Does Farming Destroy The Earth?

Tilling teh field

Tilling the field

In our last Blog, “If Science Has the Answers, Why Are We Fighting?”, we discussed how we live in a polarized world, where we pay the most attention to the facts we already believe in. Today, we’re going to see how our selective hearing impacts some specific environmental issues and see if we can move past self-interest, and look at the facts objectively.  We will look at one of the most fundamental environmental issues… “What is farming doing to the earth?” That’s an enormous issue, that involves pesticides, fertilizers, use of water, soil erosion and GMO crops. In the next blog, our third in this series, we will look at a related issue, “Is our food safe for human consumption?”. Let’s dive right in!

America’s farms have long since ceased to be idyllic rural hideaways, where you wander through orchards with cows softly mooing in the background. Sure, you can go to a family farm to pick some apples or find your Halloween pumpkin, but that’s destination entertainment more than it is farming. Our farms are closer to factories than something your granddad would recognize. America’s farms use artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, genetically modified foods (GMOs) and gigantic farm equipment. Americans want to return to a simpler time, that is easier to understand, and this desire can best be seen in the Organic Movement. If we get rid of chemicals and harmful farm practices, so the movement says, returning to the way farmers used to raise crops, we’ll have better food and the earth will be better off. It sounds good, but can organic foods really deliver what we expect?

One hundred years ago, the world had just 1 billion people, and all farming was organic. Today, organic farming is just not productive enough to support today’s population of 7 billion. That’s why farming changed. Mechanical tractors and flood irrigation raised productivity. By the turn of the last century, farmers selected the most productive seeds for their land, rather than just replanting seed from last year’s crop. Since the 1930s, long before GMOs… or labeling laws, new seeds were blasted with radiation and soaked in mutagenic chemicals to create new characteristics and higher yields; some of these mutations may be growing on organic farms today, as heirloom or heritage varieties. Productivity was again boosted, with synthetic fertilizers, and then still again with the green revolution (a world-wide, scientific evaluation of crops around the world, and what was best to plant where). And finally, the rise of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the fields, and hormones and antibiotics for cattle in the pastures.

Today, all but a few percent of our farmland uses these “conventional” farming methods. At the same time, organic farming, which attempts to get rid of chemicals and technology dependent methods, is rapidly gaining interest around the world. In America, Most organic foods consists of “premium” foods at a premium price. Is it worth it? While every major study to date, shows little or no benefit, consumers of organic produce strongly believe in the “back to a simpler time” message, and feel that it is healthier than conventional food. Today we will only cover the impact of farming on the environment (food safety and nutrition will is covered in the next blog), but we should quickly touch on personal vs public good.

If you have evidence (or you just believe) that organic food is good for your health, you are certainly justified in choosing to buy organics. That’s a personal good. But what about the good of the public? What if you are right and you are better off eating organic foods, BUT… by doing so, you cause great harm to the environment? What if the continued use of organic foods was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, thousands of children. Not your children. Someone else’s children. Would you still buy only organic fruit for your family? These issues of public vs. private goods are at the center of farming today. Let’s take a deeper look at the public good, at how farming affects the environment.

ACREAGE: No matter how you look at it, farming is not good for the environment. On a

All Rights: Flood Irrigation

Flood Irrigation All Rights: Wikipedia

planet with a population of 7 billion and growing, we just don’t give the earth a chance to rest. Planting and harvesting crops every year breaks up the soil, contributing to soil erosion (i.e. allowing the soil to wash away). Over the last 150 years, America has lost between 50% and 75% of its soil due to farming and erosion. As a result, in the US and around the world farmland is now becoming desert, while the soil that is swept into rivers and lakes, causes rapid bacterial and plant growth. The water soon runs out of oxygen, creating a killing zone for fish and native plants. Soil erosion is caused by many factors, but is observed when it rains and when the land is irrigated. Irrigation was the miracle of the Bronze age, greatly increasing crop yields, but also destroying the land over time. There are other methods of farming, but none that have yet matched the productivity of commercial farming and flood irrigation.

One of the problems with organic crops (and meat) is that they require more land than conventional farming. Organic farming generally requires 25% more land to grow the same amount of food as conventional farming. Think about it. The land mass of the US is 2.3 billon acres. Farmland is  442 million acres and pasture land is another 587 million acres. If all food was organic tomorrow, we’d need 260 million additional acres. There’s 300 million acres of parks, 650 million acres of forest, and another 375 million acres tied up in Alaska (which has very little good farmland). Take out another 50 million acres for cities and 73 million for rural towns, and we’re left with about 225 million acres of land, that includes deserts, swamps, military bases, open pit mines, etc. Not exactly choice farm land.

Even if we could convert to organics without the price of food skyrocketing, there just isn’t enough land for organic farming. Especially when you take into account the 100 million additional Americans that we need to feed by 2050. Are organics  important enough to convert our national parks into farmland? Another alternative is to make organic farming much more efficient, without using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. That just leaves consolidation (merge small organic farms together into bigger farms), add more heavy machinery, and replace human farmers with a new generation of smart robots. Technically, this is still organic, but it doesn’t sound very much like what organic consumers want.

CARBON FOOTPRINT: Synthetic fertilizers are usually based on petroleum, which means a bigger carbon footprint. Organics require more land, which means more fuel for transportation and farm equipment. It’s difficult to say which is better or worse, since every farm has different requirements. However, we can say that organic, or natural, or family oriented farms are less efficient, and at big commercial farms have smaller carbon footprints per carrot, per head of lettuce, or what have you. It’s not just the farm, but what happens after the crops are harvested. Early one morning, go to a supermarket. See all of the trucks unloading food? That is just the last step in a complex transportation process that links the farm to your supermarket. Big farms are more efficient in loading trucks and trains full of food. The smaller the farm, the less efficient the process, and organic and family farms are usually smaller. If you rode an hour in your SUV to go to a small farm to pick your own produce, it can be a fun day, but that small bag of produce (with maybe a lemonade or cider donut) leaves a HUGE carbon footprint. The small farm just isn’t an efficient option for an increasingly urban population.

Earlier, we discussed the limits of land in the US (and elsewhere in the world). There is, however, an alternative to using US land to grow organic foods…imported organics. Increasingly, American’s are buying organics from overseas, especially from China. For example, any organic corn you find in your local market it undoubtedly imported (from Turkey or Romania). Imported organics avoids the land use problem in America, but moving food around the world increases the carbon footprint. Of course, the same applies to conventional foods, which is grown around the world for the US market. The only small advantage that conventionally grown food has is that since most food is conventional, there is a greater likelihood that you can buy local produce.

EXTINCT CROPS: Most consumers are unaware that common food crops have gone extinct. Bananas, which are all imported, were an early casualty of our global food system. Before the 1950’s, we ate a type of banana called the “Gros Michel”. Panama disease infects almost every variety of banana.  A particularly deadly strain of Panama disease showed up in the 1930s, and the Gros Michel was history. The banana we eat today, the Cavendish, survived the epidemic and the world’s #1 banana. The Cavendish is not immune to Panama Disease, it just wasn’t harmed by that one particular strain. Banana growers know that the constantly mutating Panama Disease will one day randomly mutate into something that wipes out the Cavendish. When that happens, we have no substitute, no “one last try” banana. Unless, of course, we use genetic modification to make one.

The banana is not the only threatened fruit. In the 1990’s Hawaiian papayas were wiped out by the ring spot virus. Other varieties of papaya were tried, but none would grow in the virus infected soil. Then they found a papaya that flourished, a new GMO papaya. Today, all Hawaiian papayas are GMOs. Soon, the Florida orange will suffer a similar fate. A small insect, the Asian Aphid, carries a virus that destroys the roots of the orange tree. First the oranges become inedible, and later the tree dies. Up to 80% of Florida’s orange trees are already infected, and are expected to die in a few years. Florida’s orange groves have between 3 and 10 years before they close. Worse yet, grapefruits, lemons and other citrus are also infected and will only outlast orange trees by a few years. Oranges groves in California are just as vulnerable, but have so far remained free of the Asian Aphid.

Asian Aphid - All rights: Wikipedia.

Asian Aphid – All rights: Wikipedia.

If you’re trying to read between the lines for a ray of hope, there isn’t one. This is a massive disaster, with very news little coverage. But you have seen the signs that something was wrong. Between 2004 (when trees started to die) and 2012 the wholesale price of juice oranges rose by 275%, and continues to rise. Look at a 64 ounce half gallon jug of juice. That jug is now 59 ounces (or less), a way for the industry to hide the price increase. Fewer acres being farmed (down 29%) and each acre is yielding less fruit (down 21%). Orange growers have pooled their resources to develop a solution, which they must have ready to apply in the next year or two if they expect to survive.

Growers already have several solutions, but they all require a strain of GMO orange. Farmers are convinced that all of the GMOs are safe, but they are afraid of the backlash from the pro-Organic camp, which could be even more destructive to their profits than the virus. For decades, orange juice advertising has made OJ synonymous with “natural”. It’s going to take a very good ad campaign to make us think that a laboratory developed orange, is “All Natural”.

In our global economy, pests are moving around the world and wiping out local species. It’s not just happening on farms, it’s happening around our homes, in lakes a streams and in our forests. Half of America’s Elm trees were lost to a fungus called Dutch Elm disease. Ash and Chestnut trees are being wiped out by other foreign insects and diseases. More foreign invaders are already be in the US, but have not yet made their presence known. Overall we’re losing ground against invasive species. If we want to keep local plants, and the environments they sustain, we may need to consider using farm GMO techniques to save our parks and forests. That’s not an idea solution, but it may be better than letting an extinct tree leave a whole in the environment. Even if another tree grows in its place, the birds, insects, mosses and other life the extinct species supported may not survive with the new trees.

