Our youth come of age

first parish

First Parish in Bedford

Today my wife, Luanne, who this year began coordinating the Coming of Age program at First Parish in Bedford, read these words to introduce our youth who are entering adult life.

In religious traditions around the world, young people are invited into the adult life of their spiritual communities in many ways. Usually, they participate in lessons, reflections, and formal preparations before being welcomed ceremoniously into adulthood. Here, at First Parish, we offer a Coming of Age program to recognize and honor this rite of passage. We value personal growth and the religious freedom to develop for ourselves a credo that will help guide us through life. We covenant that we are a religious community of individuals committed to independent spiritual paths and a shared religious journey.

This morning we will honor seven youth who have worked all year in First Parish’s formal Coming of Age program. By participating in this program, they learned about Unitarian Universalism through monthly meetings, readings, social action projects, two retreats, and many lively discussions with some of our own Parishioners, as well as people from other churches.

We asked them to consider how our UU principles impact their own behaviors. We asked them to move these words off the printed pages of their RE lessons and into to the actions of their daily lives. We asked them to imagine living a life of meaning as a Unitarian Universalist.

This group has responded. They have reflected on their own evolving beliefs as Unitarian Universalists. They have written down ideas about their faith, hopes for their future, and their responsibilities as members of the community. They have prepared a Credo that they will read to you today.

Their journey through the Coming of Age program is symbolically captured on the necklaces 20150517_124003-CoA Beadsthat they are wearing today. Each bead represents the completion of a specific task within one of the program components, which are worship, community building, social action, learning, leadership, and walking their faith. These necklaces are a symbol of their accomplishments, as well as a symbol of our collective hope. We celebrate their achievements as these youth cross the bridge into adulthood. We feel enriched and rejuvenated by their spirit. We share joy and hope knowing that these youth will be citizens who are empowered to make the world a better place.

Today, at this recognition service, you will hear from this remarkable group of individuals, who are thoughtful, passionate, insightful, and creative. They will share their ideas with you through their artwork displayed in the sanctuary windows, their belief bags, their song choices, their selected opening/closing words, their personal chalice-lighting words, and their own Credo Statements. After the service today, you will have a chance to mingle with them, talk to them, and discover more about their beliefs and ideas. Most importantly, however, we ask that you welcome them into your hearts, and support them on their spiritual journey as peers. On this day, and joined by these young adults, our circle is larger, our hope is stronger, and our future is brighter.

As our world grows every more complex, kids like this, who have open hearts and open minds, give me hope for the future. Congratulations to Bharat, Zach, Eleanor, Briny, Noah, Gus and Kate. Thanks also to the co-leaders and mentors Bob, Peggy and Luanne.

 

Reviews of “The Second Machine Age” that inspire me

Andrew McAfee, Hotel Jerome (pic by aspeninstitute-internal)

Andrew McAfee, Hotel Jerome (pic by aspeninstitute-internal)

In an earlier post (May 2014), I reviewed the The Second Machine Age, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Recently, two other reviews came to my attention that contribute to the conversation about technology and its impacts on society. Both reviewers have unique and interesting points of view, very different from mine, which they back up with their own research. If you read the book, then I highly recommend that you also read these thoughtful reviews. While the coming technological changes are interesting, the more important issue is how to channel the power of technology for everyone’s benefit. Along with the book, these reviews inspire me to engage in the conversation and advocate for policies that make technological progress a force for good.

The first review, “To Replace or Respect: Futurology as if People Mattered,” by Frank Pasquale came to my attention on Twitter:

Pasquale writes that, “the question of distribution of the gains from automation is just as important as the competitions for dominance it accelerates” and “2MA invites readers to consider how societies will decide what type of bounty from automation they want.” This is exactly the point: we can (and must) shape our future world.

He discusses the idea that ownership of data, as opposed to innovative algorithms, is a source of competitive advantage. He says, “it is a commonplace in big data literatures to say that the more data one has, the more valuable any piece of it becomes—something Googlers would agree with, as long as antitrust authorities aren’t within earshot.” He also writes about intellectual property law, bringing up many interesting points.

Pasquale challenges the policy recommendations made by Brynjolfsson and McAfee, and I agree that the policy issues are difficult and need vigorous debate. I think Pasquale does a good job surfacing issues that cast a shadow on technological optimism. There is no question in my mind that we need to confront the issues he identifies head on.

In this review, Pasquale references “Justice for ‘Data Janitors’,” by Lilly Irani. I appreciate the hard questions Irani asks, “Will technology produce new jobs, new industries, and new forms of comparative advantage? Or will technology take away jobs and concentrate wealth among those who own the machines?” I also appreciate her distinction that, “Automation doesn’t replace labor. It displaces it.”

Irani makes the case that underpaid and hidden workers power the magic of many advanced technologies. She writes about how, “Twitter deploys an army of cultural data workers to sort and classify tweets in real time.” Such workers are organized via systems such as Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), which allow programmers to invoke human workers for “cognitive piecework on demand.” Irani writes that, “As contractors, AMT workers are excluded from the protections of minimum-wage laws.”

