Tag Archives: at-work

The latest and best engineering books for 2021 are here

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/the-latest-and-best-engineering-books-for-2021-are-here

Artech House

A leading technical book publisher, Artech House provides engineers, researchers, and students with resources to advance knowledge, grow careers, and develop companies. From antennas, RF/microwave design, communications, and radar, to GPS/GNSS, power engineering, information warfare, computer security, IoT and more, Artech House publishes forward-looking titles engineers need to excel.

Coming in 2021!

  • EW 105: Space Electronic Warfare by David L. Adamy
  • Bogatin’s Practical Guide to PCB Design for New Product Development by Eric Bogatin
  • Electrical Compliance and Safety Engineering – Volume 2 by Steli Loznen and Constantin Bolintineanu

Find the book you need to solve the toughest engineering problems:

U.S., Canada, South America and Australia Customers
U.K., Europe, Asia, Africa and Middle East Customers

Our entire eBook collection is also available on IEEE Xplore.

Creating Silicon Valley 2.0

Post Syndicated from Nick Tredennick original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/tech-careers/creating-silicon-valley-20

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Silicon Valley’s magical concentration of talent, capital, and culture in a single place has led to decades of unparalleled wealth creation—probably exceeding anything ever seen before by orders of magnitude. This spectacular success has induced attempts to emulate it in such enclaves as Silicon Mountain (one in the African nation of Cameroon, and another in the U.S. state of Colorado), Silicon Hills (Texas), Silicon Desert (Arizona), and many more.

These seedlings may indeed grow to become forests, but the ingredients are there for even more promising transformations—metamorphoses that would bring far greater resources together at abstracted, or virtual, focal points. Call them Silicon Valley 2.0.

Virtualization, an IBM invention, was a breakthrough concept in computer science. Previously a computer’s operating system struggled to share the physical hardware among the computer’s applications. Virtualization was able to give each application, from its point of view, what appears to be exclusive access to the hardware resources and operating system.

If the same virtualization concept could be applied to Silicon Valley, perhaps its geographically localized resources and unique entrepreneurial culture could draw upon talent and capital anywhere in the world.

A huge global pool of latent engineering talent is indeed out there. I know this because, as a volunteer representing IEEE, I have been reviewing university engineering programs for ABET, Inc., for decades. ABET began as a non-profit organization of engineering professional societies (e.g., IEEE, ASME, AIChE) that set the standards for engineering and technology programs in the United States. Today, ABET accredits more than 4,000 programs at almost 850 institutions in 41 countries.

Many of these programs are both technically rigorous (substantially exceeding minimum requirements in engineering science and design) and highly selective (using dramatically winnowing, merit-based standards for acceptance into the program). Each of these programs graduates tens to hundreds of well-qualified engineers every year; together they account for perhaps a million new engineers a year.

Unfortunately, upon graduation, many of these engineers cannot find jobs matching their qualifications. Developing countries may generally lack the well-developed technology industrial base and infrastructure needed to support, say, chip design, bioengineering, or mechatronics. Developing countries are building roads and bridges and are installing power and cellular grids that are the base infrastructure that will eventually support the growth of technology-based industry. These base-infrastructure projects offer employment prospects for civil and electrical engineers, but they are not enough to provide meaningful employment for all of the graduating engineers. There is thus an accumulating global pool of latent engineering talent.

In the past, the average engineer commuted to an engineering office each weekday and toiled at a company-provided desk using company-provided computers and laboratory equipment. It was easy to find and meet with essential co-workers to cooperate on shared engineering design goals because even interdisciplinary development teams’ engineers were all a few cubes or, at most, a few buildings apart. Increasingly, this model has been supplemented or even supplanted by telecommuting, often across vast distances.

The global pandemic has interrupted traditional workflow and has accelerated this virtualization of engineering development. Engineers now work, more often than not, from home using personal computers with access through the corporation’s virtual private network to remote design databases, engineering design software, and other resources. When meetings or discussion are necessary, they collaborate with co-workers through Zoom or other video conferencing applications.