All Rights: Sesibone

All Rights: Sesibone

SOIL: The soil on America’s farms, especially in the Great Plains states (or “America’s Breadbasket”) has been steadily deteriorating ever since we America’s earliest farms. The process of farming, organic or conventional, disturbs the soil. You need to plant, water, tend and harvest the crops, all of which loosen the soil and allow it to wash away. In the last 150 years, 75% of the soil in the Great Plains (i.e. “America’s Breadbasket”) has washed away. Other areas have lost only 50% of their top soil. When the soil runs out, there can be no farming. Topsoil is replenished, but it takes centuries to gain back one inch. The great plains have lost more than 100 feet of soil. When we had a great deal more soil than today, a combination of soil erosion and a persistent drought caused ca=used an ecological disaster that we called the Dust Bowl. This lasted through the 1920s and 1930s, when the land literally dried up and blew away… burying whole towns as dust storms swept the Great Plains. The largest recorded storm in 1934 had dust clouds 2 miles high. Farmers starved to death, and the choking dust led to lung diseases that killed hundreds.

Over tilling, over watering and bad weather combined to form the Dust Bowl, a decades long environmental disaster. Unlike Global Climate Change, once the US government was presented with evidence that human activity caused this disaster, the Department of Agriculture developed soil conservation and training programs, and the Dust Bowl was eventually tamed. Farmers learned from their mistakes, but soil erosion continues to be an issue. Farmers need to till or “turn over” the soil to disrupt the growth of weeds. Without tilling, weeds drain the soil of nutrients and crop productivity falls. However, tilling loosens the soil and makes it easier for soil to be washed away in the rain or during irrigation. Traditional herbicides helped to kill weeds but also killed crops. These herbicides had to be used carefully, since they were based on arsenic and other toxins that could poison consumers. Synthetic herbicides were introduced after World War II, and for the first time were specific. They would kill specific weeds, and leave other plants alone.

This new generation of pesticides was so effective, that it created a revolution in farming and ended hunger in many parts of the world. But as always, there is a cost. These products were seen as so safe, they were used indiscriminately. Suddenly we were dumping millions of tons of pesticides into the environment. Some of the “safe” pesticides had strange effects. DDT didn’t kill birds, but as DTT built up in the environment bird’s egg shells got thinner and broke under the weight of the brooding mother. Early pesticides were retired and replaced with safer alternatives. But greater safety meant still more use, and new types of use. Roundup (Glyphosate) worked so well that it allowed a no-till solution to be developed… IF it was used in conjunction with GMO crops. Spray roundup, and then plant without tilling. Tractors (and petroleum) use drops off, the leftovers from last year’s crops acts as a soil cover (less erosion), and less fertilizer and water is needed.

Given the massive quantity of Roundup that is America uses, there is a lot of attention and testing to see if Roundup could be causing more subtle health and environmental problems. To date there is little evidence that Round up or other pesticides are a danger, but new chemicals always mean new risk. However, there was already risk. New pesticides do seem to be less risky (less toxic) than the products they replaced. If these products weren’t toxic in some way, they wouldn’t kill pests. Even if the newest pesticides are the least toxic of all (especially to people), it takes a long time to collect enough data to find out if it does harm. The combination of low toxicity and “specific” types of pesticides (leaves “good” insects and plants alone).

One of the newest class of pesticides, Neo-Nicotinoids, may be linked to Colony Collapse Disorder, which is killing honey bees around the world. Ironically, this class of chemicals was intended to mimic a commonly used organic pesticide… nicotine (as in tobacco). Which raises a question. Does natural nicotine also harm bees? Should nicotine be studied and possibly banned from farming, before organic farming grows any larger?

WATER: America barely has enough water to meet our needs today. By 2050 America’s

All Rights: Dwigt Sipler

Drip Irrigation – All Rights: Dwigt Sipler

population will grow by another 100 million. Can our farms produce 35% more food, and reduce our use of water? Home owners can expect to see new homes without lawns, fewer private pools and fountains, and toilets and showers twill require even higher water efficiency. Likewise, farms must get better with water conservation.  No-till farming can conserve water. In 2009 only 88 million acres of land were no-till, so there’s still a lot of room for expansion. California, with hot and arid farms, would greatly benefit from drip watering systems, which allow the soil to hold onto moisture and dramatically reduce the water crops use. Still more radical are “dry farming” techniques, which does away with irrigation. This vastly reduces the cost of farming and, for some crops, produces premium foods for a premium price. With less water, crop yield does fall, by half or more. The “golden triangle” of farming… good for the environment, good for the farmer and good for the consumer… is a tricky proposition. While farming in California is not the same as the rest of the nation, they are dealing with problems that other states will be facing soon, so I’m going to use a lot of examples from California in the sections that follow.

For example, most of the almonds grow in the US come from California. Almonds production has skyrocketed, largely due to the popularity t of Almond Milk. That’s a great personal good (less cholesterol, fat, etc.), but it’s not a very helpful public good. Did you know that every individual almond consumes a gallon of water? Worse still, now that the rivers and lake have dried up, Almond farmers are relying on wells for water. Underground water picks up salts and minerals which may be perfectly safe for human consumption, but over time build up in the soil. Different plants have very different tolerances for salt. As that tolerance is reached, plants start to show salt burn (yellowing and browning of the leave), then yields drop dramatically. Eventually crops stop growing. Almond trees throughout California are showing salt burn, and yields are falling. In the old days you could just irrigate a bit more and it would make up for some of the damage. But farming already uses 80% of California’s water. Around the world 45 million acres of land are now too heavily salted to grow crops, and another 5,000 acres are lost every day. Salt may be the most dangerous chemical in farming today.

You might ask yourself, “Why don’t farmers just use the most efficient farming methods?” The answer is that farming is risky, making farmers slow to accept change. Profits from this year are needed to buy fuel, seeds, equipment and labor today in hopes of a good crop next year. Too little rain, too much rain, a too hot or too cool growing season, a sudden drop in prices, the arrival of a new pest, and a host of other issues could bankrupt a farm. California became one of the largest fruits and vegetables producers due to cheap and plentiful water. Naturally, farming was built around “flood irrigation”. Now that water is expensive and hard to find, they need very different “best practices”, but a small mistake in technique could cause crop yields to plummet. You could convert to organics, but that means no synthetic pesticides for 5 years (how do you make money before you get your organic certification)? No-till is well understood, but nervous farmers may choose “sort of till” instead of no-till, blending the worst of both practices. Farmers know they must speed up water conservation, but there is no easy and obvious roadmap for them to follow.

CONCLUSION: As you can see, questions like “Is this pesticide harmless?”, aren’t very useful. A better question might be, “Will a new pesticide be better than the old one?” Farming has always had negative consequences for the earth.  The mechanical process of planting and harvesting disrupts the soil. All farming, organic or not, with irrigation or without, require chemical and techniques that consume resources and can cause soil erosion. Farming is about balancing the golden triangle: good for consumer, good for the land and good for the farmer. New chemicals and technology are constantly being developed, but we only know how safe a product is after it is used.

Organic farming lowers the risk of the unknown, but raises risks in other areas (more land use, more water use, continued use of older less effective pesticides, etc.). There is no single correct farming technique, but a careful assessment of new and old techniques may give us options on how to better use the farmlands we have. At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today! Join us for the third and last part of this three part series on farming… and learn if our food is still safe to eat!

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 If Science Has The Answers, Why Are We Fighting Over The Questions?

All Rights: Amshudhagar, via Wikimedia Commons

All Rights: Amshudhagar, via Wikimedia Commons

America has a deep schism between the right and the left, conservatives and liberals, polluters and ecologists. The schism may have started in politics, but today it reaches everywhere including science. If we go back a few decades, America had groups with different interests, but just about everyone believed in science. Science turned desserts into farms and put the world of hunger in our rear view mirror. Science cured many of the major plagues of the history. Even corporations, often ruled by personality and vison, incorporated elements of scientific management. People largely believed that if numbers and science were used, the answers must be right. But then there were striking cases of corporate greed and self-interest that changed our view of science. Drugs that kill, cause addiction or other serious issues… OxyContin, Prozac and of course Nicotine …  but remain on the market because of their massive profitability. Deadly contamination… DDT, asbestos, and Love Canal…  known by those in power, but hidden from the average citizen. Now we either don’t believe the science or we don’t understand what these increasingly technical science reports say. We are choosing to ignore facts and science so that we can hold onto outdated beliefs.

Nowhere can this be better seen than in our approach to the environment. It doesn’t matter if you are conservative or liberal, you know that ”the other guy” is always willing to lie a little bit… or will manage to ignore what they don’t want to hear. Take, conservatives, who are mostly Republicans, that believe industry needs to grow, there should be few or no penalties for pollution, manufacturing needs to be unregulated, chemicals and genetically modified foods help America, know that the media’s liberal bias only publicizes fake studies that big business is harming the environment; conservatives are strong deniers that global climate change exists or is caused by human activity.

On the other hand, liberals, who are mostly Democrats and independents, believe that industry needs to be controlled, we need more penalties for pollution, manufacturing must be regulated, chemicals and genetically modified foods harm the earth, know that media’s conservative bias hides studies about how big business harms the environment; liberals are strong deniers that organic foods provide no benefits to the individual or the environment. No matter which side you are on, no matter which position you hold, you know with absolute certainty that the facts support your position.

