Universal Basic Income Won’t Solve All of Automation’s Woes

In my last blog where I looked back at the election, I included a short discussion about universal basic income being part of the solution to the continued automation of jobs. While, I think that Universal Basic Income will really help address a large number of the issues we’re seeing due to automation, it will not solve all of them. This is multifaceted, but partially it’s because the people that need it the most in rural areas won’t accept it.

No, it’s not because they are dumb, but it’s because they don’t want hand outs. The right has been demonizing “entitlement” programs and the taxes needed to pay for them for decades now. Universal basic Income will be the largest such program ever. So, the first step would be to get them to accept the program. Which will be difficult. Jobs every where hold a measure of self worth and a way to define who you are. If there are no jobs, because all the long distance trucking jobs were automated, then these folks are going to have serious reservations taking money because they can’t find jobs. In some rural communities your job defines you in ways that don’t happen in large cities, mostly because everyone knows you in these small towns. In a large city, you can more than one completely different group of friends that have no connection to your professional career. You an have hobbies that are 30 minutes away from your house or your job and still be in the same city. In rural towns, a 30 minute drive may take you to three different towns without relatively closed communities.

So, let’s say we get all these folks to accept taking this government money, then what? How are these people going to be spending their time? We’re already having something of an epidemic of small town drug over doses that are heart wrenching. Children are in the car while their mother is passed out in the front seat from a drug over dose in the Wal-mart parking lot. In other cases they passed out in the aisle at Dollar Store.

In a large city, it’s easy for you to find hobbies to spend your time. You can volunteer, go to classes at one of the many local colleges or training centers to learn new skills or keep yourself occupied. Rural areas have a significantly smaller amount of opportunities like that. Even if people in rural areas decide to learn new skills, many of those skills may not lead to jobs in the same area. The jobs for those skills may be in a city which a lot of people that live outside of cities wouldn’t like. There is a reason why they still live outside of cities, they have no desire to live in one. They enjoy being able to go out to the woods, not to see anyone else. Love hunting and fishing or simply do not enjoy being around people that much.

Finally, even if every accepted universal basic income, it doesn’t mean that the sense of hopelessness will go away. It may make it worse because there is a dependence on someone else for everything. Furthermore, it’s not like universal basic income will be enough to allow you to buy a home or buy a space that’s yours. It will help you live and live above poverty, but not truly comfortably.

In the long run we will have to figure out how to make life meaningful when people are living on basic income.

An Election Reflection

I’ve been pretty disappointed with the entire election process this go around. I haven’t blogged at all during it because I’ve been so disheartened by all the candidates excepting Bernie Sanders. I felt betrayed by the Democratic party, which I even decided to join, shedding my proud independent classification to actually vote in the primary. He struck a cord with me that I think a lot of people that have lost their jobs and had hard times could relate to. Apparently, some people felt that with him out of the race the next logical person was Trump. He was speaking to the same people.

One thing that we have to keep in mind about this, and if you travel around the US you’ll see this, is that most of America is really suffering. I used to drive between Austin and Santa Fe, New Mexico on a really regular basis. This was a super depressing drive. There were entire towns that were essentially abandoned. Boarded up homes, empty shops with shattered windows, and rusted out cars on the side of the road. It was depressing. With my current job, I frequently travel to other cities for work. Most of these cities have a lot of money, but every time I’ve had to go near the part of the town that’s really depressed. That is hurting, that needs saving.

These are the people that voted for Trump. The people that have no hope. My home town most certainly went to Trump, the county did as well. Except for a few areas that part of the country is pretty depressed. In a small town like Grove City, there are only one or two major suppliers of jobs and if one of them closes down due to a loss of contract or moving a plant somewhere else, the entire town and surrounding area will suffer. Trump’s goal is to make it more difficult for that to happen.

States like PA were hit super hard by the shifting of economics away from manufacturing in the United States. Yes we’re still one of the largest manufactures in the world, but at most of those facilities, they are heavily automated and the jobs that require more and more skills are fewer and fewer. For example, in a semiconductor fab, there are two types, fully autonomous where the only labor are engineers or equipment maintenance people or manually loaded fabs, where you toss in a handful of operators to load the tools. The goal of every fab out there is to drive down the cost of the operators loading the tools but using systems that will do their thinking for them.

