the last step, the person would withdraw from both LLCs, leaving each LLC – a corporate entity with legal personhood – governed only by the other’s AI system.
That process doesn’t require the computer system to have any particular level of intelligence or capability.
For regular readers, you may recall earlier discussions of ideas of this sort here and here, sparked by a paper from Commonwealth Bank called The Machine-to-Machine Economy.
Yampolsky runs down a long list of potentially awful outcomes – like malevolent AI trying to exterminate us, or gaining voting rights – but I’m more interested in the self-managing aspect of AI personhood. For example, the notion of responsibility of autonomous cars can be partially offset by using Bayern’s approach to AI personhood, creating a pair of LLCs that owns and operates the autonomous car, charges for its use, and – most importantly – pays for its own insurance and maintenance.
The great majority of the negatives Yampolsky enumerates could be handled by passing laws that would not allow AI to assume elected office, or enslave people.

Short Takes
Microsoft spent over $400 million on Glint | Anonymous sources say LinkedIn paid more than $400 million to acquire the ‘employee engagement’ company. LinkedIn was a client before the deal, as shown in this video case study.
Home Libraries Confer Long-Term Benefits | Unsurprising, but interesting that the effect of even 80 books in the home when an adolescent leads readers to the mean literacy rate.
SoftBank Explores Taking Majority Stake in WeWork | Apparently, discussions are going on between WeWork, which has posted losses of $723 million in the first six months of 2018, and SoftBank, which has a stake of almost 20% in the office leasing business, based on an investment of $4.4 billion at a $20 billion valuation. Last year the company lost only $154 million in the same period of time. Critics say WeWork is an overvalued real estate business, and that a downturn in the economy would leave it holding leases on a tremendous amount of real estate that it might no be able to sublet.
Amazon Killed Its AI Recruitment System For Bias Against Women | It seems that the bias against women baked into years of resumes from applications to work at Amazon was too hard to counter, so they dropped an AI project to automate recruiting.
Quote of the Day
I can’t give you a surefire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.
Herbert Bayard Swope
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