Work in the 21st Century

Employment is at a record high in the UK, the number of people in work in the UK has reached 32.54 million.

employment uk

In America, too, unemployment is at a record low. However, the position of many in employment is rather precarious with the gig economy, zero hours contracts and the lack of union representation. For those in school there is a strong possibility they might not have a job when they grow up. We have no idea what the job market will look like in 2040. Some believe within a mere decade or two, billions of people will become economically redundant. The threat is not immigration, the fear of which has been stoked by many in the media but automation. Humans have two types of ability:  the physical and the cognitive. Machines have taken over many of the jobs requiring physical labour like in agriculture, until now humans have retained an edge over  machines in cognition but that is changing. The much vaunted “human intuition” is in reality “pattern recognition”, computers analysing masses of data are becoming better and better at analysing patterns. The stock market is largely controlled by computer algorithms, which respond much quicker to market fluctuations than human stockbrokers.

CGP Grey put out an interesting 15 minute video in 2014 entitled “Humans Need Not Apply” showing how vast swathes of human jobs from drivers to doctors to musicians were potentially threatened by the growth of AI (Artificial Intelligence).  Humans need not apply link

Harari argues the threat to human jobs comes not merely from infotech but from the “confluence of biotech with infotech”. Two particularly important non-human abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updateability. When a new medicine is introduced all AI doctors can be updated with the information at once. It would be almost impossible to update all human doctors about the latest medical developments.

work connectivity
from “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari

AI could provide (by means of a phone app for example) better and cheaper healthcare for millions of people, particularly for those who currently receive no healthcare at all. Many doctors focus on analysing medical data and producing a diagnosis, this is ‘bot work. We will probably have an AI family doctor on our smartphone decades before we have a reliable nurse robot, nurses needing good emotional skills for their jobs. Indeed as people live longer, care for the elderly will probably be one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy.

Self driving cars are real, it is estimated that replacing all human drivers by computers is expected to reduce deaths and injuries on the road by about 90%. Most car accidents are caused by human error, computers don’t drive drunk or tired or send text messages while driving.

driving and texting a dangerous game
texting while driving

Jobs requiring specialisation in a narrow range of routinised activities will be automated.

Art and music is already being created and influenced by AI. I have a “Prisma” app on my phone which can turn any photo I take into a chosen artistic style using some clever AI.

Metro carriage renoir
A Tbilisi Metro Carriage given the Renoir touch with Prisma

An algorithm could know which biochemical buttons to press in order to produce a global hit which would get bodies onto the dancefloor.

AI will create new jobs: the US armed forces need thirty people to operate each unmanned Predator drone flying over Syria. In 2050 the job market might be characterised by human-AI co-operation rather than competition. During previous waves of automation, people could usually move from one unskilled job to another…from working in the fields to working in factories to stocking the shelves at Walmart. These changes required limited retraining but in the future humans in jobs will require much training and as Harari warns we may see the rise of a new “useless” class.

work useless class
from “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari

AI passed a critical milestone on 7 December 2017, when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program at chess. Stockfish 8 was the champion chess program for 2016, Stockfish 8 had access to centuries of human chess playing and decades of human experience. AlphaZero learnt chess using the latest machine-learning principles to self learn chess, it played against itself millions of times to prepare for the match, millions of times in just four hours, going from zero to complete mastery in four hours without the help of any human guide. Out of a hundred games AlphaZero won 28 games, drew 72 and lost zero.

Change is stressful, the hectic world of the early 21st century has already produced a global epidemic of stress. We need to explore models for post-work societies. Harari suggests looking at Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities might give us some insights. They are poor and unemployed but Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men report higher levels of satisfaction than any other section of Israeli society. This is due to their strong community bonds and deep meaning they find in studying scriptures. If we manage to combine a universal economic safety net with strong communities and meaningful pursuits, losing our jobs to the algorithms might actually turn out to be a blessing.






Blog Post Ideas

On my phone, I will note down ideas I get for blog-posts, as I ride the metro or wait for a bus, the list is getting longer.

screenshot of blog ideas

Some of the ideas are for this blog and some for my diecast collecting blog. The order is the order I came up with the idea, earliest first. I don’t know how many will be written, I have started a post about work inspired by the second chapter of “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari .


New Year’s Resolutions: one month on

In a 2014 report, 35% of participants who failed their New Year’s Resolutions admitted they had unrealistic goals, 33% of participants didn’t keep track of their progress, and 23% forgot about them; about one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions. A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol, involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. My resolutions were made with no great hope of success. New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Get into shape: I’m still 70 kg, no increase, no decrease. I’m walking around 10 000 steps a day according to the pedometer app on my phone. I also climb the 172 steps up Ikhalto Hill to home about twice a day.