This is just business. This is only going to get worse over the next 5-10 years. In fact, news outlets are already calling that automation is going to prevent Trump from meeting his job goals, even if he pulls back large amounts of manufacturing to the US. Elon Musk is calling for a Universal Income because automation is going to take our jobs. It’s not just going to be low paying jobs, this is going to move up the food chain and will probably take out jobs like Paralegals, reduce the number of doctors, etc.

This is why Trump won. The folks that voted for him voted for him in spite of everything else he stood for. They were able to look past that because he was promising them something that Clinton couldn’t. He selling them the idea of real job creation. He was telling them that his business experience would translate to getting the best deal for US workers, because he’d done it before. This is what they heard. Even when presented with (faked) behavior worse than “Grab them by the Pussy” his supporters looked past it (Clinton supports did the same).

What we need to do now is to organize. Create long lasting groups that will change the way the US does politics. This needs to start at the local level and move up to the larger stages. It will take time. The first step to righting many issues within the country is to get rid of various forms of Gerrymandering and eliminate corruption through campaign finance reform. I believe this has to be the first place to start, because as Trump says, you can buy access to any politician if you give them money.

Gawker v Hogan is it really a first Amendment Issue?

Gawker just lost a wopper of a case today. They have lost their case related to reporting on the Hulk Hogan sex tape. It’s unclear how the sex tape was leaked to Gawker, or if there was any money exchanged, according to Wikipedia. Before we can determine if this massive damages of $115 million and potentially more as punitive damages.

Let’s take a step back and figure out what lines were crossed here. First, the Hulkster was not in his house. He as having sex with someone of his own volition. He was having sex with a married woman whose husband was known for filming his wife with other men. These all indicate that his privacy is going to be somewhat compromised, especially if the woman he was sleeping with had no idea if there were cameras running or in the bedroom at that time. So his privacy was already somewhat diminished because there was a likelihood of a camera in the house.

Gawker didn’t film this themselves. They did not set up Hulk Hogan to have sex and be filmed. There was no intent to create a situation where Hulk Hogan would be duped into having sex on camera for Gawker. The person violating Hulk’s privacy was the husband who’s bed he was having sex in.

Let’s take a step back and figure out where the boundary for privacy is in many of these cases. First we know that, due to the Streisand Effect, that suing over pictures of a celebrity’s house isn’t grounds for invasion of privacy. We also know that embarrassing images like Beyonce’s can’t be removed because people are talking about them and have moved into public discourse.

As much as media consumers have a love/hate relationship with the paparazzi, there’s some pretty clear lines for what’s an invasion of privacy and what is not – breaking into a home and taking the pictures themselves. If someone is in public they can be photographed. This may not be fair or really ethical in the manner they strive to get their pictures. But in public our expectation of privacy is greatly diminished.

So what about reporting on other sex tapes? Kim Kardashian sued several years ago over her sex tape that someone actually bought, rather than being leaked to them in the way Gawker had their tape leaked to them. Rather than following through with the law suit, she actually turned it into a business deal and likely made close to $4.5million, which really was the smart thing to do. She didn’t sue any of the many new sites that reported on this deal and the site she sued likely didn’t have the first amendment protections of a new outlet since it was a porn website. Tommy and Pamela Lee did win some money when suing over their sex tape, but that was over copyright infringement, because it was a porn company they sued, not a news site. So, most of the people that have won money in sex suits cases have been due to copy right infringement and, in fact, the women that were victimized during the so called “Fappening” threatened to sue Google using this approach.

In all these cases news sites reported on this and showed, in many cases doctored, images of the people that were involved in these cases. Kardashian’s sex tape was everywhere and snippets were shown on sites like Gawker. The argument here is that these are topics people care about and are news worthy. Which is why the paparazzi get away with the things they do, because people eat it up. The issue at hand is ultimately if this is actually newsworthy or in the topic of conversation. Which it was first talked about on Howard Stern and then stayed somewhat in public discourse afterwards. Ironically, similar to the Streisand Effect, the topic probably became even more interesting to the public as a result of the law suit. If Hogan had done nothing people wouldn’t have cared and I would never have written an article about this.

The goal here was to prevent other new agencies from distributing similar material, according to Hulk Hogan’s attorney. The goal is specifically to chill media activities in regard to celebrities. Which will be unsuccessful in the long run. History is on Gawker’s side and the president indicates that this will likely be overturned in appeal.

