Even Alibaba Entrepreneur Jack Ma Cannot Speak His Mind in Communist China

(p. A1) Chinese President Xi Jinping personally made the decision to halt the initial public offering of Ant Group, which would have been the world’s biggest, after controlling shareholder Jack Ma infuriated government leaders, according to Chinese officials with knowledge of the matter.

. . .

In a speech on Oct. 24 [2020], days before the financial-technology giant was set to go public, Mr. Ma cited Mr. Xi’s words in what top government officials saw as an effort to burnish his own image and tarnish that of regulators, these people said.

At the event in Shanghai, Mr. Ma, the country’s richest man, quoted Mr. Xi saying, “Success does not have to come from me.” As a result, the tech executive said, he wanted to help solve China’s financial problems through innovation. Mr. Ma bluntly criticized the government’s increasingly tight financial regulation for holding back technology development, part of a long-running battle between Ant and its overseers.

. . .

During his 21-minute speech, he criticized Beijing’s campaign to control financial risks. “There is no systemic risk in China’s financial system,” he said. “Chinese finance has no system.”

He also took aim at the regulators, saying they “have only focused on risks and overlooked development.” He accused big Chinese banks of harboring a “pawnshop mentality.” That, Mr. Ma said, has “hurt a lot of entrepreneurs.”

His remarks went viral on Chinese social media, where some users applauded Mr. Ma for daring to speak out. In Beijing, though, senior officials were angry, and officials long calling for tighter financial regulation spoke up.

After Mr. Xi decided that Ant’s IPO needed to be halted, financial regulators led by Mr. Liu, the leader’s economic czar, convened on Oct. 31 and mapped out an action plan to take Mr. Ma to task, according to the government officials familiar with the decision-making.

For the full story, see:

Jing Yang and Lingling Wei. “China’s President Personally Scuttled Record Ant IPO.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov 13, 2020): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 12, 2020, and has the title “China’s President Xi Jinping Personally Scuttled Jack Ma’s Ant IPO.”)

Venture Capitalists Can Be Easy to Fool

I admire much about Peter Thiel, but was stunned to read in his Zero to One (p. 160) that he only invests venture capital money in start-ups whose founding supplicant is wearing a t-shirt. The review quoted below confirms that other venture capitalists also use dubious criteria to evaluate entrepreneurs.

(p. C4) Neumann’s innovation with WeWork was to repurpose office space for freelancers worldwide — rebranding precarity into community.

. . .

. . . Neumann seemed to believe that the pesky demands of having to turn a profit didn’t quite apply to him, even as he was determined to live the ostentatious life of a bohemian tycoon.

. . .

WeWork pulled the classic new-economy maneuver of hiring idealistic young people, deploying them to the point of exhaustion and paying them peanuts while telling them that they were part of a revolution — what Neumann called “the ‘We’ decade.” Eventually, WeWork offered stock options, though Neumann would be the one to cash out hundreds of millions in stock in order to fund an escalating lifestyle that had grown to include five children, several houses, a penchant for $200 T-shirts and lots of pot.

. . .

“Billion Dollar Loser” would be absorbing enough were it just about one man’s grandiosity, but Wiedeman has a larger argument to make about what Neumann represents. Neumann finagled funding not only from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate led by the billionaire-entrepreneur Masayoshi Son, who liked to say that “feeling is more important than numbers,” but also from the venerable venture capital firm Benchmark. Neumann had passed himself off as a tech visionary, even though he rarely used a computer and WeWork’s IT department was once run by a high school student from Queens.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Big Dreams, and a Harsh Awakening.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 22, 2020): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 21, 2020, and has the title “‘Billion Dollar Loser’ Recounts WeWork’s Big Dreams and Its Harsh Wake-Up Call.”)

The book under review is:

Wiedeman, Reeves. Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2020.

“The Often-Unsung Adaptability of Organic Intelligence”

(p. A13) . . ., as the journalist Jonathan Waldman chronicles in “SAM,” the quest for a bricklaying robot has been bumpier than the work of a mason with vertigo.

. . .

