Happiness At Work #50 ~ the future is now

Andrew McAfee: What Will Future Jobs Look Like (TEDTalk)

It’s tough to make predictions – especially about the future… Yogi Berra

Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when computers first began to be used in businesses, I can remember being told that the biggest challenge our generation would face would be what to do with all of our leisure time.  Because automation was going to free from us from so many things, we would have a ridiculous surfeit of our own time to do whatever we liked with.  Well, until now, I and the millions of others  who have been unsuccessfully trying to chase down an ever-increasing To Do List and get back any pretence of being even slightly in control as much as I have thought “well ha bloody ha!”

But could it be this prophecy at last be within reach of becoming true?

This is exactly what economist Andrew McAfee is claiming that this TEDTalk.

In the world that we are creating very quickly, we are going to see more and more things that look like science fiction and fewer and fewer things that look like jobs.

He admits that people have been wrongly warning of technology-induced unemployment since the Luddites smasked the looms 200 years ago, but says that what is different about now is that our machines have just started doing things they have never ever done before:

…understanding, speaking, hearing, seeing, answering, writing.  And they are still acquiring new skills…and the day is not too far off when we are going to have androids doing a lot of the jobs that we are doing now.

The world that we’re creating is going to involve more and more technology and less and less jobs, but this is great news he tells us.

…the best economic news that we have these days is that the New Machine Age will free us from drudgery and toil…

Just what we were told 35 years ago.  But maybe, just maybe the future is actually here this time…

This is a time of great flourishing for inventors, innovators and artists who are able to do things with less constraints than ever before…  we are in an astonishing time…

McFee is not concerned about dystopian fears that our machines will rise up to overwhelm and enslave us.  Or, at least, not ‘until my computer becomes aware of my printer…’

The societal challenge he thinks we do need to be thinking about is that, since the computerisation began in our work in the 1960’s, the gap has steadily widened between what work provides for people with college education, so-called white collar workers, and the life that non-college educated so-called blue-collar or low skill workers can make.  And these trends are now becoming so severe that they show signs of overwhelming any of last century’s civil rights achievements:

We have to do better than this.

We see some green shoots that things are getting better.  We see technology deeply impacting education and engaging people from our youngest learners up to our oldest ones.  We see business leaders telling us we need to rethink some of things that we have been holding dear for a while.  And we see very serious and data-driven efforts to understand how to intervene in some of the most troubled communities that we have…  But I don’t want to pretend for a moment that what we have will be enough…

My biggest anxiety is that we are going to have brilliant technologies embedded in a kind of shabby society and supported by an economy that supports inequalities instead of opportunity…

But I don’t believe for a second that we have forgotten how to solve tough challenges or become too hard-headed or apathetic to even try…

If we are going to bring the broad masses of the people in every land to the table of abundance it can only be by the tireless improvement of all or our means of technical production.

Winston Churchill

Systems that Perceive, Think, and Act

Technological advances are allowing scientists to begin building a cognitive computer that functions like a brain.

Since computers were invented, they’ve been called “brains.”

Yet, the fundamental tasks at which computers and human brains excel, the vastly different design underlying each, and the brain’s remarkable ability to learn and adapt has always set them poles apart — until now.

By bringing together the recent advances in neurosciencesupercomputing, and nanotechnology, we’re at the beginning stages of creating cognitive machines: inspired by the function, low power, and compact volume of the organic brain.

Ancient Greece people together and female column

This week I  have been questioning how much these days, if in fact at all, we are mindful to try and learn from the past.

I recognise the superabundance of history that we get – our television has perhaps never been so rich with re-creations, re-imaginations, re-enactments, re-stagings and other styles of historical re-tellings.  But I have been wondering how much this exists as a kind of wonderful-story product, something to know and enjoy as a distant and effectively fictionalised aspect of ourselves with little relevance or practical application to our fabulously enlightened and self-actualised lives today.

The childhood, adolescence and early adulthood I remember growing up was laden with ominous lessons from recent and more distant history.  We were taught to be vigilant against the horrors and oppressions of war and tyranny and to distrust any form didacticism, whether political or religious.  And we grew up in a tense spreadeagled balance between our fear of nuclear catastrophe along one dimension, and in the other, fiercely determined in the headstrong battles we fought to force out a kinder more equal world: feminism, black and ethnic minority rights and gay, lesbian and transgender activism.

And in a great many of these ambitions we have been successful and the world we wanted is the world we now have.

So what can history teach us now?  Do we believe that we have now transcended anything that we could ever need or expect to learn from our past.  Are we so arrogant to think that our world and lives now are so far removed and evolved from any of our previous iterations, that from here on in we are walking blind and will just have to make it up as we go along?  If so, why then do we seem to be doggedly and dogmatically banging down our old solutions that seem to me to have been conceived and designed for a previous time for a now outmoded set of circumstances?

