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How Brexit Affects Global Technology Industry

Brexit-Affects

Brexit has officially happened, and the implications of the vote to leave the European Union has raised many questions for the global technology industry.

In Britain, a majority of tech firms were against leaving the E.U. A technology industry group survey found that 87 percent of British technology firms wanted to stay in the European Union, and that 70 percent of them worried a vote to leave would damage London’s reputation as a technology hub. Global companies with offices in Britain, such as Microsoft, also campaigned against the move.

Now that the votes have been cast, here are some major issues facing the tech industry in Britain and abroad, in light of the decision.

Data flow and data privacy: The U.S. and the E.U. are in the process of making the final adjustments to their latest data privacy agreement, which governs the flow of data between U.S. and Europe. With a major player in the E.U. now backing out of the coalition, there are obviously some questions about what happens to data flowing in and out of Britain from the U.S. and elsewhere.

Despite the referendum results, however, things in this area will remain with the status quo — for now.

“The Data Protection Act remains the law of the land irrespective of the referendum result,” confirmed the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office, but added that the Brexit does mean that the U.K. will not be subject to upcoming reforms the E.U. is planning to make around data protection.

However, Britain is unlikely to deviate from the policies of the E.U. in this particular area, simply because E.U. standards have become basically standard around the world. Should Britain shy away from those regulations, experts said, it would face dire consequences.

“It will be left out of the group of progressive and forward looking countries with suitable safeguards for personal data,” wrote privacy law expert Eduardo Ustaran ahead of the vote.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the Brexit will have no effect on the world’s data economy. There is also a sense, now that Britain has voted to leave the E.U., that the counterweight it provided against privacy-heavy countries such as Germany and France will also disappear. Germany and France have been leading the charge against major American tech firms -- notably Google, with the “right to be forgotten” ruling.

“This will help strengthen calls from the E.U. member states more concerned about protecting privacy rights,” said privacy advocate Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Some are optimistic that, with fewer E.U. regulations, British companies would thrive. But the uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of the vote makes some uneasy.

“Europe is such an important economy, it would be a shame if this and some existing policy proposals by some in the E.U. came into effect in a way that dampened the ability to use technology and grow their economies,” said Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

Funding: One of the key reasons that many British technology firms said they were against a British exit from the E.U. was that it would be more difficult for them to secure funding for start-ups. London’s technology industry has been on the rise for the past several years.

Britain benefits in large part from funds such as the European Investment Fund, which backs an estimated 41 percent of venture capital investments in Europe. Its majority investor is the European Investment Bank.

But if Britain is no longer a part of Europe, that dries up a source of funding just as questions about how a U.K. shorn of its E.U. ties will regulate health tech, financial tech and other technology industries.

For its part, the EIF has said that it will continue business as usual for the time being. But the vote has injected a note of uncertainty into the start-up market, as Britain will now have to make its own negotiations with the fund.

“The European Investment Fund takes note, with regret, of the vote of the British people to leave the European Union,” the group said in a statement. “EIF will actively engage with the EIB and relevant European institutions to define the EIF’s activity in the UK as part of the broader discussions to determine the future relationship of the UK with Europe and European bodies."

Others also have financial concerns. For example, the video game industry in particular has said that it's worried that the new tax environment won't be as favorable to it as the E.U.'s has been.

Immigration: British tech firms — and technology firms from around the globe with offices there — have also raised concerns that the Brexit will fundamentally harm the tech industry’s ability to fill positions for highly skilled workers. Without the E.U.’s allowances to let workers move freely between countries, British companies are now worried about a shortage of qualified workers. That might be something that gets ironed out in a later agreement. But right now, there are plenty of expat workers in and outside of Britain that are raising questions about how Brexit affects their lives.

The concerns echo the talking points of the tech industry’s calls for immigration reform in the U.S. right now. The tech industry has repeatedly said that it needs to be able to recruit highly skilled foreign-born workers from across the globe in order to meet its labor demands.

Todd Schulte, president of the U.S. immigration group FWD.us, said that while the situations between the U.S. and Britain are obviously different, the need for support for a foreign-born workforce is not.

“In a globalized economy, when you’re trying to sell to the world, a diverse workforce is an asset,” he said.

There are also worries that companies that looked to London as an ideal place to start a company will now look elsewhere. Some start-ups have already begun to evaluate whether London is still the right place for their offices.