Irani makes good points that deserve further discussion as she summarizes the situation this way:

The pleasures and conveniences of human-powered technology will continue to fuel a growing market for technology’s hidden laborers. Employers, driven by profit margins and stock prices, have great incentives to keep these workers off the books and out of sight. Inside the machines, inequality will persist. Unless, that is, we discredit and challenge the industry’s hierarchies of value that grant managers and programmers rock star status and wealth, while confining data workers to a life of underpayment and insecurity.

There is one point in both reviews that I believe requires clarification. Pasquale says of Brynjolfsson and McAfee, “By seriously considering the possibility of a basic income (232), they evince a moral sensibility light years ahead of the “devil-take-the-hindmost” school of cyberlibertarianism.” Irani says, “Despite the shortcomings of their analysis, Brynjolfsson and McAfee propose a weapon that could strengthen the hidden workers of the digital age: a basic income guarantee (BIG).” To be clear, what Brynjolfsson and McAfee said in the book was, “Will we need to revisit the idea of a basic income in decades to come? Maybe, but it’s not our first choice.” Brynjolfsson and McAfee consider BIG, but don’t advocate for it. There was a recent basic income experiment in India that I discussed in this blog, and the embedded video shows Brynjolfsson engaged in a discussion on this topic. I can’t read minds, but I would guess that Brynjolfsson and McAfee, if asked today, would agree that BIG needs more research and should remain on the table as an option for the future. As Irani says, “An income guarantee would allow workers to walk away, or at least starve the algorithms of their data until managers shape up.” In brief, BIG has the potential to level the playing field and empower workers.

Although both authors uncover dark sides of technological progress, the result is an inspiration to shape our future such that technology benefits everyone. Pasquale concludes:

All too often, the automation literature is focused on replacing humans, rather than respecting their hopes, duties, and aspirations. A central task of educators, managers, and business leaders should be finding ways to complement a workforce’s existing skills, rather than sweeping that workforce aside. That does not simply mean creating workers with skill sets that better “plug into” the needs of machines, but also, doing the opposite: creating machines that better enhance and respect the abilities and needs of workers.  That would be a “machine age” welcoming for all, rather than one calibrated to reflect and extend the power of machine owners.

We need more discussion about the impact of technology on society, and we need business leaders who think about more than maximizing profits. In a world where technology produces an unimagined bounty, we need inclusive policies to make sure that everyone benefits.

Top Ten Highlights from the 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium

Registration for the 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium opened last week. As with last year, I’m a member of the organizing team. One of my roles is to write content, such as the text below, for our newsletter. We sent similar content via e-mail in yesterday’s edition.

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2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium -- Innovation Showcase

2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium — Innovation Showcase

The 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium is just around the corner: May 20, 2015 at the MIT Kresge Auditorium, Cambridge MA. This global event helps CIOs and senior IT executives become better business leaders.

Last year, Lindsey Anderson, event chair, told us in his opening remarks that we should all be thinking about the digital revolution because of two concepts: exponential growth of technology and convergence of global markets. Here are ten highlights from the 2014 Symposium (download the program pdf) to remember:

  1. Thaddeus Arroyo, Chief Information Officer of AT&T Services, received the MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award.
  2. During the morning’s academic panel, Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of The Second Machine Age, set the scene for the day saying that, “We are at an inflection point where technology continues its ever rapid pace . . . and as a result is having a profound impact on society.” See the video.
  3. All day networking was highlighted by the 2014 Innovation Showcase and Evening Reception. Dell’s Karaboutis said, “Data is the new currency in the digital world,” a sentiment that Jeff Boehm observed as he visited vendors such as CloudPhysics, Cambridge Semantics, Luminoso, and RapidMiner that were showing new ways to gain insights from data.
  4. “Every company is now a software company,” says Mendix CEO Derek Roos while summarizing the digital disruption. The issue facing every business is that the world is becoming programmable, so software is critical for customer satisfaction and brand differentiation.
  5. To cope with this second machine age, “culture, laws, ethics, and economics all matter.” CIOs can no longer focus on technology alone; they must work closely with business owners.
  6. “Fear vs. fear” has replaced “hope vs. fear.” Narinder Singh, chief strategy officer for Appirio, says, “It’s now fear of disruption versus fear that we can’t screw something up because I don’t want to get fired.”
  7. Collective intelligence is the new frontier. Professor Thomas Malone tells us that the team’s strength depends on team members having high social intelligence, as well as a willingness to have everyone participate. Andrew McAfee explained how collective intelligence is expanding to include combinations of humans and machines.
  8. “IT doesn’t support the business; it is the business,” this is one of many great quotes from Adriana Karaboutis, the Dell CIO. Another was when she explained how she ditched the company’s IT steering committee, “I’m not a ship; I don’t need to be steered.”
  9. After the event, Sheila Lahar’s take away from the event was that modern CIOs are agile, customer-focused, visible, and innovative. Laura Aberle’s take away was that CIOs need to help enterprises stay ahead of the customer empowerment curve.
  10. Matt Haney identified the one overarching theme to sum up the Symposium: “evolve or perish.” This was the theme of the afternoon’s general session about becoming the CIO of the future.

