The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines

Book by By David Autor, David A. Mindell and Elisabeth B. Reynolds: “The United States has too many low-quality, low-wage jobs. Every country has its share, but those in the United States are especially poorly paid and often without benefits. Meanwhile, overall productivity increases steadily and new technology has transformed large parts of the economy, enhancing the skills and paychecks of higher-paid knowledge workers. What’s wrong with this picture? Why have so many workers benefited so little from decades of growth? The Work of the Future shows that technology is neither the problem nor the solution. We can build better jobs if we create institutions that leverage technological innovation and also support workers though long cycles of technological transformation.

Building on findings from the multiyear MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, the book argues that we must foster institutional innovations that complement technological change. Skills programs that emphasize work-based and hybrid learning (in person and online), for example, empower workers to become and remain productive in a continuously evolving workplace. Industries fueled by new technology that augments workers can supply good jobs, and federal investment in R&D can help make these industries worker-friendly. We must act to ensure that the labor market of the future offers benefits, opportunity, and a measure of economic security to all….(More)”.

Automating the War on Noise Pollution

Article by Linda Poon: “Any city dweller is no stranger to the frequent revving of motorbikes and car engines, made all the more intolerable after the months of silence during pandemic lockdowns. Some cities have decided to take action. 

Paris police set up an anti-noise patrol in 2020 to ticket motorists whose vehicles exceed a certain decibel level, and soon, the city will start piloting the use of noise sensors in two neighborhoods. Called Medusa, each device uses four microphones to detect and measure noise levels, and two cameras to help authorities track down the culprit. No decibel threshold or fines will be set during the three-month trial period, according to French newspaper Liberation, but it’ll test the potentials and limits of automating the war on sound pollution.

Cities like Toronto and Philadelphia are also considering deploying similar tools. By now, research has been mounting about the health effects of continuous noise exposure, including links to high blood pressure and heart disease, and to poor mental health. And for years, many cities have been tackling noise through ordinances and urban design, including various bans on leaf blowers, on construction at certain hours and on cars. Some have even hired “night mayors” to, among other things, address complaints about after-hours noise.

But enforcement, even with the help of simple camera-and-noise radars, has been a challenge. Since 2018,  the Canadian city of Edmonton has been piloting the use of four radars attached to light poles at busy intersections in the downtown area. A 2021 report on the second phase of the project completed in 2020, found that officials had to manually sift through the data to take out noise made by, say, sirens. And the recordings didn’t always provide strong enough evidence against the offender in court. It was also costly: The pilot cost taxpayers $192,000, while fines generated a little more than half that amount, according to CTV News Edmonton.

Those obstacles have made noise pollution an increasingly popular target for smart city innovation, with companies and researchers looking to make environmental monitoring systems do more than just measure decibel levels…(More)”.

Counting Crimes: An Obsolete Paradigm

Paul Wormeli at The Criminologist: “To the extent that a paradigm is defined as the way we view things, the crime statistics paradigm in the United States is inadequate and requires reinvention….The statement—”not all crime is reported to the police”—lies at the very heart of why our current crime data are inherently incomplete. It is a direct reference to the fact that not all “street crime” is reported and that state and local law enforcement are not the only entities responsible for overseeing violations of societally established norms (“street crime” or otherwise). Two significant gaps exist, in that: 1) official reporting of crime from state and local law enforcement agencies cannot provide insight into unreported incidents, and 2) state and local law enforcement may not have or acknowledge jurisdiction over certain types of matters, such as cybercrime, corruption, environmental crime, or terrorism, and therefore cannot or do not report on those incidents…

All of these gaps in crime reporting mask the portrait of crime in the U.S. If there was a complete accounting of crime that could serve as the basis of policy formulation, including the distribution of federal funds to state and local agencies, there could be a substantial impact across the nation. Such a calculation would move the country toward a more rational basis for determining federal support for communities based on a comprehensive measure of community wellness.

In its deliberations, the NAS Panel recognized that it is essential to consider both the concepts of classification and the rules of counting as we seek a better and more practical path to describing crime in the U.S. and its consequences. The panel postulated that a meaningful classification of incidents found to be crimes would go beyond the traditional emphasis on street crime and include all crime categories.

The NAS study identified the missing elements of a national crime report as including more complete data on crimes involving drugrelated offenses, criminal acts where juveniles are involved, so-called white-collar crimes such as fraud and corruption, cybercrime, crime against businesses, environmental crimes, and crimes against animals. Just as one example, it is highly unlikely that we will know the full extent of fraudulent claims against all federal, state, and local governments in the face of the massive influx of funding from recent and forthcoming Congressional action.

In proposing a set of crime classifications, the NAS panel recommended 11 major categories, 5 of which are not addressed in our current crime data collection systems. While there are parallel data systems that collect some of the missing data within these five crime categories, it remains unclear which federal agency, if any, has the authority to gather the information and aggregate it to give us anywhere near a complete estimate of crime in the United States. No federal or national entity has the assignment of estimating the total amount of crime that takes place in the United States. Without such leadership, we are left with an uninformed understanding of the health and wellness of communities throughout the country…(More)”

How digital transformation is driving economic change

Blog (and book) by Zia Qureshi: “We are living in a time of exciting technological innovations. Digital technologies are driving transformative change. Economic paradigms are shifting. The new technologies are reshaping product and factor markets and profoundly altering business and work. The latest advances in artificial intelligence and related innovations are expanding the frontiers of the digital revolution. Digital transformation is accelerating in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The future is arriving faster than expected.