So, to answer the question, it’s likely a first amendment issue and because of the personality, it’s “news worthy.” The goal of the suit is to chill discussion and that’s unacceptable.

Tech and Art

Last night I asked for a writing prompt, not for my blog, but for my planned creative writing stream on Twitch.tv. Instead of a fictional writing prompt, I got one requesting I write about the intersection of technology and art. This is a pretty interesting space to be honest as there are folks that are building crazy things for Burning Man, Soak in Oregon, and just for fun.

The laser reflecting on the windmill is pretty interesting. I haven’t see anything quite like this before. When I used to drive between Austin and Santa Fe on a regular basis the wind mills in east Texas, always got me excited, even when it was just the flashing light on the top. The elegance of the blades juxtaposed with the barren landscape was really a great site to behold.

This gif also brought to mind another Dutch technologist/artist though. This creator uses a form of machine evolution to create super interesting “animals” that move around on beaches without going into the ocean and that move around more efficiently.

A book I read a number of years ago, called “Design Driven Innovation”  talks about how using art along with an understanding of how people use objects allows a great deal of innovation in our products. What might seem useless today, such as a laser on a windmill may actually help pave the way for new energy transmission methodologies or perhaps another way to enhance the amount of energy a windmill actually creates.

I’ll close this with my thoughts about an event in Eindhoven, The Netherlands that I really loved. It was a Glow Festival, which really makes sense because it was a city large built upon the successes of Philips. It is a festival where the entire city center is turned into a series of light art exhibits. It combines the aesthetics of the old city, with modern lights. I really enjoyed it and if you’re living in Europe I strongly suggest you check it out!

You’re Going to Hate the Next President

I think we all need to just admit that there will be policies that the next US President will implement that we will hate. It doesn’t matter if you support a Republican or Democrat candidate. You may even like some of their policies, but you’ll probably hate a handful and those may define what you really think about that President.

In my case I was an Obama supporter. I think overall, he’s done a pretty good job, but I hate his Mid-East policies, many which Clinton was the architect. I also hate his current stance on encryption, because I think it’s incredibly short sighted.I think we need our leaders to be long in vision, because it’s impossible to know who is going to be sitting in that chair when they finish. This is exactly the case we’re seeing with people incredibly alarmed about the policies that Obama has implemented in Donald Trump’s hands.

Techdirt raised this issue a few days ago in an article called “Abuse Of Power: Laws Should Be Designed As If The People We Distrust The Most Are In Power“. In the simplest terms the author calls for all laws to be written as if the people in charge right now expect to be replaced with people that are the polar opposites of them. In our current political climate that would be the conservatives being replaced as soon as they finish their terms with the most liberal democrats conceivable.

This is essentially how the Bill of Rights were written. Basically, the framers had a clear understanding of what the worst tyrannical  rulers in the world do to their subjects. Consequently, they could immediately imaging what would happen if that person became the ruler of the United States, but still bound by the laws of the new constitution. In that case, they could see that the tyrant would be constrained by these laws in such a way as that they would be “comfortable” with them leading the country.

In our case, we have continually eroded the defenses in the Bill of Rights over the past 200 plus years. So now, we have many policies that a great deal of Americans don’t really trust either political party with the powers they’ve been entrusted with. This is further complicated by the fact that our intelligence agencies don’t magically realign with the wishes of a new elected official. Similar to any entity, they continue to pursue their overarching objective and changes in those behaviors require massive changes. In the case of the NSA/CIA it may require changes in laws restricting them from behaving in certain ways with very serious repercussions to those that don’t change their behavior.

As a result, Techdirt is correct. We need to develop our policies with the assumption that “the other” is going to be in charge at some point in our lifetime. The group that we don’t ever want to be in power, will be. We have to admit that. To ensure that they are never able to abuse fellow Americans is to ensure that we do not ever abuse Americans nor other international actors. This then must be codified into law, thus when the most unsavory candidate you can image has a solid chance of winning an election, they will not have powers that we would abhor in their hands. That’s what we need to be thinking about.

