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)”.

UN chief calls for action to put out ‘5-alarm global fire’

UNAffairs: “At a time when “the only certainty is more uncertainty”, countries must unite to forge a new, more hopeful and equal path, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly on Friday, laying out his priorities for 2022. 

“We face a five-alarm global fire that requires the full mobilization of all countries,” he said, referring to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a morally bankrupt global financial system, the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and diminished peace and security. 

He stressed that countries “must go into emergency mode”, and now is the time to act as the response will determine global outcomes for decades ahead…. 

Alarm four: Technology and cyberspace 

While technology offers extraordinary possibilities for humanity, Mr. Guterres warned that “growing digital chaos is benefiting the most destructive forces and denying opportunities to ordinary people.” 

He spoke of the need to both expand internet access to the nearly three billion people still offline, and to address risks such as data misuse, misinformation and cyber-crime. 

“Our personal information is being exploited to control or manipulate us, change our behaviours, violate our human rights, and undermine democratic institutions. Our choices are taken away from us without us even knowing it”, he said. 

The UN chief called for strong regulatory frameworks to change the business models of social media companies which “profit from algorithms that prioritize addiction, outrage and anxiety at the cost of public safety”. 

He has proposed the establishment of a Global Digital Compact, bringing together governments, the private sector and civil society, to agree on key principles underpinning global digital cooperation. 

Another proposal is for a Global Code of Conduct to end the infodemic and the war on science, and promote integrity in public information, including online.  

Countries are also encouraged to step up work on banning lethal autonomous weapons, or “killer robots” as headline writers may prefer, and to begin considering new governance frameworks for biotechnology and neurotechnology…(More)”.

Breakthrough: The Promise of Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development

Book edited by Homi Kharas, John McArthur, and Izumi Ohno: “Looking into the future is always difficult and often problematic—but sometimes it’s useful to imagine what innovations might resolve today’s problems and make tomorrow better. In this book, 15 distinguished international experts examine how technology will affect the human condition and natural world within the next ten years. Their stories reflect major ambitions for what the future could bring and offer a glimpse into the possibilities for achieving the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals.

The authors were asked to envision future success in their respective fields, given the current state of technology and potential progress over the next decade. The central question driving their research: What are likely technological advances that could contribute  to the Sustainable Development Goals at major scale, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people or substantial geographies around the globe.

One overall takeaway is that gradualist approaches will not achieve those goals by 2030. Breakthroughs will be necessary in science, in the development of new products and services, and in institutional systems. Each of the experts responded with stories that reflect big ambitions for what the future may bring. Their stories are not projections or forecasts as to what will happen; they are reasoned and reasonable conjectures about what could happen. The editors’ intent is to provide a glimpse into the possibilities for the future of sustainable development.

At a time when many people worry about stalled progress on the economic, social, and environmental challenges of sustainable development, Breakthrough is a reminder that the promise of a better future is within our grasp, across a range of domains. It will interest anyone who wonders about the world’s economic, social, and environmental future…(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)”.

Economists Pin More Blame on Tech for Rising Inequality

Steve Lohr at the New York Times: “Daron Acemoglu, an influential economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been making the case against what he describes as “excessive automation.”

The economywide payoff of investing in machines and software has been stubbornly elusive. But he says the rising inequality resulting from those investments, and from the public policy that encourages them, is crystal clear.

Half or more of the increasing gap in wages among American workers over the last 40 years is attributable to the automation of tasks formerly done by human workers, especially men without college degrees, according to some of his recent research…

Mr. Acemoglu, a wide-ranging scholar whose research makes him one of most cited economists in academic journals, is hardly the only prominent economist arguing that computerized machines and software, with a hand from policymakers, have contributed significantly to the yawning gaps in incomes in the United States. Their numbers are growing, and their voices add to the chorus of criticism surrounding the Silicon Valley giants and the unchecked advance of technology.

Paul Romer, who won a Nobel in economic science for his work on technological innovation and economic growth, has expressed alarm at the runaway market power and influence of the big tech companies. “Economists taught: ‘It’s the market. There’s nothing we can do,’” he said in an interview last year. “That’s really just so wrong.”

Anton Korinek, an economist at the University of Virginia, and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel economist at Columbia University, have written a paper, “Steering Technological Progress,” which recommends steps from nudges for entrepreneurs to tax changes to pursue “labor-friendly innovations.”

Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at Stanford, is a technology optimist in general. But in an essay to be published this spring in Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he warns of “the Turing trap.” …(More)”

Interoperable, agile, and balanced

Brookings Paper on Rethinking technology policy and governance for the 21st century: “Emerging technologies are shifting market power and introducing a range of risks that can only be managed through regulation. Unfortunately, current approaches to governing technology are insufficient, fragmented, and lack the focus towards actionable goals. This paper proposes three tools that can be leveraged to support fit-for-purpose technology regulation for the 21st century: First, a transparent and holistic policymaking levers that clearly communicate goals and identify trade-offs at the national and international levels; second, revamped efforts to collaborate across jurisdictions, particularly through standard-setting and evidence gathering of critical incidents across jurisdictions; and third, a shift towards agile governance, whether acquired through the system, design, or both…(More)”.

