Friday, December 29, 2023

Activity vs. Production – What’s Happening, and Why It Would Be Beneficial to Do Better

It’s an ancient problem.  Some workers look busy, but don’t accomplish much.  Some are low-profile, efficient, and quietly, often with lower hours or even apparent effort, get a lot more done.  Some focus on quality, others on quantity. 

How can supervisors and higher-ups best manage these different situations? 

One way is electronic monitoring.  That is nothing new.  When I worked at a data-entry position 36 years ago, supervisors got reports giving workers’ production, though at a coarse level, and other statistics such as how many things they deleted.  That was a start, though not all items produced were the same difficulty.  For most cubicle jobs, though, direct production is harder to assess, and some measures can be simply misleading. 

That issue came to the fore with “Microsoft executives say it’s ‘wrong’ for managers to spy on remote employees’ mouse clicks and keystrokes: ‘That’s measuring heat rather than outcome’” (Grace Kay, Business Insider, September 22nd, 2022).  That is old also – an AT&T second-level manager in a group I was in over 30 years ago had software set up to tell him when a certain worker opened the databases he used; it wasn’t effective for long, as the employee set up something to automatically do that every morning he was scheduled.  The modern version may, per a quote from Microsoft’s CEO, be a result of “productivity paranoia,” especially concerning remote and hybrid workers. 

Another more general involvement area is about working extra hours.  A noticeable indication of that is communicating at unusual times.  However, “After-hours work emails are facing more legal restrictions” (Megan Cerullo, Yahoo Finance, February 3rd).  One example is that “employers in Ontario, Canada are required to have written policies on disconnecting from work that outline when work-related communications, including emails, phone call and video conferences, are prohibited.”  Clearly, “the onus is on both the employer and employee to set boundaries around communicating outside of normal working hours,” and – for that matter, working in general – but often that does not happen.

Going further, Adam Waytz, in the March-April Harvard Business Review, wrote an article printing out to over 12 pages, titled “Beware a Culture of Busyness.”  The idea is also well-established, and the first part, with office people when asked how they were doing saying they were “busy,” matched AT&T culture when I was there.  Per Waytz, “Busyness has become a status symbol,” research has showed that those seeming busy are perceived as ““important and impressive”” and “”morally admirable,” regardless of their output.”  The author described how “a culture of busyness” can perpetuate itself, and named five ways to roll that back: “reward output, not just activity”; “assess whether your organization is generating deep work and eliminating low-value work”; “force people off the clock”; “model the right behavior”; and “build slack into the system.”

A development newer than quiet quitting, or refusing to work additional time or put in unusual effort, is the subject of “Gen Z’s ‘lazy girl jobs’ trend hits back at hustle culture, but critics warn outcome could be problematic” (Taylor Penley, Fox Business, July 29th).  Such arrangements, per the article, are “well-paying often fully or partially remote jobs that require minimal effort to cut back on the stress and anxiety they say is harmful to mental health.”  Per one respondent, they include exercising and doing household tasks during work hours.  Unsurprisingly, “not everyone is on board with the concept,” and it “isn’t gender-exclusive.”  I suspect this trend comes mostly from lax remote-work supervision and standards, with Generation Z workers, with shorter work-experience sets containing little time during low-hiring eras, especially willing to articulate and practice what they want, even if it sounds bad.  If employers can harvest the advantages of clear policies and performance-centered employee evaluations, they can integrate those things with a conscious, focused retreat from busyness culture, and get a net benefit from it, especially considering how those policies can minimize expensive worker turnover. 

Encouraging and rewarding activity over results is not only constructive but good business.  I was a top producer at AT&T, even though I worked little extra time.  When I saw those inflating their hours but not their production, it discouraged me and my kin.  Management did not want people doing the most work moving to competitors, but that was sometimes a needless consequence.  When companies realize why it is poor practice to encourage “heat, rather than outcome,” they can in theory improve this problem.  But can they in reality?  Many managers cannot tell the difference between quality and quantity.  If they can get past that, many will be surprised at how much their businesses will improve.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Artificial Intelligence: More Concerns, Proposals, and Organizational Progress

While there have been various areas of AI progress over the past few months – incremental and automobile-related, anyway – more things have popped up since late November.

In “A.I. Belongs to the Capitalists Now” (The New York Times, November 22nd), Kevin Roose said there had been “a fight between two dueling visions of artificial intelligence,” which with the Sam Altman OpenAI firing-and-rehiring had been won by “Team Capitalism,” which held that “A.I. is a transformative new tool, the latest in a line of world-changing innovations that includes the steam engine, electricity and the personal computer, and that, if put to the right uses, could usher in a new era of prosperity and make gobs of money for the businesses that harness its potential,” instead of something “that must be restrained and deployed with extreme caution in order to prevent it from taking over and killing us all.”  We’ll see.

A solution to one of AI’s huge problems?  Possibly, in “Big Companies Find a Way to Identify A.I. Data They Can Trust” (Steve Lohr, The New York Times, November 30th).  That day, “a consortium of companies (released) standards for describing the origin, history, and legal rights to data,” along with “intended use and restrictions.”  The limitations seem a way of stifling unwanted findings, but the first part appears mandatory – but what about data already incorporated?

“AI microdosing” (Drake Bennett, Bloomberg, December 1st) presented a comparison with recent experiments in doing that with hallucinogenic drugs, suggesting that the software be allowed tiny but real hallucinating capability, as “imagination – at the margins – is hard to distinguish from” that.  Reasonable, but first we need to get better control over the current state of that problem.

Back to organization, we saw “How Nations Are Losing a Global Race to Tackle A.I.’s Harms” Adam Satariano and Cecilia King, The New York Times, December 6th).  Mainly that’s slow execution on regulation, as “A.I. systems are advancing so rapidly and unpredictably that lawmakers and regulators can’t keep pace.”  So why can’t they focus on, say, ChatGPT, as it’s obtainable and in use now?  They may need to react to other products as they come out, but until they do emerge, we need to concentrate on what we actually have.  Similarly, from the same date and the same publication, “Experts on A.I. agree That It Needs Regulation.  That’s the Easy Part” (Alina Tugend).

The sort of thing we would do well to see more of was the focus of “Microsoft and labor unions form alliance on AI” (Jackie Davalos and Josh Eidelson, Benefit News, December 11th).  The software company “will provide labor leaders and workers with formal training on how artificial intelligence works,” but not until a year from now, and both sides will be “incorporating worker perspectives and expertise in the development of AI technology,” along with “helping shape public policy that supports the technology skills and needs of frontline workers.”  The idea’s implementation success, of course, is unknown.