"To us, it was obvious to have London as a headquarters for all of Europe," said Allan Martinson, chief operating officer of the delivery startup Starship Technologies. "Today we may need to look for another location if we're working with continental Europeans."

Read Article (Hayley Tsukayama | washingtonpost.com | 06/24/2016)

Leading countries in the digital era have prospered through the sharing of methodologies, agreements and policies. To suddenly stand-apart, exposes one’s self to unknown ramifications.

We can only hope that nothing negative results from this decision.

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AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (4 of 4)

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“Maybe. At any time in history it seems to me there can only be one official global concern. Now it is climate change, or sometimes terrorism. When I grew up it was nuclear Armageddon. Then it was overpopulation. Some are more sensible than others, but it is really quite random.”

Bostrom’s passion is to attempt to apply some math’s to that randomness. Does he think that concerns about AI will take over from global warming as a more imminent threat any time soon?

“I doubt it,” he says. “It will come gradually and seamlessly without us really addressing it.”

If we are going to look anywhere for its emergence, Google, which is throwing a good deal of its unprecedented resources at deep learning technology (not least with its purchase in 2014 of the British pioneer DeepMind) would seem a reasonable place to start. Google apparently has an AI ethics board to confront these questions, but no one knows who sits on it. Does Bostrom have faith in its “Don’t be evil” mantra?

“There is certainly a culture among tech people that they want to feel they are doing something that is not just to make money but that it has some positive social purpose. There is this idealism.”

Can he help shape the direction of that idealism?

“It is not so much that one’s own influence is important,” he says. “Anyone who has a role in highlighting these arguments will be valuable. If the human condition really were to change fundamentally in our century, we find ourselves at a key juncture in history.” And if Bostrom’s more nihilistic predictions are correct, we will have only one go at getting the nature of the new intelligence right.

Last year Bostrom became a father. (Typically his marriage is conducted largely by Skype – his wife, a medical doctor, lives in Vancouver.) I wonder, before I go, if becoming a dad has changed his sense of the reality of these futuristic issues?

“Only in the sense that it emphasizes this dual perspective, the positive and negative scenarios. This kind of intellectualizing, that our world might be transformed completely in this way, always seems a lot harder to credit at a personal level. I guess I allow both of these perspectives as much room as I can in my mind.”

At the same time as he entertains those thought experiments, I suggest, half the world remains concerned where its next meal is coming from. Is the threat of superintelligence quite an elitist anxiety? Do most of us not think of the longest-term future because there is more than enough to worry about in the present?

“If it got to the point where the world was spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this stuff and nothing on more regular things then one might start to question it,” he says. “If you look at all the things the world is spending money on, what we are doing is less than a pittance. You go to some random city and you travel from the airport to your hotel. Along the highway you see all these huge buildings for companies you have never heard of. Maybe they are designing a new publicity campaign for a razor blade. You drive past hundreds of these buildings. Any one of those has more resources than the total that humanity is spending on this field. We have half a floor of one building in Oxford, and there are two or three other groups doing what we do. So I think it is OK.”

And how, I ask, might we as individuals and citizens think about and frame these risks to the existence of our species? Bostrom shrugs a little. “If we are thinking of this very long time frame, then it is clear that very small things we do now can make a significant difference in that future.”

A recent paper of Bostrom’s, which I read later at home, contains a little rule of thumb worth bearing in mind. Bostrom calls it “maxipok”. It is based on the idea that “the objective of reducing existential risks should be a dominant consideration whenever we act out of an impersonal concern for humankind as a whole.” What does maxipok involve? Trying to “maximize the probability of an ‘OK outcome’ where an OK outcome is any outcome that avoids existential catastrophe.”

It certainly sounds worth a go.

Read Article (Tim Adams | theguardian.com | 06/12/2016)

It really seems that as we push digital evolution into the future we are unwittingly pushing our own mental evolution along with it. Wow, wrap your brain around that! Maybe one day we will clone a human brain as the CPU of a super-computer.

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AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (3 of 4)

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Bostrom grew up an only child in the coastal Swedish town of Helsingborg. Like many gifted children, he loathed school. His father worked for an investment bank, his mother for a Swedish corporation. He doesn’t remember any discussion of philosophy – or art or books – around the dinner table. Wondering how he found himself obsessed with these large questions, I ask if he was an anxious child: did he always have a powerful sense of mortality?

“I think I had it quite early on,” he says. “Not because I was on the brink of death or anything. But as a child I remember thinking a lot that my parents may be healthy now but they are not always going to be stronger or bigger than me.”