Several themes run through the book. First is the often-unsung adaptability of organic intelligence.

. . .

The minute adjustments a human makes when manipulating objects, especially in messy environments like construction sites, result from billions of years of evolution. We make it look easy, until you give instructions to a robot and watch it fumble around or freeze up when it gets a little dirt on its face. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief A.I. scientist, once told me, “I would declare victory if in my professional lifetime we could make machines that are as intelligent as a rat.”

Mr. Peters has laudable motivations. “By creating a bricklaying robot,” Mr. Waldman writes, “he aimed to eliminate lifting and bending and repetitive-motion injuries in humans; to improve the quality of walls; to finish jobs faster and safer and cheaper; and to ease project scheduling and estimation. Basically: to modernize the world’s second oldest and most primitive trade.”

. . .

Within this physically and culturally harsh environment, Construction Robotics had to invent and reinvent their business model on the fly. Should they license their innovations? Sell the robots? Rent them? Provide robots and technicians as a service? Create a full-service masonry shop? Pivot from bricks to cement blocks? Take money from venture capitalists, court Google or a Dubai investment fund? Mr. Peters follows the philosophy of the book “The Lean Startup” and aims for an MVP—minimum viable product—to gain exposure and experience, knowing the risks in the construction industry. Word of a robot that builds crummy walls will travel fast, and demolished reputations are hard to rebuild.

The business finally finds its footing in the epilogue, around 2018. Construction Robotics gets SAM to lay more than 3,000 bricks a day (versus 300 to 1,000 for a human mason), and they create another machine that helps workers lift and place concrete blocks, quickly selling dozens. The company now looks to be solvent, though it’s unclear how much the construction landscape is poised to change.

For the full review, see:

Hutson, Matthew. “BOOKSHELF; Building a Better Bricklayer.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 13, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘SAM’ Review: Building a Better Bricklayer.”)

The book under review is:

Waldman, Jonathan. SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.

Build a Better Chalk and a South Korean Will Beat a Path to Your Door

A cliché usually credited to Emerson says that ‘if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.’ Many, including Peter Thiel in his co-authored Zero to One, argue that the inventor of the better mousetrap needs some marketing to let the world know that her mousetrap is better. I think Thiel is mainly right, but the story quoted below suggests that sometimes the cliché may be true.

(p. A12) The bright-white sticks drop one by one into the whir and clatter of a weatherworn piece of machinery, where they are stamped with the most celebrated name in chalk: Hagoromo.

. . .

Of the thick grayish mass that emerges, four ingredients are known: calcium carbonate, clay, glue and oyster shells. The other three are a secret. In a video posted to YouTube about the chalk, an American fan offers a guess as to one of them: angel tears.

Hagoromo chalk is a cult favorite of elite academics, artists and others around the world who praise it for its silky feel, vibrant colors, scant dust and nearly unbreakable quality. Mathematicians in particular are prone to waxing poetic about it, and buying it in bulk. The YouTube video, produced by Great Big Story, has been viewed more than 18 million times.

Despite its renown, Hagoromo is still produced on a relatively small scale, using custom-made equipment, much of it run by two laborers who are identical twins — a throwback in a high-tech era where interactive displays are replacing chalkboards.

. . .

In 2014, Takayasu Watanabe, the grandson of the company’s founder, announced that Hagoromo would halt production, partly because of the industry’s declining fortunes and partly because of his own ill health.  . . .

As Mr. Watanabe was preparing to shut it down, he received a visit from Shin Hyeong-seok, who had been importing the chalk to South Korea for nearly 10 years. Mr. Shin sold the chalk through the company he started, Sejong Mall, named after King Sejong the Great, who in the 15th century created Hangeul, the Korean writing system.

Mr. Shin had discovered the chalk years before in Japan while investigating the workings of cram schools.   . . .

“I went into the teachers’ lounge and remember being mesmerized by the fluorescent-colored chalks,” he said. “And when I started writing with one, I could not put it down.”

On his trip to see Mr. Watanabe, Mr. Shin presented what he called a “crazy idea.” He, a teacher and importer with no manufacturing experience, would take over production of the chalk in South Korea. Mr. Watanabe laughed.