Finally, “Should A.I. Accelerate?  Decelerate?  The Answer Is Both” (By De Kai, The New York Times, December 10th).  This is partisan political complaining about the technology being used “to amplify polarization, bias and misinformation,” that “A.I.’s are manipulating humanity,” and so “we need to decelerate deployment of A.I.’s that are exacerbating sociopolitical instability.”  Unfortunately for the author, companies have their own agendas.  Develop your own product and you can direct it as you want.  Until then, we need to be personally responsible for what we believe.  And artificial intelligence will wander into 2024 with its massive achievements, and disasters, still in the future.

Friday, December 15, 2023

From 2023 Into 2024: Nine Areas of Jobs and the Economy

How did this year turn out with economic and employment Issues?  What is likely in the next?

I can only go so far with the latter, as a lot can happen, especially in a year with an unusually critical presidential election.  But we are now heading in some direction with each of these nine areas, and so can say something.  I also feel confident about making annual predictions, as I was in a small minority of economists expecting no 2023 recession.  Will I do as well in 2024?

The first area is employment statistics and the American Job Shortage Number, or AJSN.  From November 2022’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary data to a year later, we added 2.79 million net new nonfarm payroll positions.  Since our population, including children and those not wanting to work, rose by 2.43 million, that’s tremendous.  Seasonally adjusted and unadjusted official joblessness went from 3.7% and 3.4% to 3.7% and 3.5%.  The adjusted total number of unemployed increased from 6.0 million to 6.3 million, with the count of long-term jobless, or those out for 27 weeks or longer, holding at 1.2 million.  Those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping less-hours positions while thus far unsuccessfully seeking full-time ones, gained 300,000 to 4.0 million.  The labor force participation rate jumped 0.7% to 62.8%, and the employment-population ratio grew 0.9% to reach 60.8%.  Average hourly private nonfarm payroll earnings grew $1.28 or 4.2%, more than inflation, to $34.10.  The AJSN showed that latent demand for work fell 155,000 to get to 15.646 million.  Overall, though there were some unfavorable gains, these numbers remain strong.  Expect more of same next year, with continued unemployment below 4% but fewer new jobs.  That would again be excellent – and still recession-free.

Second, we have four-day workweeks.  Per my December 1st post, I see no progress on pertinent questions that must be answered, such as salary amount change, idle time during workdays, no Friday equivalent, and, most importantly, what a switch to 32 nominally scheduled hours would mean for workers now putting in way over 40.  I see interest fading in this option in 2024, with other alternatives, such as flexible hours and hybrid work, to get its adherents.

Third is autonomous vehicles.  This has been a terrible year for them, with gains approximately offset by San Francisco rollbacks caused by traffic and emergency interference.  It has seemed clear since at least 2021 that there will be no imminent large-scale move to them, but even slow growth was lacking in 2023.  The next will be a critical year for the technology – look for some retrenching and some new locations and applications, but strictly incremental progress.  How 2024 turns out will define where fully driverless cars, buses and trucks will go, which could be back to widespread hopes, steady and slow proliferation, or near-extinction.

The fourth area is electric vehicles.  Strangely, 2023 was both very good and very bad for them.  It was a success since one million were sold in the United States alone, and they made up 7.5% of November-to-November sales, a massive increase.  The bad news is in the title of the source article for these facts, “The electric vehicle math isn’t adding up, with average transaction price around $50,000 and gas price nationwide falling to $3 a gallon” (Alexa St. John et al., Fortune, December 7th).  With charging stations becoming available in almost all areas with high demand, a high share of those who wanted them have accepted their shortcomings and bought, whereas those less interested are, if anything, becoming even more unlikely to buy.  Being forced to cheer for higher oil prices is a hard position to maintain, and fundamental sale price drops may require more to be sold than the market can support.  I predict that by November 2024 the share of electrics as American vehicles will be higher than it is now, but only about 10%, with a growing consensus that under current conditions they will not be completely or even largely taking over.

Fifth, I give you artificial intelligence.  In February, I wrote that “we’ve been sort of stunned by ChatGPT’s recent exploits, which not only suddenly forced people to adjust their methods but solidly moved AI from the future to the present.”  To what extent has this continued?  AI was in use well before then, and there have been some currently running achievements and improvements, particularly in the automotive field, but for various reasons over these past ten months we have seen only small, incremental effects on most American’s lives.  When I posted a promotional message about my latest AI post, “Artificial Intelligence is an Awfully Wobbly Juggernaut,” documenting lack of broad-based progress, a former Silicon Valley worker sent me 18 points to be intended to be to the contrary.  I counted only four actual applications new since February, along with three already in place before then, eight on business deals and technical achievements focusing on the future, and three claiming general large-organization use.  While it is beneficial for those developing technology to focus on the future, it is necessary also to see what has actually been completed and how it measures up to projections.  The problems I named in the August 25th post as causing AI to be “boxed in” – dishonest employee use distorting results, feeding on its own errors by reading in AI-generated erroneous information, the looming new-data shortage, copyright violations awaiting legal judgments, chip shortages, the uncertainty of coming regulation, and the gigantic cost of future releases, along with reasonable and unreasonable fears about it and a consistent lack of will in enduring temporary problems to implement major technical and logistical improvements – are all still valid, and will probably truncate AI’s effects.  I expect that while in 2024 there will be many more AI-enhanced niches, its overall effect will be more modest than that of mobile phones, with the world-conquering fears and sweeping expectations becoming far rarer.

Sixth is remote work.  This year it met with great resistance, as the pendulum on which its enthusiasm has swung for 30 years moved away from it.  As I have written, businesses often learn little from experiences, and when they again discover the advantages of either working from home or working from the office, they do not remember what went wrong or right before.  There are two sides to the issue, meaning that putting in time remotely is not a panacea, and will not take over.  I project non-office workdays to slightly decrease in 2024, with de facto industry standards calling for few employees in most fields to be granted more than one per week.