That thought kept him awake at nights?

“I don’t remember it as anxiety, more as a melancholy sense.”

And was that ongoing desire to live forever rooted there too?

“Not necessarily. I don’t think that there is any particularly different desire that I have in that regard to anyone else. I don’t want to come down with colon cancer – who does? If I was alive for 500 years who knows how I would feel? It is not so much fixated on immortality, just that premature death seems prima facie bad.”

A good deal of his book asks questions of how we might make superintelligence – whether it comes in 50 years or 500 years – “nice”, congruent with our humanity. Bostrom sees this as a technical challenge more than a political or philosophical one. It seems to me, though, that a good deal of our own ethical framework, our sense of goodness, is based on an experience and understanding of suffering, of our bodies. How could a non-cellular intelligence ever “comprehend” that?

The sense of intellectual urgency about these questions derives in part from what Bostrom calls an “epiphany experience”, which occurred when he was in his teens. He found himself in 1989 in a library and picked up at random an anthology of 19th-century German philosophy, containing works by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Intrigued, he read the book in a nearby forest, in a clearing that he used to visit to be alone and write poetry. Almost immediately he experienced a dramatic sense of the possibilities of learning. Was it like a conversion experience?

“More an awakening,” he says. “It felt like I had sleepwalked through my life to that point and now I was aware of some wider world that I hadn’t imagined.”

Following first the leads and notes in the philosophy book, Bostrom set about educating himself in fast forward. He read feverishly, and in spare moments he painted and wrote poetry, eventually taking degrees in philosophy and mathematical logic at Gothenburg university, before completing a PhD at the London School of Economics, and teaching at Yale.

Did he continue to paint and write?

“It seemed to me at some point that mathematical pursuit was more important,” he says. “I felt the world already contained a lot of paintings and I wasn’t convinced it needed a few more. Same could be said for poetry. But maybe it did need a few more ideas of how to navigate the future.”

One of the areas in which AI is making advances is in its ability to compose music and create art, and even to write. Does he imagine that sphere too will quickly be colonized by a superintelligence, or will it be a last redoubt of the human?

“I don’t buy the claim that the artificial composers currently can compete with the great composers. Maybe for short bursts but not over a whole symphony. And with art, though it can be replicated, the activity itself has value. You would still paint for the sake of painting.”

Authenticity, the man-made, becomes increasingly important?

“Yes and not just with art. If and when machines can do everything better than we can do, we would continue to do things because we enjoy doing them. If people play golf it is not because they need the ball to reside in successive holes efficiently, it is because they enjoy doing it. The more machines can do everything we can do the more attention we will give to these things that we value for their own sake.”

Early in his intellectual journey, Bostrom did a few stints as a philosophical standup comic in order to improve his communication skills. Talking to him, and reading his work, an edge of knowing absurdity at the sheer scale of the problems is never completely absent from his arguments. The axes of daunting-looking graphs in his papers will be calibrated on closer inspection in terms of “endurable”, “crushing” and “hellish”. In his introduction to Superintelligence, the observation “Many of the points made in this book are probably wrong” typically leads to a footnote that reads: “I don’t know which ones.” Does he sometimes feel he is morphing into Douglas Adams?

“Sometimes the work does seem strange,” he says. “Then from another point it seems strange that most of the world is completely oblivious to the most major things that are going to happen in the 21st century. Even people who talk about global warming never mention any threat posed by AI.”

Because it would dilute their message?

Read Article (Tim Adams | theguardian.com | 06/12/2016)

Especially during the digital era, our Superintelligent and media have been immersed in the evolution of technology and how, one day, it will surpass man’s abilities. But there is one process that continues today, they seem to ignore. Nearly every aspect of the human being is in constant evolution which naturally includes the unmatched human brain.

The power it possesses is still not understood as it accomplishes unbelievable tasks without the assistance of technology. In other words, technology is chasing a moving target that is actually developing that technology. Curious, huh?

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AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (2 of 4)

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Bostrom sees those implications as potentially Darwinian. If we create a machine intelligence superior to our own, and then give it freedom to grow and learn through access to the internet, there is no reason to suggest that it will not evolve strategies to secure its dominance, just as in the biological world. He sometimes uses the example of humans and gorillas to describe the subsequent one-sided relationship and – as last month’s events in Cincinnati zoo highlighted – that is never going to end well. An inferior intelligence will always depend on a superior one for its survival.

