70 Percent of Current Jobs May Soon Be Done by Robots

Kelly may be right, but it does not imply that we will all be unemployed. What will happen is that new and better jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities, will be created for humans.
Robots will do the boring, the dangerous, and the physically exhausting. We will do the creative and the analytic, and the social or emotional

(p. A21) Kevin Kelly set off a big debate with a piece in Wired called “Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs.” He asserted that robots will soon be performing 70 percent of existing human jobs. They will do the driving, evaluate CAT scans, even write newspaper articles. We will all have our personal bot to get coffee. There’s already an existing robot named Baxter, who is deliciously easy to train: “To train the bot you simply grab its arms and guide them in the correct motions and sequence. It’s a kind of ‘watch me do this’ routine. Baxter learns the procedure and then repeats it. Any worker is capable of this show-and-tell.”

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BROOKS. “The Sidney Awards, Part 2.” The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A21. [National Edition]
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 30, 2013.)

The article praised by Brooks is:
Kelly, Kevin. “Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — and Must — Take Our Jobs.” Wired (Jan. 2013).

Diane Disney’s Museum Displays Walt Disney’s “Childlike Sense of Play”


“Walt Disney with his daughters Sharon, left, and Diane in 1941.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B16) Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney’s last surviving child, who . . . co-founded a museum dedicated to the memory of her father as a human being rather than a brand, died on Tuesday [November 19, 2013] in Napa Valley, Calif., where she had a home. She was 79.
. . .
At her death, Mrs. Miller was president of the board of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, whose mission is to ensure that her father, and not just his company, is remembered.
“My kids have literally encountered people who didn’t know that my father was a person,” she told The Times in 2009. “They think he’s just some kind of corporate logo.”
She opened the Walt Disney Family Museum in 2009, financing it through the foundation.
“The Disney Museum is far from being an airbrushed portrait,” Edward Rothstein of The Times wrote in a review of the museum, adding, “The family movies on display show, at the very least, Disney’s childlike sense of play, particularly with his two young daughters.”

For the full obituary, see:
DANIEL E. SLOTNIK. “Diane Disney Miller, 79, Keeper of Walt’s Flame.” The New York Times (Thurs., November 21, 2013): B16.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date November 20, 2013, and has the title “Diane Disney Miller, 79, Keeper of Walt’s Flame, Dies.” The online version substitutes the word “co-founded” for the word “founded” that appeared in the first paragraph of the print version.)

Spencer Justified Carnegie as an Agent of Progress

(p. 229) Whether they read Spencer for themselves, as Carnegie had, or absorbed his teachings secondhand, his evolutionary philosophy provided the Gilded Age multimillionaires with a framework for rationalizing and justifying their outsized material success. In the Spencerian universe, Carnegie and his fellow millionaires were agents of progress who were contributing to the forward march of history into the industrial epoch. Carnegie was not exaggerating when he proclaimed himself a disciple of Spencer and referred to him, in almost idolatrous terms, as his master, his teacher, one of “our greatest benefactors,” and the “great thinker of our age.”

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

Solitude May Allow “Making Novel Connections Between Far-Flung Ideas”


Source of book image: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/focus.jpg

(p. 16) What appears to be most at risk is our ability to experience open awareness. Always a rare and elusive form of thinking, it seems to be getting rarer and more elusive. Our modern search-engine culture celebrates information gathering and problem solving — ways of thinking associated with orienting and selective focus — but has little patience for the mind’s reveries. Letting one’s thoughts wander seems frivolous, a waste of practical brainpower. Worse, our infatuation with social media is making it harder to hear the mind’s whispers. Solitude has fallen out of fashion. Even when we’re by ourselves, we’re rarely alone with our thoughts.

In the end, we may come to see the flights and fancies of open awareness as not only dispensable but pathological. Goleman points out that the brain systems associated with creative mind-wandering tend to be “unusually active” in people with attention-deficit disorder. When they appear to be “zoning out,” they may actually be making novel connections between far-flung ideas.