Seventh I move to interest rates.  It was an event when on Wednesday the Federal Reserve not only held them the same as expected but announced that they projected cutting interest rates three times next year, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped over 500 points and hit an all-time high.  But how can they attach any conviction to that?  Did they anticipate in December 2021 that a year later the federal funds rate would be almost 5% higher?  They carefully consider recent inputs, weigh a range of factors, and only then decide – and we should all be glad that their 2022 choices turned out that way.  Whether they reduce rates three times, eight times, or not at all in 2024 will depend on data we don’t yet have and can’t really estimate.  I predict that we will indeed pay less for money in a year, but only about 1% or 1.5%, and I certainly am not confident enough about it to even pencil that in.

Eighth, how about investments?  I don’t have much to say here.  Predicting a massively profitable 2024 is unjustified.  There are a lot of problems in the world, and we may add one of our own in November.  A historically justified 5% gain in general seems as good a projection as any.

Last, public beliefs on the economy.  There has been a string of articles discussing that as if it were a problem of its own, and to some extent it is.  Many people are less happy about our economic times, most of whom are influenced by not knowing firsthand what a real recession is like or following the stated views, designed to affect voting, of their political party.  It is easy to take bad individual experiences, such as being fired or not hired, as reflecting everyone’s condition.  I predict that, by year’s end, people’s opinions will be more in line with reality.  That’s optimistic, but irrationality often corrects itself.

For more information on these areas, see other posts in this blog.  With that, here’s to a prosperous 2024, especially for you and your family.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Jobs Report Roars Back – AJSN Shows Latent Demand Down Almost Half a Million

Last month’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was the worst all year.  But any thoughts that it would start a trend were dashed this morning.

In November, our economy added 199,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions.  That was not only at the high end of published predictions – the ones I saw were 150,000, 190,000, and 200,000 – but four times what we needed to cover population increase.  All but one of the statistics I report on improved.  Seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment reached 3.7% and 3.5%, down 0.2% and 0.1%.  The number of people with jobs gained 473,000 to 162,149,000, and officially unemployed, seasonally adjusted, dropped 200,000 to 6.3 million.  The long-term jobless out for 27 weeks or longer fell 100,000 to 1.2 million, and those working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to shorter-hours propositions while seeking full-time ones, lost 300,000, getting to 4.0 million.  The measures of how common it is for Americans to be working or counted as technically jobless, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, rose 0.1% and a large 0.3% to arrive at 62.8% and 60.8%.  Average hourly private nonfarm payroll wages added 10 cents, more than inflation again, to $34.10.  Those claiming no interest in work were 9,000 more numerous and numbered 94,839,000.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if everyone knew they would be easy to get, lost 488,000 from last month, and ended up at this:



Ninety percent of this month’s change was due to fewer unemployed and fewer American expatriates, the current State Department estimate of whom fell one million.  The share of the AJSN from those officially jobless was 33.5%, down 0.5%.

Compared with a year before, the AJSN decreased 154,000, with the change in expatriates, and in those wanting work but not looking for it for at least a year, more than offsetting an increase in the jobless count. 

If we draw a two-month line from September to November, we get average monthly jobs gains of 174,500, adjusted and unadjusted unemployment each down 0.1%, 100,000 fewer officially jobless, long-term unemployment unchanged, the employment-population ratio the same but the labor force participation rate up 0.4%, those working part-time for economic reasons down 100,000, people employed up 480,000, and the hourly wages above up 22 cents.  The AJSN fell 543,000.  The only minus is the count of those denying any interest in work, which over the past two months increased 428,000. 

All that means we’re still doing superbly.  We, in general, more than cancelled out the previous month’s disappointing showing.  No recession, no shortage of work, wages strong, and inflation at 3%.  Overall, these are great times for the American economy.  The turtle took a double-sized step forward.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Four-Day Workweeks – Do They Make Sense?

Since the five-day, 40-hour week was solidified in the 1930s, people have talked about full-timers reporting for less.  It seemed like the logical next step, but 90 years on we have seen no such thing. 

There are several reasons for that.  The schedule has worked well.  People can coordinate family and leisure activities effectively, given that they are spending, plus commuting, only about one-quarter of their regular working weeks there.  Overtime can be easily added to either weekdays or weekends.  Studies have shown that productivity starts to fade after about that number of hours.  Remote work, though, has destroyed the barrier between home and office, so is it possible we are ready to cut back from the venerable Monday through Friday?

In “Push for a 4-day work week picks up steam – and critics” (Fox News, February 5th), Aaron Kliegman summarized the contemporary situation.  “A growing number of lawmakers, business leaders, and academics are pushing for the U.S. to embrace a four-day work week, leading critics to question the wisdom of what would be a cultural sea change for the country.”  While some pointed out that “not every business is able to cut its work time while maintaining the same level of salaries,” others called it “something that offers a real win-win possibility for both employers and employees,” and “academics have been increasingly floating the idea,” along with “a recent CNN opinion piece” which said its advocates were ”striking a blow at the absurd American culture of overwork.”  Or, perhaps, as a Wharton processor put it, she did not think that “our employers are going to believe that you can get as much work done in four days as in five.”

The last view did not seem the most common, as “Is the US ready for a four-day work week?” (Austin Westfall, Fox Business, also February 5) told us that “Research from Robert Half, an employment agency, shows a large majority of US managers (93%) support a four-day workweek for their team,” and “the data shows 64% expect their company to transition to one within the next five years.”  No surprise, though, is the headline of “Employers tried a 4-day workweek program.  Employees said they were healthier and happier” (Marina Pitofsky, USA Today, February 21st).

So where is the middle ground?  Perhaps it’s described in “The pros and cons of a 4-day workweek” (Paula Peralta, Benefit News, September 7th).  In the former category, Peralta named “requested by employees” (41% in a “recent” study conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans), “retention strategy” (36%), “work-life balance and rethinking company culture” (36%), and “recruitment strategy” (27%).  The points against four-day workweeks were “lack of interest by upper management” (42%), “difficulty implementing it organization-wide” (38%), “negative impact on business operations” (36%), “unsure if it would work with organization structure” (36%), and “unable to support the customer base” (32%).  “Alternatives” named in the survey were “working remotely on certain days of the week (hybrid)” (75%), “flexible work hours (61%), “working remotely full-time” (50%), “part-time schedule" (35%), and “compressed workweeks” (24%). 

