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Daniel Susskind: ‘Automation of jobs is one of the greatest questions of our time’ | Technology

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Daniel Susskind is an economist and fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He has held policy roles in the Blair and Cameron governments. His new book, A World Without Work, explores how society should respond to the increasing automation of employment.

This isn’t an unexplored topic, so why did you write this book?
My view is that this is one of the greatest questions of our time. And in spite of everything that has been written, I didn’t feel like we had done the question justice. I don’t think we’re taking seriously this idea that there might not be enough well-paid work for everyone to do because of technological advances that are taking place.

Is that partly because of the way the question is framed, that “robots are stealing our jobs” when that’s not how these changes are happening?
Yes. There are two mistakes there. One is the sort of anthropomorphisation of technology – these robots exist but they are often gimmicks. The technologies that are really very powerful don’t look, think or reason like us. The second mistake is to think of entire jobs being replaced. These technologies tend to displace people from tasks – what I call task encroachment.

Many of the boundaries economists and computer scientists developed in the second part of the 20th century for thinking about what machines could and couldn’t do have been crossed. For example, driving a car, making a medical diagnosis or identifying a bird from a fleeting glimpse. All these tasks can be accomplished by software now.

And machines are often performing these tasks using strategies that are new to humans?
We thought many of these tasks would be difficult to automate because humans couldn’t articulate how they performed them. They relied on experience, intuition and gut reaction – so how could you write a set of instructions for a computer to follow? But by using lots of data and computing power, machines are creating new strategies.

In the light of this technological change, what career path would you advise a 16-year-old to follow?
Very crudely, I’d say, there are two strategies: either you learn to be good at the sorts of things these systems and machines cannot do or you try to build the machines.

But forecasting which jobs and tasks will be automated is hard. Should people bother training to be doctors or lawyers when automation is already encroaching on these careers?
For young professionals, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, I say the best thing to do is pursue the traditional path. But be far more agnostic and open minded along the way about opportunities that come up. Because what’s interesting is that if you look at these technologies – take the systems developed by DeepMind or the ones that recognise melanomas by Sebastian Thrun’s team at Stanford – these teams contain lots of domain experts, such as trained doctors.

Technological unemployment appears be growing alongside rising inequality – is there a direct relationship between the two?
Work is our traditional way of distributing income, so one of the great challenges of a world with less work is how we slice up the pie. The labour share of income is falling in many parts of the developed world.

Should robots be taxed and that money funnelled back to the victims of automation?
There are various problems with this idea. What do we mean by a robot? A driverless car isn’t driven by an android. How do we do a robot headcount? We do need to tax capital, the owners – however that has a branding problem.

But the owners of the these technologies are often quite good at avoiding tax.
If the trends in inequality continue, focusing on how we resolve that problem is going to become more pertinent.

You advance the idea of a “conditional” universal basic income.
I think the challenge in a world with less work is how you maintain that sense of social solidarity. At the moment, that comes from a sense that everyone is paying into the collective economic pot through their taxes or, if they’re not in work, they are actively looking for work or training for work.

I think one of the problems of a universal basic income [a payment made to the entire population regardless of employment status] is that too many people take offence at the idea that you give something and don’t expect anything in return.

But perhaps we can introduce conditions to a UBI, for example that you undertake some valuable voluntary work in return. There are something like 15 million people doing a hugely valuable set of voluntary activities in the UK – why not recognise that? The UBI solves the distribution problem – how do you share income if the labour market doesn’t do it very well? – and if everyone is contributing, some in economic and others in non-economic ways, that may solve the we’re-all-in-it-together problem.

Volunteering requires empathy and hands-on skills that computers find hard and such activities are not rewarded very well.
There is a paradox. Machines can’t do them and they tend to be unpaid by the market. There’s this huge gap between the social value of a lot of this work and the value that’s recognised in the market. So one of the reasons for optimism is that there’s an opportunity to potentially address that.