A big part of the problem is a confusion between personal and public good. We want what we know is good for us (or what we think is good for us) to be good for the world. No one wakes up and says that they want to be evil today. More often, we want to be good, but we get caught up our opinions about the world, and we are too quick to accept what we want and ignore what we don’t.  It’s not that we’re stubborn or bad people, it’s just that the human brain has a lot of ways of biasing the way we perceive data. We listen most to the people most like us, who share our opinions.

Another problem is that the simple questions have been answered, more questions today are predicated with “international” or “global” or some other way of saying big questions with big complex answers. Some questions may require a knowledge of chemistry or statistics to understand the answers. We are frustrated that we may not even know how to ask the right questions.

A question like, “What is wrong with the environment?” or “Are GMO’s good for us?” The answers are too big, or at least they are too big to answer in one blog. My goal is to see that you can understand how conventional farming is affecting our food, our environment and our health. To do that we all need to start with a common base of information, and then we can go into some of the answers. In this blog we’ll just cover what we mean by science and how we know what science is telling us. This will then move on to other blogs, that answer questions about food, environment and safety. Makes sense? OK, here is our foundation about how to understand science, broken into four simple concepts!

Personal vs. Public Good:  Science answers questions, but values determine what those answers mean in a larger framework. For example, when several people are exposed to the same information, each person will have different memory of what they hear. What we remember and what we forget is usually aligned with our values. Which is a long way of saying that we hear what we want to hear. This isn’t just a saying, it is a known property of our brain functions. Look at the controversy over organic foods, Genetically Modified Organisms and the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. One camp sees organic as a personal good (less chemicals must be good), and therefore has come to believe that organic farming must be good for the world. The other camp has many individuals who work in conventional and GMO farming and the chemical industry, who were once the heroes who found ways to feed a growing world, who now take personal offense when their efforts are portrayed as damaging the environment or even evil.

The reality is that each camp is both right and wrong. Conventional farming uses chemicals that may be dangerous, and so too do organic farms. In fact, they often share the same pesticides. Real food safety issues have resulted in people dying. Some deaths were due to conventional foods and some deaths were due to organic foods. Yet, when the two opposing groups argue, each side tends to forget the deaths that result from their favorite form of farming. Both farming methods are causing catastrophic damage to the land, that could be avoided if both sides could just look at science objectively. Perhaps most importantly, the battle between conventional and organic farming in the US and Europe is killing hundreds of thousands of children and adults in the poorest countries in the world (more on that in the next two blogs).

Quality: We like science, when it agrees with us. When it doesn’t, or when we don’t understand the results, we look for faults in the study or we want more research. When a subject is popular, we might find dozens and perhaps thousands of studies on that subject. When some studies say, “Yes!”, some say “No!”, and others say “Maybe?”, we become frustrated. Our frustration grows when papers ask related, but not identical questions. We want to know, “Is organic food good,” but instead studies only tell us that conventional farming uses chemicals that might cause cancer, but no rise in cancer has been found. The same chemicals may be used by organic farmers. And some crops may naturally produce similar) chemicals, even when humans don’t touch the crops.

More confusion comes from the quality of the research papers. Not all scientific papers are equally “scientific”. Some, like the blog you are now reading, or a story in a newspaper, are opinion pieces. These merely comment on the materials in the field without using a rigorous methodology to understand ALL of the material on the subject, or adding any new data. An opinion piece might take a day to write, but good research takes months, if not years, to produce. Not surprisingly, that makes true scientific papers expensive, time consuming and relatively rare. Opinion pieces can, intentionally or not, distort the original findings, perhaps by just omitting some conclusions. Part of the process of writing a true research paper is to subject papers to peer review. The author has knowledge of their field, By engaging additional experts, who may have researched the very same subject, mistakes in the research design or in the conclusions will be identified before the paper is released. The author, in turn, will need to explain flaws identified through the review process. More well known, more rigorous publications attract reviewers with better credentials. IT is because of this review process, not academic snobbery, that the publication helps to define the quality of the research.

Peer review has been one of the most important tools in improving modern research, which is why it is so important that you know the source of a report. For a subject where hundreds of reports are produced, it is quite common to find two similar reports with seemingly contradictory results. A closer look might provide important clues to help understand the data. Is one of the two reports considerably older? If one is 10 or 20 years older, old data and assumptions may no longer be valid. Both reports might even have been authored by the same individual or group, at different points in time. Is a key variable different (different countries, different times of the year, etc.)?  Whenever possible, look at the original report. Don’t have time to go through the whole document? Luckily, most research papers have an abstract at the beginning that summarizes the results.

Consensus: Once you have a general sense of what a report says, you need to know if there is great or little agreement between the papers on this subject. An individual paper can say just about anything. But if there are many papers, there is usually a trend, even if that trend is that most reports say, “We don’t know.” Let’s look at Global Climate Change. This issue has been out there for decades, and many papers have been written. Rather than spending months reading every paper, you can look for a report that summarizes the field.

One such report is,  “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature.” This imposingly named document is in itself a significant, peer reviewed, report. It examines 12,000 reports written about climate change. 8,000 reports did not attempt to identify a cause. Of the remainder (4,000), 97% agreed that “human activities” was the cause of climate change. True, a few did identify other causes, but when 97% of independent researchers arrive at one opinion and 3% arrive at another, the 97% are probably on to something.

Direction: All new scientific theories represent a rebellion against the existing theory. It is truly rare that a new theory is presented and it is immediately accepted. It usually takes years, if not decades for enough studies to accumulate to gain converts and then replace the old theory. With Climate change, the theory came long before… perhaps as early as the 1800’s when CO2 was first found to heat the atmosphere…  and only long after this did changes in opinion begin to manifest. It was easier to ignore climate change when observable symptoms were still quite small, or had as yet to appear.

When there are new competing theories about the environment, many will want to wait until a theory about change actually manifests the predicted changes.  As physical evidence appears, you can see the how a new consensus slowly gains followers and replaces the old theory.  When a theory is not supported by the majority of scientists, it may be because the theory is weak, or that the theory is still developing or it is just too young to (yet) be the consensus opinion.

Summary: If you follow these steps, you will find that the most contentious issues become easy to understand. You will see that the “public discussion” is often very different from the scientific facts. Long after a new theory has been tested by science… “Is organic food better for your health”, “Is climate change actually happening?”, “Does overuse of antibiotics cause new diseases?” or “Can vaccinations cause autism?”… the public argument continues, regardless of the fact that the answer has long since been determined and documented.  The greater the self-interest or distrust of the party that has been proven wrong, the longer they will continue to ignore and mis-represent the facts. Luckily, this process eventually drives out even the most pernicious of wrong ideas. In today’s environment of polarized politics and distrust of the people in power, it can take a very long time. At least that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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Amazon Web Services: It’s Time To Say “YES” to Corporate Cloud Services

Server Room

All rights: MEGWARE Computer

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is back in town and bigger than ever! AWS had its annual New York City conference at Jacob Javits center to celebrate its continuing growth and introduce new data management tools. The AWS value proposal is very simple, move your data storage into the cloud and AWS provides the data storage and CPU cycles you need to house and run your data. AWS can replace your server room, at a lower price, with more up-time, higher speed, and better security while providing you with advanced tools to turn data into business predictions. This could be the greatest corporate freebie you’ll see this decade! If you think that’s an over statement, or AWS doesn’t apply to your corporation, then join me as we take a look at how the world’s largest provider of cloud storage is revolutionizing how corporations manage data.

Big corporations manage a vast number of document and huge databases. This data all needs to be stored… somewhere. In the past, that somewhere was the corporate server room. The server room evolved into large server farms that contain whole fleets of Windows, Unix and other servers that support the many different programming languages that your firm needs to operate. Managing server farms and interpreting data retention and security rules is a necessary IT function, but that function does not need to be managed from inside the corporation. When a major data breach occurs, or data is irretrievable, or an audit that must be immediately addressed, it’s not unusual for corporations to hire experts to ensure that these problems are resolved. Why not expand that approach and transfer your data problems to experts that can design and execute the best solution for your needs. That’s what AWS is proposing.

COST: Data storage and CPU cycles should be the cheapest commodities on earth. And they are, for consumers. Yet, for corporations the cost of managing these commodities have become prohibitive. Between 1990 and 2010 the cost of a Gigabyte of storage dropped from $100,000.00 to $0.10. However, this million fold drop in cost is not reflected in the cost of compensation, even though corporate IT has spent heavily in automation and remote maintenance products. Increasingly, compensation has become the dominant cost of data management.

Should support costs drop as quickly as equipment costs? For a comparison, look at your corporate desk phone and your personal mobile phone.  Over the last 20 years, the cost of a desk phone has remained largely the same, and the feature set only added voice mail and a small LCD screen to manage phone features. Your cell phone has dropped dramatically in price and added GPS, Skype, cameras, scanning, OCR, text translation, voice commands, internet access, streaming video and the convenience of a “computer in your pocket”. Consumer services need to answer to many customers, and ALWAYS evolve faster than corporate services. It no longer makes sense for IT to devote management time and money to overseeing a resource of ever declining value, and rising financial constraints?

Data Storage Pain PointsA recent survey of over 1,000 IT professionals identified the challenges in data storage, and the number one pain point was… Managing Storage Growth. Other pain points included: designing and deploying solutions (backup, recovery, archive) and making strategic/big picture decisions. The corporate world has a huge hunger for data storage and processing. Database mining requires ever more CCost of CPU CyclesPU cycles, but it may not need them all the time. The ability to scale capacity up and down rarely works well within  IT, where unused resources are ultimately billed back to IT, which is left to explain cost over runs to senior management. These pain points are not going to go away until a radical new solution is deployed. The cost of storing a gigabyte is fast approaching zero, and the business needs greater flexibility to be competitive. Why not eliminate all of these pain points by moving to AWS or a similar solution?