If we are going to have four-day timetables, we would need to address a few more things.  First, if only some companies have them, it could put great pressure on ones in the same industries to do that as well, unless they paid their five-day employees up to 25% more.  Second, it could call for changes in how much idle time cubicle workers would have – perhaps they would not be enthusiastic about shorter schedules if they were expected to produce more per hour.  Third, there in most cases could be no Friday equivalent, no day where expectations, performance, and office hours are often lower – would that be acceptable to everyone?  Fourth – and this is the problem nobody seems to want to address – if people are now working more than 40 hours per ordinary week, what would a 32-hour schedule really mean?  Answer and get reasonable agreement on these and I can stand behind four-day workweeks – if not, they just plain won’t succeed. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Driverless Cars, Even in Limited Roles, are Conking Out

Even with vastly reduced expectations, autonomous vehicles are falling short.

In the August 9th New York Times, Yiwen Lu told us “San Francisco Balks at Expanding Driverless Car Services on City’s Roads.”  She called them “a jarring sight” “that “has become common” there.  Cruise, which was offering taxi rides, and Waymo, whose autonomous cars I saw tested in Arizona four years ago, wanted to charge customers “throughout the city, round the clock.” Although none thus far had been “blamed for any serious injuries or crashes,” there had been incidents in which the vehicles, on roads, “simply shut down and won’t move.”

In a piece from Atlantic ten days later, Anna Wiener reported that “Robo-Taxis Are Legal Now,” because of a California Public Utilities Commission vote to approve the autonomous vehicle increase above.  It didn’t take long for the people against it to seem vindicated, as a week later “a driverless Cruise car, carrying a passenger, collided with a fire truck,” apparently  not yielding to it when traffic controls alone indicated it would not need to, and “a couple of hours later… another driverless Cruise car was involved in an accident, after it responded to an oncoming car by braking and stopping short.”  The next day, the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles asked that Cruise cut its maximum-allowed number of autonomous vehicles running there in half, and, per “Cruise Agrees to Reduce Driverless Car Fleet in San Francisco After Crash,” on August 18th and also in the New York Times by Yiwen Lu, that request was granted. 

In October came another mishap there.  As Julie Angwin wrote in “Autonomous Vehicles Are Driving Blind” (The New York Times, October 11th), earlier that month “a woman suffered traumatic injuries from being struck by a driver and thrown into the path of“ a driverless car.  As well, “San Francisco’s fire chief… recently testified that as of August, autonomous vehicles interfered with firefighting duties 55 times this year.”  Angwin blamed a lack of “federal software safety testing standards for autonomous vehicles,” and expanded her concern to artificial intelligence in general.

Another permutation was the subject of “Remote Driving Is a Sneaky Shortcut to the Robotaxi” (Sean Lightbown, Wired.com, October 18th).  “On the busy streets of suburban Berlin, just south of Templehofer Feld, a white Kia is skillfully navigating double-parked cars, roadworks, cyclists, and pedestrians.  Dan, the driver, strikes up a conversation with his passengers, remarking on the changing traffic lights and the sound of an ambulance screaming past in the other direction.  But Dan isn’t in the car.”  Dan is a “teledriver,” working for “German startup Vay.”  That capability had been used to back up driverless vehicles during testing and could now be used to cover “driver shortages at airports, harbors, or in the trucking industry” with “a bank of remote drivers available around the world.”  It could allow, for example, intercity truck driving by people not needing to be away from their families, with longer hours per vehicle as one remote driver could take over for another.

The self-driving situation discussed before worsened soon thereafter, as “Cruise’s Driverless Taxi Service in San Francisco Is Suspended” (Yiwen Lu and Cade Metz, The New York Times, October 24th).  It was made by the state DMV, due mainly to the accident earlier that month, in which the pedestrian was “trapped under the driverless car,” which then “tried to pull over” and “dragged the pedestrian until it stopped.” 

Four weeks later, another piece by Lu in the Times summarized events in “’Lost Time for No Reason’:  How Driverless Taxis Are Stressing Cities.”  One involved two autonomous vehicles, each blocking a side of the road which “added seven minutes” to an ambulance run.  San Francisco had seen “more than 600 self-driving vehicle incidents… from June 2022 to June 2023,” and Austin, another though smaller hub for driverless taxicabs, had 52 “incidents” between July 8 and October 24.  Cruise has now “suspended its autonomous vehicle operations,” and its CEO resigned on November 19th. 

The future is not entirely hopeless for self-driving taxis.  Lu reported that Nashville and Seattle, still on track to allow them, had started training for firefighters on dealing with them, and Phoenix, after three years of allowing “autonomous taxi services,” has 200 with few complaints.  That is good, since their developers clearly have things to learn about different locations.  The promise of autonomous vehicles is still great – we still have over 30,000 annual human-caused road deaths every year – so we should all hope that 2023 will go down as the worst year for their technology. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

Job-Seeking Now – What’s Happening? What’s Changing?

There are good and bad things about looking for work in 2023.  It may be that unemployment has been below 4% for a year or so, and there are almost a record number of job openings, but it’s still not easy, and getting hired is not routine.

It’s hardly a great time to be trying.  At least it wasn’t six months ago, according to “Why job searches suck right now” (Adrienne Matei, Insider, May 22nd).  “Applicants are sending out hundreds of job applications and hearing nothing back.  Ghost jobs, AI resume screening, and a lopsided economy are making the job search miserable.”  Also, “economic instability, opaque hiring processes, and the destabilizing rise of technologies like generative AI have converged into an environment where it’s hard for job seekers to feel like they have even a basic sense of what’s going on,” and “finding a job right now isn’t only tough, it’s deeply weird.”  As I wrote 12 years ago, job openings do not mean job hiring – apparently, per Matei, that is true now more than ever.  Some fields have also been recently economically damaged, especially “real estate, media, and tech,” and, overall, “discombobulation is par for the course.”

Another recent work-searching problem was the subject of “Want a Job?  Cool, There are 17 Interviews” (Alison Green, Slate, May 23rd).  One respondent said that for a single position he had already had seven, with apparent interviewer coordination and competence issues, as he was repeatedly asked the same questions.  The high mark, though secondhand, was a friend of a respondent claiming she had had 29 (!) half-hour interviews, and was not hired, without the position being filled.  As well, remote interviews have made it possible for them to be scheduled one a day, and sample work assignments, some even to be completed before any interviews, are getting common and lengthier. 

