Work

Working with Beansprock and SAFFiR

Friday, 6 February, 2015 0 Comments

As we come to the end of our week of looking at developments in the emerging robotics/AI area, all signs indicate that the subject is moving from the technology pages to the mainstream. A sample of today’s headlines from Al Jazeera, Slate and Reuters: Hotel staffed by robots to open in Japan, Automated journalism is no longer science fiction, China to have most robots in world by 2017, an on and on and on.

Where is all this taking us? Well, take a look at Beansprock, a machine learning-based job search platform. Slogan: “Our artificial intelligence evaluates thousands of new tech jobs while you sleep and emails you only the best one.” When it knows a user’s skills, Beansprock can then predict which jobs are a match and which ones are not. The focus is on the tech industry in San Francisco, Boston and New York, and the company claims that it’s processing tens of thousands of job postings every day. Long term, the founders hope to expand the platform to include non-technical jobs.

Another example: “It’s what we call the hybrid force: humans and robots working together.” The person being quoted there by The Verge is the program manager at the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research. Thomas McKenna was speaking at the unveiling of the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR). What can it can that humans cannot? Well, it’s loaded with sensors such as infrared stereo-vision and laser light detectors, which enable it to find its target through thick smoke. The creators imagine a future where human-robot hybrid teams will work together as first responders when fires break out. This, then, is the near future. It’s a world where robotics and AI will be working for us and with us.


It’s different this time

Tuesday, 3 February, 2015 0 Comments

Since the Industrial Revolution, there’s been an almost insatiable demand for labour, despite the relentless advance of technology. So why should it be any different this time. Surely, the cloud will create millions of jobs and the app industry will generate global employment? Well, yes, maybe. But let’s consider this: It took the United States some 200 years to change from an agricultural economy, where 90 percent of the people worked on farms, to the current situation, where the number is nearer two percent. The robotics/AI revolution is happening faster than its industrial and digital predecessors — and it will present an even bigger challenge.

Technologies such as the self-driving car will be dramatically disruptive, but over a much shorter time-frame. There are millions of truck drivers working today. What will happen if self-driving vehicles put them out of a job in a matter of years? Algorithms are getting better at translating and writing — jobs that once required humans. So what will we do for work? That is the question being posed by the MIT academics Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who say that we’re entering a “Second Machine Age,ā€ where the increasing rate of change driven by information technologies could leave swathes of medium-and-low skilled workers in the slow lane. On the upside, the human ability to innovate offers grounds for hope. They say.


The best job?

Thursday, 4 September, 2014 1 Comment

A famous professor once said: “When I was an engineer I was happy once a month, when I got my paycheck. When I was teaching, I was unhappy once a month, when I got my paycheck.”


Does capitalism work? Ask Jan Koum.

Thursday, 20 February, 2014 2 Comments

Jan Koum was born in 1977 and raised in a small village outside of Kiev. The family home had no electricity or hot water and his parents rarely talked on the phone in case it was tapped by the state. At 16, Koum and his mother immigrated to the US, where she took up babysitting and he swept the floor of a grocery store to help make ends meet. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, they lived off her disability allowance. When she died in 2000, the young Ukrainian was alone in America; his father had died in 1997. He taught himself computer networking by buying manuals from a used book store and returning them when he was done. He got a job a Yahoo but in his LinkedIn profile, he unenthusiastically describes his time there with the words, “Did some work.”

He left in September 2007 and spent a year traveling around South America. On his return, he applied, and failed, to find work at Facebook. In January 2009, he bought an iPhone and realized that the seven-month old App Store was about to generate a whole new industry of apps. His thinking was it would be cool to have a free messaging app where the login was your own phone number. Koum chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like “What’s up,” and a week later on his birthday, 24 February 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California. Yesterday, Jan Koum signed the $19 billion Facebook deal paperwork on the door of his old welfare office in Mountain View, California. (Photo courtesy of Jan Koum)

Jan Koum