Work not only gives people income, but often gives meaning and identity. How can people get meaning from more leisure?
If we think the relationship between work and meaning is very tight, the alternative might be not to think of this as being about the future of work, but the future of leisure. You know, we have labour-market policies to shape how people live their working lives. Maybe we also need leisure policies to shape how people spend their spare time. We already have a pension system that is a heavily subsidised leisure policy of sorts.

You’ve worked in government. Is automation a priority for politicians or are they reluctant to address things that may only pay off long after they have been voted out?
Almost every government in the developed world has published some kind of AI strategy in the last few years. Whether or not they’re then following that strategy is less clear.

You have to explain that this is not a story about the future – this is happening now. Every day, we hear stories of these technologies, driving cars, making medical diagnoses, drafting legal documents, designing buildings – this is something that is happening now; it’s not in the future. It is closely linked to the inequalities we see emerging. It tends not to be acted upon because it’s thought to be something that doesn’t really matter, but it does.

A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind is published by Allen Lane (£20). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15

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Funds secures smelter, refinery jobs and North West supply chain

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The Palaszczuk Government will provide a multi-million-dollar economic recovery boost to secure more than 1,000 resource and manufacturing jobs across North Queensland, from Mount Isa to Townsville.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the funding would assist the ongoing operations of the Mount Isa copper smelter, the Townsville copper refinery and manufacturer Incitec Pivot.

The announcement is a key initiative of the Townsville Regional Recovery Action Plan unveiled today to support the region’s economic recovery and to create local jobs.

“We know COVID has had a huge impact on economic condition globally,” the Premier said.

“But we will emerge from this downturn and when we do, I am determined that these important jobs right across north Queensland will be here as well.

“Queensland has an economic plan for COVID-19 recovery and our traditional strengths like resources and manufacturing industries are critical to that plan.

“This investment will underpin 350 jobs at the smelter, 220 jobs at the Townsville Copper Refinery, and another 520 in Incitec Pivot’s operations in North Queensland, which depend on the smelter for feedstock.

“Queensland, like the rest of the world, is facing tough economic conditions because of the pandemic.

“That’s why my Government is stepping up to protect jobs in North Queensland, and also to maintain critical industrial capability and supply chains.”

The support package will allow for the four-yearly re-bricking and maintenance work at the smelter, due in September next year.

Treasurer Cameron Dick said the funding lifeline is part of the Queensland Government’s $8 billion plan to protect the health, jobs and businesses of Queenslanders.

“The Regional Economic Recovery Plan released by the Premier today, builds on our immediate commitment to keeping the region moving through extra support for businesses, workers and households,” the Treasurer said.

“Our strong health response and our strong borders have positioned us well for economic recovery.

“The North-West Minerals Province was one of the world’s richest mineral-producing regions, with half a trillion dollars’ worth of the new economy minerals needed for batteries and renewables.

“Demand for those critical minerals will climb over the next decade from the renewable and technology sector.

“Queensland needs to maintain minerals processing capability in the North West to keep supply chains open for future critical mineral developments and the jobs they will create.”

Member for Thuringowa Aaron Harper said the plan also includes more upgrades to Riverway and support for DriveIT.

“It’s great to see there is more than $19 million for further safety and capacity improvements on Riverway Drive,” Mr Harper said.

“And subject to further feasibility work, a $10 million boost will support the regionally-owned motor sport facility DriveIT delivering a range of programs and activities including driving courses, Emergency Services training, product testing and events.”

Member for Townsville Scott Stewart said the Palaszczuk Government continued to invest in strategic infrastructure to stimulate resources and renewable energy investment across the North.

“As part of our economic recovery plan, we have invested $15.98 million for the potential 1100 kilometre CopperString 2.0 high voltage transmission line to provide cheaper power and supercharge investment,” he said.

“To help get freight moving we have also invested $50 million in the Mount Isa rail line, to bolster capacity between North Queensland’s largest port in Townsville and the north-west.”

