Robots and Jobs; Man and Machine

clean towels yeah right do that without a washing machine

do that without a washing machine

A recent article in Harvard Business Review hit several key points I frequently find myself debating with colleagues who exhibit less than an optimistic stance toward the future of robotics and tech in society. Enjoy some fodder for your next futuristic philosophical discussion.

“It is becoming increasingly feasible and cost-effective today for robots to assume many of the repetitive, labor-intensive tasks that are part of many people’s jobs. … I do mean fortunately, because it is often these tasks that define the least meaningful and rewarding aspects of a person’s job.

I once mused on Quora that the biggest real first world problem is apathy. People too often live out their lives doing jobs they don’t really care about simply because those jobs pay the bills.

do this without a computer

do this without a computer

The past 20 months of my life have been spent at a computational neuroscience lab at MIT. I have a resounding, extraordinary respect for the capacity of a human mind. I find it sad – borderline tragic – for the majority of an adult’s life to be spent on a job that does not capitalize on the exquisite capacity of his or her mind. I personally find relief that there will be more creative, challenging jobs and fewer tedious, dangerous, repetitive ones in coming years.

Some think unemployment will skyrocket. Jobs will decline. Have those people forgotten the Industrial Revolution? It was challenging, but no doubt mankind has come out ahead. One glance through Steven Pinker’s stats tells you that we’re living in the most peaceful and healthy time in all of human history.

Thanks in part to an industrialized world, we enjoy modern resources like clean water and pleasures like the web. Job diversity has soared.

What’s more,

 “The robot has effectively assumed the responsibility for the dull, dirty or dangerous task – but has not replaced the human responsible for getting that job done. The robot in this equation is a tool – not at all unlike what a PC is for an office worker, a tractor is for a farmer, or a nail gun is to a home builder. All of those technologies were once speculated to be replacing or at least reducing the need for the humans that wielded them. Yet all of those professions still exist today, and the workers in those fields are better, happier, and more productive because of them.”

For more perspective on tech and innovation, I highly recommend The Pixar Story. In a nutshell, this documentary chronicles the co-evolution of computers and animation. Pixar saw computers as a tool for humans, not a substitute. Computers are not innately creative. They wouldn’t on their own accord animate Toy Story or Avatar. But humans with computers..now that’s a recipe for marvel. The same could be said for robotics. And with solid societal purpose.

“Over the next 40 years, we are going to see a dramatic drop in the percentage of working-age adults across the world. …. more people with fewer social security dollars competing for services, and fewer working people available to deliver those services to them… We will need robots to help us deal with this reality, doing the things we normally do for ourselves but that get harder to do as we get older.”

Final words of parting wisdom:

Before you dismiss this vision for a highly automated society, think about it the next time you put a load of laundry into your washing machine or hit the start button on the dishwasher as you head off to bed. These are tools that have automated unpleasant and time-consuming aspects of our lives, and given us more free time to pursue more productive or pleasurable activities.

Today most of us have great power and responsibility that we often take for granted: the power to choose how we spend our lives. As technological advances whittle away the availability of tedious employment, how will mankind respond?

Transitions are turbulent. But if the past is any indication of the future, humans will rise to the occasion.

Advertisements

See the World Differently with Beautiful Photomicrography

Before you read this, pause and look at your hand.  Imagine that you could see ten, one hundred, a thousand times higher resolution.  What would your hand look like?  What world the world look like?

Photomicrography, the science of imaging through microscopes, is a window into an exotic world.

To illustrate the beautiful new perspectives made possible by advanced imaging technology, I’ve compiled some exquisite images from Nikon Small World.  Can you identify them? You’re doing well if you get even one correct. Answers are at the bottom of this post.

1.

cricket tongue

2.

tapeworm head

3.

compound shrimp eye

4.

red ink mixed with acid, heated

5.

feather of a dove

6.

"fruit fly eye"

7.

"marine diatom"

8.

"moth wing"

9.

"crystallized mix of resorcinal, methylene blue and sulphur"

10.

"fossilized shells"

11.

"soap bubbles"

12.

"wrinkled photoresist"

13.

"actin bundles" image

14.

"cup fern longitudinal section" image

15.

"water crystal" image

16.

"bird of paradise seed"

17.

"Butterfly egg on pink powderpuff bud"

18.

microchip

19.

sand magnified 4x

20.

