Humans and Robots: Large Scale Changes from Many Smaller Scale Changes

The Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland has been looking at the impact of automation on employment in Scotland. Their estimate is that 46% of jobs are at high risk of automation. They also identify the primary challenge with this shift as being people’s ability to gain new skills whilst in employment, mid-career.

It’s not at all clear whether human skills can change at a rate that will allow us to outpace AI skills. There are differing views (see also Humans and Robots: Skills, Manufacturing and Construction) on this but I’m not sure we’ve got any choice but to try.

Many societies has been through these changes before, but not at this scale or this pace.

Whilst large changes are being predicted, the big shift will be made up of millions of smaller changes. One example of this are the Artificial Intelligence integrations that Microsoft are making in Microsoft Office. From design advice in PowerPoint to the Focused Inbox in Outlook these automations will soon become second nature to how we work. You’re already dependent upon the AI in the spelling and grammar capabilities. Driving all of these enhancements is AI that Microsoft is training with the data from over 100 million Office 365 users.

Also, there’s a little word from Dilbert at the end.


Automation poses a high risk to 1.2m Scottish jobs, report says

It put forward the recommendations in its Scotland’s Skills 2030 report, which said: “The world of work in 2030 will be very different to that in 2017. People are more likely to be working longer, and will often have multiple jobs, with multiple employers and in multiple careers.

“Over 2.5 million adults in Scotland (nearly 80%) will still be of working age by 2030. At the same time, over 46% of jobs (1.2 million) in Scotland are at high risk of automation.

“We will therefore need a skills system ready to work with people throughout their careers.


Microsoft and Artificial Intelligence’s long relationship is about to deepen


Humans and Robots: Skills, Manufacturing and Construction

At humans we are pretty good at falling into the trap of believing that what is has always been. We simplify the complexity around us by treating as many things as possible as permanent. Many of the macro systems which define our lives every day are not as permanent or historic as we treat them.

The idea of going out to a job is only a couple of hundred years old.

While Capitalism has been around since the 14th century; industrial capitalism has only been around since the 18th century.

People’s skills, and the way that they gain those skills, changed dramatically through that time. The skills we are going to need for the Robot future are likely to be very different to the skills we need today, that almost certainly means that the way we gain the skills will change dramatically also. But the big question is, will the Humans be able to keep up? In today’s Humans and Robots we look at some research by the Pew Research Centre debating the skills future.

We’ll also look at some of the areas already being impacted by the rise of the Robot:


The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training

As robots, automation and artificial intelligence perform more tasks and there is massive disruption of jobs, experts say a wider array of education and skills-building programs will be created to meet new demands. There are two uncertainties: Will well-prepared workers be able to keep up in the race with AI tools? And will market capitalism survive?

This report picks up on five major themes for skills and training in the emerging technology age:

  • Theme 1: The training ecosystem will evolve, with a mix of innovation in all education formats
  • Theme 2: Learners must cultivate 21st‑century skills, capabilities and attributes
  • Theme 3: New credentialing systems will arise as self-directed learning expands
  • Theme 4: Training and learning systems will not meet 21st‑century needs by 2026
  • Theme 5: Jobs? What jobs? Technological forces will fundamentally change work and the economic landscape

There’s a phrase that I’ve used a number of time on this blog: “Learning is work, work is learning” Harold Jarche. This is going to remain true for the present, and ever more so into the future, but it’s not clear that we will keep up, I’ll leave you with this thought:

About a third of respondents expressed no confidence in training and education evolving quickly enough to match demands by 2026.

Via Stowe Boyd – Forty Acres and a Bot


Apple’s $1 Billion Manufacturing Boost Will Likely Bring Robots, Not Factory Jobs

As we’ve explained in the past, advanced manufacturing—with all of its automation and super-efficiencies—can certainly bring productivity gains. But it won’t bring back manufacturing jobs. Just last month we finally got some hard numbers on the impact of automation on the labor force in our factories and warehouses: more robots bring with them decreased employment and lower wages. So if Apple’s focus is indeed going to be on using robotics, it’s not going to be good for the workforce.


