Why This Grandmother Worries About Automation and Employment

The impact of automation on employment is finally making it into the news. It’s not a trending topic yet, but at least it’s no longer the “elephant in the room”. Although books like The End of Work (Rifkin) appeared as early as 2002, and online blogs have been warning about advanced technology for at least 5 years,  automation and it’s effect on work has so far avoided the limelight.

In 2013, Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, wrote about the rapid advances in computer technology—blaming recent sluggish employment growth on improved industrial automation, from the use of robotics on the factory floor to automated translation services.
“Even more ominous for workers,” he said, “the MIT academics foresee dismal prospects for many types of jobs as these powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in manufacturing, clerical, and retail work but in professions such as law, financial services, education, and medicine.”

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Where in the World Would You Want to Grow Old?

I don’t know about you, but I would like to grow old in a place where I had control over my day, where my choices were honored, and where my needs were met, in the event that I couldn’t take care of myself. And, oh yes, I would also want to be valued and respected.

Now I’m not talking about my current situation—in which I’m growing older, as opposed to growing old. During the growing older part, my contemporaries and I are fully able to direct our lives and take care of our basic needs. But we are all aware that the situation may change when we are truly old.

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Are Things Really Bad, and Getting Worse?

If you listen to any news, if you are aware of world events at all, you are convinced that things are getting worse. Shocking images of the war in Syria, nuclear threats from North Korea, and the behavior of an unpredictable president in the White House leave you gasping and incredulous.

If you’re anything like me, you struggle daily to avoid it, mute it, drown it out, and distract yourself from it. It’s the cacophony of despair that threatens to drag us down. And I’m not alone—only 6% of Americans believe the world is getting better.

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A Perfect Day for Picking Apples

It was another perfect day on the farm. My husband Jim, and my children, Andy and Janie, were gone for the day, and I was planning to wallpaper one of the back bedrooms in our 100 year old house.

But just then, I remembered that Lorne, our carpenter, was coming by to finish some plastering downstairs. And Oh, yes, someone called about picking some apples, from the two overladen trees in our front orchard. Hopefully, they would bring their own containers—I didn’t want to be disturbed, no matter what.

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Old Faithful On The Farm

It was just another day on the farm. Well, it wasn’t really a farm, we were just pretending it was. The chickens were safely in their yard, the dog was with the kids, and the air was filled with the sound of rustling leaves. So far, everything was going fine. My husband left early this morning, he had a staff meeting, Andy was back from Kindergarten, and now he and Janie were playing outside.

It was October, and our fourth month here. But I wasn’t really counting—only once in a while, when things went wrong. Here, it seemed, it was always one step forward and two steps back.

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Blonde Obsession

I decided to be a blonde once. Well, actually. It wasn’t me who decided. It was my hairdresser Maggie’s idea, and I went along.

“Wish I was born with lighter hair,” I complained to her, as she was cutting away, “This dark hair is so harsh.”
“But it’s your natural color”, she said, “It was the way God meant it to be.”
“It doesn’t look like my natural color. Look at my skin. It’s light, like my mothers’. Her hair is lighter, and it looks great on her.”

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Our Grandchildren, the Millennials, Usher in an Era of Change

At first glance, the Millennials look like anyone else, distinguishable only by their youth and the proximity of their iphones. But we know they are different—we can feel it from where we sit, just by looking at them, their group behavior, their subtle interactions. While we are watching everything around us, and making idle conversation, this is not what they are doing. Instead, they are looking down, tracking messages on their phones.

We can see it in their clothing too, simple and comfortable—jeans, tights, blazers, untucked shirts, sneakers, uniformly consistent and understated.

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Your Grandchildren, the Millennials, are Watching American Politics Unfold

My grandson, Aiden, is one of the Millennials, just turning nineteen today. He is perched on the arm of a chair in the front room, his long legs reaching halfway across the carpet, blond hair punked in a short cut, a shadow of a beard on his chin. He takes his eyes away from his iphone momentarily, and asks me,

“Gramma, what do you think is going to happen?”

“About what?” I ask.

“About what’s going on now, across America, across the world.”

I feel a little twinge in my chest, something that always happens when I know I have to dig deep and find a difficult truth that needs to be spoken. Here is my grandson, who I have watched grow and turn into a beautiful young man, with his whole life ahead of him, having worries no young person should have. We grandparents, like their parents, always want to say to the young people in our lives, “You are safe”.

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How Viral Sharing Powered the Women’s March

As millions of women, men and children in cities across the world streamed home after the Women’s March against Donald Trump on January 21, they felt what most people would feel after being part of such a monumental event: tired, exhilarated, somehow blessed. They knew they had been a part of something staggering, a bringing together of people in  massive record-breaking crowds. It was, they felt, one of humanity’s finest hours.

For days, the news showed happy throngs, many of them young, meeting, losing each other, reconnecting by iphone, expressing their joy and wonder that their concerns were shared. Jubilant in the message that bound them, not even aware of how it came about, and taking for granted that this sort of thing can happen in the era of social media.

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MOOC: Finally! A Revolution in Education.

While the public swoons over the arrival of the latest smart watch and FitBit, and the newest smart phone is your grandchild’s constant obsession, another quieter, more lasting revolution is unfolding in the technological world. It comes in the form of MOOC, which stands for Massive Open Online Courses, and promises a sea change in the most basic of our public needs.

Accessible education for all, the stuff that academics and students dream about, has arrived without fanfare or the benefit of a trade show. We shouldn’t be surprised—just as the Internet has invaded corporate and government domination over the communication and music industries, it has now set its sights on one of the most change-resistant public services ever, college education, threatening to make it virtually free, and to end that monopoly for all time.

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Sensational! The CES Trade Show in Las Vegas

If I was a guest at the CES trade show in Las Vegas last week, I know I’d be wandering the aisles and hallways, boggle eyed, like a deer in the headlights.

Unlike fellow blogger, Lois Whitman, who has attended every one of the CES conferences through its 50 years of existence, and has the presence of mind to blog about it brilliantly (DigiDame), I would be overwhelmed. Maybe I’d even skip the whole thing and go to the beach (kidding—it’s a 5 hour drive!).

CES, is an international electronics show, which showcases what’s new, what is coming up, and what some of the world’s noteworthy scientists are thinking. Here is a description from its website:

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The Two Faces of Artificial Intelligence

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about driverless cars (guided by artificial intelligence), and how they would impact employment, a burning issue during the recent US presidential campaign. Until then, I had never given much thought to artificial intelligence (AI). Of course I’d heard of it, but shrugged it off as movie mania that I had to endure in science fiction previews at the movies. But driverless cars took me to other aspects of the AI world, and I found myself drawn to the hundreds of articles and books on the subject. Now I’m hooked, and it’s a bit late to go back.

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