There are times, as Bostrom unfolds various scenarios in Superintelligence, when it appears he has been reading too much of the science fiction he professes to dislike. One projection involves an AI system eventually building covert “nano-factories producing nerve gas or target-seeking mosquito-like robots [which] might then burgeon forth simultaneously from every square meter of the globe” in order to destroy meddling and irrelevant humanity. Another, perhaps more credible vision, sees the superintelligence “hijacking political processes, subtly manipulating financial markets, biasing information flows, or hacking human-made weapons systems” to bring about the extinction.

Does he think of himself as a prophet?

He smiles. “Not so much. It is not that I believe I know how it is going to happen and have to tell the world that information. It is more I feel quite ignorant and very confused about these things but by working for many years on probabilities you can get partial little insights here and there. And if you add those together with insights many other people might have, then maybe it will build up to some better understanding.”

Bostrom came to these questions by way of the transhumanist movement, which tends to view the digital age as one of unprecedented potential for optimizing our physical and mental capacities and transcending the limits of our mortality. Bostrom still sees those possibilities as the best case scenario in the super-intelligent future, in which we will harness technology to overcome disease and illness, feed the world, create a utopia of fulfilling creativity and perhaps eventually overcome death. He has been identified in the past as a member of Alcor, the cryogenic initiative that promises to freeze mortal remains in the hope that, one day, minds can be reinvigorated and uploaded in digital form to live in perpetuity. He is coy about this when I ask directly what he has planned.

“I have a policy of never commenting on my funeral arrangements,” he says.

But he thinks there is a value in cryogenic research?

“It seems a pretty rational thing for people to do if they can afford it,” he says. “When you think about what life in the quite near future could be like, trying to store the information in your brain seems like a conservative option as opposed to burning the brain down and throwing it away. Unless you are really confident that the information will never be useful…”

I wonder at what point his transhumanist optimism gave way to his more nightmarish visions of superintelligence. He suggests that he has not really shifted his position, but that he holds the two possibilities – the heaven and hell of our digital future – in uneasy opposition.

“I wrote a lot about human enhancement ethics in the mid-90s, when it was largely rejected by academics,” he says. “They were always like, ‘Why on earth would anyone want to cure ageing?’ They would talk about overpopulation and the boredom of living longer. There was no recognition that this is why we do any medical research: to extend life. Similarly, with cognitive enhancement – if you look at what I was writing then, it looks more on the optimistic side – but all along I was concerned with existential risks too.”

There seems an abiding unease that such enhancements – pills that might make you smarter, or slow down ageing – go against the natural order of things. Does he have a sense of that?

“I’m not sure that I would ever equate natural with good,” he says. “Cancer is natural, war is natural, parasites eating your insides are natural. What is natural is therefore never a very useful concept to figure out what we should do. Yes, there are ethical considerations but you have to judge them on a case-by-case basis. You must remember I am a transhumanist. I want my life extension pill now. And if there were a pill that could improve my cognition by 10%, I would be willing to pay a lot for that.”

Has he tried the ones that claim to enhance concentration?

“I have, but not very much. I drink coffee, I have nicotine chewing gum, but that is about it. But the only reason I don’t do more is that I am not yet convinced that anything else works.”

He is not afraid of trying. When working, he habitually sits in the corner of his office surrounded by a dozen lamps, apparently in thrall to the idea of illumination.

Read Article (Tim Adams | theguardian.com | 06/12/2016)

If I was financially able, I would be cryogenically preserved when my time came. It would be awesome to come back and check out a new world. But with some of the characters we have (and had) in the world today, that would need to be a decision made by a public vote. I must say that there are some people, unfortunately, that we don’t need to come back in any form.

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Older Workers Being Thrown Under the Bus

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Uh-oh. American workers aged 50 or older think there’s nearly a 1 in 2 chance they’ll still be working at 70 but many employees who expect to work longer are exactly the ones who’ll likely be least able to do so.

That’s the upshot of the new, frightening (for employees and employers) 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey by Willis Towers Watson, a global benefits advisory consultant. The firm surveyed 5,083 U.S. employees at large companies, as well as roughly 25,000 employees in 18 other countries.