How can people apply artificial intelligence to the job search itself?  In Benefit News on October 17th, Deanna Cuadra gave us some insight in “How to use AI to write a great cover letter.”  The way is to “pick the right AI tool,” and some even specialize in cover letters; “know how to prompt AI” by asking it the needs, priorities, and responsibilities the advertised position is likely to involve; “don’t let AI fears hold you back”; and consider adding your own changes to the tool’s output.  On November 6th in Wired.com, Caitlin Harrington, in “This AI Bot Fills Out Job Applications for You While You Sleep,” told us about “software engineer Julian Joseph,” who used LazyApply’s Job GPT capability, which, after he provided “some basic information about his skills, experience, and desired position,” applied to 5,000 jobs on his behalf.  He got “around 20” interviews, and one job offer. 

After knowing of employers cutting off unsuccessful candidates without any politeness, I can’t say I was sympathetic to read, also from Cuadra in Benefit News, November 13th’s “Job candidates are still ghosting employers – and the interview process is to blame.”  Not the marathons described above, but “a poor interview experience,” and, even now, “over one-third of candidates have experienced discriminatory interview questions, most commonly around their age, race and gender.”  Also, per a Greenhouse study, “19% of job seekers have changed their names on their resumes, with 45% doing so to sound more white, 42% to sound younger and 22% to sound like the opposite gender,” with age discrimination the largest perceived problem.  As for the ghosting, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

To end with something positive, we read in Fox News on October 16th that “US companies increasingly eliminate college degrees as a requirement amid “out-of-control” school costs.”  Those cited as announcing “plans to reduce the number of jobs that require college degrees” were Walmart, IBM, Accenture, Bank of America, and Google – not minor firms.  The real reason likely is a lack of candidates, as needing higher education, a dramatic shift from pre-1970 policy, was more of a way to thin the field than anything needed for work.  This is a positive trend, and I hope that other artificial barriers, such as certifications for the like of hairdressers, will also go away.  It is time.  And it is also time for employers to treat those seeking to work for them with the kind of respect they expect themselves.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Electric Vehicles – Still Controversial, and No, Not Poised to Take Over

The past couple of years have been huge for electric cars, trucks, buses, and other transportation devices.  Per David Wallace-Wells in “Electric Vehicles Keep Defying Almost Everyone’s Predictions,” on January 11th in the New York Times, there were “almost 30 million” in existence, tripling in two years as has their market share.  In Germany and Norway, they made up 55% and 80% of new vehicles, and China almost sextupled their percentage in two years, to 20.3%.  Also, “there are 10 times as many electric scooters, mopeds and motorcycles on the road as true electric cars.”  In all, per Wallace-Wells, “as with everything else on climate, it’s not one story unfolding but many, and all at once.”  Back to that later.

Other things that have happened in this area are hardly as overwhelmingly positive.  As Greg Norman wrote in Fox Business on January 3rd, “Tesla fined $2.2M for exaggerating driving range of its vehicles:  report.”  The problem was in winter, when “the actual driving range” dropped by up to half.  In Atlantic on January 4th, David Zipper opined that “Electric Vehicles Are Bringing Out the Worst in Us.”  His concern was that “automakers’ focus on large, battery-powered SUVs and trucks reinforces a destructive American desire to drive something bigger, faster, and heavier than everyone else.”  That problem has been worsened by their “huge batteries,” resulting in, for example, a Chevrolet Silverado weighing a ton and a half more in its electric version, that and other differences often serving to neutralize environmental benefits.

That same month, we saw “Wyoming lawmakers push for electric-car ban and to limit sales by 2035” (Natalie Neysa Alund, USA Today, January 17th).  They cited an insufficient number of charging stations, problems with “critical minerals” in their batteries, and economic damage to oil-company employees.  Contrarily, California’s government has announced an end to allowing new gasoline-powered “cars, pickups and SUVs,” to take effect in 2035.

On the issue of metals, on September 16th, The Economist issued an article, “Keep digging,” which cited the Energy Transitions Commission think-tank as projecting that, in pursuit of a “carbon-neutral world,” requiring among other things “a 60-fold increase in the fleet of electric vehicles,” demand for copper, nickel, cobalt neodymium, graphite, and lithium will increase from 50% to 600%, outstripping current mining capability.  As excavating mines, per this piece, takes from 4 to 17 years, that is more timely a problem than it may seem.

How is the market for electric vehicles looking now?  This month, two contributions seemed almost to disagree.  Bloomberg’s Big Take on November 8th described “The global fight over EVs,” with that organization predicting that “all forms of EV sales will hit $8.8 trillion by 2030 and $57 trillion by 2050.”  The other article was “Automakers Delay Electric Vehicle Spending as Demand Slows,” on November 7th in the New York Times; “in recent weeks, General Motors, Ford Motor, and Tesla cited slower sales,” though the share of electric vehicles in US new-car purchases rose year-over-year in July through September from 6% to 8%. 

We’re still seeing growth, but it may have limits.  Electric cars certainly have their American niches, but there are real reasons why they may not conquer the automotive marketplace without coercive policies or outright bans.  First, with weight problems and American electricity coming 35% from fossil fuels, they are not nearly as environmentally beneficial as they may seem.  Second, battery life has only fundamentally improved when they are gigantic, and we are nowhere near having one with a 500-mile range, fitting in an ordinary car trunk, mass-produced, and acceptably inexpensive.  Third, with auto insurance companies charging extra for multiple vehicles, having an electric car for short trips and a gas-powered one for longer ones seems impractical.  Fourth, though there have been real improvements in the number of charging stations and their reliability, in many places the infrastructure is not good enough, and seems, nationwide, to be at least a decade away.  Fifth, prices are still too high.

The best applications for electric vehicles are those that run for consistently limited mileage and can recharge daily during off-hours, such as city buses, taxicabs, school buses, and local delivery trucks.  Another worthy development is hybrids, which combine the reliability of liquid-powered vehicles with low emissions and high fuel economy.  It may turn out that demand for privately-owned electric cars will level off, especially in some areas.  If that happens, we should not be shocked – it will be the market, and other aspects of reality, speaking. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

Finally, a Lousy Jobs Report, With AJSN Showing Latent Demand Almost Unchanged

For months on end, when I pulled the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary, I have seen strongly positive results, exceeding industry expectations and displaying the United States doing even better on the jobs front.  Not this morning.