"mushroom gills"

Answers:

1. Cricket tongue by Christian Gautier

2. Head of a tapeworm by Vigar Zaman

3. Shrimp eye by John Douglass

4. Red ink mixed with acid, heated by Carlos Jimenez Perez

5. Feather of a dove by Leonard Cannone

6. Fruit fly eye by Guichuan Huo

7. Marine diatom by Wim Van Egmond

8. Moth wing by Charles Krebs

9. Crystallized mix of resorcinal, methylene blue and sulphur by John Hart

10. Fossilized shells by Wim van Egmond

11. Soap bubbles by Viktor Syorka

12. Wrinkled photoresist by Pedro Barrios-Perez (what is a photoresist?)

13. Actin bundles by Dennis Breitsprecher

14. Cup fern, longitudinal rhizome section by Stephen Lowry

15. Water crystal by Raul Gonzalez

16. Bird of paradise (plant) seed by Viktor Syorka

17. Butterfly egg on pink powderpuff bud by David Millard

18. Microchip by Alfred Paseika

19. Sand by Yanping Wang

20. Mushroom gills by Charles Krebs

A few more awesome images that may surprise you:

Pollen grains by Shirley Owens

Lysine by Nikolai Vsevolodov

Small intestine of mouse by Paul Appleton

All images sourced from Nikon’s Small World.

Whoa! #lifebonus

About a month ago I shared #lifebonus, the first installment of an ongoing series designed to incite surprise and discovery in life.  Or at least my inbox.  Today, here is another round.

On Friday, the following Facebook status went live while a more personal email went out to a few friends:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subject: Life Challenge

Are you having an awesome day?  Yes?!  Yes.

This week’s Life Challenge:

Share something that made you say “woah!!! ..but is it too geeky to share?”
Due Sunday at noon, or earlier if you’re an intellectual baller.
Response could be a great article from 3 years ago or a photo you saw yesterday or a crazy fresh resource, such as

AskNature.org

Browse nature’s solutions to challenges such as network cooperation (think interwoven trees and UV protection from bacteria), physical integrity (think bones and trees) or mechanical energy (think spider legs using hydraulic lift and how honeybees fly).  Browse around. You’ll be surprised how exciting it is.  Covert learning.

via Nicholas Sykes at TEDxSummit

Cheers, have a wonderful weekend and take three deep breaths right now (seriously it’s good for your biochemistry). I’ll blog some replies and send out a post on Monday so that your week will start out with a little bit of epic.  And if you are curious for more Wow!Geek discoveries, let me know and I will be happy to share a few more.

Amy

Try this with your friends.

Who knows what you might discover?  I do.

The scale of the universe.

History meets Quora and Reddit:

Ask about any era of history and get answers from professional historians!

Keep in mind that this forum is for asking questions about what did happen, not what could have happened had something gone differently. For those types of questions, check out /r/historicalwhatif

Images from the Boston Globe Big Picture‘s Earth Day Gallery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Science and Tech

Rockets that breathe.  SABRE engines “use atmospheric oxygen in the combustion process.  The engine achieves this with its two modes of operation: its air-breathing and conventional rocket capabilities.”

 

Magnetic Fields light up ‘GPS’ neurons. Findings allow scientists to infer that birds, like compasses, can determine both direction and relative position.  Importantly, this research adds to evidence “showing how single brain cells can record multiple properties or complex qualities in a simple way.”

Get your own Galaxy Cube (image right). 80,000 stars from the Milky Way laser etched into glass. As seen in Design for a Living World.

Philosophy

12 Things you should be able to say about yourself:

1. I am following my heart and intuition.
2. I am proud of myself.
3. I am making a difference
4. I am happy and grateful.
5.I am growing into the best version of me.
6. I am making my time count.
7. I am honest with myself.
8. I am good to those I care about.
9. I know what unconditional love feels like.
10. I have forgiven those who once hurt me.
11. I take full accountability for my life.
12. I have no regrets.

Awesome tapes from Africa:  “music you won’t easily find anywhere else—except, perhaps in its region of origin.”

Popularity data:

Curious world!

At Wikipedia, it always interesting to see traffic on various articles, Some are constant while others are “One-Day-Hero” articles, receiving 1million views in one day, and that’s it – nothing after that.  The world acts in curious ways.

Here is an example: Google Launched Zipper Doodle few days back on Gideon_Sundbäck‘s B’Day. (Click here to see the doodle) You can see his article received 1m+ views on that day, and almost negligible traffic today.

For me, its something interesting, how the mind works and how someone [or something] gets popular overnight, and then is again forgotten over the next few days.

I hope this post contains something cool for you to think about.  The way I see it, your mind is a world. You are a wold abundant with resources like intelligence, stories, experiences, perspectives, curiosity..  Your self resources can be – and I think are best when – shared.