Townsville Regional Recovery Action Plan initiatives include:

  • Financial support for Mount Isa Mines’ ongoing copper processing operations – backing hundreds of jobs from Mount Isa to Townsville. This investment underpins 350 jobs at the smelter, 220 jobs at the Townsville Copper Refinery and another 520 in Incetic Pivot’s operations in North Qld.
  • $30 million for Big Rocks Weir –to help secure water and support local agriculture, subject to a successful detailed business case.
  • $19 million for more Riverway Drive upgrades
  • $10 million boost to support DriveIT – subject to further feasibility work
  • $2 million to support the development of an Australian first maritime autonomous system testing facility in Townsville to help position the region as a leader in the field.
  • $195 million to construct stage 2 of the Haughton pipeline supporting over 500 jobs.
  • $230 million in partnership with the Australian Government for stage 5 of the Townsville Ring Road underway
  • $14.8 million to fast track support for the Copperstring 2.0 high voltage transmission line to drive investment in the North West Minerals Province.
  • $16 million into investigating the potential raising and improvement of the Burdekin Falls Dam to boost the Townsville region’s water supply.
  • $950 million in payroll tax relief, supporting 25,300 jobs in the Townsville region.
  • $42.4 million in COVID-19 Jobs Support Loans supporting around 3470 jobs at 283 Townsville region businesses
  • $8.1 million in adaptation grants to 907 small businesses.

Glencore acknowledged the goodwill and constructive discussions with the Palaszczuk Government, which culminated in the agreement to extend copper smelter and refinery operations.

Glencore said the government’s incentive would help mitigate the ongoing costs of continuing its copper smelter in Mount Isa and refinery in Townsville beyond 2022.

“We recognise these metallurgical assets are an important part of the North Queensland economy and part of a broader supply chain which supports thousands of jobs,” Glencore said in a statement today.

Jeanne Johns, Incitec Pivot Managing Director and CEO said the Queensland Government’s support was a vote of confidence for the region.

“The government’s investment will support north Queensland’s industrial capability and provide certainty for businesses and jobs in the region,” she said.

“This commitment underpins fertiliser supply and manufacturing at Mt Isa and Phosphate Hill facilities, ensuring that major employers like us can continue to provide jobs to support the agricultural sector.

“Incitec Pivot is committed to this region which is a key economic zone for the state and will play a crucial role in the economic recovery of Queensland.”

/Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.

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Missouri S&T – News and Events – Researchers say job candidates are rated lower in virtual interviews

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Many of us have wondered how a job interview conducted via Zoom or another video-mediated communication tool would hold up against face-to-face interviews with other applicants. And that sneaking suspicion that the video interview is somehow lacking, is turning out to be true.

New research from Drs. Denise Baker, Devin Burns and Clair Kueny, all assistant professors of psychological science at Missouri S&T, provides some of the first solid evidence that people who watch a virtual job interview rate the candidate substantially lower than those who watch the same interview in person.

Their findings were recently published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction in a study called. “Just Sit Back and Watch: Large Disparities between Video and Face-to-face Interview Observers in Applicant Ratings.”

According to CNBC, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused as many as 8 out of 10 recruiters to turn to videoconferencing to screen and interview job candidates. This conveys a shift in hiring practices that may continue long after the pandemic’s impact wears off.

To address a gap in scientific literature on the impact of passive observation of real-time, video-based interviews versus passive face-to-face observation, the researchers created an experiment using a three-person interview paradigm. One member of the hiring committee asked the candidate questions in person, one member observed the interview in person without asking questions, and one member observed the interview through a video-mediated platform without asking questions.

The researchers analyzed 21 job interviews involving 84 participants. They measured the participants’ observations in three primary areas: impressions of the job applicants, such as likability, competence and hireability; perception of “agency” of the applicants, or the degree to which they were capable of emotion, planning and communication; and how much attention the participants paid to the applicants.

The results showed large differences, with video observers rating the applicant substantially worse across all measures. Differences could even be seen in the adjectives participants used to describe the applicant. Face-to-face passive participants chose words like “experienced” and “intelligent,” to describe the applicant, while VMC passive participants used “unprepared” and “unenthusiastic.”

“To avoid being unfairly biased in favor of in-person applicants, we recommend that all applicants are interviewed in the same manner,” says Kueny. “These days, that will probably mean all interviews through video conference.

