Recap: The Changing Picture of Jobs

Forum: March 23, 2017

Topic: The Changing Picture of Jobs

— Our meeting generated lively discussion – how are jobs changing, how are our jobs changing, what conditions will a new generation of workers face in specific job categories?  Following the meeting, a couple of relevant articles appeared, which I include here for the record.  And this discussion will certainly inform our next meeting, focusing on people – people who will need and want meaningful work in the future.

Rich Bowers

Chasing the future of the employment opportunity has long been a social and political priority. Since World War II, it has been a foregone conclusion that the way to a good job and a life of success was a good education.  The definition of “a good education,” though has been changing: a good education in a profession that is in demand, then a good education that focused on STEM fields, then an education that focused on creative or so-called “soft” skills like project management, or communications.  In spite of that wisdom, stories abounded of people with levels of education in highly specific specialties that were unable to find employment in those fields . Meanwhile. middle-management and lower skill-level jobs were shedding workers at high rates, and re-training, and skills updating became priorities.  Billions of dollars in students loans, millions of displaced and under-employed workers – all chasing a job.  And like a wisp of wind – just when about to grasp it – the job would vanish.  Not just be withdrawn or reduced in number needed – but in many, many cases – the job itself simply performed tasks that were no longer needed to be done.

Perhaps it is in our definition of “job.”    The “gig” economy, the advent of Uber, the “auction” mentality that has sprung up in so many creative professions – along with the impact of animation, fluid centers of manufacturing and declining costs of transportation of goods and – most significantly – the underlying foundation of virtually free communications technology – has resulted in a new trajectory for employment and the meaning of “earning a living.”

This changing picture of jobs – and all the dimensions and dynamics that have created our current situation is the topic of our discussion this month.

Some suggested reading resources:

One final point – building on our discussion of blockchain last month – and the impact this technology might have when kinks are worked out – consider this quote: “The spread of blockchains is bad for anyone in the ‘trust business’ – the centralised institutions and bureaucracies, such as banks, clearing houses and government authorities that are deemed sufficiently trustworthy to handle transactions,” The Economist argued back in 2015.”

Meeting Notes – Blockchain – February 23, 2017

Topic: The Blockchain – and the future of the Internet and your data

Guest facilitator Dave Bladwin provided a lot of thought-provoking ideas on the subject of blockchain, and it impact in a variety of aspects of life – from the management of value (e.g., bitcoin) to the possible futures of politics, health care, education and more.

He offered a handout developed by Price-Waterhouse-Coopers describing some basic ideas and markets of blockchain.

He also recommended Don Tapscott’s Ted Talk as a good introduction.

——————

Coming up on 25 years of the Internet, and it’s within recent memory that most people knew little about it, were afraid of it, were fascinated by it – but couldn’t even spell HTML, or www.

For all the change the Web has brought to our lives, one thing has remained an unresolved obstacle – the ability to transmit a secret securely and reliably.  We all have secrets – financial , data health data, personal and professional and corporate and government data of all descriptions.  With only flawed technology to work with, we have accepted a certain amount of risk in exploiting the Internet in spite of its insecurity.

A few years ago, however, a a new kind of money appeared on the web.  Not based on any country’s currency, not dependent on banks or any of the traditional financial infrastructure – a thing called Bitcoin came on the scene, and became the first Internet tool of wealth.  The thing that made Bitcoin possible was a new approach to the “secure transaction” – a technology known as the blockchain.

Both Bitcoin and the blockchain are abstract concepts, steeped in highly geeked-up technology, and implemented by people who are challenged to communicate with common consumers and data users.  But it turns out that the blockchain is not simply a currency-related tool.  It can in fact be generalized, and used in many environments for a wide – and wild – variety of transactions and and interactions that have never before been seen as “transactions” at all.  Securing medical records, education records, financial records of all kind – and a host of additional applications that appear weekly.

The blockchain might be – all hyperbole aside – the key to the next level of exploitation of communication and Internet services.  While nothing is without risk, it may reduce the risk of storing and transmitting secrets online – and that could change the face of commerce and interaction for everyone.  Thus important to now about, so we are going to explore it in this edition of the Columbus Futurists.