The number of net new nonfarm payroll positions was 150,000, favorable for a country needing less than that to maintain the same position.  Although that was below the published 180,000 and 190,000 estimates, it was the best number I saw today.  Adjusted unemployment rose 0.1% to 3.9%, with the unadjusted version staying at 3.6%.  The number of employed gained only 7,000 to 161,676,000, while the count of those claiming no interest rose 419,000 to 94,830,000.  At 6.5 million, there were 100,000 more unemployed, the same gain for those out for 27 weeks or longer, to 1.3 million.  The two measures of how common it is for Americans to be either working or one sought offer away, the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, worsened 0.2% and 0.1% to reach 60.2% and 62.7%.  Average nonfarm payroll hourly wages gained 12 cents, more than inflation, to reach an even $34.00.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the statistic showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew they would be easy and routine to get, lost 55,000 as follows:


AJSN OCTOBER 2023

Total

Latent Demand %

Latent Demand Total

Unemployed

6,098,000

90

5,488,200

Discouraged

428,000

90

385,200

Family Responsibilities

102,000

30

30,600

In School or Training

148,000

50

74,000

Ill Health or Disability

80,000

10

8,000

Other

634,000

30

190,200

Did Not Search for Work In  Previous Year

3,045,000

80

2,436,000

Not Available to Work Now

602,000

30

180,600

Do Not Want a Job

94,830,000

5

4,741,500

Non-Civilian, Institutionalized, and Unaccounted For, 15+

5,997,366

10

599,737

American Expatriates

10,000,000

20

2,000,000

TOTAL

 

 

16,134,037




Increases in those unemployed and discouraged were more than offset by a drop in those wanting work but not looking for it in the previous year.  The share of the AJSN from officially unemployed people was 34.0%, up 0.4% from September. 

Compared with a year before, the AJSN gained 175,000, with a 440,000 rise from people unemployed mostly offset by the drop in those not searching for it and elsewhere.

So, when we did well on net new jobs, why must I give this morning’s report a thumbs down?  Because not only were all the other figures I track worse, but unemployment rates were helped by the increase in those leaving the labor force and claiming no interest.  Perhaps we are reaching a plateau.  As before, that wouldn’t be bad, but it wouldn’t be progress either.  The turtle took a breather and stayed right where he was.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Artificial Intelligence is an Awfully Wobbly Juggernaut

For something that was supposed to be taking over the world, AI is tottering.  I can’t speak for the status of the technology itself, but that’s not the issue.  How it progresses and what it ends up doing will be decided in other realms:  legal, financial, social, regulatory, and more.  What’s been happening with AI prospects over the past two and a half months?

The first clue was in Futurism, updated on August 11th, “AI Is Starting to Look Like the Dot Com Bubble.”  This piece, modified by Maggie Harrison, started “as the AI industry’s market value continues to balloon, experts are warning that its meteoric rise is eerily similar to that of a different – and significant – moment in economic history:  the dot com bubble of the late 1990s.”  It is not that no companies are profitable – the hugest ones of Microsoft, Meta, and Amazon are – but there are many others, getting venture capital, which “have yet to even introduce a discernable product.”  It is time to realize that while there may well be Fords and Chevrolets, there will be Stutzes and Hupmobiles as well.

Per Ian Prasad Philbrick in the August 27th New York Times, “Regulating A.I. Requires Congress to Act Nimbly.”  The author pointed out that “major federal regulation” has taken as long as 90 years to materialize after “invention or patenting,” with nuclear energy, with the shortest interval, still taking four years, and airplanes and automobiles 20 and 70 respectively.  Although our senators and representatives have attended informational sessions, it is a challenge, and will take “perhaps a decade or more.”

A strong indicator of how people’s attitudes can trump technical achievements was in the September 10th New York Times, Kashmir Hill’s “Anonymity Is Over.  Big Tech Tried to Save It.”  It related how, six years ago, Facebook technologists worked out a way to identify faces and attach names and other information to them.  A related thing had been developed by Google in 2011.  Neither was released, as Google “decided to stop” what it was doing, and Facebook considered it “too dangerous to make widely available.”  Some are now using related facilities, but far fewer than their utility and technical merits would justify.

On the recent idea that artificial intelligence will at least help productivity, Aaron Mok, in Business Insider on October 2nd, relayed that “OpenAI’s ChatGPT can actually make workers perform worse, a new study found.”  The research, from Boston Consulting Group, found that when people used ChatGPT with GPT-4 for work requiring capabilities the software was known to have, such as “brainstorming innovative… concepts, or coming up with a thorough business plan,” the tool excelled, but on “more open-ended tasks” such as offering business recommendations, it would make large errors, dangerous “because the  consultants with AI were found to indiscriminately listen to its output – even if the answers were wrong.”  It will be a challenge for businesses to distinguish between these two rough categories.

There were things to think about in “Knowledge vs. intelligence amid the hype and hysteria over AI” (Mihai Naden, Fox News, October 2nd).  Naden considered intelligence to require not only evidence of ability to perform, but also what of two resources they required.  As “to win a game of chess at the expense of energy that a small town consumes in a week is unsustainable,” “artificial entities could justifiably claim intelligence if, in executing a task, they would use as much energy or less, and as much data or less, than a living entity performing the same task.”  That may be the criterion we need.

On the positive side, we have Paul Krugman’s October 3rd New York Times “A.I. could be a big deal for the economy (and for the deficit too).”  Although he saw generative AI as “souped-up autocorrect,” he thought it could massively improve productivity in that role.  He included a Goldman Sachs chart with 23 different industries, each divided into “no automation,” “AI complement,” and “likely replacement” of workers.  The field faring best was “building and grounds cleaning and maintenance,” with about 95% of employees in the first category, and “legal” the worst, ripe for a 40% job loss.  Some areas, such as sales, education, social services, and computers, were 100% complemented.  Of course, this does not include other sources of automation, globalization, and efficiency.

Per Ed Zitron in Scientific American on October 17th, “AI Is Becoming a Band-Aid over Bad, Broken Tech Industry Design Choices.”  He said iPhones came with 38 apps, 27 of which could be removed, and users would likely add more, but Apple is relying on AI interfaces instead of ones users could handle themselves, leaving “a Matryoshka of bolted-on features.”  Other vendors, according to Zitron, are similarly at fault.  Not an AI problem as such, but something to affect its reputation.

