“I want people to know how powerless you feel when your income comes from a faceless app and when you open it up one morning, things are just different and you’re earning less money and there’s no boss you can talk to, you weren’t told about it, you just see your income is lower today and you just have to deal with it.”
Management by algorithm and faceless bosses, this is the future of work. Consider last week’s report from Business Insider:
“A new report indicates that the company doesn’t just track worker productivity at its warehouses — it also has a system that can automatically generate the paperwork to fire them if they’re not meeting targets.”
Companies like Uber and Amazon are leading the way for workforces managed by algorithm. They’re experimenting with the most vulnerable workers first – contractors. But you can expect them to apply what they learn to the white collar workforce next.
“I think it’s important to note what the use of facial recognition [in airports] means for American citizens,” Jeramie Scott, director of EPIC’s Domestic Surveillance Project, told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “It means the government, without consulting the public, a requirement by Congress, or consent from any individual, is using facial recognition to create a digital ID of millions of Americans.” – The US Government Will Be Scanning Your Face At 20 Top Airports, Documents Show
Facial recognition systems are headed to the airport, and it’s happening at a rapid pace, without public commentary and guardrails around data privacy or data quality.
Consider this news alongside of new reporting from ProPublica, that found TSA’s body scanning technology discriminates against black women by regularly flagging black women as security threats, resulting in increased screening for those women. Then add to that the reporting out from the New York Times last week called The Privacy Project. One of the most impactful reports took data from three cameras in Bryant Park and used it to create a facial recognition tracking software for less than $100. In the end they used it to identify one of the people in the park and it only took a few days work.
An AI dystopia in which bias is encoded into the algorithms and marginalized communities are further marginalized is hurtling towards us faster than the average person can keep up.
The result of increased use of facial recognition in public spaces puts our society on track to developing a system thats not entirely different from China’s social credit system. From the Buzzfeed article quoted above:
The big takeaway is that the broad surveillance of people in airports amounts to a kind of “individualized control of citizenry” — not unlike what’s already happening with the social credit scoring system in China. “There are already people who aren’t allowed on, say, a high-speed train because their social credit scores are too low,” he said, pointing out that China’s program is significantly based in “identifying individual people and tracking their movements in public spaces though automated facial recognition.”
It all reminded me of a tweet I saw this week which captures my frustration at American journalist’s continued reporting on China’s social credit system while ignoring our own American AI nightmare that’s headed full stem ahead:
*whispers* the us invests in mass surveillance and social credit systems the same way china does and yet some of us only ever point to china with outrage and it’s getting tiring— a once blue haired enby from oakland | tired of it (@WellsLucasSanto) April 16, 2019
The use of facial recognition technology isn’t limited to the government . Companies are doing a bang up job already using facial recognition technology in unsuspecting places:
All of this makes me wonder: how do average people, those outside of tech, academia, and spheres of influence, push back against these technologies? Can you opt out of facial recognition tech at the airport? How do you know to opt out if you didn’t know it was being used to begin with? What happens when you opt out? Will you be subjected to more invasive searches? Will opting out delay your next flight? So many questions and sadly zero answers.
Though Intel forecasts flat sales in 2019, people inside the company said this week’s layoffs don’t appear to be strictly a cost-cutting move. Rather, they said the cuts appeared to reflect a broad change in the way Intel is approaching its internal technical systems… Intel will now consolidate operations under a single contractor, the Indian technology giant Infosys.
Intel is laying off hundreds of their IT staff, according to the Oregonian. Unless you or a friend or family member is immediately affected, you’ve probably scrolled right past the news. That’s no shame on you; stories of layoffs are a dime a dozen in our newsfeeds. It’s easy to scroll right on past.
One of the things that sort of keeps us up at night is if you think about the way that we check that our current systems are fair in, say, criminal justice is that we have a system of appeals. We have a system of rulings. You actually have a thing called due process, which means you can check the evidence that’s being brought against you. You can say, “Hey, this is incorrect.” You can change the data. You can say, “Hey, you’ve got the wrong information about me.”
This is actually not how AI works right now. In many cases, decisions are gonna be made about you. You’re not even aware that an AI system is working in the background. Let’s take HR for a classic case in point right now. Now, many of you have probably tried sending CVs and résumés in to get a job. What you may not know is that in many cases, companies are using AI systems to scan those résumés, to decide whether or not you’re worthy of an interview, and that’s fine until you start hearing about Amazon’s system, where they took two years to design, essentially, an AI automatic résumé scanner. – How will AI change your life? AI Now Institute founders Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker explain.