A recently published book, “Shifting Paradigms: Growth, Finance, Jobs, and Inequality in the Digital Economy,” examines the implications of the unfolding digital metamorphosis for economies and public policy agendas….

Firms at the technological frontier have broken away from the rest, acquiring dominance in increasingly concentrated markets and capturing the lion’s share of the returns from the new technologies. While productivity growth in these firms has been strong, it has stagnated or slowed in other firms, depressing aggregate productivity growth. Increasing automation of low- to middle-skill tasks has shifted labor demand toward higher-level skills, hurting wages and jobs at the lower end of the skill spectrum. With the new technologies favoring capital, winner-take-all business outcomes, and higher-level skills, the distribution of both capital and labor income has tended to become more unequal, and income has been shifting from labor to capital.

One important reason for these outcomes is that policies and institutions have been slow to adjust to the unfolding transformations. To realize the promise of today’s smart machines, policies need to be smarter too. They must be more responsive to change to fully capture potential gains in productivity and economic growth and address rising inequality as technological disruptions create winners and losers.

As technology reshapes markets and alters growth and distributional dynamics, policies must ensure that markets remain inclusive and support wide access to the new opportunities for firms and workers. The digital economy must be broadened to disseminate new technologies and opportunities to smaller firms and wider segments of the labor force…(More)”.

Tech is finally killing long lines

Erica Pandey at Axios: “Startups and big corporations alike are releasing technology to put long lines online.

Why it matters: Standing in lines has always been a hassle, but the pandemic has made lines longer, slower and even dangerous. Now many of those lines are going virtual.

What’s happening: Physical lines are disappearing at theme parks, doctor’s offices, clothing stores and elsewhere, replaced by systems that let you book a slot online and then wait to be notified that it’s your turn.

Whyline, an Argentinian company that was just acquired by the biometric ID company CLEAR, is an app that lets users do just that — it will keep you up to date on your wait time and let you know when you need to show up.

  • Whyline’s list of clients — mostly in Latin America — includes banks, retail stores, the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Los Angeles International Airport.
  • “The same way you make a reservation at a restaurant, Whyline software does the waiting for you in banks, in DMVs, in airports,” CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker said on CNBC.

Another app called Safe Queue was born from the pandemic and aims to make in-store shopping safer for customers and workers by spacing out shoppers’ visits.

  • The app uses GPS technology to detect when you’re within 1,000 feet of a participating store and automatically puts you in a virtual line. Then you can wait in your car or somewhere nearby until it’s your turn to shop.

Many health clinics around the country are also putting their COVID test lines online..

The rub: While virtual queuing tech may be gaining ground, lines are still more common than not. And in the age of social distancing, expect wait times to remain high and lines to remain long…(More)”.

The Government of Emergency: Vital Systems, Expertise, and the Politics of Security

Book by Stephen J. Collier and Andrew Lakoff: “From pandemic disease, to the disasters associated with global warming, to cyberattacks, today we face an increasing array of catastrophic threats. It is striking that, despite the diversity of these threats, experts and officials approach them in common terms: as future events that threaten to disrupt the vital, vulnerable systems upon which modern life depends.

The Government of Emergency tells the story of how this now taken-for-granted way of understanding and managing emergencies arose. Amid the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, an array of experts and officials working in obscure government offices developed a new understanding of the nation as a complex of vital, vulnerable systems. They invented technical and administrative devices to mitigate the nation’s vulnerability, and organized a distinctive form of emergency government that would make it possible to prepare for and manage potentially catastrophic events.

Through these conceptual and technical inventions, Stephen Collier and Andrew Lakoff argue, vulnerability was defined as a particular kind of problem, one that continues to structure the approach of experts, officials, and policymakers to future emergencies…(More)”.

Navigating Trust in Society,

Report by Coeuraj: “This report provides empirical evidence of existing levels of trust, among the US population, with regard to institutions, and philanthropy—all shaped during a time of deep polarization and a global pandemic.

The source of the data is two-fold. Firstly, a year-over-year analysis of institutional trust, as measured by Global Web Index USA from more than 20,000 respondents and, secondly, an ad-hoc nationally representative survey, conducted by one of Coeuraj’s data partners AudienceNet, in the two weeks immediately preceding the 2021 United Nations General Assembly. This report presents the core findings that emerged from both research initiatives….(More)”.

The Biden Administration Embraces “Democracy Affirming Technologies”

Article by Marc Rotenberg: “…But amidst the ongoing struggle between declining democracies and emerging authoritarian governments, the Democracy Summit was notable for at least one new initiative – the support for democracy affirming technology. According to the White House, the initiative “aims to galvanize worldwide a new class of technologies” that can support democratic values.  The White House plan is to bring together innovators, investors, researchers, and entrepreneurs to “embed democratic values.”  The President’s top science advisor Eric Lander provided more detail. Democratic values, he said, include “privacy, freedom of expression, access to information, transparency, fairness, inclusion, and equity.”