There are many pros and cons, but the engineering community is adapting to distributed work environments. Teams constituted across the internet’s virtual space are taping out new chip designs with approximately the same efficiency as traditional design teams. Though reduction of commuting and travel improves efficiency, remote video conferencing is awkward, inconvenient, and is still evolving (in use and in features), which tamps down some of those efficiency gains. For large, geographically dispersed projects, control of intellectual property and trade secrets would be more difficult. Global engineering competition could reduce wages in high-cost-of-living regions even as it improves opportunities in other regions. (Perhaps wage levelling will be mitigated by expanding opportunities or by further specialization.)

Silicon Catalyst is an excellent example of how talent, capital, and culture can be creatively combined in Silicon Valley. Founded in 2015 as an incubator, this organization—for which I am an advisor—specializes in semiconductor-based startups building products based on chips, intellectual property, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), or sensors. Startups that apply to Silicon Catalyst and successfully undergo a rigorous screening process become “portfolio companies,” which enter the incubator for a period of two years.

Silicon Catalyst unites in-kind partners, strategic partners, investors, advisors, universities, industry organizations, other incubators, and government agencies. In-kind partners, such as ARM, Lattice, Synopsys, TSMC, and many more, provide startups with intellectual property, design and simulation software, test vectors, prototypes, and even fab runs. Strategic partners, including Bosch, Cirrus Logic, On Semiconductor, and Texas Instruments, participate in the screening process and actively seek out partnerships with portfolio companies.

Before the recent pandemic, Silicon Catalyst was a mostly local organization with slowly growing national and international connections. It sponsored local events where advisors, investors, partners, and portfolio companies mixed over wine and cheese. Attendees at these events were sitting in on interactive sessions for the purpose of screening new candidate companies, learning the current progress of portfolio companies, or hearing from an expert on a topic of mutual interest. Under the pressure of the pandemic, Silicon Catalyst has begun the transition from local meetings to virtual meetings over Zoom. This has provided broader access to talent and capital and globalization of entrepreneurial culture, at the cost of one-on-one personal connections. And there’s no more wine and cheese. The final effect, though, is simply the replication of Silicon Valley’s combination of talent, capital, and culture globally.

Business talent provides the starting point: Generations of engineers and entrepreneurs reside in Silicon Valley, and these aging sages offer decades of accumulated experience and expertise in technology-based innovation. John East, Mark Ross, Chris Rowen, and other experienced individuals offer startups advice based on their hard-earned expertise in sales, marketing, messaging, semiconductor physics, optics, chemistry, production, and packaging.

Capital comes next: Silicon Valley has long been the beneficiary of perhaps half of the venture capital invested in the United States. One consequence of that is that a generous portion of the biggest and most successful technology-based companies have a large presence in the area. Silicon Catalyst (along with many other local venture-capital firms) are always at the ready to help startups find money.

Culture is the capstone: Silicon Valley 1.0 perfected an experience-based, fail-forward culture. This dynamic, entrepreneurial environment became a talent magnet for enterprising individuals. It wasn’t long before the region, which was home to first-rate universities, a tolerant, merit-based work environment, and great weather, became the seedbed of a host of burgeoning technology businesses. Now, the virtualization of Silicon Valley is extending that entrepreneurial culture across the globe.

There is, however, a missing piece to the puzzle: How can we integrate the components? How might it become possible to mine the latent talent in the global engineering pool, especially since much of that talent is currently trapped inside their homes?

Allow me to suggest that we look to the gaming industry to solve this problem. Gaming platforms, such as Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation, are relatively cheap and highly capable computing platforms. Further, they have user-friendly operating systems that have been exhaustively tested by probably hundreds of millions of enthusiasts (who themselves constitute an experienced talent pool).

