Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

AI: We’re Children Playing with a Bomb (1 of 4)


You’ll find the Future of Humanity Institute down a medieval backstreet in the center of Oxford. It is beside St Ebbe’s church, which has stood on this site since 1005, and above a Pure Gym, which opened in April. The institute, a research faculty of Oxford University, was established a decade ago to ask the very biggest questions on our behalf. Notably: what exactly are the “existential risks” that threaten the future of our species; how do we measure them; and what can we do to prevent them? Or to put it another way: in a world of multiple fears, what precisely should we be most terrified of?

When I arrive to meet the director of the institute, Professor Nick Bostrom, a bed is being delivered to the second-floor office. Existential risk is a round-the-clock kind of operation; it sleeps fitfully, if at all.

Bostrom, a 43-year-old Swedish-born philosopher, has lately acquired something of the status of prophet of doom among those currently doing most to shape our civilization: the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley. His reputation rests primarily on his book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, which was a surprise New York Times bestseller last year and now arrives in paperback, trailing must-read recommendations from Bill Gates and Tesla’s Elon Musk. (In the best kind of literary review, Musk also gave Bostrom’s institute £1m to continue to pursue its inquiries.)

The book is a lively, speculative examination of the singular threat that Bostrom believes – after years of calculation and argument – to be the one most likely to wipe us out. This threat is not climate change, nor pandemic, nor nuclear winter; it is the possibly imminent creation of a general machine intelligence greater than our own.

The cover of Bostrom’s book is dominated by a mad-eyed, pen-and-ink picture of an owl, drawn by the philosopher himself. The owl is the subject of the book’s opening parable. A group of sparrows are building their nests. “We are all so small and weak,” tweets one, feebly. “Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!” There is general twittering agreement among sparrows everywhere; an owl could defend the sparrows! It could look after their old and their young! It could allow them to live a life of leisure and prosperity! With these fantasies in mind, the sparrows can hardly contain their excitement and fly off in search of the swivel-headed savior who will transform their existence.

There is only one voice of dissent: “Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quote he: ‘This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?’” His warnings, inevitably, fall on deaf sparrow ears. Owl-taming would be complicated; why not get the owl first and work out the fine details later? Bostrom’s book, which is a shrill alarm call about the darker implications of artificial intelligence, is dedicated to Scronkfinkle.

Bostrom articulates his own warnings in a suitably fretful manner. He has a reputation for obsessiveness and for workaholism; he is slim, pale and semi-nocturnal, often staying in the office into the early hours. Not surprisingly, perhaps, for a man whose days are dominated by whiteboards filled with formulae expressing the relative merits of 57 varieties of apocalypse, he appears to leave as little as possible to chance. In place of meals he favors a green-smoothie elixir involving vegetables, fruit, oat milk and whey powder. Other interviewers have remarked on his avoidance of handshakes to guard against infection. He does proffer a hand to me, but I have the sense he is subsequently isolating it to disinfect when I have gone. There is, perhaps as a result, a slight impatience about him, which he tries hard to resist.

In his book he talks about the “intelligence explosion” that will occur when machines much cleverer than us begin to design machines of their own. “Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb,” he writes. “We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound.” Talking to Bostrom, you have a feeling that for him that faint ticking never completely goes away.

“Machine learning and deep learning [the pioneering ‘neural’ computer algorithms that most closely mimic human brain function] have over the last few years moved much faster than people anticipated,” he says. “That is certainly one of the reasons why this has become such a big topic just now. People can see things moving forward in the technical field, and they become concerned about what next.”

Read Article (Tim Adams | | 06/12/2016)

Since the evolution Artificial Intelligence is being driven by business interests the public must be vigilant and inquisitive about its progress. This process requires the public to monitor these activities, just in case we need to intervene.

But Technology, in all its wonder, will continue to evolve, with or without you. Which is to say, everyone should also evolve their tech skills. If for no other reason, just so you are aware of the world around you and how to take advantage of Technologies benefits.

Some of these benefits are quickly becoming standards and if you’re not in the know you could be at a disadvantage, such as jobs. Please support our efforts so we can assist in improving your tech skills.

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Older Workers Being Thrown Under the Bus


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 | | 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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UBI Will Not Solve Technological UnEmployment


There has been a buzz recently about the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) and why it could be a solution to technological unemployment.  VOX reported a few days ago that Y Combinator, a start-up incubator, is about to start a five-year research project on how a UBI could work.  Noah Kulwin over at re/code also has a useful article on this including a broad overview over existing work on the basic income.