But Mr. Shin kept pressing. “My pitch to him was that there are many things in the world that will disappear one day, but the best-quality item should be the last to do so,” Mr. Shin said.

. . .

Takako Iwata, the second of Mr. Watanabe’s three daughters, who served as interpreter for Mr. Shin and her father, . . . said she wasn’t exactly sure how Hagoromo had become so beloved outside Japan. “I guess people who came to Japan just kept on bringing the chalk back to their home countries,” she said. “When my father was still running the company, he did not know about this huge following.”

That changed a bit, though, in his company’s final months, when he received a flood of orders, including from American professors who hoped to buy supplies large enough to last 10 years or more.

David Eisenbud, the director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, said he had bought enough to last the rest of his life.

Dr. Eisenbud is a key figure in the chalk’s popularization in the United States. He was first introduced to it years ago during a visit to the University of Tokyo. “Everything about the chalk was exquisite,” he said. “I thought, ‘Chalk is chalk,’ but I was wrong.”

He later persuaded an acquaintance to import the chalk into the United States. (Mr. Shin now sells it to American buyers through Amazon.)

Yujiro Kawamata, a Japanese mathematician who introduced Hagoromo to Dr. Eisenbud, marveled at the turn of events.

“I happened to tell Eisenbud about the chalk, which was just a tool that was a part of my everyday life, and now the whole world knows about it,” Dr. Kawamata said.

For the full story, see:

Hikari Hida and Jean Chung. “How a Beloved Chalk Bridged a Bitter Divide to Survive.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 18, 2020): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 17, 2020, and has the title “A Ride on the Assembly Line With the World’s Most Famous Chalk.”)

PayPal entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s co-authored book mentioned above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.

A.I. Lacks Common Sense: “A Broad and Often Unspoken Understanding of How the World Works”

(p. A15) Journalists like to punctuate stories about the risks of artificial intelligence—particularly long-term, humanity-threatening risks—with images of the Terminator. The idea is that unchecked robots will rise up and kill us all.

. . .

Melanie Mitchell, a computer scientist at Portland State University, is in the too-soon-to-worry camp. “My own opinion is that too much attention has been given to the risks from superintelligent AI,” she writes in “Artificial Intelligence,” “and far too little to deep learning’s lack of reliability and transparency and its vulnerability to attacks.”

. . .

Object-recognition software, for instance, can track pedestrians, detect tumors and sort photo libraries. But it doesn’t understand the content the way we do. Its obtuseness becomes sharply apparent in so-called adversarial attacks, in which only minimal changes to an image (or a sound or text file) can fool an AI into misidentifying it. Such attacks even transfer to the real world. A stop sign with a few innocuous stickers becomes a speed-limit sign.

The researchers first elucidating such vulnerabilities in neural networks—machine-learning programs inspired by the brain’s wiring—called them an “intriguing property.” Ms. Mitchell writes, “Calling this an ‘intriguing property’ of neural networks is a little like calling a hole in the hull of a fancy cruise liner a ‘thought-provoking facet’ of the ship.”

Ultimately, these systems lack common sense, a broad and often unspoken understanding of how the world works. Common sense, in turn, might require embodied experience in the world, plus the ability to abstract from it and form analogies. Much of Ms. Mitchell’s academic work concerns helping AI form analogies. It hasn’t progressed far. (No fault of hers.)

For the full review, see:

Matthew Hutson. “BOOKSHELF; Learn Like a Machine.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, November 20, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 19, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Human Compatible’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ Review: Learn Like a Machine.”)

The book under review is:

Mitchell, Melanie. Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019.

For California Electricity Regulator: “Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing”

(p. A1) PG&E’s collapse has exposed the California Public Utilities Commission’s failure to hold the utility accountable on safety. The CPUC (p. A12) for years focused attention elsewhere, on setting rates and pushing for cleaner power.

Now, the agency tasked with regulating utility safety is struggling to refocus on the issue while also grappling with its failure to prevent the state’s second electricity crisis in two decades.

. . .