Be creative in your pursuit of extraordinary interactions.  Send out a Life Challenge or other playful yet serious opportunity with which friends can spice their minds.  Think of it as a game.

What should I send out next week?  I love discovering innovations and ideas you are passionate about.

Finally, this last image came as a Life Challenge response, too.  What does it mean to be happy, anyway?

In the words of my friend Carlos,

“Love this!  Nothing is too geeky, Amy.”

I concur.  Bring on the geek.

 

 

Thanks to Marconi Pereria, Rio de Janeiro; Antonella Broglia, Madrid; Will Sterling, Nashville TN; Mosab Abulkhair, Amman Jordan; Cody Marx Bailey, Austin Texas; Ramy Nassar, Waterloo Canada; Terry Pollard, Oxford UK; Kevin McClure, Birmingham Alabama; Shreenath Regunathan, San Francisco California; Philip Kovacs, Huntsville Alabama; Chris Palmer, Huntsville Alabama;  Kat Haber, Vail Colorado; Hugo Schotman, Zurich Switzerland; Abhishek Suryawanshi, Pune India; Nicholas Sykes, Doha Qatar.

The TED Conference 2012

Think of TED as a marathon for your mind.  Over the course of a week, roughly 100 presenters from around the world deliver power-packed presentations lasting 18 minutes or less.  Topics range from quadrotor flying robots to the abundant future of humanitybasic human rights to next-generation liquid metal batteries.  And that’s just the first session.

 

TED is a brain spa.  The main TED Conference hosts 1,500 attendees in Long Beach, California.  600 additional TEDsters gather for a simulcast event known as TEDActive in Palm Springs.  So maybe it’s a brain rave.  Heavenly perspective with the world’s big thinkers.  A little known sentiment among attendees is that meeting other people at TED is the best part of attending – even better than the talks is interacting with the audience.

‘TEDTalks set the atmosphere for you to jump in and engage with people you’ve just met.  You can feel like you’ve known for someone for years when really it’s been only a few minutes,” says one attendee.

This is one of many reasons thousands of people shell out thousands of dollars on an annual basis to immerse themselves in the hybrid reality that is TED.  Innovation comes alive.

What is it like to walk into TED?  Look up and you see a rainbow made of thread.  To the right, custom prosthetics printed in 3D via additive manufacturing. There’s a Google Garage; AutoDesk’s history of the universe; Target Idea/Paper Airplane Factory; Music Genomic Sequencing; TEDBookshop, Coffee Commons’ endless espresso and numerous lounges stacked cushily with the latest Steelcase designs.  These spaces are designed to germinate ideas.  A single conversation, for example, may include Peter Diamandis of XPRIZE, Jesse Dylan of Wondros Films and Jay Walker of Priceline and TEDMED.

Finally, a quick rundown of my favorite presenters from TED2012:

  • Peter Diamandis:  Our world is fueled with abundance. Rather than lamenting potential future catastrophies, how can we empower the billions of new minds coming online with the priceless treasure that is the internet?  A passionate case for optimistic possiblism.
  • Ed Glaeser, Harvard:  Globalization has increased the value of being intelligent.  Cities boast benefits ranging from higher incomes to lower infant mortality rates.  Most importantly, cities are a place to evolve culture.  As humans, we need to be immersed in innovation – cities allow us to experience and learn from the mistakes, failures, and successes of others.
  • Andrew Stanton, Pixar:  When you’re telling a story, invoke wonder.  Elegance is the ability to tell a story without dialogue and is a central tenet to Pixar’s success in making animated features mainstream.  Pixar abides by the Unifying Theory of 2+2, meaning that the audience should put things together.  Don’t give people 4, give them 2 + 2.  Make people think; make the story worth your audience’s time.
  • Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor:  Music is a new language and it has something powerful to say about what it means to be alive.  Factoids:  The earliest recorded music in history is from around 200 BC and was inscribed on a Greek tombstone.   Music “notes” were first seen in the 13th century as lines on a page.  Recording technology emerged in the 1880′s and forever revolutionized music such that suddenly songs could exist even when there were no musicians in the room.
  • Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA:  Believe in impossible things. Failure is key to success.  Case in point:  6 out of the first 8 rockets blew up on the pad.  ”There is only time to iron your cape..and it’s back to the sky for you.” Regina shared amazing technology inspired by biological systems such asadhesives akin to gecko feet and hummingbird spy drones.
  • Tali Sharot, Cognitive Neuroscientist: Optimism changes subjective reality.  It is a motivation to action.  If we expect to do well, stress and anxiety are reduced, resulting in positive health benefits.  Quoting Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can or cannot, you’re probably right.”
  • Taylor Wilson, 17 year old scientist:  At 14 years old, he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage.  Enough said.
  • David Kelley, Founder of IDEO: ‘We’re focused on human-centered design: designing behaviors and personality into products.”  Everyone is innately creative.  Unlock it and let your ideas fly.  Case study of creative success:  an fMRI machine at a children’s hospital had to sedate children 80% of the time for them to be still enough for successful scans.  The team reimagined design into a pirate cave.  Operators were trained by museum guides to bring kids into a game where they had to lay very still so pirates didn’t find them.  Results?  After the fMRI turned playful, only 10% of kids had to be sedated.
  • Joshua Foer, Memory Champion: Remember better by taking information lacking context and creating a framework so that it becomes meaningful.  Josh brings to the table important considerations about what we miss by not deeply processing interactions with others.  What do we lose when we constantly tweet, text, check facebook etc. in stead of engaging with the person across the table?
  • Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Winner: Leymah shares heart wrenching stories of women in Liberia.  We sometimes lose focus on the world outside our sphere, a world where, for example, a girl may get a scholarship only to find out that she must repeatedly have sex with the department chair if she wishes to keep it.  We have the power to change this world by giving a voice to the silenced and providing education scholarships to girls worldwide.
  • Brene Brown, Vulnerability Researcher: Final speaker at TED.  Outstanding presentation met by thunderous applause.  Rene speaks toward the importance of being vulnerable.  She asks “How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?”  In the spirit of TED, failure is necessary.  We will fail repeatedly in the process of success.  Those who take failure and cultivate courage, compassion and connection are the ones who are able to derive true meaning and joy from life.
 
 

And that’s a wrap.  Or is it.  The notorious “TED Hangover” has come and gone (#firstworldproblem: TED’s wonder seemingly surpasses reality and generally leaves attendees with a sinking feeling – the hangover – of returning home to the real world).  The question now is “what’s next?”  How do I turn these great ideas and phenomenal interactions into meaningful outputs?  How will this year’s TED shape the way I perceive future challenges?  I am inspired, invigorated, motivated by the abundance of great minds in today’s world.

As we learned from Ed Glaeser, urbanization increases both the true and perceived value of intelligence.  With this in mind, I challenge you to TEDify your life by participating in the 2012 TEDPrize:  The City 2.0.  Lead your community to the future you imagine.

Now I venture again out into the real world of thought and action, perhaps most inspired by a conversation starter which I humbly acquired at TED.  A stranger walked up to me, looked at my name badge and said “Hi, Amy.  So tell me, what inspires you?”

This is how I learned it is possible to have a deeply meaningful conversation with a stranger.  It is also possible to reconnect with the person you’ve known for years in a completely new way.  Today, this week, this year, try something new.  Dive straight into who you’re speaking with.  Strive to make every conversation worthy of TED.  Enbrace with daring courage the potential that someone will shut down your curiosity.   Embrace also that that person may tilt her head, be silent for a moment, then share something amazing that changes the way you think for the rest of your life.

What is TEDx?

TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design – is a pro bono organization that shares intriguing, intellectual, inspiring multimedia presentations from the pinnacles of human achievement.  To me, they demonstrate that the categories of accomplishment continually expand in the presence of persistent discovery.  This is what I think TED promotes through its “ideas worth spreading.”

TEDtalks, as these multimedia presentations are called, run from three to eighteen minutes in length (my personal favorite lasts but six).  Collectively, TEDtalks have been viewed near a billion times worldwide. ~700 talks. ~700,000,000 views.

If TED is new for you, you are in for a treat.   Enjoy.

The curators of ideas worth spreading fittingly shared their concept and created the “independently organized TED event.”  TED becomes TEDx.  Thousands of individuals then curate action by sharing TEDlike ideas.  This catalyzes an entire new level of collaboration and even, as Chris Anderson proposes, crowd sourced innovation.   It’s almost a new societal infrastructure.

This is amazing.   Not only is this one of the most beautiful evolutions of our human race, but the longer term outcome – say, what becomes of TEDx in five, ten years – is wonderfully beyond my imagination.

In my opinion, TEDx is a concept derived from TED.  Its purpose is to procure the finest attribute of humanity:  our capacity for thought.