Apple v FBI – What supporters are saying

I’m a big fan of Techdirt, I think that they do some really great work in digging into the shit going on around technology, policy, and laws. They put together a nice read through of the amicus briefs supporting Apple in the case against the FBI. They read through the 20 briefs and pulled out some really interesting gems, such as the fact that this software the FBI is trying to force Apple to produce will likely be flawed and insecure because it won’t go through all the proper QA processes that normal software will go through. They will likely try to just break the part that the FBI is requesting without changing much else, which means they won’t really thoroughly test the impacts on other parts of the OS.

Techdirt also has looked through the briefs supporting the FBI. These ones actually undermine the FBI in a few ways. First, other law enforcement groups essentially throw out the illusion of one phone. In fact the Manhattan DA is planning on using the compromised iOS to get into something like 120 iPhones. They will likely use this precedent to force Apple to write comparable versions of the OS for the newer versions of iPhones that this break isn’t expected to work on.

The last brief is from the DA in San Bernardino which really shows that this truly is a fishing expedition. They are worried about a “cyber pathogen” which is pretty crazy, because there is no reason to really believe anything like that would even exist. The DA also raises the specter of a third shooter even though there no evidence of it and there’s clearly never been a third shooter. Simply speculating that these things are there and making up more reasons to break the encryption of the phone when there is no evidence to support any of these speculations doesn’t provide more weight to the argument. In fact, it likely casts further doubt on the likelihood of finding anything useful on the phone. Truly showing that this is a waste of time and effort.

 

Using Tools to Enable Deep Work

I read an interesting article about programming today, the author says that learning to program is easy, it’s working “Deep” for long periods of time that is difficult. I think this a really insightful way of looking at mastering skills. It’s really easy to jump to the next email or ping when you’re learning because you’re afraid to fail at learning. When learning becomes difficult, people have a more difficult time keeping focused – even if they have an incentive (Pay check or paying someone) to learn.

This can be exacerbate by not having a good environment to learn in or a good teacher. A bad teacher that isn’t willing to give you the examples that you’re able to learn from in a constructive environment is wasting everyone’s time. However, if you’re self learning, then you’re going to be using mostly Google searches or maybe a few books here and there. The best way to learn then is to give yourself an interesting project related to something you care immensely about. I’m not an expert at programming, but I know when I’ve learned most successfully it’s been when I have a clear objective with the right tools in front of me to dig into the problem I’m trying to solve.

There are tools out there that make doing this sort of work easier and others that make this work more difficult. Git and all it’s various version are tools that can, once you learn them, make deep work easier, because you eliminate the fear of mistakes. If you screw up too bad you can simply start over from where you were. Breaking your project into chunks becomes much more important so you can work on items without risking the entire project.

There are other tools like Slack, that apparently, can really be a detriment to deep work. There was a breakup letter about this topic that’s been getting some attention. I think it’s focusing on the incorrect problem. Slack isn’t the issue here, it’s the person doing the work and/or the work environment that has caused the problem “Breaking up” with Slack is like breaking up a hammer because you’re unsuccessfully screwing in screws. The tool is not at fault, it’s doing what it’s designed to do, hammer in things, you’re applying it wrong or using the tool incorrectly. Yes, in this case it is not the right tool for the job, but you’ve done a poor job defining the problem you’re trying to solve with the tool.

At my company, I think we’ve come up with a pretty good solution to this. We don’t use Slack, but it’s competitor HipChat, pretty similar overall, but with the right tools integrated together, you’re able to create rooms for specific features. These are tied together between Bitbucket, Jira, and HipChat (yea we went all in on Atlassian), which means you’re able to see all the information you need about the problem the feature you’re working on is trying to solve. We’ve started to use this to pull in the voice of the customer (me in this case I’m not a developer) earlier into the process so that I am able to give feedback quickly to what the developer needs. This allows the developer to meet my acceptance criteria by getting quick feedback and then getting back onto the deep work of really writing the software.

In some cases can it be disruptive? Yes, but that’s only if people aren’t using it correctly and we work with them to change their behavior before it becomes a problem. Slack, Jira, Bitbucket, et al are only tools that are designed to reduce the burden of working with remote team members to enable us to get down to the nuts and bolts of deep work for programming.

Take a look in the mirror if you’re struggling with learning programming or using a tool like Slack. You’re the problem, create a structure around how you work and how your team works. Use your hammer on nails not screws.