The Tech That Comes Next

Book by Amy Sample Ward and Afua Brice: “Who is part of technology development, who funds that development, and how we put technology to use all influence the outcomes that are possible. To change those outcomes, we must – all of us – shift our relationship to technology, how we use it, build it, fund it, and more. In The Tech That Comes Next, Amy Sample Ward and Afua Bruce – two leaders in equitable design and use of new technologies – invite you to join them in asking big questions and making change from wherever you are today. 

This book connects ideas and conversations across sectors from artificial intelligence to data collection, community centered design to collaborative funding, and social media to digital divides. Technology and equity are inextricably connected, and The Tech That Comes Next helps you accelerate change for the better….(More)

The 2021 Good Tech Awards

Kevin Roose at the New York Times: “…Especially at a time when many of tech’s leaders seem more interested in building new, virtual worlds than improving the world we live in, it’s worth praising the technologists who are stepping up to solve some of our biggest problems.

So here, without further ado, are this year’s Good Tech Awards…

One of the year’s most exciting A.I. breakthroughs came in July when DeepMind — a Google-owned artificial intelligence company — published data and open-source code from its groundbreaking AlphaFold project.

The project, which used A.I. to predict the structures of proteins, solved a problem that had vexed scientists for decades, and was hailed by experts as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. And by publishing its data freely, AlphaFold set off a frenzy among researchers, some of whom are already using it to develop new drugs and better understand the proteins involved in viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

Google’s overall A.I. efforts have been fraught with controversy and missteps, but AlphaFold seems like an unequivocally good use of the company’s vast expertise and resources…

Prisons aren’t known as hotbeds of innovation. But two tech projects this year tried to make our criminal justice system more humane.

Recidiviz is a nonprofit tech start-up that builds open-source data tools for criminal justice reform. It was started by Clementine Jacoby, a former Google employee who saw an opportunity to corral data about the prison system and make it available to prison officials, lawmakers, activists and researchers to inform their decisions. Its tools are in use in seven states, including North Dakota, where the data tools helped prison officials assess the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks and identify incarcerated people who were eligible for early release….(More)”.

How Smart Tech Is Transforming Nonprofits

Essay by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter: “Covid-19 created cascades of shortages, disruptions, and problems that rolled downhill and landed in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods, it’s often nonprofit organizations that provide services to members of the community. While the pandemic accelerated the need for digital transformation throughout the economy, the nonprofit sector was not immune to the need for nearly overnight innovation. As experts on the use of technology for social good, we’ve observed the many ways that nonprofits have been adopting “smart tech” to further social change in the wake of the pandemic, which we chronicle in our upcoming book, The Smart Nonprofit.

We use “smart tech” as an umbrella term for advanced digital technologies that make decisions for people. It includes artificial intelligence (AI) and its subsets and cousins, such as machine learning, natural language processing, smart forms, chatbots, robots, and more.

The use of smart tech by social service agencies and other nonprofits exploded during the pandemic. For example, food banks deployed robots to pack meals; homeless services agencies used chatbots to give legal and mental health advice; and fundraising departments turned to AI-powered software to identify potential donors.Insight Center CollectionTaking on Digital TransformationMoving your company forward in the wake of the pandemic.

When the pandemic began and schools switched to remote learning, many students who relied on school lunches were not able to receive them. Here’s where nonprofits stepped in to use smart technologies for social good. For example, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University used machine learning to flip the system on its head; instead of using buses to deliver children to schools, new bus routes were created to bring meals to children in the Pittsburgh area in the most efficient way.

The use of chatbots to provide support and deliver services to vulnerable populations increased tremendously during the pandemic. For instance, the Rentervention chatbot was developed by the legal aid nonprofits in Illinois to help tenants navigate eviction and other housing issues they were experiencing due to Covid-19. It also directs renters to pro bono legal advice….(More)”.

A Fix-It Job for Government Tech

Shira Ovide at the New York Times: “U.S. government technology has a mostly deserved reputation for being expensive and awful.

Computer systems sometimes operate with Sputnik-era software. A Pentagon project to modernize military technology has little to show after five years. During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans struggled to get government help like unemployment insurancevaccine appointments and food stamps because of red tape, inflexible technology and other problems.

Whether you believe that the government should be more involved in Americans’ lives or less, taxpayers deserve good value for the technology we pay for. And we often don’t get it. It’s part of Robin Carnahan’s job to take on this problem.

A former secretary of state for Missouri and a government tech consultant, Carnahan had been one of my guides to how public sector technology could work better. Then in June, she was confirmed as the administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees government acquisitions, including of technology.

Carnahan said that she and other Biden administration officials wanted technology used for fighting wars or filing taxes to be as efficient as our favorite app.

“Bad technology sinks good policy,” Carnahan told me. “We’re on a mission to make government tech more user-friendly and be smarter about how we buy it and use it.”

Carnahan highlighted three areas she wanted to address: First, change the process for government agencies to buy technology to recognize that tech requires constant updates. Second, simplify the technology for people using government services. And third, make it more appealing for people with tech expertise to work for the government, even temporarily.

All of that is easier said than done, of course. People in government have promised similar changes before, and it’s not a quick fix. Technology dysfunction is also often a symptom of poor policies.

But in Carnahan’s view, one way to build faith in government is to prove that it can be competent. And technology is an essential area to show that…(More)”.