The TEDy Awards

Chris Anderson on the TEDGlobal 2010 stage. afromusing Flickr

The future is a beautiful progression when seen through the lens of TED.  From cognitive neuroscience to middle eastern stand up comedy, the range of ideas worth spreading knows no bounds.   Nor does the way we audience members choose to convey our interpretation of the conference to the rest of the world.

It is my humble opinion that no description does justice to such human immensity as experienced at TEDGlobal.  How then to expresses the grandiose of thought..  Bright lights and a red (TED) carpet.

I give you The TEDys.

We start off with a bang.  The triumvirate.  Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

  • TECHNOLOGY.  Tan Le, Co-found of Emotiv‘s EPOC, a device that unfolds the cortical structure of the user’s brain to read what he or she is thinking.  Watch the jaw dropping demonstration.
  • ENTERTAINMENT.  Maz Jobrani.  This headliner in the former Axis of Evil Comedy Tour dazzles with jokes that unite the middle east with the rest of the world through the most connective medium of them all:  laughter.
  • DESIGN.  John Hardy.  Co-founder of Bali’s Green School, a soon to be off-the-grid holistic and sustainability education center featuring one of the world’s largest bamboo structures and one of only two hydro-vortex power turbines (that generates 8,000 watts of electricity daily).  Our future is in the minds of our offspring.
  • Runner Up.  Eben Bayer.  Co-inventor of Ecocradle and Greensulate: organic, compostable packaging and insulation, respectively, that is literally grown from agriwaste.
  • Runner Up.  Iain Hutchinson.  Founder of Saving Faces with the Facial Surgery Research Foundation, an organization that furthers the bounds of facial research and restores underprivelaged patients’ sense of well being through reconstructive surgery.  See the gallery here.
  • BEST SCREENPLAY.  David McCandless.  Leave it to David to incite oohs and ahhs with the statistics of health supplements (below) or a breakdown of multi-billion dollar expenditures.  Infographics are the wave of the future, making data not only more exciting, but easier to interpret by “combining the language of the eye with the language of the mind”.

  • MOST INSPIRING / MS CONGENIALITY.  Jessica Jackley.  Founder of Kiva, the microlending powerhouse that to date has linked entrepreneuers with lenders to the amount of $150 million (on loans averaging $200 each).  Check out Profounder, her newest venture.  Jessica’s passion to help her fellow man is nothing short of legendary; visible through the tears she shed on stage under her fervent declaration that “life is beautiful.”
  • PERSPECTIVE.  Chris Anderson.  Curator of TED.  Chris spreads the idea of “crowd accelerated innovation.”  The next global community is a matrix of teachers and students that is bounded only by its capacity to integrate great ideas into new discovery and creation.  Interesting.  See this post.
  • RETHINK.  Conrad Wolfram.  Remember those math courses where calculators were banned?  Conrad proposes an overhaul of mathematics, refining both the order and manner that schools impart information.  Scrap tradition and re-frame the future.
  • GREEN.  Johan Rockstrom.  Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Johan informs and inspires us to make a difference in this crunch time for the climate.  The next decade is an exciting and challenging opportunity for great minds to create the solutions that will shape the future of our world.
  • GIANT.  Stephen Berlin Johnson.  An idea is an evolution.  The “eureka” represents a process, a collaboration and influx of thoughts and inputs over time.  “Chance favors the connected mind.”  Cheers.
  • HONORABLE MENTIONS.
  • Tom Chatfield.  Virtuality is Dazzling.
  • Sheena Iyengar.  Choice isn’t always the optimal option.  Watch the TEDtalk here.
  • Eric Berlow.  Ordered networks encourage us to look at the nature of our questions.
  • Sugata Mitra.  Children function as self-teaching systems.
  • Joseph Nye.  Multi-polar global challenges are best surmounted with soft power.

CLASS FAVORITES (a bit of fun)

  • Best Dressed.   David Rowan.  Editor of WIRED.  Sunny Bates.  Networker extraordinaire, social crème brulée.
  • Visual Delight.  Jamil Abu-Wardeh. Producer of middle eastern comedy, including Axis of Evil Tour.  Elif Safak.  Writer, global citizen. Watch her TEDtalk here.
  • Stage Presence.  Anne Lennox.  Recording artist, social and political activist.
  • Triple Latte Energy.  Rives.  Poet, host of TEDActive, energy bomb.  June Cohen. Executive producer of TED Media, host of TEDUniversity, wit and smiles galore.  Sunny Bates.
  • Best Dancer.  Peter Eigen.  Founder, Transparency International.  Exposer of international bribery and champion of anti-corruption; great at the Tango.

Who would you give a TEDy?