From the early 2000s, the commission’s focus was on setting rates and implementing Sacramento’s renewable-energy goals. Starting in 2002, three consecutive governors, two Democrats and a Republican, signed bills ratcheting up the percentage of wind and solar power utilities had to buy.

These mandates required investor-owned utilities such as PG&E to change their mix of generation, effectively phasing out burning coal and lowering reliance on natural gas while signing contracts to buy electricity from new solar and wind farms. The CPUC oversaw these deals, as well as figuring out how to integrate thousands of new rooftop solar installations.

“Was there a considerable amount of resources placed on policy? Yeah, there was,” says Timothy Alan Simon, a commissioner between 2007 and 2012 and now a utilities consultant. “It’s a challenge to balance between the safety aspects and the need for policy deliberation.”

Michael Peevey, a former Southern California Edison president, and CPUC president between 2002 and 2014, was a vocal champion of renewable-energy policies. Now retired, he says the regulator was large enough to focus on safety and renewables simultaneously but that it was tough to get Sacramento lawmakers excited about funding safety.

When compared with eliminating coal and adding solar energy, he says, “Safety is not a glamorous thing.”

For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. “PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Crisis.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 9, 2019): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 8, 2019, and has the title “‘Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing’: How PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Wildfire Crisis.”)

Why Did McPizza Fail?

Why do some products succeed and others fail? The answers may hold lessons for which future projects should be pursued and, if pursued, how to pursue them. Successes are sometimes researched; failures much less often. The passages quoted below are from an unusually deep dive into the story of McDonalds’s failed McPizza.

(p. 1) Maybe you are too young to remember. Perhaps you forgot. Or there’s a chance you’ve blocked it. But the home of the Big Mac began selling pizza in the mid-1980s, hoping to grab market share from national pie chains. McDonald’s gave up a few years later. Nobody seemed to lament the passing of McPizza, and nobody was urging its return. Which, to Mr. Thompson in the fall of 2016, made the topic all the more appealing.

. . .

(p. 8) One trick to keeping this enterprise alive and entertaining is Mr. Thompson’s refusal to accept answers to the show’s titular question, which he had learned by Episode 5. McPizza failed for reasons that should have seemed evident before it was rolled out: It’s way, way off brand, and it didn’t bake fast enough to keep pace with the rest of the menu.

. . .

Early on, Mr. Thompson learned that a McDonald’s in Pomeroy, Ohio, was the last franchise in the country still serving the pizza, and he raised money through Indiegogo to fly there and try it. (He described it as “at least as good as Little Caesars.”)

He wondered how the place kept selling an item that others in the chain didn’t offer. Once again, definitive answers were elusive because the franchise owner would not speak to him.  . . .

Several months after Mr. Thompson’s visit, the Pomeroy McDonald’s stopped selling McPizza. The podcast depicted this as retaliation against the show, a shameless effort to curtail old-fashioned muckraking. This makes sense only in the mind of “Brian Thompson,” whose baseline assumption is that McDonald’s ought to again sell pizza because people love it and because the company is in business to make money. Hence, any rationale for the product’s demise is under suspicion.

To Mr. Thompson’s delight, he keeps unearthing new rationales for the product’s cancellation. At one point, he heard about a McDonald’s in Adak, Alaska, a largely deserted island in the middle of the Bering Sea. For years, Adak was a Cold War outpost for Army and Navy barracks, but it was decommissioned in the early 1990s, and the McDonald’s there was abandoned. Last year, Mr. Thompson raised money online to travel the 3,100 miles there, hoping that the husk of a restaurant would contain his Holy Grail: a McDonald’s pizza oven.

He flew to Anchorage, then took a once-a-week, three-hour flight to Adak. After landing, he went straight to the McDonald’s and was disappointed to see it had been boarded up — there was no way inside. The trip seemed a grand bust. But as Mr. Thompson prepared to leave the island, his Airbnb host suggested he call a guy named Larry, who, it turned out, had once found a pizza oven in a derelict bowling alley. Evidently, it had been hauled out of the defunct McDonald’s. Larry determined it had been manufactured for McDonald’s by Garland Commercial Industries, a company in Freeland, Pa.