MIT’s giant mobile 3D printer can build a building in 14 hours, and some day it may be headed to Mars

It might be targeted at Mars, but why not on Earth?

Humans and Robots: Automating the Buses

We are, apparently, entering a new era of automation and robotics.

For some this new era is one of opportunity where we explore new horizons with the help of robots.

For others the new horizon is one where we are beholden to our robot overlords.

I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer to where it will all end up predicting the future is notoriously tricky to do. So, I’ve decided to start curating some of the content I am seeing coming through and providing my own perspective on that content as a learning activity for me, and hopefully for you also.

I’m using the term robots to encompass anything that automates something that a human currently does, hence the title Humans and Robots.

As an example, from today:


The wheels on the self-driving bus go wherever they’re programmed to

Proterra, an electric bus manufacturer, just announced its three-phase plan to create the self-driving public transit system of the future, filled with autonomous, emission-free electric buses. The company says the move to autonomy should make mass transit safer and more efficient than ever before.

The automation of transportation is picking up pace with lots of very large organisations already committing significant investment budget. We have become used to autonomous trains in various situations, moving to autonomous buses is a significantly more complicated if those buses are to use the same road infrastructure as human drivers.

The days of driverless buses aren’t that far away, Proterra estimate 2019. That would have a significant impact on UK employment figures; Transport for London operates over 8,000 buses, as an example, I suspect that means that they employ over 16,000 drivers but I couldn’t find any definitive numbers. That’s a significant resource to redeploy in a transitional period that could be as short as 10 years. There will be some residual work for these drivers in cities like London where the tourists will pay for a heritage experience, but that’s a very small number compared to the needs for mass transport.

Whilst the impact on human employability is significant, so is the impact of safer emission-free mass transit. Many cities are struggling with air quality and what’s not to like about improved safety.

Why do we complain about free things? I can think of some reasons.

Facebook is free.

Twitter is free.

Instagram is free.

Google is free.

WhatsApp is free.

Skype is free (for most of us)

Yet, when they don’t do what we expect them to do we complain bitterly, it’s as if they were part of our monthly utility bill.

Why do we do that?

I think that there are several reasons.

  1. We are invested in them – Even though we haven’t paid cash for these services we have invested in them. We’ve invested our time and energy into the content that we’ve placed on them. We’ve invested time in understanding how to use them. We’ve changed our life to fit them in. That investment gives us a right to complain when things go wrong.
  2. They are charging us – There is a charge for each of these services and the charge is attention. Most of these services are subsidised by advertising which takes our attention. However good you think you are at ignoring these adverts you are kidding yourself if you think that they aren’t taking some of your time away. If you could put a value on that time what would it be? We secretly know we are being charged and that gives us a right to complain when things go wrong.
  3. They are selling you – As well as charging your attention these services are also selling your information to someone. We make a contract with them that enables them to do this on the understanding that the service stays free. We know they are selling us and that gives us the right to complain when things go wrong.
  4. Entitlement – The cost of something rarely defines our feeling of entitlement to it. When someone promises to do something for you, even if it’s for free, we get upset when they don’t deliver. These free applications have promised to do something for us and now they aren’t. If you are entitled to something you have a right to complain when things go wrong.

I’m pretty sure that there are more reasons, but I think those are the main ones.

I apologise if this free service didn’t live up to your expectations, please feel free to complain. Please be assured that reason 2 does not apply to this blog; I don’t think reason 3 applies to this blog, I don’t sell your information to anyone, but I can’t be sure that others in the supply chain don’t; I’d be amazed if reasons 1 and 4 applied to your use of this blog :-).

Imagining a Different Perspective

The other day I was driving through the English countryside when a pulled up to the back of two Volvos.

The Volvo in front was almost new and still glistening silver.