For the full review, see:
NICHOLAS CARR. “Attention Must Be Paid.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 16.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)

Book under review:
Goleman, Daniel. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

The Use of Note Cards to Structure Writing

(p. A21) I tell college students that by the time they sit down at the keyboard to write their essays, they should be at least 80 percent done. That’s because “writing” is mostly gathering and structuring ideas.
For what it’s worth, I structure geographically. I organize my notes into different piles on the rug in my living room. Each pile represents a different paragraph in my column. The piles can stretch on for 10 feet to 16 feet, even for a mere 806-word newspaper piece. When “writing,” I just pick up a pile, synthesize the notes into a paragraph, set them aside and move on to the next pile. If the piece isn’t working, I don’t try to repair; I start from scratch with the same topic but an entirely new structure.
The longtime New Yorker writer John McPhee wonderfully described his process in an essay just called “Structure.” For one long article, McPhee organized his notecards on a 32-square-foot piece of plywood. He also describes the common tension between chronology and theme (my advice: go with chronology). His structures are brilliant, but they far too complex for most of us. The key thing is he lets you see how a really fine writer thinks about the core problem of writing, which takes place before the actual writing.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BROOKS. “The Sidney Awards, Part 2.” The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A21. [National Edition]
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 30, 2013.)

The article praised by Brooks is:
McPhee, John. “Structure.” The New Yorker (Jan. 14, 2013): 46-55.

Walt Disney’s “Job” Was to “Restore Order to the Chaos of Life”

ThompsonHanksSavingMrBanks2014-01-17.jpg “Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in “Saving Mr. Banks,” directed by John Lee Hancock.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I’m a fan of Disney the entrepreneur and I think that Hanks does a good job of showing that side of Disney. It’s a movie made by the Disney company, but has a darker, more adult-themed, side than most “Disney” movies. It’s not on my all-time-top-10-list. But we enjoyed it, overall. (Paul Giamatti is wonderful.)

(p. C8) “Saving Mr. Banks,” released by Disney, is a movie about the making of a Disney movie (“Mary Poppins”), in which Walt Disney himself (played by Tom Hanks) is a major character. It includes a visit to Disneyland and, if you look closely, a teaser for its companion theme park in Florida (as yet unbuilt, when the story takes place). A large Mickey Mouse plush toy appears from time to time to provide an extra touch of humor and warmth. But it would be unfair to dismiss this picture, directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, as an exercise in corporate self-promotion. It’s more of a mission statement.
. . .
. . . Walt is less a mogul than a kind and reliable daddy. He dotes on his intellectual properties (the mouse, the park, the picture) as if they were his children. He wants to adapt Mrs. Travers’s novel to keep a promise to his daughters.
. . .
. . . Walt, in a late, decisive conversation, explains that their job as storytellers is to “restore order” to the chaos of life and infuse bleak realities with bright, happy colors.

For the full review, see:
A. O. SCOTT. “An Unbeliever in Disney World.” The New York Times (Fri., December 13, 2013): C8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 12, 2013.)

William Abbott Thought Tom Carnegie Was a “Better Business Man” than Andrew

The relationship between Andrew and Tom Carnegie sketched in the passage below seems, in some ways, similar to the relationship between Walt and Roy Disney.

(p. 138) William Abbott, who knew both Carnegies from their early days at the Pittsburgh iron mills, thought Andrew a genius, but regarded Tom as the “better business man.” Tom, Abbott told Burton Hendrick, “was solid, shrewd, farseeing, absolutely honest and dependable.” The two brothers had very different notions about business. Andrew was the ambitious one, (p. 139) filled with new ideas; Tom “was content with a good, prosperous, safe business and cared nothing for expansion. He disapproved of Andrew’s skyrocketing tendencies, regarded him as a plunger and a dangerous leader. Tom wanted earnings in the shape of dividends, whereas Andrew insisted on using them for expansion.” There were other differences as well. While Andrew sought out publicity, Tom ran away from it. He was silent, retiring, “not a mixer in society, was tongue-tied at dinner parties and social gatherings.”

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

Artificial Intelligence Is a Complement to Human Intelligence, Not a Substitute for It


Source of book image: http://img2-1.timeinc.net/ew/i/2013/11/05/Smarter-Than-You-Think.jpg

(p. 11) Clive Thompson, a Brooklyn-based technology journalist, uses this tale to open “Smarter Than You Think,” his judicious and insightful book on human and machine intelligence. But he takes it to a more interesting level. The year after his defeat by Deep Blue, Kasparov set out to see what would happen if he paired a machine and a human chess player in a collaboration. Like a centaur, the hybrid would have the strength of each of its components: the processing power of a large logic circuit and the intuition of a human brain’s wetware. The result: human-machine teams, even when they didn’t include the best grandmasters or most powerful computers, consistently beat teams composed solely of human grandmasters or superfast machines.

