Light listening: Algorithmic surveillance

We’re so used to hearing about algorithms now that most people don’t spend much time thinking much about them. They operate in the background invisibly shaping our decisions as we go about our day. Most of us are quite clueless about how we’re manipulated by this technology.

This 22 minutes talk from techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci is the antidote to that ignorance. As the Dr Tufecki explains, these algorithms do more than make ads follow us around. They power Facebook’s dark ads that are used to manipulate voters and form the foundation for surveillance authoritarianism. Worse yet, it’s hard to know exactly how these algorithms operate and how we’re being affected.

Here’s a snippet from her talk:

Now, we started from someplace seemingly innocuous — online adds following us around — and we’ve landed someplace else. As a public and as citizens, we no longer know if we’re seeing the same information or what anybody else is seeing, and without a common basis of information, little by little, public debate is becoming impossible, and we’re just at the beginning stages of this. These algorithms can quite easily infer things like your people’s ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age and genders, just from Facebook likes. These algorithms can identify protesters even if their faces are partially concealed. These algorithms may be able to detect people’s sexual orientation just from their dating profile pictures.

Now, these are probabilistic guesses, so they’re not going to be 100 percent right, but I don’t see the powerful resisting the temptation to use these technologies just because there are some false positives, which will of course create a whole other layer of problems. Imagine what a state can do with the immense amount of data it has on its citizens. China is already using face detection technology to identify and arrest people. And here’s the tragedy: we’re building this infrastructure of surveillance authoritarianism merely to get people to click on ads. And this won’t be Orwell’s authoritarianism. This isn’t “1984.” Now, if authoritarianism is using overt fear to terrorize us, we’ll all be scared, but we’ll know it, we’ll hate it and we’ll resist it. But if the people in power are using these algorithms to quietly watch us, to judge us and to nudge us, to predict and identify the troublemakers and the rebels, to deploy persuasion architectures at scale and to manipulate individuals one by one using their personal, individual weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and if they’re doing it at scale through our private screens so that we don’t even know what our fellow citizens and neighbors are seeing, that authoritarianism will envelop us like a spider’s web and we may not even know we’re in it.

This 22 minutes will bring you up to speed on how algorithms are shaping our lives and what it means for the future.

 

 

 

While the talk above focuses a lot on Facebook, Dr Tufekci points out Amazon too is leading the way in algorithmic surveillance, especially with its release of Echo Look.

 

If this subject interests you check out the book, Weapons of Math Destruction. It’s a deeper dive into how algorithms shape our lives. And it’s a quick read.

The other side of the future of work: Amazon’s CamperForce

Field of Vision – CamperForce

File this one under I had no clue. There’s a subculture of our workforce that lives in RVs, getting hired seasonally by Amazon to work in their fulfillment centers. Amazon recruits seasonal workers at RV shows. For $12/hr, seasonal employees package Amazon goods to be shipped to the ever-growing masses.

This shouldn’t be considered future of work as it’s been happening for years. . If the jobpocolypse that so many experts predict comes to fruition we’ll see even more temporary hiring to fill in the low-level jobs that still need a human touch. It’s cheap. And there are plenty of people who need the work. As Barb notes this in the video, “We’re there to make the money. We’re not learning anything, we’re not there to start a career. They can count on us. Because they know we need the money.”

And on that note, again from Barb: “The American dream is changing.”

Indeed it is. And it’s wildly depressing after seeing this video.

The hidden fulfillment center footage was filmed by Jessica Bruder, who is the author of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Seems like a must-read anyone studying the future of work.

So how you feeling about your future career?

“So what should we tell our children? That to stay ahead, you need to focus on your ability to continuously adapt, engage with others in that process, and most importantly retain your core sense of identity and values. For students, it’s not just about acquiring knowledge, but about how to learn. For the rest of us, we should remember that intellectual complacency is not our friend and that learning – not just new things but new ways of thinking – is a life-long endeavour.” Blair Sheppard Global Leader, Strategy and Leadership Development, PwC

60% think ‘few people will have stable, long-term employment in the future’. PwC survey of 10,029 members of the general population based in China, Germany, India, the UK and the US.

74% believe it’s their own responsibility to update their skills rather than relying on any employer.

Source: PWC Workforce of the Future report.

Upward mobility and clear career progression are no longer guaranteed. So how does this shape what we teach students about their careers? Learning to write a resume and taking career assessments seem quite pointless in the face of type of change.