Today’s state-of-the-art game engines use physics-based simulation to render interactive, realistic action and effects on Internet-connected platforms. Such physics-based simulation is exactly what is needed for solving many advanced engineering and design problems. With some modification to those operating systems and the addition of a mouse, keyboard, and display, they could become highly capable engineering workstations. What’s more, they are cheap enough for wide distribution. These systems could be the link allowing an engineer in the latent talent pool to participate in virtualized engineering development from anywhere in the world.

The remaining problem is how best to match up a particular problem with an engineer who has the right expertise to solve it. One possibility is to create a Craigslist-like marketplace to broker connections. Companies or individuals with specific problems to solve could issue a request for proposal (RFP); engineers could submit bids for completion of the task. Similarly, engineering teams looking for domain-specific expertise could publish requirements and then survey respondents for the best fit.

A perhaps complementary avenue might be an extension of the XPRIZE Foundation. XPRIZE, founded by Peter Diamandis in 1994, sponsors public competitions aimed at encouraging technology development. The cash prizes it offers have proven to be an irresistible draw to innovators.

Imagine a company—call it RoboMax— that starts a public competition for the design of an autonomous robotic window washer for skyscrapers, offering a prize of US $5 million and a licensing agreement with RoboMax for the production of winning components.

RoboMax would make available its robotics development software together with its standard robotics components library. Single individuals or engineering development teams (virtualized, of course) would compete by augmenting standard robotics components with the development of custom grapples, suction-cups, traversal algorithms, and washing appendages. Each engineering team, using engineering-design-based versions of a popular gaming platform equipped with modified, physics-based simulation software, could first design and experiment with simulated components. When the team thinks it has good candidates, it could order prototype components from a third-party for use in mixed-mode simulations or in fully implemented prototypes.

The competition might be judged using working prototypes in a straight competition to measure cost-effectiveness, efficiency, error rates, and repair costs. With forty thousand major office buildings in just the United States it’s likely that several designs might find application niches with long-term market prospects.

The virtual engineering world may develop along different lines than I have indicated. But I believe that Silicon Valley 2.0, by tapping into worldwide reserves of talent, will far exceed the creative legacy of Silicon Valley 1.0.

For more information, please contact Nick at [email protected].

Will Alphabet’s Unionization Effort Spread to Other Big Tech Companies?

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/tech-careers/will-alphabets-unionization-effort-spread-to-other-big-tech-companies

On Monday, a group of employees from Google and other companies under the Alphabet umbrella announced the creation of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU). The organization, formed with support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), indicated that it had 226 members at Monday’s launch, by Friday its membership had grown to 530. The union is open to all employees and contractors of Alphabet, including engineers and other tech workers. Two software engineers, Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, have been elected to head the organization as executive chair and vice chair, respectively. Members will contribute one percent of their total compensation to fund its efforts.

“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” said Dylan Baker, a Google software engineer, in the press release.

It is indeed historic, agrees Peter Meiksins, a sociology professor emeritus at Cleveland State University who has studied engineering unions. Engineers generally haven’t been friendly to the idea of unionization, he says. And the AWU is also groundbreaking because it has formed to address social issues, not economic concerns that more typically spark union movements. Simply, many of the first members of the AWU would like to see the company return to its original company standard: “Don’t be evil.”

As one of its first official acts, the organization on Thursday released an open letter to YouTube executives blasting the company for its lackluster response to President Donald Trump’s part Wednesday in what it described as a “fascist coup attempt.” (YouTube is under the alphabet umbrella.) YouTube, the letter states, “refuses to hold Donald Trump accountable to the platform’s own rules by choosing only to remove one video instead of removing him from the platform entirely. Additionally, the platform only cited ‘election fraud’ as the reason for removing yesterday’s video, even as he clearly celebrates the individuals responsible for the violent coup attempt. … YouTube must no longer be a tool of fascist recruitment and oppression.”