On October 18th in the New York Times, Kevin Roose said that “Maybe We Will Finally Learn More About How A.I. Works.”  Developers have communicated poorly about how the software was formed, including its use of copyrighted material and how it shares data.  GPT-4 got a 40% “transparency score,” not far off the 54% maximum among ten popular models.  Is it true or false that “we can’t have an A.I. revolution in the dark.  We need to see inside the black boxes of A.I., if we’re going to let it transform our lives”?  That is for us to decide.

Most recent is a reminder that, even for the largest companies, “Long on Hype, A.I. Is No Guarantee for Profits” (Andrew Ross Sorkin et al., The New York Times, October 25th).  Although both are deep into the technology, Microsoft has done far better than Alphabet since their earnings reports the day before, with a one-day 3.9% increase instead of a 6.2% decrease.  And Meta’s stock suffered the same day for other reasons.  So, it’s not enough to identify Ford or General Motors by their products – they must make money as well.  About that, we still, ample attention notwithstanding, do not know.  By the same token, we cannot see where artificial intelligence will wind up – regardless of our hopes and fears. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

Remote Work: The Con Side, From Writers This Summer

The issue of employees doing their tasks from the office or elsewhere keeps rolling on.  I won’t say it’s evolving, as I have maintained that its favor has been a pendulum, but it’s still oscillating.  Here is some input from commentators taking the negative view, which management mostly has now.

A remote-work effect adverse but not quite the responsibility of those causing it is the subject of “Middle America’s ‘doom loop,’” subtitled “Work from home is crushing Midwestern downtowns,” by Eliza Relman in Insider on June 22nd.  The author blamed less activity there on civic decisions made to emphasize businesses, and called on those administering such areas to adapt to this change, as “economists and urban planners say many Midwestern cities need to get serious about improving amenities and boosting quality of life in their downtowns.”

Could it be that “In the war over remote work, companies are turning full-time jobs into low-paying gigs” (Aki Ito, Insider, June 27th)?  Ito claimed that “employers are quiet quitting on the whole idea of traditional full-time employment,” as, per recent research, “businesses said remote work had led them to stock up on part-time employees, temps, independent contractors, and outsourced positions both at home and abroad.”  That trend was getting press late last decade, and has a certain justification, as, since worker’s performance issues are less important or drop out entirely when they are not conventional employees, working from home is especially compatible with such agreements.  These arrangements, as Ito points out, are not always negative, so this piece may not qualify as being against non-office work at all.

“For remote workers, time to get out of the house” by Isabella Aldrete on June 30th in Benefit News, deals with a problem people may not even know they have.  “About a third of employees say they struggle to leave the house enough when working remotely,” meaning that “work-life balance” is not only for those going to offices.  Per one interviewee, it would help them to realize “it can be important to really find time to just kind of completely unplug, leave… and focus on life outside of work,” as “it is really important to set and maintain those boundaries.”  Yes, that’s important.

The July 15th Economist had an article titled “The WFH showdown,” as “the fight over remote working goes global.”  “With bosses clamping down on the practice, the pandemic-era days of mutual agreement on the desirability of remote work seem to be over” – and, after naming various international examples, “the gap between the two sides of the work-from-home battle may yet narrow.  The question is whether the bosses or the bossed will yield the most.”

Finally, related to the second piece above, is “Remote workers are treating their jobs like gig-work, and it’s turning them into the most disconnected employees” (Jane Thier, Fortune, August 26th).  The author recommended “a hybrid plan,” and largely attributed the problem to modern work issues in general, with special concerns about “engagement and empowerment.”

Although I am still broadly bearish on remote work, these pieces, given that they were the most pertinent over the past four months, offered little new.  That probably means that not much has changed.  Since the Clinton administration, the pendulum has swung and the sides have disagreed.  Until businesses find an antidote, the issue of where to work will not be resolved. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Past Year’s Union Going’s-On, Ending with Automakers

During the previous twelve months, there have been a fair number of events and observations pertinent to organized labor, some of which have set the stage for the 2023 strikes.  What were they?

Before Joe Biden joined the United Auto Workers picket line, views on his attitude about unions were often different, as “Some Rail Workers, Seeking Sick Days, Say Biden Betrayed Them” (Noam Scheiber, The New York Times, November 30th).  Then, the president “urged Congress to impose a labor agreement that (one) union had voted down,” which led to a possible railroad strike, which he said “would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs and… cost the economy more than $2 billion per day,” not materializing.  The main area of controversy was paid time off for illness or medical appointments.

Moving to a large, familiar company, which has had labor organizing efforts both successful and unsuccessful, was “At Starbucks, Schultz Is Back to Fight a Union” (Noam Scheiber and Julie Creswell, The New York Times, December 11th).  The former and incoming CEO named in the title gave “new benefits and wage increases but withheld them from employees in the union, which represents about 2 percent of the company’s U.S. work force of more than 250,000,” and said “no” to someone asking him “if he could ever imagine embracing the union.”

Times have changed significantly since December 17th, when The Economist published “Picket lines and pok√©,” subtitled “Unions are gentrifying.  Can that reverse their decline?”  Its main idea was that “unions used to be associated with brawny middle-aged men standing outside factories” but as of article time “the most active trade unions represent workers who have degrees and wear white collars,” 46% of whom had four-year degrees.  That may have been the main story of organized labor over the previous ten years, but it has since shifted toward protecting employees, especially lower-paid ones, from problems managements will not solve.  Moving in that direction, “Unions won more elections in 2022 than they have in nearly 20 years” (Vox.com, December 25th), with 641, or 80% more than in 2021.  As well, “unions are winning more than three-quarters of their elections,” “three times as many US workers went on strike in 2022 as in 2021,” and “the share of Americans who approve of unions is at its highest level since 1965.”  In addition, “US labor strikes surged 52% in 2022, showing rise in ‘worker activism’: study” (Brock Dumas and Bradford Betz, Fox Business, February 21st). 

Just into this year we saw as “Amazon Loses Bid to Overturn Union Victory at Staten Island Warehouse” (Noam Scheiber and Karen Weise, The New York Times, January 11th).  That decision was made by “a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board,” who “found that there was a lack of evidence to support Amazon’s claim of election improprieties.”

The conflict at the coffee-serving company continued, as “A barista fought to unionize her Starbucks.  Now she’s out of a job” (Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post, June 18th).  This article, which made the top of the Sunday front page, related how someone, who had worked there “for nearly eight years,” as she “was one of 49 baristas from across Buffalo who sent a letter to the company’s chief executive in August 2021 informing him that they were seeking to form a union,” was fired.  As of the publication date, there were “about 320 unionized Starbucks stores in the United States,” but the effort at this one failed.