In the spirit of discussion, I’d like to bring together some of the arguments I have made over recent years for why the basic income is not a suitable solution for technological unemployment but another option – a job guarantee – could be.  So let’s start with the assumptions.  The idea of a basic income now being discussed assumes that people have to live on it entirely as work effectively disappears for most people other than the most highly skilled.  This presumes a reasonably high level of income and that most work will indeed disappear.  I am not so sure about this.  There are wildly different research results about how many jobs technology will destroy and/or create and the honest answer is: nobody knows.

There will be displacements and job losses and policy-makers need to prepare but we don’t really see this yet in the productivity figures.  If anything, recent experiences in the US and the UK in particular point to a slowing down of productivity increases although there are issues around measuring methods.  We are also currently witnessing record employment numbers in Germany so the big labor market impact has not yet materialized and it remains to be seen how it will affect different economies in the future.

That said there seems to be general agreement that specific areas of work that rely on problem solving capacity, creativity and social capital as well as personal services are relatively safe from automation, at least in the near future.  This to me suggests that work as we know it (wage labour) might well be significantly less than we are used to now but it is unlikely to disappear for most people.

A reallocation of the remaining work through fewer working hours seems to me to be the first step that should be considered in this context.  But I don’t think you should assume at this stage that most work (what is most anyway? 70%? 80%? 90%?) will disappear any time soon.  Clarifying these differences in assumptions is essential. So what is wrong with the basic income?  Here are my five main criticisms.

It reduces the value of work to mere income.  It is of course very welcome if back-breaking or otherwise bad jobs can be automated and disappear.  But we should not underestimate the social value of work.  It is where most people spend much of their waking hours and where a lot of social interaction takes place.  Work is not just wage labor and there is value in preserving the social aspects of work.

It is an inefficient use of public resources.  The UBI is not means-tested and is paid to everybody in society, from the social benefit recipient to the billionaire.  As a significant part of society doesn’t need this income this watering-can approach distributes public resources (most likely most of it) to people who don’t require it.  The general idea is that this money can be recuperated via the tax system but this is much easier said than done.  If you look at how tricky it is even today to tax the rich you can be sure that you won’t see much of that money again once it is paid out.

It doesn’t solve the inequality issue – it just shifts it.  The progressive idea of a basic income assumes that it frees people from (bad) wage labor.  The UBI makes sure that you can lead a decent life and if you would like to work on top of this you are free to do so.  Well, if the point of departure is that many jobs might no longer be available then you are not free to choose to work a few hours on top, you are in trouble.  In this case a lot of people would be stuck on whatever the basic income level is and the rest, the ones who can still work and benefit disproportionately from productivity gains, would run off with the spoils.  As social inequality is relative and not absolute, a UBI would only shift the level rather than help to eradicate inequality.

It won’t work in the EU.  At the moment there is no real evidence that migration within the EU is driven by different welfare provisions in different countries – people move around to work, not to claim benefits – but this would probably change if a country introduced a basic income.  Under non-discrimination rules every EU citizen who is legally a resident of a country could presumably claim the basic income.  Now assume Germany were to introduce a 1000 Euro a month UBI – it is not hard to see what kind of pull factor this would create in migration.

It comes with the abolition of the welfare state.  At least potentially that is. What worries me is that at least some Silicon Valley based proponents of the UBI argue that the way to pay for it should be by dismantling government-provided services.  This in essence means the abolition of the welfare state and of the collective securing of life risks (such as unemployment, ill health and old age).  This might sound appealing to libertarians but is completely at odds with what we understand as a social market economy in Europe.  Read this paper if you interested in more of these issues.

Is a Public Job Guarantee A Solution?

On the basis of these issues that I have with the UBI, what would a more practical solution look like?  Given that we don’t know the exact impact of the digital revolution on work, thinking along the lines of a public job guarantee seems much better to me.  To be clear, this does not mean forced work or necessarily direct employment by the state. People can get work if they want or need to and could be employed by a variety of institutions paid for by the state.  I am thinking in the direction of the state as the ‘employer of last resort‘ model that creates meaningful employment at a decent wage if the private sector does not provide it (have also a look at the second part of this interview).  What would the benefits of this direction of travel be? Here are six points:

  1. A job guarantee does not reduce work to just income.  The important social aspects of work I mentioned above are preserved as some level of regular employment is guaranteed by the system.
  2. It is a much more efficient use of scarce public resources.  The job guarantee kicks in for people who ask for work and doesn’t allocate resources where they are not needed.
  3. It preserves and develops workers’ skills.  Nobody knows how people would spend their time on a basic income handout but keeping people in work surely helps to maintain and improve their skills – especially in an age in which permanent upskilling is crucial.
  4. It is easier to implement in the EU.  Implementing a job guarantee in the EU won’t be easy either but we already have policy initiatives – the EU youth guarantee – that goes in a very similar direction.  So politically we are much closer to a job guarantee than to a basic income.
  5. It retains the character of the social market economy.  There is no need or threat to dismantle welfare systems altogether.
  6. It provides an additional public policy tool.  This is a crucial argument for me.  If the state guarantees employment it can create employment in areas that are underserved and important for other reasons.  If you look at the demographic makeup of our ageing societies for instance it is quite easy to see that we will have labor shortages in the entire health and old age care sector.  This incidentally is one of the sectors where the real added-value of work is rooted in social capital – or would you like to see robots console terminally ill patients?  The ability to guide employment creation in this way might prove to be a very useful tool to address other social problems.