RISKS: If all of the old issues were not enough, new threats just keep coming! Cybercrime has grown from a rarity to a daily war against anonymous hackers who test your firewalls every day. Your IT department must defend the corporation against international cyber criminals, and increasingly sophisticated attacks from government hackers in Iran, China and North Korea. Managing these threats has become a new money pit for Procurement and HR departments as they seek the equipment, software and personnel needed to defend your infrastructure. AWS, on the other hand, has: extensive reporting on security issues, state of the art firewalls, secure VPN, and full data encryption… for as much of your data as you want secured.

Too good to be true? It is… for corporate IT departments. Corporate IT has a massive disadvantage. IT needs to develop their own solutions to each and every new challenge. They need to identify new vendors, test their solutions and adopt these solutions to your environment. AWS constantly learns from their million plus corporate clients. Solutions for one client, can be applied to all clients. A clever security solution for the health industry, might benefit a finance industry client. AWS’ cost of development will always be lower per client, because it can be spread over so many more customers. For the same reason, AWS will also be able to install leading edge services earlier and with better results. A massive customer base delivers very tangible benefits.

MANAGEMENT: If you ask your IT department to add ten thousand gigabytes of storage, while also doubling the access speed of a key 25% of your data, you will first need to hold a series of meetings to estimation costs and agree to a schedule before you’re able to start the implementation. AWS has reduced this complexity to just two questions: how much space do you need and how fast do you want access speed to be? If you also have databases, there is a third question: “How much CPU power do you need.” These three questions are shown as sliders on your AWS management console. If you want more detailed cost implications, you can use the management console to run a simulation. Once you’re satisfied, just press “go”. That’s it.

When you want more space, it’s virtually instantaneous. Providing faster access means that somewhere within AWS, your data must be moved from lower speed devices (usually hard drives) to higher speed equipment (including solid state storage). The migration begins a few minutes after you hit go, and continues for minutes or hours until it is done. Because AWS storage is fully redundant, you don’t need to wait until a weekend to start a project. There is enough spare capacity in the system to start the move now, without violating performance SLA’s.

If AWS, and its competitors, provide such miraculous services, why haven’t all corporations already moved into the Cloud? Part of the reason is that there are so many tasks on IT’s plate that they don’t have time; so many projects are scheduled every year that a true game changers for cost moves to the bottom of the pile. IT departments rarely have the full cost of storage under one budget and so the magnitude of savings is not fully known. Also, few IT departments understand these services. Instead they remember less robust services from years ago. Finally, every IT department sees corporate security as a top priority that they fear outsourcing. However, AWS has security and management tools that are equal to the best corporate IT departments. And they have deployed data mining and management tools that most corporations are years away from deploying. How can you minimize resistance to change and reap the benefits of AWS?

While you can debate the virtues of Cloud services or the capabilities of your IT team to respond to new threats, it is not debatable that different data requires different levels of security. In a bank, customer data is of the highest importance and must be handled in accordance with both internal procedures and external regulations. In a law firm, documents containing confidential client data not only needs proper security, documents may also need to obey jurisdictional restrictions. Consulting, accounting, insurance and other financial firms will have other specific documents and data that require exceptional security. While each of these firms has unique security concerns, they also each have three categories of data that are good targets for migration to the Cloud.

  • HR – Personnel Data: HR must protect employee information, especially medical data and personnel reviews. However, health care groups and personnel services have both chosen AWS, which speaks well for their ability to securely manage this type of data. The requirements of your HR department may have been addressed by other customers, and thees solutions can be applied to your data. Large firms also provide software to the general public, so that they can apply for new positions. This function should be at the top of HR’s priorities, yet a quick look shows many bugs and missing features in the recruitment sites of America’s largest employers. All of this data is important, but it rarely justifies the cost of your firm’s most secure (and expensive) data storage. HR could also benefit from AWS’ data mining tools, that could provide insights into future personnel needs.
  • Procurement: Aside from any indirect insights derived from your contracts, little is in Procurement’s data that could lead to insider trading or a regulatory issue. The data risk is lower than managing than social security or account information. And this data already exists outside your firewalls, in emails and vendor databases. Moving Procurement data into AWS reduces costs, might significantly improve branch office performance, and unifies international data. AWS has invested heavily into machine readable language systems to mine vast reserves of data and convert them into future predictions. For example, it can read your contracts and documents to provide you with clues to future sourcing projects, and next year’s budget. That information can be used by your coverage teams to see if predicted RFP’s have been initiated.
  • IT: IT manages a huge number of servers that contain customer data, but it also manages servers used only for development, testing and internal IT support. These servers are often “hand me down” equipment, which sometimes slows progress on projects. Servers that manage real customer data should be stored on the most secure servers, in the most appropriate locations. But in development, testing and all “pre-release” states, AWS is a better priced option with more than adequate security. When you separate out internal data from customer facing data, you may find that there are far more resources that can be outsourced, especially when the full personnel costs are accounted for.

AWS is the largest and most advanced cloud based data storage system in the world, with as much storage space as all of their competitors combined. You can use their existing services as configured, or they can build a custom solution that blends your network with their services. By leveraging their purchasing power and the scale of their operations, they can offer the same services that you receive from your IT department at a lower price, with more up-time, less waiting around to start projects and an unprecedented level of security. Even the CIA has entered into a $660 million, 10 year contract with AWS. If your firm migrates your data from internal IT to AWS you will deliver major cost savings, free up management resources and return IT’s focus to higher value projects. You might even deliver critical security roll-outs years ahead of schedule. If your IT budget needs relief and costs are rising… outsourcing your data storage to the Cloud might just be the solution you need. At least that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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China’s Robot Gap Will Disrupt Outsourcing

China… the number one location for outsourcing. The world’s manufacturer. But, perhaps, not for much longer. In order to sign the next outsourcing contrfoxbotact, China has offered every conceivable incentive. They have even built hundreds of new cities in the anticipation of the next outsourcing project. Still, even China’s legendary dedication to outsourcing has its limits. China must obey the laws of economics, and they exhaust their labor pool. The next employee becomes less skilled and more expensive than the last employee, and productivity falls. China is very aware of this, but the fix for their productivity problem will… once again… rewrite how outsourcing works. Get ready for it! This is the BIG one! China’s latest plan will disrupt outsourcing and change how we work around the world!

Before we examine China’s next plan, we need to understand China’s previous plans. China’s last disruption was to move their economy from agricultural to manufacturing. In 2013 China’s work force was just under 800 million workers. In 2011, only 30% of the workforce was agricultural, down from 70% in 1980. Think about that for just a minute. China moved 320 million workers, and their families, from villages to cities and factories in just 31 years. That’s more than the entire population of the United States. And they’re not done. In industrialized countries just 1-4% of workers are in agriculture. Even if 5% workers remain on farms, another 200 million agricultural workers will transition to factory work, probably in the next 20 years.

Just this movement of works is staggering, but it is only part of their plan. Remember those hundreds of new cities that China built? There have been many stories about “ghost

All Rights: Steve Evans, Bangalore, India

All Rights: Steve Evans, Bangalore, India

cities”, hundreds of cities that were built and abandoned throughout China. Reporters who saw these cities a few years ago assumed that these were mistakes, abandoned projects from an overly ambitious central planning committee. Now, as Reuters points out, it looks like those early reports were wrong. They weren’t looking at abandoned cities, they were looking at cities that were still being built, with the residents still moving in. Between 2000 and 2013, over a million villages were depopulated in order to fill these cities. More villages are targeted and more cities are being built. China is still planning, and building, for an economy in  transition.

Executing on China’s economic plans has not come without a cost. The cost of building cities, the cost of new factories, the cost of urban pollution, and the inevitable cost of a successful economy… higher wages. As China continues to win more outsourcing work from the West, workers want better working conditions and higher wages. A year or two ago, Foxconn, one of the world’s largest employers, was constantly in the news. This Chinese firm assembled most of Apple’s electronics. Workers weren’t paid for overtime, worked far too many hours and the work conditions did not meet Chinese laws or their outsourcing contracts. While Apple and other customers failed to hold Fox conn accountable at first, eventually Apple led the charge to fix the worst of their working conditions. And that too has a cost.

How high is the cost of providing a safe work environment? The cost of labor has been rising over the last couple of decades. Generally, offshore inflation is  twice the rate of inflation in America or Europe. Over time, higher inflation will reduce or eliminate the advantage of offshore lower wages.  Today, a factory worker in China is paid about 3,500 Yuan (the currency of China) a month. For anyone renewing a China contract in the last couple of years, you have belt the bump in costs. Especially compared to similar workers in Vietnam (900 Yuan) or Cambodia (600 Yuan). That’s such a big cost difference that even Chinese factories are beginning to outsource work to neighboring countries.

China is well aware that they cannot stay competitive at these prices. Unless… the raise productivity per worker. After all, if the same worker is twice as productive, they cost half as much. Just about every analysis shows that the US has the most (or one of the most) productive work force in the world. Why? It is a combination of skills and advanced equipment in our factories. China has low wages, less skilled workers (on average) and factories with little equipment or automation. According to an analysis by The Economist, China’s worker productivity is just 17% of that of an American worker.