Everyone who works on AI products needs to understand the ethical implications of their work. AI engineers and product managers need to understand their product’s impact on users. Business leaders and engineers need to bring in diverse voices and specialties to help ensure their product doesn’t have negative implications. Human resources leads need to hire interdisciplinary workers, who connect the dots between design, engineering, and business performance.
All of this is of course easier said than done. Judging by the many, many, many fails in AI product development, we aren’t even close to that point inside of AI organizations. These “fails” have a tremendous impact on people’s lives.
Ethics is a loaded term and businesses aren’t quite sure what ethics and AI even looks like. Just look at the recent dissolving of Google’s AI ethics board. While many questioned who got to be on that board, many others questioned exactly how an ethics board translates into ethical business practices and products.
Thankfully there are several individuals and organizations working at the intersection of AI and ethics. My personal favorite is the AI Now Institute. I could have pulled so many other impactful quotes from their recent interview on the Recode Decode podcast. Have a listen to that episode to get your head around the many challenges of AI and ethics. And if you’re really into AI and ethics, check out this list of people to follow on Twitter.
Now that my first book on the future of work is moving forward, I’m turning my research towards AI and ethics, specifically how organizations train talent to reduce bias in AI products. So expect more of this type of content in the coming months.
I’m also speaking at Portland’s Machine Learning for All conference on how to have curious conversations. I’ll be teaching software and machine learning engineers how to hone their soft skills to build connections and work interdisciplinary to ensure they’re bringing the right voices into their work.
Last year I MC’d the Women in Travel conference. I told an audience full of 400+ influencers that my goal was to be a guest on a podcast. And Lisette Austin, aka Jet Set Lisette, delivered. She asked me to join her podcast, The Globe Trotter Lounge, to talk about global careers.
It was a delightful conversation full of fun. I’m thrilled how it turned out. In the episode I share all kinds of advice on global careers, the future of work, and why travelers are in the best position to navigate our new world of work.
I honestly could talk to Lisette for hours because she has such a fabulous perspective on all things travel (plus she loves languages too!). Subscribe and listen to her other podcast and episodes while you’re visiting.
I just learned how to write a first draft of a book. I’m fresh off of four months of nearly daily writing to wrangle 60,427 words into a first draft. Actually I topped out around 68,000 but chopped it down before handing it over to a developmental editor who will cut it down even more. My first draft is quite the beast.
Wrangling your ideas and thoughts into a coherent narrative isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally to most. The funny thing about writing a book is that you don’t need to be good at writing to write a book. Instead, you need to be good at discipline. You need to commit to writing until it’s all out of your head and fight the feeling of quitting because your words look so awkward outside of your head. You also have to slay the procrastination monster on the regular.
I’ve spent the last four months learning how to write a first draft. I learned how to manage the logistics of writing at volume. I learned how to build an outline, find a pace that worked for me, and manage my writing time. Most importantly, I learned how overcome doubt.
Writing a book is a BFD and it’s pretty overwhelming at the start. So I started the process by breaking it down into manageable parts. I’ve conquered the first part: writing a first draft.
Here’s what worked to get me there and what might work for you if you’re trying to write your first draft.
Talespin, a VR/AR/AI company is bringing soft skills training to organizations using VR and AI. Call it a Choose Your Own Virtual Reality Management Adventure, these training tools help managers and leadership develop the soft skills they need to perform in complex organizations.
Employers are in a desperate search for employees with soft skills. As we retreat more into our digital spaces we are collectively losing the ability to have conversations with one another. The result is that our relationships, collaboration, and creativity suffer in the workplace. Soft skills are all about people: how to work with, talk to, learn from, give feedback to, negotiate with, listen to, create with, people.
Enter more tech to solve the problem.
My first reaction was this: shouldn’t people learn people skills through interaction with… people? Why are we outsourcing people skills to the virtual machines? How do fake humans teach humans how to be more human?
Also this tech is an indirect threat to my own work. I teach people and organizations how to build soft skills. From relationship building to negotiation to how to have curious conversations, I help people build their soft skills. So yeah, maybe I felt a bit threatened when I first saw it.