There you go.  These are the reasons why I would say that thinking along the lines of a job guarantee makes more sense than pondering a basic income. The debate has only started and it will run for quite some time…

Read Article (Henning Meyer | | 02/04/2016)

This sounds like a very logical proposal and worth consideration.  Other approaches to the subject are based on an alarmists’ position which never seem to create positive discussions.

But at the exponential rate that technology is advancing in the 21st century, it is inevitable that there will come a day when even millennials will be unfamiliar with the latest technology.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for helping to address Digital Literacy, and we need your support.

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Tackling Youth Unemployment; No Degree Required


Developing new skills offers economic opportunities to youth for generations to come.  Rethinking the Usual Education Path is authored by Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore county, and Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Company.  As president of one of America’s leading educational institutions and CEO of one of the world’s largest financial firms, we see the world through two very different lenses.

But there is one challenge that we both see clearly and are deeply concerned about: too many young people are not on a path to meaningful employment that will enable them to join the middle class.  We see it when students drop out of school and struggle to obtain even a minimum wage job.  And we see it when well-paying technical jobs go unfilled because applicants don’t have the necessary skills.

Millions of Americans have come to appreciate the value of four-year college degrees.  These degrees remain as important today as ever.  Yet only half of high school graduates who go on to four-year colleges end up completing a bachelor’s degree within six years.  Young people of color and those who come from low-income families’ fare even worse.

The social and economic challenges these young people face have been exacerbated by the growing economic crisis of high inner-city unemployment and low high-school graduation rates.

The results are truly a national tragedy: today, over five million young people, including one in five African-Americans and Latinos, are neither working nor in school.  The youth unemployment rate is over 11%, for young African-Americans it jumps to over 20%.  With many young people out of work or stuck in dead-end, low-wage and low-skills jobs, economic growth slows and social challenges increase.

Universities must do more to support students of all backgrounds who arrive on their campuses.  Nonetheless, to tackle youth unemployment and support the needs of today’s economy, students and their families should be informed about all of their education options, including college and career pathways that don’t include pursuing a four-year degree immediately.  Students connected to high-quality training programs have a chance to find a way out of poverty and a real chance at economic opportunity.

This approach is desperately needed.   Economists project that by 2020, more than 60% of jobs will require more than a high school diploma.  However, only about half of those jobs will require a four-year degree – the other half will not.

Educators need to recognize that businesses have a high demand for skilled workers, whether they’re robotics technicians or licensed practical nurses, and better align what they teach with the skills employers desperately need.  Likewise, business leaders need to support the education system as it strives to teach today’s skill and help students develop into critical thinkers and life-long learners.  Many students who start on a technical training path will have opportunities to go on to earn four-year degrees.

To address the youth unemployment crisis, we are committed to increasing the number of young people who get on a pathway to economic success by being college and career ready.

To do this, first, we want to transform how states and cities develop career-focused education programs.  JPMorgan Chase, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium are launching a multi-million-dollar competition for states to expand access to career-pathway programs that can lead to high-skill, well-paying jobs.

Awarding grants to U.S. states will encourage them to implement career and technical education programs that correspond to the needs of area employers.  High-quality, rigorous career technical programs would arm students with the skill to work as aviation mechanics, nursing technicians or IT specialists.  Resulting in great jobs.

Second, we need to eliminate the stigma attached to career and technical education.  Classes dedicated to robotics, medical science, and coding provide skill that employers desperately need.  From Detroit to Baltimore to New Orleans, we need to make greater investments in developing new and effective models of career-focused education aligned with the needs of emerging industries like healthcare, logistics, finance and construction.

Recent education reforms ae making progress.  But this will not solve the problem for young people who are not going to college immediately after high school.  Now is the time for greater private and public focus on equipping young people, at all income levels, with the skills and experiences to be career-ready.  Without this, a shot at the middle class will continue to be out of reach.

Read Article (Staff | | 2015)

For over 3 decades it has been said “A Bachelor’s Degree will replace the High School Diploma”, now we know this is a false statement.  Achieving middle class status can be accomplished without a degree.

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