The human scaled #RoboApoc

This semi-weekly feature scours the internets for news of the Robot Apocalypse (#RoboApoc). I rate each item on a scale of 1 to Skynet

Still stuck in the past.

When I think of robots (which is often) I think of humanoid robots, you know machines that look human. Maybe it is because of the pop culture robots that shaped my childhood, like C-3PO, the Terminator, or even Transformers.

After humanoid robots I think of robots that function in a human understanding of space and time, meaning robots that relate to the natural and human built world in the same scale we do.

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Humans Need Not Apply

Earlier this year I attended a half day meeting entitled The End of Jobs as We Know Them? Technology, Society, and the Future of Work, which was hosted by the Open Society Foundation’s Future of Work Project.  While it was exciting to hear from innovative leaders in of  Alt-Labor movement (Saket Soni and Sarita Gupta are at the top of the list), I was really there to hear from Carl Frey the author of The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerizationan academic paper from Oxford University, speak.

First they come for the burgers, then.....

The paper predicts that 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of being automated in the next 20 years. This figure has taken off in the media, Frey’s paper has been cited countless times by economics reporters and publications (here, here, here, etc). In my own informal monitoring of this type of news Frey’s research is the primary source that reporters reference when writing about automation.

Finally there is video that takes Frey’s paper (and even the new book The Second Machine Ageand makes it easily digestible (and terrifying). If you work for a living I recommend you check it out, and get ready for the Robot Apocalypse.

A choice quote –

“These jobs are over. The usual argument is that the unions will prevent it. But, history is filled with workers who fought technology that would replace them and the workers always lose. “

Racism, Chairs, and the Silver Set – This week in the #RoboApoc

This semi-weekly feature scours the internets for news of the Robot Apocalypse (#RoboApoc). I rate each item on a scale of 1 to Skynet

These kids are using tech to create a better world.
These kids are using tech to create a better world.

1. There’s an app for that. A family of Georgia teens created Five-O, an app that allows people to rate their interactions with the police. The people who conceptualized and designed the app – Caleb, Ima, and Ahsa Christian – range in age from 14 to 18.

#RoboApoc Rating – 1. Given the recent killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson, MO. police officer Darren Wilson, this app is super timely. Any app that makes it easier to hold people in power accountable is great. And the fact that this app was designed by teenagers means we may have a new generation of tech savvy freedom fighters on our side, the robots haven’t won yet. 

2. Wearable chairs? A Zurich based start up called noonee has developed the chairless chair. Basically you strap a couple of exoskeleton legs on, and when you drop into sitting position it they will take you weight. This ridiculous CNN article, which actually dives into the health concerns of sitting all day, proclaims you can even run with the wearable chair strapped to your legs. 

#RoboApoc Rating – 1. The promotion video above explains how the wearable chair is good for employees (keeps them injury free) and employers (keeps workers injury free and efficient), the only problem is they show a factory worker on an assembly line. Ha. Humans don’t work on assembly lines (in the US), robots do.


friendly robots

4. Human friendly. The 7th International Workshop on Human Friendly Robotics is happening in Pisa, Italy in October.  I learned about the workshop when I was researching CYBERLegs (more about cybernetic legs in a forthcoming posts). Apparently the workshop will address, “The technological shift from classical industrial robots, which are safely kept away from humans in cages, to robots, which are used in close collaboration with humans.”

#RoboApoc Rating – SKYNET! If there is a workshop to intentionally talk about  Human Friendly Robotics there must a be a fairly large trend of Not Friendly Human Robotics, and by looking at the webpage for this workshop, the friendly side could use some help.

5. The Silver Set. In an article for Harpers Magazine this month, journalist Jessica Bruder writes about the growing trend of seniors who take to the highways in RV’s and campers in search of seasonal work. In an interview with Alternet Bruder mentions CamperForce, an program that specifically recruits “work campers” for seasonal work in the company. Beyond the insanity of making seniors give up their homes and roam the country in search of work, there is the added old news that (two years ago) bought Kiva Systems Inc., a integrated warehouse management system that includes robots that follow stickers on the floor bringing products to pickers and packers.