The only way that China can raise productivity to approach American’s levels is to invest in mechanization and automation.  Looking at their progress in agriculture, China has more than doubled the productivity of their farms. Even through the agricultural workforce decreased by 60%, the yield of wheat more than doubled, yielding a total productivity increase for wheat farming of nearly 400%. Much of this increase is due to improvement in mechanization. A typical example of the speed of new mechanization is the improvement of China’s fleet of medium and large size tractors, rising from 1.4 million in 2005 to 3 million in 2008.  These are the metrics driving agriculture, and that will soon drive massive increases in factory productivity.

China is not only dealing with a productivity crisis, they are also dealing with a labor shortage. There are fewer farmers to convert to factory workers, and as CChina Laborhina produces ever more complex manufactured goods, a smaller number of ex-farmers have the industrial skills needed to fuel the economy. Here too China planned for the future with a massive push for education, that now yields over 7 million Chinese college graduates (compared to a million in 2000). Unfortunately, China did not realize that these graduates would not be interested in entry level factory jobs. College graduates, and former industrial workers, area headed into the service sector, which created 37 million new jobs in the last 5 years.

Competition from the service sector, limited interest by college graduates and few new workers from the agricultural sector. China needs a productivity boost to just keep up with the current demand for labor. Add to that the continuing rise in wages and competition from the service sector, and China’s manufacturing sector  needs double digit productivity increases throughout the next decade. China’s plan to leapfrog ahead can be summed up in one word… ROBOTS!

In order for China to maintain its title as “the world’s manufacturing center”, they need more than just the mechanical assistance of 20th Century factories. China needs to adopt the newest industrial techniques, and install the latest generation of “thinking” robots.  Installing thinking robots would vastly increase productivity, and make China’s industrial cost of operation competitive with their neighbors.

The country with the greatest robotic density is South Korea, which has 437 robots for every 10,000 workers. China, with just 10 robots per 10,000 workers, is far less productive. To reach parity with South Korea, China’s 100 million manufacturing workers need to be joined by 4.4 million robots. And that’s what China is planning to do. Just one of China’s manufacturers, Foxconn, has promised to add 1 million robots. While they originally planned to have these robots in place by 2015, they may meet their goal by 2020. The problem is that the world’s production of industrial robots is only around 200,000 annually. That’s why Foxconn is manufacturing its own robots, and has installed 50,000 “Foxbots” in the last year.

If (when?) Foxconn installs a million robots, they would have a 1 robot for every 2 workers. Assuming that a robot is as productive as several humans, a super-robotic Foxconn could be as productive as 10 or 20 million average Chinese industrial workers, possibly even more productive. That is a huge influx of capacity for a manufacturing workforce of 100 million. If other firms also install robots, that means that China’s productive capacity could double or triple in just a few years. However, the big  game changer is not that China will convert to robotic manufacturing, but the rate at which it will make that change.

As we have seen with the construction of cities, and the conversion of agricultural jobs, China does not wait until demand builds up. They plan in advance, and they implement in advance. With a cost per worker 4 times higher than nearby countries, they already have a crisis. Raising productivity by 4 times requires millionRobots - World Productions of robots. That much new capacity means that the real cost of outsourcing is going to plunge, firmly re-establishing China as the world’s outsourcing center. Every manufacturing site in the world will need to increase its productivity to keep up. American workers will still be the most productive in the world, but offshore sites will close much of the productivity gap, while still having a much lower cost per hour. With a massive increase in global productivity, there must be massive layoffs in China, or outsourcing to China will exponentially increase to match the new capacity, pulling tens of millions of jobs out of America and Europe.

The robot revolution has begun, and the new generation of intelligent robots are flexible enough to expand into new territory where robots did not previously compete with humans. At the same time, new robots are much less expensive. The old robots cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy and program, and were too dangerous to work in a human environment. Today, a robot can cost $25,000 or less, and any worker can “teach” it a task, literally showing it what to do, just like any other worker. No programmers needed.

Robots can move into virtually any business, including small businesses. Once robots learns how to perform a task, that knowledge can be uploaded to an entire location or it can be duplicated around the world. That’s a big advantage over previous offshoring, where it took years… if not decades… to build training programs, train new workers and give them time to master skills. Remove the constraints of training and robots can take over functions in a fraction of the time “old” outsourcing took.

Faster, Cheaper, Better. That’s the mantra of outsourcing. It’s also the triple constraints, or golden triangle, of any improvement program. The old logic is that you only get two legs, never three, of the golden triangle. Now, you can get all three. Once the robots start arriving, numbers for these three constraints will move so quickly that only a few outsourcers will be able to keep up with these changes. While some firms will install robots themselves, the greatest impact… during the next 5 to 10 years… will come from outsourcers who bring robots into the factories and the workplace. At least that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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Robot Reviews: Robots in Writing And Publishing


How many writers will be left? – All rights:

The world is about to go through a period of unprecedented change and great disruption. “Macro-disrupters” are churning through the workforce, but have not yet reached a “Tipping Point” (to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell), where we “the big change” becomes visible. A virtuous cycle of better health and education, followed by higher income and smaller families, is erasing many of the differences in the standard of living around the world. This virtuous cycle leads to an end of global population growth by 2050, when the world’s population peaks at 11.5 billion. The population as a whole will no longer grow, but every year more of that population will be over 65 years old, leading to a cascade of disruptive changes to the work force, the economy and world culture.

Now, a new generation of intelligent “learning” robots are rolling off the assembly line, and headed to your workplace. Will your job survive the 21st century? It’s going to take more than one article to answer that question, which is why this series was created. In each article we look at specific jobs and industries, identifying the technologies that will have the biggest impact. Today’s deep dive will look at creative writing and publishing!

IN BRIEF – PUBLISHING: Traditional print publishing has been in trouble for decades. The arrival of radio and TV news, was the start of a long struggle between print and technology. Electronic news could deliver the message faster, but print could deliver in-depth coverage. The Internet broke the time limits of broadcast TV. Digital news could be as lengthy as you liked, and was enriched by multi-media content. Blogging arrived and would eventually grow to 39 million writers in just the US. But were these writers… reporters?

Blog content is sometimes very good (Huffington Post) and sometimes not so good (anything with cats), but bloggers and social media increasingly beat traditional news to the story: earthquakes, disaster sites, political revolutions, live video of controversial Publising - Ad Revenuesarrests, even trend spotting. The Internet also undermined ad revenues by offering advertising customized to the reader or to the story. And then Craigslist and competitors offered free classified ads. Not able to compete with rapid market changes, newspapers and magazines have been in steep decline. Since 2000, publishing in general lost a third of employees, and newspapers lost two thirds of revenue.

Book publishing has been equally battered by new technology. In the 1980s book lovers feared that Barnes and Noble type super bookstores would wipe out small bookstores and the specialty books they sold. Then arrived. Amazon was not the first on-line bookseller, but it quickly became THE dominant bookseller. Amazon also backed disruptive technologies: ebooks, the Kindle ereader, print on demand and a standard price of $9.99 or less for an ebook (far below the $25-$30 cost for a hard cover book).

Old publishing had strict limits on how many new book titles could be released every year, because physical books require investment by the publisher: payments to buy the book, artists to design of the cover, promotional materials, and book tours. Publishers would only gain back their investment as books were sold. Of course some books would lose money. Print on demand and ebooks have virtually no upfront costs, allowing anyone to “publish” a book by simply emailing a file to the epublisher. The file then sits on a server until purchased, when the ebook is electronically sent to the customer. Or, the file is sent to a robot that prints a single physical book, and then mails it to the purchaser.

Without sunk costs, and with every book sale delivering guaranteed profits, new publishing models are very attractive to authors. Traditional, and hefty, fees charged by Publishers are harder to justify. Technology has made book publishing increasingly challenging, but that same technology has also created a golden age for independent writers, who would never have been given a book to traditional publishers.

Textbooks are a $7 billion market, with very unhappy customers. Unlike books that readers choose, textbooks are assigned by schools and professors. College textbooks typically cost $100 or more, and new editions are issued every few years to prevent students from buying inexpensive used books. School boards want alternatives, and are increasingly participating in the “Open Textbook” movement. Just as various “Open Software” groups make software code available for free to the public, Open Textbook allows schools, teachers, students and the general public to freely print (books and ebooks), edit, translate and distribute their content. Use of Open Textbook content can reduce book costs for schools and students by up to 80%. That’s a positive trend for buyers, but not for text book authors.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: The last generation of robots were industrial. They reduced the cost of publication, distributed ebooks, and fueled indie publishing. The new robots are software, rather than physical devices. The key technology is Natural Language Generation and Natural Language Programming. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) applications can collect information from the Internet or other sources and use it to write a story. Similarly, programs can be told what they need to do, by providing written examples, and feedback on the results.

Programming is out, and learning is in. Even simple tasks, can be composed of many even simpler rules. Programming required that these rules be identified, verified, converted into code, tested and then implemented. This process is slow and expensive when performed by humans, but a cheap and quick process when robots learn on their own. Robotic learning is just like human’s learning: provide examples of what needs to be done, rate the work, point out what needs to be corrected, ensure its the right language for the right audience, and repeat. New robot writers quickly become experts.

For newspapers and magazines, especially those with a technical focus, today’s generation of robot writers can take over reporter jobs. In the 20th Century, newspapers depended on News Services (ex.: Associated Press and Reuters) to provide stories to fill out their news coverage. Most newspapers use services for national and international news stories, and hire reporters to cover local news. The Associated Press (AP) reporters used to write “Quarterly Earnings Reports” for publicly traded firms, but could only produce 300 every quarter. AP turned to the robots of AutomatedInsights, and now quarterly production has risen to 3,750 reports, which AP rates as being as good or better than human written reports. Lower cost, much higher output and no late reporting because someone was out sick that day.