The list of this topic’s resources is longer than usual, because this is a topic that can be elusive if the explainer comes at it from a direction the reader/hearer can’t identify with.  So this list represents and attempt to provide multiple doors and windows for our Futurists to get a handle on one of the latest, most exciting developments in technology.

Late-breaking story about the perceived importance of blockchain:

Check out these resources for background on the blockchain:

TED talks on the subject:

January 19, 2017 – Gene editing and the future of CRISPR

Meeting Announcement

Forum: January 19, 2017

Topic: Gene editing and the future of CRISPR

CRISPR-Cas9 is a technique that allows scientists to isolate the segment of genes they want to alter, then uses the Cas9 protein as a kind of “cutting tool” or scalpel to remove the section we want. The technique then inserts the desired gene sequence. It has been somewhat whimsically called a kind of “find-and-replace” for genes.  CRISPR will have effects on everything from the treatment of diseases to the manufacture of drought resistant crops. Some researchers — and many ethicists — are also warning that gene editing tools have the potential to create evolutionary-scale changes to entire species.

Check out these resources for background for the discussion:

An exciting agenda is emerging for our meetings this year.

GeoEngineering – Can we Construct Our Future?

Some scientists claim that there are procedures or “hacks” we might engineer that could help reverse the effects of climate change.  Will these planetary hacks be effective?  Or will they cause more harm that will also have to be off-set?  Haven’t we done enough to the planet without subjecting it to further interventions?

Here’s a brief article David Staley – convener of Columbus Futurists – wrote in late 2016 to start the conversation:  NEXT: Can we “Hack the Planet” to Counter Climate Change?

And, like most aspects of climate change, there are controversies.  Should we take any action?  What options should we consider? Here are some additional articles that explore, pros, cons and in-betweens on this issue:

And be sure to look closely at the last item – not everything is what it seems – especially on the Internet.  And especially these days.  We look forward to seeing you at the next meeting of the Columbus Futurists!

— Rich Bowers

Steve Millett’s New Book Now Published

Co-founder and friend of Columbus Futurists Steve Millett published his latest book in 2016:  American Ways: A Behavioral History of the United States with Expectations for the Future.  For the moment, it is available only as an ebook, but a paper edition should be available shortly.  Steve once again wishes to thank the members of Columbus Futurists for their feedback on this manuscript.

January Meeting Notes – 2016 Forecasts

An enthusiastic group met to discuss the forecasting project established in the most recent posting – a forecasting project shared by Columbus Futurists members covering specific questions for the upcoming year.

We decided to add a couple of pertinent issues to the list: gas prices, and oil prices.

Anyone can play – jump in at any time – send your forecasts for the issue on which you want to be on record.  You can modify your forecast at any time.  The current slate of participants and their forecasts are attached to this post.

The full list of issues we will follow through 2016 is here:

Politics

  • Who will win the Ohio Dem primary – March 15, 2016
  • Who will win the Ohio Rep primary – March 15, 2016
  •  Rep Nomination – ending July 21, 2016, Cleveland OH
  •  Dem nomination – ending July 28, Philadelphia, PA

Economy

  • Price of oil, per barrel
  • Price of gasoline, per gallon (according to AAA, http://fuelgaugereport.aaa.com/todays-gas-prices/)
  • What will the unemployment rate be on December 1, 2015?
    • For the state of Ohio- 12/1/2016
    • For the US – 12/1/2016
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average be on December 1, 2016

Geopolitics

  • What is the likelihood of a major US ground troop deployment (5000 or more) Global Climate
  • What is the likelihood of a 50% or higher remission in drought in the American West, focus on California?

Spreadsheet download of participating forecasters.  Join us!

2016 Forecasts – January meeting of the Columbus Futurists

We are trying something a little different for our first Columbus Futurists meeting of the new year.  There are 3 sections below:

  • The Idea;
  • Background;
  • To Do

Initial participants and their forecasts are shown in the spreadsheet (pdf) linked here and below.

The Idea

Some of us have recently read Philip Tetlock’s new book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.  A well-known forecaster in his own right, Tetlock describes an experiment – contest, if you will – involving pitting professional forecasters against a group of volunteer amateur forecasters.  The pros had had long careers and track records in the business. The amateurs had little to no experience, and only accidental training or familiarity with research or analytical techniques, if any.