To “Brian Thompson,” this was a breakthrough on a par with the formulation of the laws of thermodynamics. He called Garland, and a representative put him in touch with a service tech in Cleveland who had once repaired McDonald’s ovens. Unlike the corporate P.R. department, this guy was chatty.

“They were only in McDonald’s for roughly two to three years because of the difficulty to program them,” the tech said on Episode 143. “I don’t even think there’s program manuals for it.”

And thus, to Mr. Thompson’s delight, three years into the show, he’d added another reason that McDonald’s killed pizza — the ovens were a fiasco.

For the full story, see:

David Segal. “Answering a Fast-Food Question, if You Care.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, November 1, 2020): 1 & 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 28, 2020, and has the title “A Podcast Answers a Fast-Food Question That Nobody Is Asking.”)

Starkweather Went Over Head of Boss to Champion Laser Printers at Xerox

(p. A10) While working for Xerox Corp. in the late 1960s, Gary Starkweather proposed to build a laser printer, able to reproduce any image created on a computer. His boss told him it was a terrible idea.

Mr. Starkweather’s persistence—and finesse in maneuvering around that boss—led to the introduction in 1977 of the Xerox 9700. It became one of the company’s top-selling products, generating more than $1 billion of annual revenue.

. . .

After the boss nixed his idea in 1969, Mr. Starkweather recalled in an oral history produced by the Computer History Museum, “I couldn’t get this thing out of my head. I thought, ‘He’s wrong. This is so good that it’s got to work.’ ”

Mr. Starkweather reached higher in the organization, sold his vision and obtained a transfer to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, where he began working on prototypes.

. . .

To avoid blurry prints, Mr. Starkweather had to find ways to direct laser pulses precisely. He devised a cluster of revolving mirrors and a lens to guide the light. One of his breakthrough ideas came while he was mowing the lawn; he turned off the mower and drove to the lab to test it out.

. . .

An only child, Gary spent much of his youth taking apart and reassembling whatever mechanical and electrical equipment he could scavenge. “We had a basement, and as long as I didn’t blow up the house I was allowed to do whatever I wanted down there,” he said.

. . .

The resistance he met from some Xerox executives reflected a lack of imagination, preventing them from seeing the possibilities of solving technical problems and bringing down costs, Mr. Starkweather said.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Inventor Dreamed Up Better Way to Print.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 18, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date January 14, 2020, and has the title “Gary Starkweather Invented a Laser Printer at Xerox.”)

Apple Will Make Its Own Mac Processor Chips

In similar stories told in books by Grove and by Christensen and Raynor, technology firms work better when large, if components require careful design to work well together. When components become standardized and interchangeable, technology firms work better when smaller, buying components from specialized component suppliers. Deciding what is best at any moment requires uncertain judgement, and can change over time. In the passages quoted below, it appears that Apple thinks better performance can be achieved by integrating a key component back within the firm.

(p. B4) Apple Inc. built its gadget empire by outsourcing production to a vast ecosystem of chip makers and other component specialists. Under Chief Executive Tim Cook, it is taking a lot of that business back.

The company, which released its first iPhone processor in 2010, said Monday [June 22, 2020] it plans to ship Macs later this year with custom chips, a move that ends a 15-year technology partnership with Intel Corp. Apple said the custom-designed chips are more efficient and offer higher-performance graphics.

. . .

The strategy springs from Apple’s philosophy—fostered by its late co-founder Steve Jobs—that owning core technologies provides a competitive edge. Customized chips and sensors can help its iPhone, iPads and Macs leapfrog rivals in battery performance and features. It also can protect Apple from Chinese rivals that buy universally available parts.

. . .

The initiative—called insourcing by some suppliers and analysts—can give Apple a two-year jump on competitors in device performance because Apple can plan how multiple chips work together to limit power consumption and free up space inside iPhones and iPads for other components, analysts said.

It also reduces potential leaks of its product plans.

