Work Futures Daily - Living in the Whirlwind

2017-11-16 - Beacon NY

Living in the Whirlwind

A whirlwind trip to San Francisco Sunday through Wednesday, and now I am back in Beacon NY.

I had a chance to spend most of a day at Cisco, learning more about the company's plans for Spark. I plan to write something longer, but I was impressed with the company's tight focus on the central role of meetings in business. Yes, there are too many, and yes, many meetings could be -- at very the least -- conducted better. But their vision of AI meeting assistants that not only act as camera crew (zooming in on the head that is talking in a video meeting and noise-canceling the barking dog on Greta's line) but also acting like a human assistant might, by taking notes, getting referenced documents, and everything but bringing the coffee from Starbucks. I'm intrigued by the possible overlaps with work management, like surfacing when decisions need to be made, and capturing to-dos and their consequences, like deadlines, assignments, and interdependencies.

Also met with other companies, and had very cool discussions that I can't talk about yet, but which could have a real impact on what I am trying to accomplish with the work futures newsletter and related publishing.

Kickstarter Drip

Apropos of publishing, Kickstarter is launching a new version of Drip after acquiring the service from Ghostly International. The new Drip is a Patreon-like service allowing 'creators' to get subscription-based support from their fans.

One interesting wrinkle is that Drip creators can direct subscribers to other platforms, so there is no lock in.

I'll be taking a longer look in the near future.

What's the Modus Operandi for interaction at work in a #MeToo era?

Corinne Purtill asks, So what can we say to each other at work now?

A necessary question, perhaps, but fraught since she finally comes down to this: 

This system is broken. What are we supposed to say to each other now? ​

Artificial Intelligence as God?

Anthony Levandowski, well-known for his pioneering work in driverless cars at Google,Uber, and Otto (acquired by Uber). A 2017 lawsuit by Waymo, Google's driverless company, charged Levandowski has lifted around 10 GB of 'confidential files and trade secrets', which led ultimately to his being fired by Uber.

He is now the 'Dean' of a new church, called The Way of the Future, which sounds like something from a science fiction novel of thirty years ago. He was interviewed by Mark Harris of Wired:

“What is going to be created will effectively be a god,” Levandowski tells me in his modest mid-century home on the outskirts of Berkeley, California. “It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”

I'd like to point out that humans are a billion times as intelligent as ants, but that does not make us gods. 

A close reading of Levandowski's words suggests his view of AI is less like a god, in a supernatural sense, and more like the way alien invaders are portrayed in some movies: you know, they arrived here thousands of years ago with technologies indistinguishable from magic, they are functionally immortal, and they take control of society in a top-down fashion, effectively colonizing us.

Maybe Levandowski just dreamed up TWF as an escape from his legal and business problems. 

However, I think there is something tantalizing in the notion of an AI as the foundation of a new economic model, as explored by Daniel Suarez in Daemon. As Publisher's Weekly summarized Daemon

Gaming genius Matthew Sobol, the 34-year-old head of CyberStorm Entertainment, has just died of brain cancer, but death doesn't stop him from initiating an all-out Internet war against humanity. When the authorities investigate Sobol's mansion in Thousand Oaks, Calif., they find themselves under attack from his empty house, aided by an unmanned Hummer that tears into the cops with staggering ferocity. Sobol's weapon is a daemon, a kind of computer process that not only has taken over many of the world's computer systems but also enlists the help of superintelligent human henchmen willing to carry out his diabolical plan.​

Turns out Sobol is saving us from another group's diabolical plans, really. Put Daemon on your Christmas list if you haven't read it already.

The Cult of Overwork

A startup called Revolut in the UK exemplifies the cult of overwork. The founder Nikolay Storonsky claims to spend 95% of his time in the office, and expects a similar commitment from his employees. 

Hard work and no play makes for startup success | Charlie

Reviews for the UK office on Glassdoor, an online platform that allows past and present employees to leave reviews about a company, back the idea that the hours are long but worth it. One current full-time employee says there are no cons but “work life balance will shift towards being dedicated to your job - but this is what being passionate is about! We are building new things everyday!” Storonsky says hiring these types of people is key to the success and growth of the business. “You just hire people who have the same intelligence, they want to achieve great things and they are ok to work hard for it. You make sure when you interview candidates you ask them specifically, ‘are you prepared to work hard?’”

For some, the answer to that question might initially be ‘yes’, but there has been the occasion where the fast pace has caught up with a new hire. “We definitely have had people who didn't meet our expectations,” Storonsky says. “It's not because they're bad or we're bad. It's more like we have our own direction, our certain ways of doing things, a certain speed that some people just don’t get used to.

The article does not raise any of what seem to be obvious questions to me, like is this legal? I wonder what would happen if a well-meaning employee had an ailing parent they needed to care for. Or what if two Revolut employees met, fell in love, and had a baby? After the maternity/paternity leaves (are those allowed?) one or both of the married couple might want to spend more time at home with Boopsie. Are they fired? That is certainly not legal. And is this all good for society in the large? What if all companies adopted the same philosophy?

One of the oddest things about this article is that these questions weren't posed to Storonsky by Charlie.

Walmart Deploying Shelf-Scanning Robots

Walmart has a $3 billion problem: price discrepancies and products missing from shelves. The company isdeploying shelf-scanning robotsto plug this problem. 

The robots scan the shelves as they move down the aisles, and they notify human workers when problems are discovered, such as products with the wrong prices, or missing products.