The workers expecting to keep plugging away until 70, the study discovered, are often “the most vulnerable” and “showing higher levels of stress, lower levels of health and lower levels of engagement with their current jobs,” says Shane Bartling, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

“That’s an uncomfortable fact for employees facing a very difficult situation and it sends a warning sign to employers about what’s transpiring in the new retirement system in the United States that we’ve put in place,” Bartling adds.

The survey says …

According to the survey, of those planning to retire after 70:

  • Only 47% say they are in very good health
  • 40% feel they are stuck in their jobs (compared with 27% who plan to retire before 65)
  • 40% have high or above average stress (compared with 30% of those expecting to retire at 65)
  • 48% of workers earning below $35,000 expect to work to 70 or later (vs. 20% of those making $75,000 or more)

And if these vulnerable workers find themselves out of work, but wanting to be employed, the psychological effects — not to mention the financial ones — could be devastating.

As New School economist Teresa Ghilarducci just wrote, according to the government’s Health and Retirement Study of older Americans, “unemployed respondents were more likely than both workers and retirees to report a general feeling of helplessness. Among 55- to 64-year-olds, 40% of the unemployed agreed with the statement, ‘I often feel helpless in dealing with the problems of life.’” By contrast, only 8% of retirees and 16% of older workers felt that way.

Bartling worries (as do I) that many of the older, vulnerable workers have meager retirement savings and “don’t have options.” The question, says Bartling, “is how are they going to be able to continue working?”

Painful decisions ahead

And how will this play out for them? “These employees may be confronted with very painful decisions around having to adjust their lifestyle expectations in retirement and fall back on family and the social safety net in a bigger way than they had hoped,” says Bartling.

I’d like to see more employers taking more action to prevent this coming train wreck. It’s true that growing numbers of firms — especially large ones — are offering financial wellness and physical wellness programs, which is reason for some optimism.

Last year, a survey of 250 employers by the Aon Hewitt benefits consulting firm, said 93% of those firms planned to focus more on financial wellness for employees in ways extending beyond retirement decisions. Aon Hewitt’s Director of Retirement Research, Rob Austin, called financial wellness ‘sort of The Next Big Trend’ in benefits. Says Bartling: “We’re certainly seeing an increase in the attractiveness of financial planning support.”

Exactly how much good financial wellness programs do, however, is an open question, since the programs vary dramatically in how they work and who participates in them. “Many of those programs struggle to fully engage employees and get desirable outcomes,” says Bartling. “Now, the emphasis is on how to amplify those interventions, akin to financial biometrics.”

The success of physical wellness programs at work has been a mixed bag, too. Although 81% of larger companies now offer physical wellness programs, according to a 2015 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, health writer Sharon Begley recently wrote on the excellent Stat website that “there is a startling lack of rigorous evidence that they achieve their stated goals.”

But Bartling says: “It’s incumbent for all employers to understand how extensive [financial stress] is in the workforce. That’s only just beginning to happen.”

The state of retirement unreadiness

I asked Bartling whether he thinks many workers really will need to hold down jobs until after 70, as one in four expect. “We’ve done retirement readiness analysis for nearly 100 employers in the United States and the statistics based on that are not dissimilar from the results in the employee’s survey,” he says.

However, Bartling adds, there’s a “wide distribution of retirement readiness within the workforce.” And no, it’s not that wealthier workers are necessarily better prepared financially than lower-income ones.

“Many employees at both ends are well-prepared and underprepared,” says Bartling. “There are many situations where higher-paid employees actually have a higher level of a lack of preparedness,” due to living beyond their means.

One other notable finding in the new Willis Towers Watson survey: The percentage of Americans who expect to retire after age 65 has fallen from 52% in 2013 to 46% now. That, Bartling says, is likely a reflection of the improving economy.

But the next recession will come sometime, so that falling percentage is likely to head right back up again when times get tougher.

Richard Eisenberg is the senior Web editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Assistant Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of “How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis” and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS Moneywatch. Follow him on Twitter @richeis315.

Read Article (Richard Eisenberg | msn.com | 06/18/2016)

As the digital era began, business support for employees was fading and the economic downturn just made thing worse as employees tried to provide benefits to their family.

Today businesses once again realize that to keep good employees they must provide family support or lose them to another company. (As if they didn’t know already?)

But, individuals must look-out for themselves, especially in the digital era, and hone their skills. Not only learning technical skills but life skills. Learn how to judge a company’s employee support program and how effective it is. Does the company have a high turnover rate? How much out of pocket for family benefits? How does their retirement program work? Is there a 401K and how does it work?

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