A competing firm, NarrativeScience produces similar products, and recently moved into sports stories. Their A.I. robot can write a story, or even customize stories for specific customers. Custom internet ads created new revenue streams. Could custom reporting, perhaps emphasizing information about local teams, help return newspapers to profitability? Robots can build new bonds with readers by corresponding on forums and social media, or by writing individual emails. This level of reader interaction is not possible, or cost-effective with human writers. Even if robots never produce quite the quality of the very best humans, the speed of robotic writing (which will get faster every year) will transform the position of reporter into something much more interactive, making it impossible for people to perform the function. Once last firm of note, is Arria in the U.K., which uses technology developed at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Expect to see many, many more providers soon.

EMPLOYMENT IMPACT: Writing is often a part-time or unpaid profession: volunteer writers, occasional contributors to professional jPublishing Statsournals, aspiring writers waiting for their first book sale. Many of these writers are not counted in employment statistics, and are instead reported under their “day job”.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are over a million workers in Publishing, only 294,000 of which are professional writers and editors, working primarily in magazines, newspapers and textbook departments.

Downward pressure from declining sales and lost advertising revenues have pushed writing towards a robotic solution. The process is already started, and the tools are available. Because these robots are disembodied software, we may not see much visual evidence in the workplace as the robots take over. We can expect that most full-time writing positions will disappear in a decade, with most newspapers and publishers heavily relying on robot writers by 2020. In the peculiar world of Textbook publishing, new 1st editions may still be written by human writers, but the job of publishing 2nd and later editions should be turned over to robots.

BLS reports another 637,000 workers in Advertising, Marketing and Public relations. Few of these positions are full-time writers, but many have significant writing responsibilities. Simple robots have been spamming email and writing ads that are stories in disguise. Google and other search engines search for these articles, and penalize robotic content. The latest wave of internet ads are cooperative and put an end to the “bot wars”. Advertisers and search engines now work together, presenting “sponsored” or “native” ads, which look like news stories or search results. As news and advertising blur together, tools designed for reporters become increasingly relevant to advertising, marketing and public relations. Earlier technologies cut telemarketing employment by half, and Natural Language Generation will make advertising a one-to-one relationship that humans cannot provide.

Similarly, corporate managers do a lot of writing and reporting. Before computers, a corporate manager might have spent most of his time producing just one or two reports every month. Today, “spreadsheet” type reports are mostly computer generated, and managers spend time interpret reports, and converting the data into insights, usually as a PowerPoint. Academics and Scientists must “Publish or Perish”, producing books and articles to advance in their career. 1.3 million scientists and 1.8 million post-secondary educators do a lot of writing, but are rarely counted as writers. Robot writers may make their lives easier, but it’s not likely to have a major impact on employment. However, writers in advertising and marketing, will probably shrink by a third and corporate managers can expect at least a 10% to 20% impact.

Robots can write books, but so far they haven’t written any great books. Even if robots become good book authors, the book market will continue to expand until at least 2050, when world population reaches a peak of 11.5 billion. Even after population growth stalls, the book market may continue to expand as populations grow older. Today’s population of 43 million Americans over the age of 65, will grow to 84 million by 2050. A large retired population has more leisure hours for reading.

What about screenwriters? There are only 12,000 members of the screenwriter’s guild, and only 10% of members are listed as “actively employed”. Nonetheless, Hollywood has done much to find a magic formula to simplify the screenwriting process. Blake Snyder authored the book, “Save the Cat”, which claims to have discovered that formula, breaking the script for every movie into 15 “beats”, or events, that must occur in order in every successful movie. According to Snyder you script is broken into pages, and each page is one minute of movie time, and you can mark the beats to know exactly where each event will happen. If Snyder broke the code, or if his students write all of Hollywood’s movies (actually, they do) if you read his book you will see that every big American movie made in the last decade follow his beats…. to the minute. Movies are now digitally recorded, increasingly with computer generated graphics. Thanks to Mr. Snyder’s book, robot script writing doesn’t have far to go to remove human creativity from movie making.

SUMMARY: At less than a million jobs, professional writers represent less than 1% of the US labor market. The introduction of Natural Language Generation will quickly tale over a significant number of these jobs, and then automate writing functions for the remaining jobs. Fast and intelligent robot writers will produce hyper-specialized correspondence, articles and reports, fueling a new age of customer-centric journalism and advertising. Advanced robot writers already create articles for newspapers and professional journals. “New Titles” published by the textbook industry are mostly “new” editions of old books, with little or no new content. Squeezed by budget constrained school boards and parents, and a growing library of free “Open Textbook” publications, the industry must find a  new business model or turn over post 1st  edition publishing to a robotic staff. The rapid decline in publishing markets and revenues will drive rapid adoption of Natural Language tools, and by 2020 the robot writer will be a common feature of every publisher.

The impact on book publishing, especially fiction, is harder to predict. More readers, with more leisure time, will increase the size of the book market. At the same time, every potential author will be able to publish a book, setting new records in Publishing, well beyond the 2 million new book titles (US = 300,000) published worldwide today. This growing market is increasingly fragmented: printed books, ebooks, self-published books and free books. Expect few millionaire writers, not that the “millionaires club” for authors was ever large.

Natural Language tools, electronic publishing and other technologies will significantly reduce employment in publishing and advertising, probably eliminating 30% or more of total employment. While this is significant within publishing, it has little impact on a labor market of 145 million workers. The real impact of robot writers will be in all of the non-writer jobs, that have significant writing responsibilities. Academics, business managers, scientists and other professionals spend a lot of time turning data into presentations and documents. If robot writers make these positions just 10-20% more efficient, millions of positions might be vacated.

The next time you’re at work, take a look around you. Are you one of a large number of people performing exactly the same function? Does your writing follow a template, and have a standard “look and feel”? Your job might be on the front lines of the robot revolution. If you’re a brilliant writer with an established and engaged audience, you  don’t need to start clearing out your desk quite yet. But if you spend most of your day writing competent but uninspiring content, it’s time to start thinking about a new profession.

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Who Will Manage Your Robot Revolution?

Robot - PepperThe robots are coming and they will profoundly your job and how employment works in America, and the world. That’s a big statement, but it is a big, big revolution. By now you know the world “Drone”. It means an unmanned machine, usually one that flies. Just a few years ago, almost no one used this term for a robot. From non-existence to a regular on the nightly news. That’s how the robot revolution works. Today… nothing. Tomorrow they’re everywhere!

It’s not just multi-million dollar planes for reconnaissance and killing terrorists. The US military has thousands of military drones on the battlefield, and more arriving every day. Civilian are buying small helicopter-like drones, as hobbyists, often to take high resolution aerial photography. No one knows how many have been sold, but on Amazon, the top 4 drones had more than 10,000 reviews. Not everyone who buys places a review, so 2-3 times that number were purchased, and then add in other models… 50,000? Double that foe everyone else that sells drones… a conservative 100,000? Robots are going from unknown to mainstream just as fast as drones, and the new generation of robots are looking for jobs. Robots may create new jobs, or they may replace human workers. In your firm, who at your firm is in charge of the robot revolution?

Employment Statistics

Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Income and Product Accounts.

The nature of employment went through dramatic and turbulent changes in America. In 1900 agriculture was 40% of all employment, down from 70% in the 1840’s. Today, even including logging, fisheries, and all managers (half of farming jobs), it’s just 1.5% of U.S. employment. As dramatic as this drop was, remember that in 1840 the 70% of us that were farmers, fed just under 18 million Americans. Today the 1.5% of farmers, feeds 320 million Americans, plus we sell a huge surplus to overseas markets. Technology drove these changes. The horse gave way to the internal combustion tractor, which gave way to modern GPS and computer guided farm management. Agriculture is not unique. In 1840 just 10% of the workforce was employed in manufacturing. By 1960 it was 40%, and by 2010 it had fallen to 20%. These numbers will fall still further as work that was automated or outsourced in the wake of the 2009 Global Financial Collapse, yields further efficiencies.

Robots entering the workplace today will drive the next, and possibly last, stage of human industrial production. A century ago, technology provided artificial muscle, but that muscle needed to be guided by a human hand. Motors and engines developed for industrial use, later became part of our consumer products. A car is a big mechanical muscle on wheels, but it’s evolution added power steering and braking to allow us to control every more powerful vehicles. At home, the typical American has power tools to make DIY jobs easier. The next round of industrial technology added robots, machines able to perform simple tasks faster and better than humans. But these early robots were just giant arms, with tiny brains that could not see or hear. They did their one task fantastically well (ex.: attach 4 screws into a door), but were unable to handle any errors or changes in the assembly line. Robots could only work in highly structured factories, not an office or a less structured environment. New robots can see, hear. They can talk and they can deal with changes. New robots are beginning to think.

Today, “lights out” manufacturing is focused on factories that can be completely automated. No workers, no administrators, no managers. The robots even deal with supply and inventory. Robots will be managed by robots. In the next decade, experts believe that a third of American jobs will be replaced by robots, virtually wiping out employment in manufacturing.  Total replacement of human employment in manufacturing, and the few remaining positions in agriculture, are not the end of robotics. Instead, it is the start of a new stage in American employment. The same robots that can manage a factory, can manage functions in corporations. And…. they will!