#RoboApoc Rating – 8. The semi-robotization of what was previously considered unrobotizable (because of the human spacial relations skill that robots can’t replicate) is frightening enough. Combine this technological advancement with pushing vulnerable seniors back into the workforce and you have what many are predicting is the future of work in this country – temporary, contingent, precarious, seasonal. What is most troubling about this is that as technology rapidly evolves and companies keep up; workers, the organizations that traditionally protect workers, policy, and culture are not moving quickly enough. The robots are already here, and they are making our jobs easier and less.




Robot #Fail? – This week in the #RoboApoc

This is a semi-weekly feature that scours the internets for news of the Robot Apocalypse (#RoboApoc). I rate each item on a scale of 1 to Skynet


Hold still, you might feel a pinch.
Hold still, you might feel a pinch.

1. Robot #Fail?  This week everyone in the world reported that robot based bladder surgery isn’t better than human based surgery, it is the same. The #RoboApoc naysayers  are shouting from their mountain tops “See? We were right. No #RoboApoc here.” Really though? To me it seems the predictions around how robots in this particular arena would perform in relation to humans were wrong, but the forward march of the #RoboApoc is clear. Robots performing on par with humans is an advance for robots, these types of advances will continue. Also if robots perform better at particular tasks and cost less than workers who do the same tasks, then guess who wins.

#RoboApoc rating – 6 Robots- 0, Humans – 0.

3d printing + human muscle = biobot
3d printing + human muscle = biobot

Continue reading “Robot #Fail? – This week in the #RoboApoc”

Two consultants walk into a bar @ #nn14

A couple of nights ago I found myself sitting in the Volt Bar on the third floor of the Renaissance Center in Detroit drinking a way-too-expensive whiskey on the rocks with a friend, who like me, is a consultant. While we were talking work and life, one of his clients walked up and asked:

“Wait, who is billing who here?”

“I’m billing, he’s writing it off,” said my friend.


I chose to be a consultant for the typical reasons you hear: I want to be my own boss, I want a flexible schedule, I want to work with a lot of different people, I want time to pursue my own projects.

These ideas about freelancing and consulting show up in one of the dominant narrative about the changing nature of work (other narratives include the #RoboApoc).

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Sweet Sweet Greed

Thirteen days after a manager at a Pennsylvania sugar plant –  fearing slowed production – removed a safety-device from a massive sugar hopper,  Janio Salinas – a temp-worker from New Jersey – climbed in. He and fellow workers needed to continue bagging sugar for companies such as Snapple, and clumps were clogging the funnel hole at the bottom of the hopper. When his co-workers returned from lunch no one could find Janio. He had been buried alive and suffocated in the hopper.

Photo: Andrew Burton/ Getty Images
Photo: Andrew Burton/ Getty Images

This story was reported by ProPublica and Univision earlier this week. It is the result of a several-months long investigation by Univision, in which they sent producers undercover into temp agencies in immigrant neighborhoods in NJ.

After seeing the closing day of the #KaraWalkerDomino exhibit  A Subtlety (read more about it herehere and here) I am struck by gruesome realism of Janio’s death, and the symbolic significance of it.

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Solidarity is Dead


“Think about workers’ struggles. As long as they happened in the industrial factory, the acceleration in workers communication and action placed the owner in a defensive position and was able to defeat structures of control. Slogans circulated rapidly among workers in their factories and neighborhoods, allowing these struggles to become generalized….Microelectronic technologies have completely reversed this situation: capital conquers the capacity for rapid deterritorialization, transferring production all over the globe, while the timing of workers’ organizations remains localized and slows as compared to the one of capitalist globalization.”

Franco Berardi, The Soul At Work , p. 153

I’ve been thinking a lot about organizing, the power it does/doesn’t manifest, and the glue that holds it together: solidarity.

Continue reading “Solidarity is Dead”