Finally, are we in “Striking times” (The Economist, September 16th)?  The United Auto Workers stoppage, started one day before this publication date, was enlarged two weeks later (U.A.W. Expands Strikes at Ford and G.M.”, Neal E. Boudette, The New York Times, September 29th), and is still in progress, with companies laying off workers and no reports of successful negotiations.  There will be more.  Whether justified or not, beyond any doubt the labor situation is evolving more quickly than it has for decades.  In a year we may know much more, but for now, we don’t.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Jobs Report: Another Banner and Expectation-Exceeding Month, with AJSN Showing Latent Demand for Positions Down Over 600,000 to 16.2 Million

Another month, another jobs report, another big winner.  Why do I say that?

First, we blew away the published forecast of 170,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions with 336,000 – almost double.  Second, we added 242,000 employed people to reach 161,669,000.  Third, those were accomplished with private nonfarm payroll wages going up only 6 cents per hour, to $33.88 – less than inflation.

Much of the rest broke even, including the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 3.8%, the adjusted number of officially jobless at 6.4 million, the labor force participation rate at 62.8%, and the employment-population ratio at 60.4%,  Others which did change included the unadjusted unemployment rate, down a seasonal 0.3% to 3.6%, the number of those jobless for 27 weeks or longer improving 100,000 to 1.2 million, and the count of those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping such positions while looking thus far unsuccessfully for full-time ones 100,0000 better at 4.1 million.  The only discouraging number of the ones I consider front-line is the number of people not wanting a job, up 729,000 to 94,411,000.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew they would be easy to get, fell a remarkable 621,000 to reach the following:


 


Five-sixths of the drop was from official unemployment, with another 138,000 from a lower count of those wanting work but not looking for it during the previous year.  None of the other factors added or subtracted more than 37,000.  With lower unemployment, the share of the AJSN from official joblessness came in at 33.6%, or 1.9% less than in August. 

Compared with a year before, the AJSN gained 223,000, with the 530,000 more contributed from higher unemployment mostly offset by improvements in the counts of those discouraged, those wanting work but not looking for a year or more, and non-civilian, institutionalized, and off-the-grid people comprising about one-eighth less than in September 2022.

Perhaps, with unemployment and workforce participation the same and more people getting on the shelf, September was not as good as I thought.  But, with so many new jobs added and once more no reasonably clear movement toward recession – not to mention noninflationary wage increases – we should take this data as a solid indication of continued prosperity.  As before, even if it means we are treading water, it’s plenty warm.  The turtle, once again, took a good step forward.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Artificial intelligence, as Summer Wraps Up

What has been written about AI since late July?

First, we had “4 careers where workers will have to change jobs by 2030 due to AI and shifts in how we shop, according to a McKinsey study” (Jacob Zinkula, Business Insider, July 28th).  The areas are “office support, customer service and sales, food services, and production work (e.g. manufacturing).”  The emphasis here is on “lower-wage jobs,” with “clerks, retail salespersons, administrative assistants, and cashiers” each expected to lose more than 600,000 positions, net, in the next seven years.

Kevin Roose spotlighted one apparent area of early adoption in “Aided by A.I. Language Models, Google’s Robots Are Getting Smart,” in The New York Times on the same date.  He started by describing an automaton responding to “pick up the extinct animal” by doing so with a dinosaur model instead of a lion or a whale, a seeming merger between AI and robotics, and meaning that much more along that line would also be possible.  Additionally, we have, per a Google scientist, such devices discovering “how to speak robot” by guessing “how a robot’s arm should move to pick up a ball or throw an empty soda can into the recycling bin.”  When machines do these things consistently correctly, which they do not yet, they will be especially valuable.  The next day the Times published Ben Ryder Howe’s “The Robots We Were Afraid of Are Already Here,” which was disappointing, as there seemed little new here among these automata’s industrial capabilities.

A subject we would all like to succeed at is “How to invest in AI” (Kim Clark, Kiplinger, July 29th).  Since February, people expecting to be hugely important have long since pushed up some stocks and have done much more trading as developments and even plans have materialized, so we’re way up from any ground floor.  It’s reminiscent of buying automotive stocks in the 1920s, when knowing the industry had great potential did not mean we knew who the winners and losers would be.  Given that, though, there are industry leaders looking less risky than others – ones Clark named were chip designers Nvidia, Broadcom, and Taiwan Semiconductor, along with chip software maker Synopsis.  All are risky, but huge-potential investments always are. 

Controversy stepped into an area in progress for years, as “This tech is the ‘sad reality’ of restaurant industry’s future, business owner says robot works 12 hours a day” (Hannah Ray Lambert, Fox News, August 13th).  When an Estacada, Oregon eatery, in response to not finding enough servers, deployed a Plato automaton to do their work, the owner got “customer pushback.”  Strange, but may prove to be common. 

Expecting the technology to be stronger, not weaker, than people thought months ago, was Arantza Pena Popo, in “AI is going to eliminate way more jobs than anyone realizes” (Insider, August 14th). The author said that “permanent mass employment can safely be ruled out,” but hundreds of millions of people may not be able to work their current jobs in 35 years or less.  Beyond that, it’s just a great mass of unknowns.

A question on the minds of most in this field is “The U.S. Regulates Cars, Radio and TV.  When Will It Regulate A.I.?” (Ian Prasad Philbrick, The New York Times, August 24th).  Per Philbrick’s determination, it “probably won’t happen soon,” as while television was regulated within five years of “invention or patenting,” radio took 20, telephones took 30, and railroads and automobiles were not delimited until 60 and 70 years later.  While “regulation often happens gradually as a technology improves or an industry grows,” “sometimes it happens only after tragedy.”  Accordingly, it may, or may not, take a while.

Related to my post suggesting similar things four days earlier was “The A.I. Revolution Is Coming, But Not as Fast as Some People Think,” by Steve Lohr in the New York Times on August 29th.  Reservations and reasons for going slower named here are “risks of leaking confidential data, questions about how the data is used and about the accuracy of the A.I.-generated answers,” and it cited another McKinsey study suggesting “mainstream adoption” would take somewhere between 8 and 27 years.  By then, other problems, such as copyright infringement, may still be significant.  So don’t expect anything big for a while – but let’s still stay tuned.