Robots in the Corporation: While farm machines were evolving into farm robots, and factories were learning to run themselves, corporations have benefited from advancements in robotic. Corporate robots rarely have arms and legs, instead they rely on robotic intelligence and: answer the phone, find information you want in a database, or track your access as you move through a building. Years ago, visiting a corporate headquarters meant being greeted at the door, guided from floor to floor, and then handed off from one receptionist to another…. each person guiding you to specific locations, and away from secure areas. Today, a guard checks a database and gives you an ID card. After that, a smart building acts as a robot, managing your time in the building. You scan your ID to get past doors and turnstiles at the main entrance, and then again at different floors. The ID has your meeting locations printed on front. Elevators scan your ID, only letting you off at floors you are programmed for.

Collectively, these  systems perform tasks that used to require a large number of guards, receptionists and secretaries, but are  far more coordinated. In an emergency, such as a fire, some buildings can produce reports on everyone in the building, including your guests… and who has not yet been evacuated. Existing systems will soon be upgraded with the newest generation of voice recognition and voice generation. Imagine more advanced versions of Siri and other tools on your phone, that can replace the human being at the other end of a phone: phone operators, call centers, someone taking your order when you shop on the phone, information kiosks, anyone walking your through filling out a form (insurance, opening an account, etc.). Some minor robots are already in place, such as the electronic assistants that answer questions and accept payments for your cell phones. Add a little more intelligence, and they can take simple commands to pull together data into reports and presentations.

Today, “knowledge workers” spend all day finding and manipulating data, in spreadsheets and databases. Big corporations have thousands of workers who spend most or all of their time doing this. These “knowledge workers” have become the 21st century’s data factory workers. Just as manufacturing takes lower cost materials and turns them into higher value goods, knowledge workers take lower value data and turn it into higher value data. Consider “analytic” jobs in corporate America. In 1970 analysts would to a nearly library to gather data, and then manually calculate formulas to get results. The PC revolution of the 1980s-90s replaced manual calculations with spreadsheets. In the 190’s and beyond financial data went from  print to electronic, and was available on the desktop. Electronic tools competed with ever more useful macro’s and tools to automate the writing of financial models.

When a senior investment banker wants a financial model that compares the value of companies, he tells an analyst, “Do a comp model for company ‘X’, with three comparable firms.” New A.I. systems can be taught to understand this request, and respond to this request. Once the task is understood, every robot can learn the tasks in few minutes, as opposed to months to train a human being. A trained A.I. would produce results in a few minutes, compared to an analyst taking hours or days.

A huge amount of corporate work is  sorting out and replying to emails, or filling out spreadsheets.  “Reading” an email or a spreadsheet can now be done with natural language programming, where computers look at documents, try to figure out how to handle it (answer the email, forward it to someone, build a spreadsheet, etc.). Because of all of the automation that has gone before, and all of the examples of good and bad work done by humans, computers can “learn” from these documents. Letting computer learn by themselves is far faster and cheaper than having humans do the programming. Robots programming robots is why the robot revolution will move much faster than previous waves of technology.  A.I. will learn from the vast archives of documents in every corporation. Learning robots will quickly move from basic competency to high level expertise.

A human workforce needs a generation to develop a new type of expertise and then train a significant number of workers. Consider computer support, MBA’s, or environmental scientists. Once each of these become rapidly growing fields, it takes decades for schools to develop new degrees, create standards and train students. Clearly, human beings cannot learn at this speed. Once a robot learns how to perform a corporate function, new robots just need to upload the new information. Analysts in investment banks, junior lawyers in law firms, interns starting in accounting firms… even after they have the academic training, it has to be followed by years of corporate training. When new workers arrive, the same training needs to be repeated every year. If the work remains the same, you just need to upload last year’s program to do the work.

Even more importantly, a third year lawyer (or bankers, or accountant) has skills that a 1st or 2nd year does not. If the work suddenly requires twice as many third year professionals, you cannot easily obtain them. You, and all of your competitors, need two years of training to get a starting third year professional. The alternative is to try to hire them away from your competitors, usually at a significant premium. If you succeed, then your competitors will be forced to steal your junior professionals. You need to plan your needs years in advance, and your plan from 2 years ago is almost always at odds with reality. Alternatively, robotic capacity can be added as needed, and robots double in power (or drop in price by half) ever couple of years. Human capacity is pretty much unchanged from year to year.

Who Runs The Robots?: Today, the responsibility for office robotics is loosely divided between HR, IT, Procurement and the business unit. HR keeps an eye on people issues, including changes in the employment market. They know what is needed to staff today, and may examine alternative sourcing (contract worker? Interns?), but HR knows little about specific robotic replacements, or how an automation project managed by IT will ultimately impact the firm or how workers can be redeployed. IT will be responsible for maintaining robots, or may just have oversight of outsourcing vendors who implement new robots. IT will help define the technology and provider, but they cannot create the business plan… the map… that will lead your firm from the old employment market to the new one.

The most likely player to pull together the stakeholders and develop the business map is procurement. Procurement currently examines the firm’s expenses, finding trends in the spend and then looking at alternatives to source the same service or product. Employee compensation, however,  usually falls outside of procurement’s domain. Once robots and human workers are both legitimate resources to perform a function, we will need a more integrated way to deal with sourcing these jobs.

Procurement has the tools and expertise to build the business map, HR controls the domain and It will implement and manage the solution. These groups need to work together and use their individual talents to develop and implement a change roadmap for how robots will be integrated into a modern corporation. This requires more than a short term plan that shows which jobs will be lost to robotics this year. It requires an in-depth. Long-term (10 years?) analysis of where technology is advancing, which types of employment are most likely to be affected and what are all the options to replace and redeploy current staff.

Remember, adoption of new technology is just the start of your business roadmap. After the transition begins, what happens to the human workers? Can the corporation develop these workers for higher skilled positions? If highly educated young professionals can only look forwards to a few employable years in a corporation, will the best and the brightest graduates choose other options… such as entering the creativity industry and self-funding through crowdsourcing and on-line sales? If major corporations fail to develop a roadmap to deploy workers in the new employment market, the robot revolution overwhelm them … just as the outsourcing revolution did!

HR, IT and Procurement need to pool their resources to get in front of the changes that robotics and artificial intelligence will bring. This is the biggest change to the corporation that has happened in the 21st Century. For most corporations, the very best scenario means that corporations and employees will go through decades of challenging transition. In the worst case, corporations without roadmaps will be unable to rapidly redeploy staff and integrate robotics, failing to keep up with the market and  eventually failing to operate as a corporation, causing far greater disruptions to employment and national wealth.

The robot revolution is going to set a record for the speed of change. If your corporation is not aware of the coming changes and building a plan in the next few years, it may be too late to catch up later. New, opportunities for the best and brightest of America’s young workers exist outside of the corporation, and will mature into competitors to traditional corporations. If your corporation wants to keep your best workers, start drawing up your map today! At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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The Robot Revolution… Is Closer Than You Think!

Robots - Baxter and Sawyer

Sawyer, and his big brother Baxter! Photo – All Rights: rethink robotics

The latest Avengers movie, “The Age of Ultron”, has the media thinking about robots. Of course, it’s not just Ultron. Everyone’s favorite Killbot, the T-800, AKA Terminator, AKA Arnold Schwarzenegger, is back from the future to take one last shot at conquering the box office. And then there’s nearly nightly news on real life drone strikes in the Middle East. We can see on the nightly news that our military is trying it’s best to imitate art as it replaces soldiers with… well… robots that… umm… shoot and kill political targets. Suddenly, robots everywhere in the journals of the Corporate 500’s… the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Forbes and McKinsey (the world’s largest consulting firm)…  are all writing about the impact of the new generation of robots. I do want to logic behind legally sanctioned Killbots, but not today. Rather than the robot apocalypse, today we will examine the only  slightly less frightening topic… will robots steal our jobs?

There are two camps of thought on robots in the workplace. First, we have the palpable fear that when robots combine with Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), human employment will be decimated. Extremists in this school (tech luminaries such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Hawking) fear that robots learn and improve so quickly, they will soon surpass human intelligence, take over the world and possibly wipe out humanity. The other school of thought, has a calmer message. Yes, there will be changes and displacement, but if robots and super intelligent A.I.’s work together with humans, we can create a golden age of productivity and innovation. The merger of technology and humanity may cure all diseases, allow us to colonize the stars and perhaps conquer death.

It’s too soon to organize resistance cells for the robot revolution, but, “co-operate and everything will be OK”,  doesn’t sound right either. There’s nothing wrong with technology cooperation, but that’s a last-gen scenario. Knowledge workers have been cooperating with ever advancing technology for decades. Industrial workers have been cooperating with technology for much longer, for at least all of the last century. Perhaps, if we examine the last technology revolution we can tell us something about coming changes in the corporate workforce.

A Bit of History: Paul Drucker was one of the most influential management theorists of the 20th Century. Drucker’s concepts heavily influenced U.S. manufacturing, and launched quality management in Japan in the 1980s, when they dominated international manufacturing. A 1991 report from Drucker showed that the effective use of technology and management techniques, increased 20th century  worker productivity by 45 times. That is absolutely staggering! However, in professional services corporations (accounting, legal, consulting, finance, etc.), the same increases in productivity were not seen.  Why? Because professional service corporations did not apply “scientific management” to the degree that a factory would.

We easily forget how rapidly our environment changes, the things we buy improve in quality, features and price. In 1950, a 12” Black and White Philco brand TV cost $499 ($5,000 in 2015 dollars). Today, you can buy a lot of TV for $500 or $5,000: MASSIVE screen size, color, HD, digital recording, streaming media, stereo sound, etc. Most of these options would have been unobtainable in 1950, at any price. Or you could  watch free TV via an app on your smart  phone. This concept of “A lot more for a lot less”, doesn’t apply to the bills from your lawyer, or any other professional service. Yet, professional service firms have invest heavily in computers, software, and automation… just like factories and agriculture. Computers have their own rules of efficiency. This most important of which is Moore’s law. This states that the cost of a computer drops by half every couple of years. But the efficiency given by decades of technology investment has not driven down prices. Where is the “missing” efficiency?