For the full story, see:

Tripp Mickle. “By Making Its Chips, Apple Gains Control.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 24, 2020): B4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 24, 2020, and has the title “Apple Is the Newest Chip Giant in Town.”)

The Grove book mentioned above is:

Grove, Andrew S. Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

The Christensen and Raynor book mentioned above is:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

Jim Collins Book “Had a Huge Influence” on Reed Hastings’s Creation of Netflix

(p. 6) The Netflix founder and co-chief executive, whose new book is ‘No Rules Rules,’ reads with his mind more than his heart: ‘I generally turn more to television and film for emotional nourishment.’

. . .

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Probably “Beyond Entrepreneurship,” by Jim Collins and William C. Lazier. It’s not nearly as well known as Collins’s “Good to Great” or “Built to Last” in the pantheon of influential business books. But it came out in the early 1990s, right around the time I was starting my first company, Pure Software. It had a huge influence on how I thought about that business and, later, what I aspired to create at Netflix. Collins and other business authors whose books I benefited from are a big reason I decided to write a book of my own, to try to pay it forward to other entrepreneurs in the same way those other authors have. Years from now, it would be great if someone who found “No Rules Rules” useful today writes their own book improving on it..

. . .

What do you plan to read next?

“Shoe Dog,” the memoir by Phil Knight, who created Nike — and yes, we’re also adapting it for Netflix.

For the full interview, see:

“By the Book; Reed Hastings.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 27, 2020): 6.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 24, 2020, and has the title “By the Book; Reed Hastings, the Founder of Netflix, Keeps His Library in His Pocket.” The first sentence quoted above, and the questions, are by the New York Times interviewer, who is not identified in either the print or the online versions. The rest is by Reed Hastings. The first sentence quoted above is in the print, but not the online, version.)

Reed Hastings’s book mentioned above is:

Hastings, Reed, and Erin Meyer. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention. New York: Penguin Press, 2020.

Jim Collins’s co-authored book mentioned above is:

Collins, James C., and William C. Lazier. Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Phil Knight’s memoir mentioned above is:

Knight, Phil. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. New York: Scribner, 2016.

Robots That Can Grip Donuts Cannot Grip Asparagus

Distinguished MIT labor economist David Autor, who I reference in my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, was a co-chair of the MIT Work of the Future Task Force that wrote the report discussed in the article quoted below.

(p. B3) L. Rafael Reif, the president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, delivered an intellectual call to arms to the university’s faculty in November 2017: Help generate insights into how advancing technology has changed and will change the work force, and what policies would create opportunity for more Americans in the digital economy.

That issue, he wrote, is the “defining challenge of our time.”

Three years later, the task force assembled to address it is publishing its wide-ranging conclusions. The 92-page report, “The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines,” was released on Tuesday [November 17, 2020].

. . .

Technology has always replaced some jobs, created new ones and changed others. The question is whether things will be different this time as robots and artificial intelligence quickly take over for humans on factory floors and in offices.

The M.I.T. researchers concluded that the change would be more evolutionary than revolutionary. In fact, they wrote, “we anticipate that in the next two decades, industrialized countries will have more job openings than workers to fill them.”

That judgment is informed by field research in several industries and sectors including insurance, health care, driverless vehicles, logistics and warehouses, advanced manufacturing, and small and medium-size manufacturers.

. . .

Despite advances, robots simply don’t have the flexibility and dexterity of human workers. Today’s robots learn from data and repetition. They can be remarkably adept at a certain task, but only that one. The report cited a fine-tuned gripping robot that could pluck a glazed doughnut and carefully place it in a box, with its shiny glaze undisturbed.

“But that gripper only works on doughnuts,” the report said. “It can’t pick up a clump of asparagus or a car tire.”

The cost and operational expertise required will also slow the widespread adoption of robots.

For the full story, see:

Steve Lohr. “Don’t Fear the Robots, Says Jobs Study Group.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 18, 2020): B3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 17, 2020, and has the title “Don’t Fear the Robots, and Other Lessons From a Study of the Digital Economy.”)

The MIT report discussed above is:

MIT Work of the Future Task Force. “The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2020.

My book mentioned above is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.