2. Start eating healthier food, and less food overall. In January, I made three visits to KFC and 1 visit to Wendy’s. I also ate far too many sweets. I did occasionally opt for a salad and chose water rather than a sugary drink. This still needs more work.

3. Stop procrastinating: There have been days I’ve binged on “Grey’s Anatomy” instead of doing something more productive. I have a fuller timetable now, so less opportunity to laze around.

4. Meet new people: The only new people I’ve met have been my new students, my current timetable makes attending the Language Exchange groups difficult if not impossible.

5. Give up cigarettes: Still haven’t started smoking.

6. Read more: In January I read a couple of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari I have a few books I’m “currently reading” of which “Pickwick Papers” is nearest completion.

7. Become tidier: I need to work on this.

8. Start saving money: and this…

9. Learn a new language. I have been using Memrise to learn some Georgian words and Duolingo to learn some German words. I haven’t practised either much.

10. Pick up useful skills or fun hobbies. I have bought a computer with photoshop but haven’t done anything with the program yet.

11. Travel more. I began January in Tsagveri but since returning to Tbilisi haven’t ventured out any further.

12. Go see your doctor more often: the only doctors I’ve seen are the pretend doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy”.

13. Learn to cook: Haven’t tried any new recipes, yet.

14. Start being more creative: need to work on this….

So far there has been little progress in regards of the resolutions, maybe February will see more effort applied in this direction.


Cable cars and Kartlis Deda

Walking down from Avlabari to Abanotubani in Tbilisi presents the viewer with a wonderful vista of Old Tbilisi. There are the old houses with balconies, the river Mtkvari and looking up the hill where the cable car goes there is a silhouette of Kartlis Deda. Kartlis Deda is a symbol for Georgia, she holds a cup of wine in one hand for guests and a sword in the other for enemies.

“21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari : Book Review

This is an interesting book; looking at the world today, how it was shaped and where things might go in the future. Covering a wealth of information from work to terrorism to community and 18 other topics. There is a warning that the confluence of biotech and infotech could make a lot of people useless being unable to compete with automation. Each chapter really needs a separate blog post (I may look at the themes in more detail with future postings), there is much to digest about the increasingly complex globalised world we are living in.

‘Globalisation has certainly benefited large segments of humanity, but there are signs of growing inequality both between and within societies. Some groups increasingly monopolise the fruits of globalisation, while billions are left behind. Already today, the richest 1 per cent owns half the world’s wealth. Even more alarmingly, the richest hundred people together own more than the poorest 4 billion. This could get far worse’.

Harari’s running theme is that things are better than ever before (most of the world has enjoyed an unusually long time of peace, even in places such as India more people are dying from eating too much as opposed to eating too little). Things are still quite bad (there are still vast inequalities). Things can get much worse.
21 lessons

Hurari is a humanist and makes many swipes against religions and religious dogma.

“When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month-that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years – that’s a religion.”

…there are many such observations throughout the book.

Fake news is nothing new, I especially like how he reminds us that fake news is just a rebranding of age-old lying, and that terrorism is only as powerful as we let it be. Terrorists are fundamentally weak but use scare tactics to raise havoc. If we refuse to be scared by them, they cease to have power. The terrorist is likened to a fly in a china shop, it can do little damage unless it gets inside the ear of a bull and drive him to cause immense destruction. The reaction to 9/11 led to the chaos in Iraq, which made the ground ripe for terrorist groups like ISIS to spring up. ISIS or Islamic State for all their religious fundamentalism and anti-Western ideas still worship the US Dollar.

Throughout history unity has been more important than truth. So fictions have been created to bond people together. Humans are the only creatures that can organise in complex and flexible ways.

We fear change but in the 21st century “Change is the only constant.” We don’t know what life will be like in the year 2050 but we know it will be very different from now. The pace of change is accelerating.

The 21 chapters or “lessons” are divided into 5 categories.

Part I:
The Technological Challenge
Part II:
The Political Challenge
Part III:
Despair and Hope
11. WAR
13. GOD
Part IV:
Part V:
Some points he makes I’ve heard before like, if the only tool you have is a hammer you see every problem as a nail. I’ve heard from other reviewers that this book isn’t as good as his previous works “Sapiens” about human history and “Homo Deus” about humanity’s future.
The book is up to date having been completed in 2018, it covers issues like Brexit and the election of Trump.
When we are deluged with irrelevant information, clarity is power. Harari shines a torch on where we have come from and where we could be going and some of the issues we need to tackle very soon.
This is one of those rare books I’ll be reading a second time to look again at each of the chapters in detail.
My rating : 5 out of 5