The biggest cost for a professional corporations, is the cost of professional compensation. In an investment bank, compensation is half of all costs, with compensation for the most senior member rising dramatically over the last few decades. So long as these positions exist, they will remain high cost. Strangely, while professional service firms apply all sorts of productivity and cost controls though their procurement department, similar controls are not applied to professionals, especially the most expensive professionals. That’s not the say that there are no costs controls for personnel, staff: reports on time per project or per client, fills out an expense forms, etc. However, the level of control this provides over their primary cost is about the same as the time cards used in factories at the turn of the 20th Century. A very expensive resource, a multi-million dollar lawyer or banker, can assign themselves to projects and usually doesn’t fill out a timesheet. In a factory, a multi-million dollar piece of equipment requires numerous approvals before it can be used. True, a professional is not a machine, but your bottom line does not care if your underutilized resource is an A.I. or an analyst.

High compensation, poor tracking and ineffectively defined processes keep expensive professional services, expensive. A law firm and a car factory are not the same, but they share many of the same characteristics. They both have many people with the same titles performing similar or identical work, generating “value” for the work they process. The most important difference may be that in a car factory, the “focus” of the organization is the car, but in the law firm the focus is the lawyer.

Law firm automation focuses on augmenting lawyer capabilities, and developing junior lawyers into higher paid senior lawyers. The “law factory” splits it’s efforts into producing completed cases, and creating senior lawyer, adding both costs to client billing. Publications such as The America Lawyer provide critical statistics on lawyer compensation, new lawyer graduates, lawyers per firm, etc. These are lawyer specific numbers. The auto industry produces statistics on cars: what they cost, features, mileage, expected years on the road, etc. When the focus of the firm is the products, become just one element of the product. That’s when the work can be experimented with and new types of resources substituted. That’s when innovation, including automation and outsourcing, happen and where production costs drop dramatically.

As corporate America transitioned from the 20th to the 21st century, outsourcing and automation migrated from manufacturing to the corporate workplace. Outsourcing mainly impacted support services, but the line between support and professional services moved. Outsourcing was sometimes problematic, and automation often did not go far enough or was not robust enough, but it got better, and the line moved again. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point,” tells us that things don’t suddenly happen. Rather, change happens slowly for a long time until a point is reached where change happens very quickly. That’s the tipping point. A period of rapid change. The latest generation of robots and A.I.s are the results of years of slow progress. Now they are approaching that tipping point where new robots will move quickly and deeply into manufacturing, agriculture AND the corporation. Take the capabilities of robots, add the economic pressure of a growing economy and mix in the pressure for higher wages after years of flat compensation, and we have a formula for a revolution in the workplace. But that revolution wont’ come from HR, it will come from the procurement department. And that’s the game changer.

Outsourcing Drives Robotics: Consider how China has dealt with its labor market issues. Back in the 1970’s it was clear that the population of China didn’t align with their economic plan. Too many people, too few jobs, not enough industrial development. China instituted a one-child policy in 1981, to align population growth with reasonable economic growth, and preserve political stability. Globalization and open international trade was just taking hold in the U.S. and Europe, allowing China to target manufacturing outsourcing as the driver for the tens of millions of new jobs they needed every year. Economic stability would guarantee political stability. China would give away land, mineral resources, electricity and anything else needed to build the world’s largest portfolio of outsourcing programs. While each outsourcer individually needs profitable contracts, overall China put jobs ahead of profitability. At least in the early years.

China did become the premier outsourced manufacturing location in the world, progressing from low-end manufacturing to eventually building the most sophisticated products in the world. Along the way China began shifting its focus from Chinese workers to the Chinese Brand, and national prestige. Foxconn, LG, China Construction Bank, Alibaba are some of the biggest, best known and highly rated companies in the world. China’s perception of itself has changed. In an underdeveloped China, everyone did whatever was necessary to survive. But as the world’s biggest economy, the workers of China want their share of the prosperity.

For years there have been massive strikes and protests (up to 500 a day in 2012) that received little coverage in the US and Europe.  More recent protests that endangered the production of the iPhone, went viral and focused attention on the working conditions and pay in China. A shocked world watched as workers receive huge pay increases, instead of lifetime prison sentences. The next transition of the Chinese economy, a working class that can buy its own products, had finally arrived! Unfortunately, this is not quite a happy ending.

Remember the one child policy? Three decades later, China has a labor shortage. A tight labor market plus pay increases has made China the “higher cost” outsourcing location. Chinese factory workers are paid 3,500 Yuan (the currency of China) a month, compared to 900 yuan in Vietnam, and 600 yuan in Cambodia. China has started outsourcing to nearby countries to take advantage of the lower cost, but China’s labor needs could easily flood the market and drive up costs. China’s solution is to massively invest in robots, displacing millions of works in the next few years. Obviously, the focus for China has moved from the workers. We can expect robots to initially be used strategically to catch up with the backlog of work, but they also need to bring down their costs to match other outsourcers. Once they do that, they will have redefined the market and make many other jobs suitable for robotic replacement.

Robot Plan, In China and Beyond: In order for their economic plans to work, China has to put more robots on-line than all of the other countries in the world combined. Today , the total world production of industrial robots is about 200,000 annually. China buys 25% of that production, and expects to buy  over 50% in the next couple of years. In addition to these numbers, China will build its own robots, many exclusively for internal production. China has set out some notable milestones.

  • China is a preferred low-cost outsourcing site, mostly due to cheap labor. A high-tech Chinese factory has far less mechanization or automation than a US or European factory. New outsourcing clients are very aware that more mechanized factories can reduce their cost of production more quickly than a similar program in China.
  • China has 30 robots for every 10,000 manufacturing workers. South Korea is the leader in robotics, with 437 per 10,000 industrial workers. China claims it will meet South Korea’s robot density, which would require adding 4.4 million robots.
  • China predicts that their first fully automated factory will be on-line by 2020. That seems reasonable. Japan’s first automated factory went on-line in 2001, and can operate for up to a month without human intervention. Likewise, Siemens AG in Germany has a fully robotic electronics factory. Even Mexico has a full robotic brewery.
  • Foxconn, with 1.3 million workers, pledged in 2011 to have a million robots on its assembly line by the end of 2015. While they missed this goal, this plan would have replaced 75% of their staff in just 4 years.
  • Instead, by early 2015 Foxconn had just 50,000 robots in production. Clearly, Foxconn assumed that more robots would be available (only 200,000 industrial robots annually), and they would be more capable. More realistic estimates say that by 2017 all of China (not just Foxconn) will have a robot population of 500,000. Remember, one robot usually replaces MANY workers, meaning that millions of Chinese workers will be replaced in the next two years.
  • To speed up China’s robot revolution, Foxconn started to manufacture robots for its own use. Foxconn’s new “Foxbots” started to arrive at the start of 2015, and will start with at least 10s of thousands of robots a year.
  • Other nations have been listening to China’s plans. The European Commission launched what is so far the world’s largest robotic research and innovation program, SPARC.

Whatever the specific number, it is clear that China robotic ambitions will vastly increase the number of robots in the world, which will drive down their cost and expand their capabilities. Even if the rest of the world stopped buying robots, China alone could drive the next stage in automation. China’s investments alone will evolve robotic capabilities. In just a few years, virtually every factory in the world COULD be automated. That includes management functions and decision making. Factory managers have worked in corporate environments. Therefore, the A.I. that manages the factory can take over some positions in the corporate world, with minimal re-training. Once the software is re-trained, it can be rolled out into corporations as quickly as installing a new browser on your computer. The speed of transition to fully robotic factories (and initial corporate work) will be faster than the last transition, to global outsourcing.

Robot with Benefits, or Robot Apocalypse?: Robots may herald in  a new golden age, where difficult, dangerous and even boring work is no longer handled by human beings, freeing everyone to pursue the jobs that provide the greatest satisfaction. That golden age may eventually happen, but the next few years are going to introduce very disruptive events into the workplace. These changes are not just driven by robotics. Outsourcing will magnify the impact of robots in the workplace. Changes in population, both in the number of people and in the locations where they will live, adds more complexity to the robot revolution. Even the 21st Century’s other major issue, Global Climate Change, is sure to have a hand in the coming labor market changes, as both flooded cities and regions without water force workers to move, and disrupt manufacturing.

China’s robot revolution has focused on manufacturing, so far. This may be the final stage of the industrial revolution, as mainstream manufacturing ceases to employ human beings. By 2020, working prototypes of all types of automated factories will be rolled out around the world. Global manufacturing outsourcing piloted in the 1970s, when Ford built car radios in Brazil. By 2010, outsourcing was fully integrated with manufacturing and corporate support services. Based on that speed of implementation, it is reasonable to assume that 20-30 after these new pilots (2040-2050), robots will be the new global norm in factories and all but the top corporate positions.

Will professional jobs be safe from takeover until the end of the century? Will more education protect our jobs? Which types of employment will be safe from robots? There are answers to these questions, but it’s going to take a lot more space than we have here. In fact it’s going to take a new series, a Robotic Review, to answer  these questions.  The robot revolution is on, and we can expect robots to completely take over some areas of employment. But there are still some very surprising things events that will happen, and major changes that no one has predicted. So, stay at the front lines of the robot revolution and keep reading this blog!  And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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