Thompson’s point is that “artificial intelligence” — defined as machines that can think on their own just like or better than humans — is not yet (and may never be) as powerful as “intelligence amplification,” the symbiotic smarts that occur when human cognition is augmented by a close interaction with computers.

For the full review, see:
WALTER ISAACSON. “Brain Gain.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 11.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)

Book under review:
Thompson, Clive. Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.

Peck Shows that Job Interviews Do Not Identify Good Hires

(p. A18) Don Peck looked at how companies assess potential hires in an essay in The Atlantic called “They’re Watching You at Work.”
Peck demonstrates something that most of us already sense: that job interviews are a lousy way to evaluate potential hires. Interviewers at big banks, law firms and consultancies tend to prefer people with the same leisure interests — golf, squash, whatever. In one study at Xerox, previous work experience had no bearing on future productivity.
Now researchers are using data to try again to make a science out of hiring. They watch how potential hires play computer games to see who is good at task-switching, who possesses the magical combination: a strict work ethic but a loose capacity for “mind wandering.” Peck concludes that this greater reliance on cognitive patterns and game playing may have an egalitarian effect. It won’t matter if you went to Harvard or Yale. The new analytics sometimes lead to employees who didn’t even go to college. The question is do these analytics reliably predict behavior? Is the study of human behavior essentially like the study of nonhuman natural behavior — or is there a ghost in the machine?

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BROOKS. “The Sidney Awards.” The New York Times (Fri., December 27, 2013): A18. [National Edition]
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 26, 2013, and has the title “The Sidney Awards, Part 1.”)

The article praised by Brooks is:
Peck, Don. “They’re Watching You at Work.” The Atlantic (Dec. 2013).

Regulators Forbid Doctor from Curing Dentist’s Pelvic Pain

DavidsonDaneilPelvicPain2014-01-16.jpg “Dr. Daniel Davidson, an Idaho dentist, has pelvic pain so severe that he cannot sit, and can stand for only limited periods.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A18) After visiting dozens of doctors and suffering for nearly five years from pelvic pain so severe that he could not work, Daniel Davidson, 57, a dentist in Dalton Gardens, Idaho, finally found a specialist in Phoenix who had an outstanding reputation for treating men like him.

Dr. Davidson, whose pain followed an injury, waited five months for an appointment and even rented an apartment in Phoenix, assuming he would need surgery and time to recover.
Six days before the appointment, it was canceled. The doctor, Michael Hibner, an obstetrician-gynecologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, had learned that members of his specialty were not allowed to treat men and that if he did so, he could lose his board certification — something that doctors need in order to work.
The rule had come from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. On Sept. 12, it posted on its website a newly stringent and explicit statement of what its members could and could not do. Except for a few conditions, gynecologists were prohibited from treating men. Pelvic pain was not among the exceptions.
Dr. Davidson went home, close to despair. His condition has left him largely bedridden. The pain makes it unbearable for him to sit, and he can stand for only limited periods before he needs to lie down.
“These characters at the board jerked the rug out from underneath me,” he said.

For the full story, see:
DENISE GRADY. “Men With Pelvic Pain Find a Path to Treatment Blocked by a Gynecology Board.” The New York Times (Weds., December 11, 2013): A18.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 10, 2013.)

Carnegie Created “Plausible Fictions” on the Future Demand for Minor Railroads

Economists and historians continue to debate the importance or unimportance of railroads in the economic growth of the United States. This is a debate that I need to explore more.

(p. 129) It is doubtful that either [Scott or Carnegie] . . . truly believed that the new railroads, when built, would carry enough traffic to earn back their construction costs. A great number of them were along lightly traveled routes, which, like the Gilman, Springfield & Clinton Railroad in Illinois, connected small cities that did little business with one another. The roads were being built because money could be made building them. Carnegie profited from the commissions on the bond sales; Scott from diverting funds earmarked for construction into the hands of the select number of investors, himself included, who were directors of both the railroad and the improvement companies.

To raise money for roads not yet built and probably not really needed, Carnegie and Scott trafficked in what Richard White refers to as “the utilitarian fictions of capitalism.” Together, they constructed “plausible fictions” about the railroads, the passengers and freight that would ride them, the tolls that would be collected, the villages that would grow into towns and the towns into cities, creating new populations, products, and commerce.
Carnegie, a consummate optimist, took naturally to the task.

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: bracketed words and ellipsis added.)
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)