The object was to make forecasts about specific changes or events that would happen in set time frames.  The forecasters could research as much or as little as they wished, and could update their forecasts as often or not  – as they wished.  At specific times – the accuracy of the forecasts – in terms of how close the forecast was to the actual objective state of the topic – was taken.  The accuracy was calculated by a standard algorithm which created an index of accuracy for each forecaster.  See below for a little more background – but the amateurs did well.

So – with that introduction – we would like to try something similar, less elaborate but in the same realm.  Columbus Futurists are all very bright, well-informed, curious people who pay attention to a broad range of issues around them.  So we thought it might be fun to challenge everyone to pick a topic or two or three, make some forecasts about their futures in a somewhat structured way – and then see how things turn out – perhaps next January, 2017?

We were thinking that it would be wise – both to focus our limited membership’s energies, and to facilitate tracking the results over time – to agree on a handful of questions that everyone would tackle.  And then we will track the results.

From a practical perspective, and for ease of evaluation, we might want to start with relatively small, time compressed events or trends – so we can keep interest up at the beginning and make adjustments over time if we wish.  Perhaps if the idea takes hold – we could find a way to start our own small “decision market” later in the year to follow longer term issues?  Or maybe it becomes something of a new year’s tradition.

Here are the questions with which we propose to start:

  • Politics: Who will win their respective parties nominations for the presidential election?
    • Republican Convention – ending July 21, 2016, Cleveland OH
    • Democratic Convention – ending July 28, Philadelphia, PA
  • Politics: Who will win the Ohio primaries (Dem & Rep) – March 15, 2016?
  • Economy:  What will the unemployment rate be on December 1, 2015?
    • For the state of Ohio
    • For the US as a whole?
  • What will the Dow Jones Industrial Average be on December 1, 2015?
  • Geopolitics: What is the likelihood of a major US troop deployment (5000 or more)
  • Global climate:  What is the likelihood of a 50% or higher remission in drought in the American West, focus on California?

Background

Tetlock’s new book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction  wouldn’t be much of a book if the pros smoked the amateurs.  Turns out the volunteers did quite well for themselves.  A great deal was made of finding an objective measurement to compare results intra- and inter-team.  And, while there were stars and also-rans on both sides, there were amateurs who did spectacularly well.

I won’t go into all the detail – the story as it evolves is one of the pleasures of the book.  But it is a good read, and contains a lot of valuable insight – especially for us amateurs, about how different people with different perspectives go abut dealing with complicated challenges.

In order to keep track of success, the issues around which the research and forecasting was done were kept to rather discrete, fairly objective topics.  They covered a broad range of disciplines, and with consultation, each participant was assigned the issues they were to follow.  In the end, however, the comparisons were made on the basis of relative success: who got closest to the reality? – rather than which issues came to what end.

To Do

  • Decide on the topics you wish to follow
  • Send them to myself or the both David and I – by Tues Jan 19 – or bring them to the meeting

For each forecast:

  • Prediction must include objective change in conditions, a measurable result
  • Prediction must be specific, a single data point (not a list or a range)
  • Prediction can include a percentage of likelihood from the predictor

Our collation of the submissions will show all of this information accompanying each prediction.

The next meeting of the Columbus Futurists is Jan 21. We apologize for the brief time for preparation (let’s blame the holidays!).

But we want to be as inclusive as possible – so we wish to encourage you – even if you do not plan to attend the meeting – or even if you do – to send us your forecast by email by Tuesday, January 19.  This way you do not have to be present to participate.  We will try to collate all the forecasts by the time of the meeting on Thursday, and then we can discuss how we will proceed.

The forecasts will be published on the Columbus Futurists web site.  You can modify your forecast whenever you like – but we will encourage at least one major checkpoint mid-year – in July.

There are no doubt details to be worked out and we can discuss them on the 21st.  Meantime, take some time to look into the issues you wish to pursue. Come up with a forecast that seems reasonable to you (remember we are looking for the closest result as of the target date mentioned in each topic statement).

Both David and I are excited about the possibilities, and hope you see the potential for some fun and some learning.  Feel free to reply to both of us with any feedback.

In addition to Tetlock’s book, here’s an interesting new tool – called Guesstimate – that purports to help with calculations of uncertainty.  Read the PR and check out the link to Guesstimate if you wish to try it.

And see you soon!

Best – Rich Bowers

David Staley, President

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