George Papandreou: Imagine A European Democracy Without Borders (TEDTalk)

I am not the only one with an interest in looking back as a way of looking optimistically forward.  In this TEDTalk George Papandreou, the former Greek Prime Minister, invites us to remember the conditions and aspirations of the original democracy of Ancient Greece…

He talks about how mastery over our own fates was a discovery, a revelation to the Ancient Greeks and how this liberated us from the fear of being always subject to the whims of the gods or despots.  This was also the time that many of our modern ideas about happiness were invented, where we chose to see happiness as eudaimonia, wellbeing, more about the rewards of living a good life, living well and less down to happenstance, luck, whatever the gods chucked at us.

Bringing some of the insights that he has found though his reflections since leaving office, his story of what has happened in recent years, not just in Greece but across the whole of Europe and even across the globe, points up some of the deeper problems and complexities that we are all facing but not yet approaching with 21st century intelligence, collaboration and creativity.  Our problems, he tells us, are not so much of economics as they are of democracy itself.  We are, he suggests, responding with too much of a knee-jerk reactionary panic to an overbearing sense of subserviance to the market’s power and, as a consequence, destroying people’s belief and trust in democracy, just as happened centuries ago in Ancient Greece:

Democracies are once again facing a moment of truth…

Greece is only a symptom in the wider vulnerabilities of the system, vulnerabilities of our democracies.

Our democracies are trapped by systems to big to fail.  Or, more accurately, too big to control.

Our democracies are weakened in the global economy with players that can evade laws, that evade taxes, evade environmental or labour standards.

Our democracies are undermined and constrained by the growing inequality and the growing concentration of power and wealth, lobbies, corruption, the speed of the markets, or simply the fear of  an impending disaster.  And this has constrained the capacity to imagine and use the potential of  the collective for finding solution.

Greece was only a preview of what is in store…

He talks about how the group of leaders who met to solve the crisis in Greece shared a common ignorance of never having had to deal with these circumstances before, but that this ignorance led to fear and panic-led decisions and actions rather than anything like the creativity and innovation that can be born when the people around the table acknowledge their not-knowing and use this energy and honesty to forge brand new ideas and possibilities for action.

They used dogma and determinism when they would have been better to orient themselves with the sense and capabilities of creativity and learning and dialogue –  to look for and find meaning through conversation rather than defend an existing position, what Papandreous calls

…the blind faith in the orthodoxy of austerity.  Instead of reaching out to the collective wisdom in our societies, investing in it to find more creative solutions, we reverted to political posturing.

And then we were surprised when every ad hoc new measure didn’t bring an end to the crisis…

But this could be the pattern that leaders follow again and again when we deal with these complex cross-border problems, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s migration, whether it’s the financial system.  This is abandoning our collective power to imagine, falling victim to our fears, our stereotypes, our dogmas.  Taking our citizens out of the process rather than building the process around our citizens…

It’s no wonder that our political leaders, and I don’t excuse myself, have lost the trust of our people…

He says the reason he called for a referendum was because, before trust and confidence in the markets could be restored, it was necessary to restore trust and confidence in our people:

If politics is the power to re-imagine our problems, then 60% youth unemployment in Greece, and across other countries in Europe, is certainly a lack of imagination, as well as compassion.

His call-to-action is to:

…see how we can throw democracy at the problem.  The Ancient Greeks, with all their shortcomings, believed in the wisdom of the crowd.  ‘In people we trust.’  Democracy could not work without the citizens deliberating and debating, taking on public responsibilities for public affairs.

Average citizens were often chosen for citizen juries who decide on critical matters of the day.

Science, theatre, research, philosophy, games of the mind and the body – these were a daily exercise.  Actually they were an education for participation, for growing the potential of our citizens…

The term ‘idiot‘ originated in Ancient Greece, coming from the term ‘idio‘ meaning self, a person excluded, self-centred, someone who doesn’t participate or even examine public affairs…

Today we have globalised our markets but we have not globalised our democratic institutions…

How do we secure the demos, the space, the platform of values so that we can tap into all of your potential?

Citing Europe as already the most successful peace experiment ever achieved, he then makes the challenge that Europe might also be an equally successful new pan-nation experiment of global democracy, offering and even greater citizenship across its regions where they can come up with creative solutions, where our common identity is democracy and our common value is participation.

Today I will talk to you about the failure of leadership in our western democracies.  And I will not provide any feel-good ready-made solutions.  But I will in the end urge you to re-think, take risks and get involved in what I see as a global evolution of democracy.  Because I believe the failure of democracy is that we have taken you out of the process…

At the end of this talk he tells us:

I have been, and am, part of Europe’s political system.  And believe me, I know: things must change.

We must revive politics as the power to re-imagine and re-design for a better world.

But I also know that this disruptive change won’t be driven by the politics of today.  The revival of democratic politics will come from you.  And I mean all of you. Everyone who stands up…

See also these articles about the links between resilience and the collective…

Governments shirk their responsibilities in the name of ‘resilience’

Those with power and resources may be able to engage with and influence resilience agendas. Vulnerable people and communities may find themselves significantly affected by the retreat of the state and the steady erosion of the services they once provided.

In an age of uncertainty where the complexity and global reach of our social, economic and environmental systems can deliver what are claimed to be unavoidable shocks, the idea of self-made resilience has found a welcoming political home.  The impact of this widespread acceptance needs to be very carefully considered however.  Bouncing back or adapting is not better than avoiding risk in the first place.

