The End of Work?

Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, recently said that he no longer believed that automation would always create new jobs. “This isn’t some hypothetical future possibility,” he said. “This is something that’s emerging before us right now.”

from As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up.

I have seen many articles concerned that technology is going to swallow work. It is difficult to believe this is true. The first issue is that people over-estimate how quickly technology penetrates the market and is adopted. Some examples of technologies that we are still waiting to hit tipping points include electric vehicles and solar panels. The second issue is that we have a large collection of unsolved problems in areas like mental heatlh, medicine, and education for which solutions would provide huge economic benefit to society. If investors want to find their next source of growth for capital they will move into these areas and that will create jobs to replace those that are lost.

A common counterargument is that these new jobs require new skills and are more difficult to learn than previous jobs. Yet the trend appears to be in the opposite direction. Previously becoming a taxi driver required learning the cityscape, now the GPS will do the navigation for you and even factor in real-time traffic data. Publishing a newspaper or music album required the resources of large organizations, now you can do it yourself with equipment that works better than what many professionals were using years ago. Companies like PayPal, Square, and Stripe make it easy for people to accept payments for their work. YouTube and content creators like Khan Academy offer videos on how to do things from differential equations to car repair.

The economy may be changing, but these changes will benefit us all in the long run.

Tim Davies on Open Data

Today I watched this video by Tim Davies at the Berkman Center on open data in government and thought it was worth sharing. In the video Davies outlines three important parts of open government data: proactive sharing, machine readability, and legal ability to use and share. It seems that we often end up with open data that only hits two of these three pillars. Also while watching the video I developed another idea for an open dataset to hack on that I submitted to the CT Open Data portal, so I wanted to encourage you to vote for it.

Connecticut's Open Data Portal

The other day I finally took the time to explore Connecticut’s Open Data portal in depth. While I was aware of the portal before I did not extensively use it. Like many members of the public I looked at a few of the interesting example data sets and moved on. My goal was to figure out if there are some interesting data sets that I can pull down and use with some of the new algorithms that I have been learning. However no specific data set stuck out to me.

One of the best practices that I have seen recommended is that open data portals provide a log of FOI requests. The Hartford open data portal has a running log but that log was not interesting. It was mostly media organizations requesting e-mails or attorneys requesting documents relevant to their cases. So I went to the section of the website where I could suggest a dataset and was encouraged to see there have been several suggestions already and the site administrator has been responsive to them. So after making an account I posted my suggestion and the administrator responded within 24 hours. I do not know how long it will take for this to appear, but I am hopeful he is able to find some of this data and release it.

My first request is for you to vote for my suggestion on the website so they see there is support for it. The second request is to check out the portal and let me know if you find any interesting data sets that you think should be wrangled and let me know in the comments.

Applying for Health Insurance

My mission for today was to apply for health insurance for next year through our state health exchange website. Last year I went through this process and ended up calling the call center to help me through the process because it was confusing. Most of the questions are designed to be easily answered by people with simpler life situations. They know what their job is next year and live in a suburban house with their children. I however am a millennial that lives at home and I have no idea what I am doing for work next year as I continue to apply for things. I do not quite fit into the box they designed.

Today I made it to the point where I had to arduously interrogate my parents for their information because you have to apply as a household. This is in spite of the fact that both of my parents have insurance. While the website itself is not difficult to use, much of the language around the application is ambiguous as it applies to specific situations. For example it asks when income ends but isn’t clear whether that end date should be the date that it finishes accruing or the date it finishes actually paying out. Meanwhile I’ve had to go back and research quite a bit of my own financial information relating to student loan deductions.

I now realize that my bias against dealing with paper is coming back to bite me as there are many paper documents that would be useful to access if they were scanned into Evernote. I typically use TurboScan on my iPhone to scan documents but it can be slow for larger volumes, so now I am considering moving to a ScanSnap. I suppose I could get more hanging folder boxes and just keep paper records there until I am ready to scan them with my iPhone, but they take up space and are not as easy to use.

Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the most useful and underrated things you can do to be more efficient with your computer is to learn keyboard shortcuts. Some of the ones I use regularly include Copy, Cut, and Paste with CMD+C, CMD+X, and CMD+V respectively. CMD+Z is undo in almost every application. I also have keyboard shortcuts I have mapped to easily add information to programs like OmniFocus and Fantastical. The number of shortcuts can seem overwhelming at first so I recommend trying and learning a few at a time. Apple has a useful list of shortcuts.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.