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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 16 June 2017, 4:06 pm

Giz a job

Work. You know work. That thing you go to every day instead of the thing you'd secretly really love to do. That great way to fill in the time between graduation and death. Work.

Even the word sounds ghastly. Like 'chore' or 'drudge' or 'radium'. Work. Something that should happen to other people.

Quick, imagine if you won Lotto (don't ask how, just go with it) and didn't have to work for your mortgage or your education or to support your ageing parents' or to support your emerging children, what would you do with yourself? Would you carry on going to work or would you entertain that notion of launching your own business, or becoming an artist, or learning how to tango… What would you get up to?

For many, most I should say, this isn't an option because they need to work in order to pay the mortgage (or rent), to put food on the table and all the rest (including shoes. What is it with kids' feet and shoes?).

Well, there's bad news and there's good.

The bad news is, the robots are coming for your job. Yes, yours. And mine. Well, probably not mine because I don't really have one but either way, they're definitely coming for your job not because yours is a lowly paid, drudge position but because robots are coming for all our jobs.

First up against the wall in the robot revolution will be those intermediary roles that can be automated. We've seen this happen already -travel agencies, video stores, classified advertising, broadcast television, all have been devoured by the monster that is the Internet and regurgitated in new and exciting ways at a fraction of the cost and with a thousand-fold increase in terms of usability. Mostly.

But it's not going to stop there. Forget services and middle men, what about cool jobs like digger driver, airline pilot and all the rest.

Well, yes, they're obviously going the way of the blacksmith, the buggy whip maker and the man with the red flag (although if the AA has its way he'll be back, walking carefully in front of all moving vehicles at all times).

Self driving cars are being trialled, self-drive trucks are already being deployed and cool as being a pilot is, drones do the job a lot more cheaply and are less prone to panic when the going gets tough. I have been on international flights that were landed by computer and we have landed dead centre of the runway which isn't bad after a ten-hour flight. There's an old joke about planes of the future being staffed by a pilot and a dog - the pilot is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches the controls. It's not far from the truth.

Don't think that'll happen? Point me at the nearest airline that doesn't feel the need to cut its costs and doesn't see pilots and the pilots union as a real problem with cost reduction in the future.

But those jobs are all obviously doomed. Of course robots (well, computers really) can drive trains and trucks and cars and planes more efficiently than humans. They're designed and built to do those basic "if this then that" tasks more effectively than we are.

But that's not all.

Lawyers, for instance, seem to think they're utterly and forever beyond the perils of disruption. Except there's a kid in London who has built an app that refutes your parking tickets automatically for you, and there's the whole "read this 1.4 million pages of documentation and see what's really applicable to our case" discovery process that the Australian courts is now handing over to the robots. Lawyers, you see, are keepers of the knowledge and once that knowledge has been digitised, all bets are off. Even the judge's position isn't beyond the pale.

What about doctors? Well, given the bedside manner of some doctors you'd have to wonder if they haven't already been replaced with replicants. But those aside, software is now proving to be better at diagnosing ailments than humans are, so all those lab jobs that currently are farmed out to newbies will soon be pharmed out to robots and we'll all be better off as a result.

That's the bad news. The good news is these things always take longer than we think when we first look at the issue and so rather than being five to ten years away I suspect it's more like 20 to 30. But when it does arrive it'll be with a bang, because a world without jobs is a scary prospect for an economy largely built on mass employment and where the idea that you don't have a full-time job is often seen as a negative thing.

Somewhere along the line between now and then we'll need to figure out a way to ensure we can make use of our new-found leisure time and not become social outcasts because there are no jobs to be had. And that's going to take a lot more effort than I suspect our political policy makers are ready for.

RNZ - Make way for the fourth industrial revolution

RNZ - New Technology with Paul Matthews

Techblog - Another win for the computers - predictive coding discovery endorsed in Australian court

Stuff - Kiwi workers not worried about the robots coming for their jobs

CNBC - Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak: Why robots won't be taking our jobs for hundreds of years

The Register - Facebook tried teaching bots art of negotiation - so the AI learned to lie


Future AI jobs.jpg


Fieldays 2017 (or, How I stepped in something rural)

Ah Fieldays.

I remember well going to my first Fieldays in 1983, fresh off the boat/747 from England.

It rained.

The six-wheel drive, articulated, off-roading, cargo transport thing got stuck in the mud while we all watched and the helicopter rides were cancelled because of low cloud.

And as a student I worked in restaurants in Hamilton during many a Fieldays back when they hadn't quite anticipated how many people would show up so hadn't put on enough food. There's nothing quite like having dozens of drunk, socially inept hillbillies show up and get angry because you serve lamb that's pink in the middle to really make you appreciate city life.

Thankfully things have moved on since then.

However, the glory days of Fieldays are limited and New Zealand's reliance on primary produce is rapidly coming to a close as two major factors crowd in on the sector.

The first is the rise of tourism and with it the associated awareness that our once pristine image as being "clean and green" has become somewhat shop soiled and that having so many cows so close to our waterways leads to some poor outcomes which affects our second largest economic sector.

The second factor is of course the rise of artificial food, and in particular milk.

Sure, there will always be a market for high-end, organically produced, quality product but when it comes to commodity-based product, dried and canned and shipped around the planet, well I'm sorry but artificial milk wins hands down every time. A litre of milk at $3 versus a litre of fake milk at 3c is an equation that anyone in the third world will look at sharply.

And if China continues to grow the world's largest middle class, as it seems likely to do, then the desire for milk powder looks set to be a short-term phenomenon and we'd do well to get ourselves a second string to our economic bow. And a third. And possibly a fourth.

Because after we crack artificial milk, the next stop is fake steak and at that point local farming had better well along the innovation curve.

Newshub - Sheep's milk goes down a treat at Field Days

Scoop - Innovative new granulated feed supplement at Field Days

NBR - Forget fake news - anybody for fake milk?


Fuji Xerox - fallout claims the top scalp

Disgraced photocopier supplier (three words I've never used in that sequence before) Fuji Xerox's creative accounting practices have cost it dearly and now the rot has spread to head office. The Chair of Fuji Xerox's parent company has resigned in disgrace along with three other senior executives after the New Zealand and Australian operations were found to have inflated their revenue figures for several years. Current estimates put the damage at more than $472 million.

Fuji Xerox isn't the first company to pull a swifty and try to extend the duration of its month to capture some extra revenue - Computer Associates was stung for similar practices back in 2004 - but it is the first time we've seen a local subsidiary try it on in New Zealand and get it so wrong.

Currently the minister is asking MBIE to ensure all its Fuji Xerox contracts are still equitable and aren't fraudulent or at risk in any way and the Serious Fraud Office is also joining in with a review of its own. A sobering thought indeed.

So hat's off to Karyn Scherer at the National Business Review for unearthing this particular nasty.

NBR - Fuji Xerox bosses step down after Australasian accounting scandal

NBR - NBR SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Questions raised over massive $51m loss at Fuji Xerox NZ (2016)

NZ Herald - SFO to 'review' report on Fuji Xerox NZ operations

NZ Herald - Fuji Xerox NZ: taking findings 'seriously', vows to resolve issues

CIO - Fuji Xerox NZ 'accounting irregularities' blow out to $NZ472m


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