Then I stepped back. And I looked closer. And I saw the truly wild stuff going on with this tech. From the article:
“The great thing about VR is you can do something that’s rare in nature, and give people extra repetitions,” Bailenson says. “The cool part of using computer graphics for this, virtual humans, is you can go through as the manager and have this difficult conversation—then you can relive the experience from the point of view of the employee, get to hear your voice coming out of an avatar you’ve chosen to look like you. Now that you’ve got this newly emotionally understood information from being on the receiving end of this bad news, you get to repeat it and do it again.” – Boss Acting Nicer Recently? You May Have VR to Thank
Honestly, I can think of at least five managers from my past who could have used training like this. A lot of HR Tech companies are developing AI that will make your manager worse. Talespin is using AI and VR in an attempt to make them better.
People still need to practice building soft skills outside of a VR experience, so my work isn’t going away any time soon. But it’s wild to see this type of training applied using new technology. In the future I’d love to see research around how this emotional impact from virtual reality scenarios changes in managers for the better.
I’m also stoked for all the potential types of jobs emerging tech creates. As a creative who runs in HR circles (and worked in HR), I find the HR industry borderline stifling for creative types. Seeing a creative HR product that aims to improve the lives of employees is a welcome surprise.
I’m also curious about employees in this field. I’m curious who writes the scripts, how they work with designers, how the characters are modeled. After all, it’s real humans who build the fake humans who teach humans how to be more human.
I’m curious what type of employees they hire. What skills and backgrounds make up their teams? What type of employees succeed at their company? (Update: it looks like men. More than 90% of their 40+ employees on LinkedIn are men… that’s obviously a problem, especially when it comes to scenarios navigating inclusion in the workplace)
I’m fresh off a much needed vacation. I road tripped down Highway 1 and I binged some seriously good podcasts.
My two favs:
Heaven’s Gate: A deep look into the lives and leaders of Heaven’s Gate, the cult that made international headlines in the late 90s when 39 members killed themselves to board a UFO in the heavens. This isn’t a salacious look – it’s an examination of the members, families affected, reasons for joining, lives of the leaders, and the cultural context surrounding the cult. What I really loved is the examination of how we other people. It’s easy to say, holy shit all those people were crazy, but like anything in life, it’s a lot more complicated than that. On top of that, the host, Glen Washington, shares his experience growing up in a doomsday religion.
“The rules of the show are this: You either live a protected life somewhere like Fairhaven—a so-called deliberate community reminiscent of Portland, Oregon, that is encased in a literal bubble—or in the monster-infested brush beyond. The story follows mismatched roommates living in a dodgy part of town. Morgan kills monsters; Annie then sells the creatures’ blood on the black market to get people high.”
Click to download, please. It didn’t disappoint. The show is so damn funny, ridiculous, and spot on with it’s cultural critique that I’m recommending it to everyone. With 8 episodes, it’ll transport you to familiar-yet-not-quite world, keeping you distracted from traffic or any of the bored bits on a road trip.
I just fell in love with the Women Who Code job board. They’re making job hunting slightly easier by including two pieces of critical content alongside their job postings.
The first is an overview of the interview process, providing much needed transparency into a stressful process.
The second piece of content is an interactive list of company benefits that actually matter to me. I look at hundreds of jobs a month. I rarely see such forward thinking filters.
Talk about the future of work is dominated by robots taking our jobs. While that type of content makes for good metrics, the robot narrative ignores how organizations are evolving into better places of work. Organizations are finally shedding outdated Baby Boomer models of work. They’re open to experimenting with new ways of work and management.
I teach people how to find remote jobs. Each week I round up the most interesting remote jobs that I find online. I’m constantly running into companies that are changing the status quo. Many of them offer benefits like this:
I’ve got a massive crush on Glitch, the company whose benefits are listed above. They get it.
When job boards like Women Who Code include searchable filters like parental leave, 100% work from home, and unconscious bias training, they signal that workers have a choice. Workers can choose to work for old school companies that preach meritocracy but believe work only happens between 9-5. Or they can find an innovative company that believes in lifting up underrepresented voices, flexible work, and supporting parents in the workplace.
The majority of career services professionals hate resume reviews. They can’t say this out right of course. Career services leadership and university administration expects their department to function as a resume review service. I know this because it was common knowledge when I worked in career services. Full confession, I also hated resume reviews when I was an MBA career coach.
Career services leadership has access to an easy to solution that will put an end to resume reviews: Teach students how to use new resume platforms that use artificial intelligence to review and score resumes.