“Our finding also has relevance for higher education where courses are offered as distance classes. The distance students may form more negative impressions of the instructor than the in-class students, for no other reason than the medium of communication.” 

For students and others who are virtually interviewing for jobs, the researchers suggest that applicants make an effort to address all online observers participating the interviews to make more of a real-life connection with them and gain their attention.

“We’re not saying that Zoom interviews are bad,” says Burns. “What we’re saying is that you can’t fairly compare them with face-to-face sessions, and employers need to keep things standardized.”

The team plans to continue their research on virtual interviews by investigating other factors.

“In future work, our team will look at how applicant ratings are influenced by additional variables like gender and interview quality,” says Baker. “Participants will wear mobile eye-tracking glasses to examine whether the visual cues people pay attention to differ between video-mediated and face-to-face observation.”

A preprint of the paper, along with the data, may be accessed through the Open Science Foundation at osf.io/anrgy.

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Mayor: Interisland pre-travel test may be coming | News, Sports, Jobs

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Kihei resident Jo Ann Belva has her temperature automatically checked at Kahului Airport as she passes through a thermal imaging checkpoint staffed by Army National Guard Specialist Cousintra Francis (left) in this photo taken Aug. 13. Pre-testing for travel through Neighbor Island airports, like Kahului Airport, is in the works, said Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino on Monday. The program would allow travelers to skip quarantine with a negative test. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A pre-travel COVID-19 testing program for interisland flyers to bypass quarantine “could be the prelude” to the program for trans-Pacific flyers, set to begin Oct. 15, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said Monday afternoon.

There are a “few more details” to work out, but the programs are similar, Victorino said. He said county mayors and Gov. David Ige were discussing the pre-travel testing program for interisland flyers, and Victorino anticipated an announcement from the governor to come before the end of the week.

Currently, those flying to the Neighbor Islands need to quarantine for 14 days. Travelers to Oahu do not need to quarantine.

The two-week quarantine protocols are in place for trans-Pacific travelers into the state. There is a quarantine exception for essential workers, but they are restricted to going between work and their place of lodging.

Ige announced the pre-travel testing program last week. Visitors from out of state may bypass the quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 prior to travel. Travelers will have to take the test within 72 hours before their flight to the islands.

Ige said drugstore CVS and health care provider Kaiser Permanente will conduct the tests as part of an agreement with the state.

Victorino said that Ige has formed a working group, which also includes top county officials, for the trans-Pacific pre-travel testing program.

County Managing Director Sandy Baz said Monday at the news conference that the state now has a new web-based quarantine exemption process for all trans-Pacific travelers, including those who travel from out-of-state to Maui and returning residents.

The new web process replaces the email request program. The website is travelexemption.hawaii.gov.

But interisland travelers arriving into Maui County and seeking a limited quarantine exemption, such as heading to essential jobs or doctor appointments, still need to submit their requests to MauiCounty.gov.

Like Kauai, Victorino said Maui County is working on a resort bubble, where trans-Pacific visitors can stay at a hotel during their quarantine period and partake of resort amenities, rather than being stuck in their rooms. He expected an announcement about the program in the next week or so.

In other COVID-19 developments:

• Victorino said he will not restore senior programs even if they can be conducted outdoors because they are “the most vulnerable group.” In responding to a question The Maui News received from a reader, the mayor said he would restore those programs, including Kaunoa Senior Services, when he felt it was safe and proper protocols and procedures could be put in place.

• The mayor reminded residents to take advantage of the state’s rental relief and housing assistance program, which is for full-time Hawaii residents who have lost income directly due to the pandemic and have a household income not exceeding the area median income. For other requirements, information and how to apply, go to hihousinghelp.com or call Aloha United Way at 211.

There were only 42 COVID-19 tests administered Monday at a West Maui testing clinic at the Lahaina Aquatic Center.

“I strongly encourage our residents to take advantage of those drive-thru programs,” Victorino said. “We got to keep testing. This is one way we can prevent spread from occurring when we do these testings.

“This is not (the) time to let your guard down.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.


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