How do we learn to work with intelligent machines? – Matt Beane

The path to skill around the globe has been the same for thousands of years: train under an expert and take on small, easy tasks before progressing to riskier, harder ones. But right now, we’re handling AI in a way that blocks that path — and sacrificing learning in our quest for productivity, says organizational ethnographer Matt Beane. What can be done? Beane shares a vision that flips the current story into one of distributed, machine-enhanced mentorship that takes full advantage of AI’s amazing capabilities while enhancing our skills at the same time.

 

Matt Beane is a Research Affiliate with MIT’s Institute for the Digital Economy.

Raising wages is the right thing to do, and doesn’t have to be bad for your bottom line – Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

From Harvard Business Review 

The “working poor” are a growing problem in America — one that is increasingly embarrassing to the corporate elite. Business leaders who are morally inclined to do the right thing should and can play a stronger role in solving this problem by raising wages to a level where their employees’ earnings cover the cost of living.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was recently stumped in a U.S. House Financial Services Committee hearing when California Congresswoman Katie Porter asked him what advice he could give to a constituent — one of his own bank’s tellers, who makes $2,425 a month and lives with her daughter in a one-bedroom apartment with a $1,600 rent in Irvine. Food, utilities, childcare, and commuting cost about another $1,400, leaving her $567 short every month. Dimon had no good answer.

Yet Dimon is one of a number of corporate leaders — others include Warren Buffett, Ray Dalio, and Paul Tudor Jones — who have expressed public concern that the version of capitalism that has allowed them to be so successful is not sustainable for our society. The data are daunting. Between 1980 and 2014, while the pre-tax income doubled for the top 1% and tripled for the top 0.1%, there was little change for the bottom 50%. In 2017, more than 45 million Americans worked in occupations whose median wage was below $15 an hour. Although wages increases have finally been accelerating, 40% of Americans are living so close to the edge that they cannot absorb an unexpected $400 expense—not much, as car repairs or dental work go.

For business leaders operating in settings like that of JPMorgan Chase, where profit margins are high and low-wage employees are a small driver of overall costs, doing the right thing morally is not even that risky. Some wage increases would even pay themselves by increasing productivity and reducing turnover — employees would be more motivated, less distracted with life problems, and less eager to find a better job. For those leaders compelled by the same moral argument but operating in businesses with low profit margins and a high percentage of low-wage employees, doing the right thing morally is still possible. But it requires a lot more work.

Read More »

In an era of tech innovation, whispers of declining research productivity – Irving Wladawsky-Berger

MIT Sloan Visiting Lecturer Irving Wladawsky-Berger

MIT Sloan Visiting Lecturer Irving Wladawsky-Berger

From The Wall Street Journal

Given the pace of technological change, we tend to think of our age as the most innovative ever. But over the past several years, a number of economists have argued that increasing R&D efforts are yielding decreasing returns.

Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?, a recent paper by economists Nicholas Bloom, Charles Jones and Michael Webb from Stanford and John Van Reenen from MIT, shows that, across a wide range of industries, research efforts are rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply.

Moore’s Law, the empirical observation that the number of transistors in a computer chip doubles approximately every two years, illustrates these trends. The paper points out that the number of researchers required to double chip density today is 18 times larger than those required in the early 1970s. In the case of Moore’s Law, research productivity has been declining at a rate of about 6.8% per year.

The authors conducted a similar in-depth analysis in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. For agricultural yields, research effort went up by a factor of two between 1970 and 2007, while research productivity declined by a factor of 4 over the same period, at an annual rate of 3.7 %. For pharmaceuticals, research efforts went up by a factor of 9 between 1970 and 2014 while research productivity declined by a factor of 5, an annual rate of 3.5%.

 

Read More »

How to improve productivity? Make sure it’s shared broadly — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From The Washington Post

We know what productivity growth requires: investments in new technology. For previous generations, this was factories full of machines, first powered by steam and then by electricity. More recently it was the arrival of computers, which changed how work was organized within and across firms.

We often perceive the impact of new technology imperfectly and with a lag, and today is no different. We can see a wave of hardware and software innovations underway — technologies such as 3D printing and distributed ledgers will allow manufacturing and finance to become more dispersed — but it is hard to know exactly where it will take us.

Read More »

Andrew McAfee: Are droids taking our jobs?

Robots and algorithms are getting good at jobs like building cars, writing articles, translating — jobs that once required a human. So what will we humans do for work? Andrew McAfee walks through recent labor data to say: We ain’t seen nothing yet. But then he steps back to look at big history, and comes up with a surprising and even thrilling view of what comes next. (Filmed at TEDxBoston.)

Andrew McAfee is Associate Director and Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business and co-author of  “Race Against the Machine”