Are you looking forward to the 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium?

(Click here for the 2015 Registration Page)

The year in review

320px-Fireworks_5049I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year. In 2014, I published 17 new posts, which is a bit less than 2013 (20 posts). Topics included Information technology, economics, automation, education and poetry. Although the volume of content decreased, the total page views increased by 48% and average views per day increased by 75%. By far, the most viewed post was Considering “The Second Machine Age,” for which I thank Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of the book, for his shout out on Twitter:

Looking at the statistics, three other posts deserve honorable mention:

Over the past year, I’ve also begun publishing material in two other places:

I plan to continue writing for IBM and MIT in 2015. With just over two years of blogging behind me, I’ve come to imagine four stages of blogging:

  1. Content: Creating quality content
  2. Credibility: Gaining positive reader feedback
  3. Community: Connecting with others who have similar interests
  4. Activism: Writing to drive positive social change

I see myself as having completed stages one and two. In 2015, my goal is to focus on stage three. I will try to do these things:

  • Expand my Online Community
  • Connect with other bloggers and give voice to their writing (e.g. reblogging)
  • Increase interactions with readers (more comments please!)
  • Publish more consistently (at least one post a month)

Thanks to all who took the time to read this blog and have a very Happy New Year!

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Ivan Robinson

Ivan Robinson

On September 6, 2014, Lynn Robinson read this poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” at a family gathering to celebrate the life of Ivan Robinson, who died on August 4, 2014. On this Thanksgiving day, Ivan will be missed, but we will all remember the meaningful life he led.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Attribution: “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

New blue collar jobs and an unconditional basic income experiment in India

WBUR’s recent On Point radio show, “The New Blue Collar Jobs Of Tomorrow,” discussed a USA Today study, “Where the jobs are: The new blue collar,” that was cautiously optimistic about new blue collar jobs between now and 2017:

By 2017, an estimated 2.5 million new, middle-skill jobs . . . are expected to be added to the workforce, accounting for nearly 40% of all job growth, according to a USA TODAY analysis of local data from Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. and CareerBuilder.

One of the guests on the show was Eirk Brynjolfsson. Earlier this year, I reviewed his book, The Second Machine Age. In this review, as well as an earlier post, I discussed the concept of a basic income as a possible policy to help cope with the projected impact that technology will have on the economy in the long-term. I felt before, and feel today, that this idea needs more study. In the comments section of the WBUR report, I found an encouraging video that discussed the results of a study in India. Here’s the introduction:

What if everybody received every month enough money to live by? Will society collapse? Will we all become slackers? Myths and facts about Unconditional Basic Income, with analysis from a real world experiment conducted in India between 2011-2013. Keynote speech by Federico Pistono at the Future of Work Summit, NASA Ames Research Park, California, June 30, 2014.

Eirk Brynjolfsson was in the audience and spoke to Federico Pistono during the question and answer session. Brynjolfsson suggested that results in developed nations, such as the U.S., might be very different from India. He’s right. Nevertheless, this is a very interesting video and I fully support repeating the experiment in other countries. As Pistono concluded at the end, this is not a panacea. Nevertheless, it could be one element of a future solution. Enjoy the video.

Redefining capitalism

Allan: This is an important topic, and I like the way Beinhocker and Hanauer frame it.

Once we understand that the solutions capitalism produces are what creates real prosperity in people’s lives, and that the rate at which we create solutions is true economic growth, then it becomes obvious that entrepreneurs and business leaders bear a major part of both the credit and the responsibility for creating societal prosperity.

The accelerating pace of technological change is no longer news; the question now is how will society adapt. Let’s talk about how to evolve capitalism to make sure that this digital age ushers in an era of prosperity.

Originally posted September 2014
Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer, McKinsey & Company: Redefining capitalism

Capitalism is under attack. The financial crisis of 2008, the stagnation of the middle class in many developed countries, and rising income inequality are challenging some of our most deeply held beliefs about how a fair and well-functioning society should be organized.

Many business leaders are of two minds about the situation. They note that market capitalism has yielded massive increases in human prosperity, particularly in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. More recently, it has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty in emerging economies. Yet despite these historic accomplishments, it’s also easy to worry that something is wrong with how the system is performing today.

This article will argue that while we have been correct to believe that capitalism has been the major source of historical growth and prosperity, we have been mostly incorrect in identifying how and why it worked so well. By analogy, our ancestors did know that the stars and planets moved in the sky and had various theories to explain their observations. But it wasn’t until the Copernican model replaced the Earth with the sun at the center of the solar system and Newton articulated his laws of gravitation that people understood how and why they move.

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