Prevention is better than cure.

Resilience in trying times — a result of positive actions

Communities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to a new study by John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues. Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social’ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others…


U3: The 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia. Resilience

20 June–29 September 2013

In recent years the concept of resilience has grown out of the global trend of developing sustainability in the societies of the global North.

In natural sciences or physics, a resilient body is described as flexible, durable, and capable of springing back to its original form and transforming the energy received into its own reconstruction (a good example of this is the sponge).

In psychology, resilience refers to the subject’s ability to recover their original state relatively quickly after some significant stress or shock and continuing with the processes of self-realization without a major setback.

Resilience is more than just the ability to adapt, promoted by the concept of the flexible subject over the past two decades, which was adopted by corporate capitalism and triggered the precarious mass movement of labourers.

Resilience encompasses exploring reciprocal codependence and finding one’s political and socio-ecological place in a world that is out of balance and creates increasingly disadvantageous living conditions. Rather than trying to find global solutions for some indefinite future or projecting a possible perfect balance, resilient thinking focuses on the diversity of practical solutions for the here and now, and on the cooperation and creativity of everyone involved in a community or society.

The 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia gives prominence to practices that can be seen as analogous to the concept of resilience, i.e. community-oriented, site-specific, participatory, performative, architectural, social, civic and other discursive practices exploring new (or revived) community principles, such as the “do-it-together,” urban gardening, and co-working, as well as the fundamental social question of how we coexist. Blending work and everyday life forms the basis of new economic, ethical, and production principles that the younger generation of artists uses to transform the role of the creative subject in contemporary Slovenian society…

This week we have also discovered the artist: Suli Breaks.  Highly recommended:  We think his spoken word videos are truly exceptional and really reward tuning into…

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate||Spoken Word

Hear his articulate urgent voice about the world we have made and its consequences.  This is the video that is getting a lot of online attention.

The American’T Dream (The Purse Suit Of Happyness)||Spoken Word

For a more gentle and perhaps more optimistic here is his potent relevant vital Spoken Word video about living the life you care about.

Engaging Kids Today

Dan Haesler, a teacher, writer, speaker and consultant who’s worked with governments on education initiatives, says that teachers and parents need to be clear about what they mean by the term ‘engagement’.

According to Haesler, too many adults understand ‘engaged’ to mean occupying “the attention or efforts of a person”. This may be correct but it’s far too limiting. Yes, kids today are definitely occupied. There’s even the phenomenon now of the ‘hurried child’ whose calendar is filled with back-to-back commitments. Haesler wonders though if this is the best we can do. His much-preferred definition of ‘engaged’ is to “genuinely attract and hold the attention of our kids”.

This is the definition he wants us all to consider, “the sense of living a life high in interest, curiosity, and absorption. Engaged individuals pursue goals with determination and vitality,” he says…

Daniel Suarez: The Kill Decision Shouldn’t Belong To A Robot (TEDTalk)

‘No Robot should be allowed expectations of privacy in a public space…’

Science-fiction writer, Daniel Suarez – insisting that he is not talking fiction but facts here – says that we already have fully autonomous combat drones that can make lethal decisions about humans ‘all on their own‘ – having a human being in the loop is a choice not a requirement.  How might this change our social landscape he asks, and provides a brief tour of war history from the knights in armour through to the canon and on to the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that we have been living with for more than a century now.  70 nations are now preparing their autonomous combat robots, and he argues we must develop global agreements that build our immunity to these machines rather escalate conflicts before it is too late and we are already in the maze…

gun closeup

From fitness to wellness: OMsignal’s smart shirts measure your motion … and emotion

A host of fitness tracking tech is currently on the market allowing users to measure and monitor their daily activities, heart rate, exercise intensity and even how much they sweat.

 But what about your emotional state? Montreal-based smart apparel company OMsignal has developed a T-shirt and a bra that not only tracks your daily steps, calorie burn and heart rate, but it also measures your breathing and emotional well-being using your heart rate variability, or HRV.

OMsignal started to work on a wellness wearable in 2011 after the team members initially designed a fitness bracelet in 2008. The goal was to access a greater body footprint — to get deeper data — and then to extract more meaningful signals and generate more meaningful insights.

Those insights have a lot to do with stress. CEO Marceau — who’s a high-energy, passionate, excitable person — has been practicing mindful breathing for a long time. With an active, busy lifestyle plus the stresses of a startup, he needs the chill factor, and needs the health benefits.

Especially the benefits of mindful breathing — even when you’re not exercising.

“With breathing, you control your stress,” says OMsignal’s chief medical officer, Stéphane Borreman — who is not only an emergency room physician but also a mechanical engineer. “Good breathing can make overall better balance in terms of the nervous system.”

All of which means that OMsignal’s apparel doesn’t just count your calories or tally up your steps for the day. It helps you understand how you are feeling, and why … it measures your emotional state.

Happiness At Work #50 – this week’s new collection

See this week’s full collection for these and many more stories, not just under this Future Is Now heading, but also across our usual spread of stories about happiness & personal flourishing, resilience & wellbeing, creativity & artistry, learning & leadership…

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