Jobbatical gets international job seekers

I’m spending some time these days trying out a lot of HR Tech. I’m in search of user-friendly, forward-thinking job search tools for my online career courses.

Jobbatical has been on my radar for over a year. Since I teach people how to build global careers, I frequently include their job postings in my weekly newsletter.

There are no shortage of job search platforms for job seekers to use. Nearly all have international location filters. But here’s what makes Jobbatical so good: they understand international job seekers.

Here’s what makes the exceptional:

Visa sponsorship is front and center 

The top question on any internationally mobile candidate’s mind is work authorization. Right after, who’s hiring, they’re asking “Will the company sponsor me?” Jobbatical puts that information front and center. LinkedIn, the global jobs platform, still doesn’t do this.

Company overview with tags for more exploration

The country tags make it easier to explore additional open positions in the country. This easy-to-find feature is ideal for international job seekers who have specific geographic goals. It also facilitates exploration, ideally getting people to spend more time with your content. Given that most people searching for work online are in an exploratory phase, this little feature can make a big impact.

jobbatical geo tag

Introduction to the city and cost of living comparisson

When a job seeker is considering moving their life across the world they need more than a job description. Instead forcing users to find expat information on another site, Jobbatical provides a quick glance at living costs and often a city guide. This makes it easier for international job seekers to envision their new life, not just in a new role but thriving in a foreign country.

Overall, Jobbatical’s UX is solid. They offer international job seekers a seamless yet delightful exploratory search experience. Career platforms, especially the ones that serve universities, should take a cue from these guys.

Young alumni need support not reunions

Alumni relations

Source: Switchboard

Our young alumni climb the ladder to a successful career and prosperous life all through college only to graduate and find the next rungs missing. Young alumni don’t need cocktail mixers and reunions. They need help…We need to stop equating cultivating donors with buttering them up and start cultivating them by actually helping them grow as human beings. – The Missing Middle: Advancement and Alumni Relations’s Ongoing Generational Deficit, Switchboard

Hot damn, Switchboard gets it. When it seems alumni relations still spends so much time courting older, richer donors at the expense of the rest, it’s  refreshing to hear from alumni professionals who recognize the potential. Switchboard, an online platform for connecting students and alumni, tells it like it is: young alumni need help.

With young alumni facing a professional future filled multiple career changes and upskilling, alumni departments have an opportunity to step in and guide recent alumni.

I led multiple career engagement activities with international MBA alumni in my last role at Yale SOM. I wasn’t part of an alumni department so I was limited in the scope of what I could actually do. So I’ve been storing up ideas for alumni career training for ages.

Here’s my idea drop on how to help young alumni navigate careers:

  • Educate alumni about the changing nature of careers and how to prepare for multiple career changes, automation, and new job categories
  • Build partnerships with bootcamps and offer discounts to help alumni upskill
  • Offer affordable (see student loan debt above) technical event training sessions (data analytics, SQL, data-based decision making, etc) with faculty
  • Create an alumni only access list of employers who offer student loan repayment as an employee benefit
  • Host a “How to Manage Your Student Loans/There’s hope for a debt-free future” event (online or in person)
  • Build interactive online career courses for alumni, taught by alumni
  • Share casual video interviews with younger alumni focused on the work they do and what they enjoy about their job and workplace
  • Plan a take-an-alum to work day twist on traditional mentor/mentee programs; livestream the results and interactions on Instagram as the day goes on.
  • Build a career changer workshop day with tours of your local startups and hot companies followed by interactive job search activities
  • Offer virtual career advising hours so alumni can ask career-related questions and get advice (I do this with international students in my courses)

Also, I would love to see more creative and interactive events to attract the Insta generation. Imagine the buzz an alumni event like this would create:

Play, intentional interaction, unique spaces, and new experience create perspectives. They also facilitate interaction and conversation which makes networking so much easier (also: more fun, more tolerable, more desirable). Even better these experiences translate into buzz which engages your community.

Most alumni departments don’t have the budget for these large scale pop up events. But I’m willing to bet plenty of alumni relations staff have the creative mindset to experiment. I bet those ideas are plentiful among the lower level staff who aren’t chasing high donor relationships or wrangling logistics for printed alumni books.

I’m so on board with Switchboard’s thinking. Now I’m going to watch my own alma mater to see if they get on board with this mentality too.

I’ll end with one last piece of creative event inspiration: A cliffside popup shop for climbers.