The Volvo behind was a convertible, with the roof down. It wasn’t so new, but not too old either.

First question: What are you imagining that the rest of this story is going to be about?

The road we were travelling down together is one of the high passes in the Lake District and is the widest and best maintained of these high altitude roads. For most of the length of this road cars can pass each other with little need to slow down. Anything wider than a car and you have to exercise caution and very occasionally you have to make use of passing places for larger vehicles. This road climbs rapidly to a height of over 450m, twisting and turning as it goes. The views are fabulous as you make your way through steep high sided valleys and onto the top where you can see for miles, the route down is just as steep with an extra steep option if you’re so inclined.

Second question: What is your emotional response to what I’ve told you about this road?

The Volvo in front was driving cautiously, very cautiously. They would drive down the middle of the road to avoid being too close to the stone walls at either side. When a vehicle came in the opposite direction they would apply the brakes and practically stop to let the other vehicle pass. Many of the vehicles coming in the opposite direction would pass at speed.

A couple of times we approached a group of cyclists exercising their respiratory system of the steep slopes. The Volvo in front would only pass in the safest of places.

There are several places on this road where it’s possible to pull over and to let others pass. It’s quite a popular tourist route, it’s also a route people use for everyday activities, I’ve regularly had people pull over and let me pass as they stopped to enjoy the view. This driver never took any of these opportunities.

Third question: What word would you use to describe this first driver?

Every time the first Volvo slowed down the driver in the second Volvo would break heavily to avoid a collision. The braking would be accompanied with a set of hand gestures and articulations to the driver in front. At almost every turn the driver of the second Volvo would vigorously shake their head at the driver in front. The driver of this second car had the roof down so I could see that they were an older gentleman, in their 60s perhaps, there was a lady in the passenger seat of a similar age. His favourite hand gesture was to make the shape of a hand gun and articulate to shoot the car in front.

As the first Volvo accelerated after each passing vehicle the second would accelerate loudly as they applied a heavy foot on the appropriate pedal.

The two cars would repeat the sequence of brake, heavy brake, hand gestures, accelerate, accelerate loudly, brake…

Fourth question: What word would you use to describe this second driver?

It was a glorious sunny day and I’d just completed a fairly long walk from which I was feeling a weathered glow. As I watched these two drivers making their way through the glorious scenery I decided that it was time to challenge my own perspectives on the drivers immediately ahead.

I had my initial words for both of them, neither complimentary.

Could other words be applicable? What about different perspectives?

Fifth question: What other words could apply to both these drivers?

After descending down the other side of the steep pass it was time for me to leave the duelling dancing duo and to plot my own course. They carried on towards one of the Lake District’s major centres, I took a short cut to avoid it. There were no vehicle on this road and I was free to drive at my own pass in my on flow.

I recently heard someone suggest that people will decide on whether they are coming back to a place within the first 15 minutes of being there. if you run a restaurant and make people wait more than 15 minutes it doesn’t matter how good the food is they’ve already decided on the likelihood of a return visit. that’s how quickly we define our perspective.

One of the things that defines the human race is our ability to imagine, yet, so often we choose not to exercise that skill.

My Stories: The Coffee Bean Pot Band

There’s a tradition in our house that every time we open a new bag of coffee beans we cut out the label and place it under the elastic band that’s around the pot where we store the beans.

The pot is an old Illy coffee pot that we’ve had for years, over that time the number of labels has grown and the elastic band expanded.


Each of the labels compacted under the band has a little story of its own.

The story might be as simple as a trip to the local supermarket. Some of the stories are about special occasions; others are about holidays. The Pilgrims Coffee is from Lindisfarne.


There are stories about trips out and also stories about trips further afield. The Lojano is from Ecuador.

There are coffees that are there because they are favourites, others are special treats. Some we return to, others have been a unique experience.

The idea that we have drunk a coffee called Lazy Sunday is a deep irony.

The coffee bean pot band is a treasure trove of memories.