In order to spur more rapid technological progress the White House Office of Science and Technology announced three Grand Challenges for Democracy-Affirming Technologies. They are:

  • A collaboration between U.S. and UK agencies to promote “privacy enhancing technologies” that “harness the power of data in a secure manner that protects privacy and intellectual property, enabling cross-border and cross-sector collaboration to solve shared challenges.”
  • Censorship circumvention tools, based on peer-to-peer techniques that enable content-sharing and communication without an Internet or cellular connection. The Open Technology Fund, an independent NGO, will invite international participants to compete on promising P2P technologies to counter Internet shutdowns.
  • A Global Entrepreneurship Challenge will seek to identify entrepreneurs who build and advance democracy-affirming technologies through a set of regional startup and scaleup competitions in countries spanning the democratic world. According to the White House, specific areas of innovation may include: data for policymaking, responsible AI and machine learning, fighting misinformation, and advancing government transparency and accessibility of government data and services.

USAID Administrator Samantha Powers said her agency would spend 20 million annually to expand digital democracy work. “We’ll use these funds to help partner nations align their rules governing the use of technology with democratic principles and respect for human rights,” said the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Notably, Powers also said the U.S. will take a closer look at export practices to “prevent technologies from falling into hands that would misuse them.” The U.S., along with Denmark, Norway, and Australia, will launch a new Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative. Powers also seeks to align surveillance practices of democratic nations with the Universal Declaration for Human Rights….(More)”.

A Framework for Open Civic Design: Integrating Public Participation, Crowdsourcing, and Design Thinking

Paper by Brandon Reynante, Steven P. Dow, Narges Mahyar: “Civic problems are often too complex to solve through traditional top-down strategies. Various governments and civic initiatives have explored more community-driven strategies where citizens get involved with defining problems and innovating solutions. While certain people may feel more empowered, the public at large often does not have accessible, flexible, and meaningful ways to engage. Prior theoretical frameworks for public participation typically offer a one-size-fits-all model based on face-to-face engagement and fail to recognize the barriers faced by even the most engaged citizens. In this article, we explore a vision for open civic design where we integrate theoretical frameworks from public engagement, crowdsourcing, and design thinking to consider the role technology can play in lowering barriers to large-scale participation, scaffolding problem-solving activities, and providing flexible options that cater to individuals’ skills, availability, and interests. We describe our novel theoretical framework and analyze the key goals associated with this vision: (1) to promote inclusive and sustained participation in civics; (2) to facilitate effective management of large-scale participation; and (3) to provide a structured process for achieving effective solutions. We present case studies of existing civic design initiatives and discuss challenges, limitations, and future work related to operationalizing, implementing, and testing this framework…(More)”.

Law Enforcement and Technology: Using Social Media

Congressional Research Service Report: “As the ways in which individuals interact continue to evolve, social media has had an increasing role in facilitating communication and the sharing of content online—including moderated and unmoderated, user-generated content. Over 70% of U.S. adults are estimated to have used social media in 2021. Law enforcement has also turned to social media to help in its operations. Broadly, law enforcement relies on social media as a tool for information sharing as well as for gathering information to assist in investigations.

Social Media as a Communications Tool. Social media is one of many tools law enforcement can use to connect with the community. They may use it, for instance, to push out bulletins on wanted persons and establish tip lines to crowdsource potential investigative leads. It provides degrees of speed and reach unmatched by many other forms of communication law enforcement can use to connect with the public. Officials and researchers have highlighted social media as a tool that, if used properly, can enhance community policing.

Social Media and Investigations. Social media is one tool in agencies’ investigative toolkits to help establish investigative leads and assemble evidence on potential suspects. There are no federal laws that specifically govern law enforcement agencies’ use of information obtained from social media sites, but their ability to obtain or use certain information may be influenced by social media companies’ policies as well as law enforcement agencies’ own social media policies and the rules of criminal procedure. When individuals post content on social media platforms without audience restrictions, anyone— including law enforcement—can access this content without court authorization. However, some information that individuals post on social media may be restricted—by user choice or platform policies—in the scope of audience that may access it. In the instances where law enforcement does not have public access to information, they may rely on a number of tools and techniques, such as informants or undercover operations, to gain access to it. Law enforcement may also require social media platforms to provide access to certain restricted information through a warrant, subpoena, or other court order.

Social Media and Intelligence Gathering. The use of social media to gather intelligence has generated particular interest from policymakers, analysts, and the public. Social media companies have weighed in on the issue of social media monitoring by law enforcement, and some platforms have modified their policies to expressly prohibit their user data from being used by law enforcement to monitor social media. Law enforcement agencies themselves have reportedly grappled with the extent to which they should gather and rely on information and intelligence gleaned from social media. For instance, some observers have suggested that agencies may be reluctant to regularly analyze public social media posts because that could be viewed as spying on the American public and could subsequently chill free speech protected under the First Amendment…(More)”.