In recent years, unionization efforts sparked at a few small tech companies. In early 2018, startup Lanetix fired 14 software engineers after they petitioned to be represented by the CWA; the workers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and, in 2019, shortly before hearings were to begin, Lanetix settled with the former workers. (Lanetix recently rebranded as Winmore)

And tech workers at Kickstarter unveiled an organizing effort in 2019, meeting resistance from senior staff but ultimately prevailing. Moreover, in 2019 four former employees fired by NPM, the company behind NPM JavaScript, filed complaints with the NLRB indicating that they the dismissals were retaliation for union organizing activities. The company and former employees reached a settlement fairly quickly.

While these formal unionizing efforts were going on at smaller companies, numbers of tech professionals at Google held protests and petition drives without an official organization behind them.

The largest such protest, a worldwide walkout in 2018, opposed the company’s handling of sexual harassment charges; more than 20,000 employees participated. A sit-in followed to protest retaliation taken against organizers of the original workout. Google employees also held a petition drive opposing involvement with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Project Maven, an effort involving using artificial intelligence in a way that would potentially be used for drone warfare. And another petition drive opposed efforts to build Dragonfly, a search app intended for use in China that would allow government censorship.

Google eventually dropped both Project Maven and Dragonfly. But friction between the company and its tech workforce has continued. The most recent outrage, according to AWU’s announcement, was the firing of AI researcher Timnit Gebru, who had coauthored a paper on issues of bias and other concerns about AI. It was these and other situations that sparked the formation of the union, though the organizers indicated that economic issues are not off the table.

“The only tactic that has ensured workers are respected and heard is collective action,” the statement said. “The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues.”

I asked Cleveland State’s Meiksins to put the Alphabet unionization effort in historical perspective.

IEEE Spectrum: Why have engineers typically not formed unions?

Peter Meiksins: Engineers in the U.S., especially since the latter part of 19th century, have seen themselves as professionals like doctors and lawyers and accountants. They see unions as a blue collar thing. Because they think of themselves as professionals, they organize themselves through societies like IEEE and ASME [the American Society of Mechanical Engineers]. Those organizations historically haven’t been friendly to the idea of unionizing. That’s not surprising, there is a significant corporate presence in their membership. And labor laws favor that perspective. If you have any supervisory responsibility at all, you are not seen as appropriate for a union member.

Spectrum: How will those laws affect the Alphabet union, which right now is pitching itself as, basically, Come one, come all?

Meiksins: I do wonder if somebody will question whether, if engineers are parts of hiring committees that hire other engineers, they are eligible to be members of unions. You may have to draw a line somewhere between project managers and line engineers.

Spectrum: The announcement indicated that the Alphabet union builds on activity involved in organizing the Google protests of recent years.

Meiksins: That’s the thing that is most striking. The traditional economic motivation for forming unions is largely absent here, rather, it seems to be of a response to social issues, particularly, military involvement and gender issues. They’re not complaining about their pay.

I’m not aware of too many examples of this. During the Vietnam war, there were grumblings by engineers who worked in the defense industry. These never got to the level of organized protests, but there were questions raised about collaborating with the military. I did some research on that by looking at the letters to the editor of IEEE Spectrum published in the early 1970s. There was a lot of discussion about the war then. This particular movement echoes that a little.

Spectrum: At this point, the AWU is a ‘minority union,’ which does not give it formal bargaining power; that would take recognition of the union by management, either voluntarily or forced by a company-wide vote. Do the members have any power or protections?

Meiksins: The union might provide moral support. That is, there is a collective voice that could speak on behalf of someone, but [it] has no power. The members can only get that if they organize a formal union and negotiate a contract that has a grievance procedure in it. With just an informal organization, the company does not have to pay any attention to it if they don’t want to.

Spectrum: Would you expect to see the Alphabet union formation spark similar efforts at other large tech companies?

Meiksins: Some of the issues motivating the movement at Google exist at plenty of companies. The question is whether, if there isn’t a real economic basis for the formation of a union, people will risk their livelihoods. In the United States, it is pretty easy to fire people. If Google fires some of the ringleaders, that could have a chilling effect on what happens elsewhere. People do take a risk when they do something like this.

Of course, for engineers today, particularly those in the computer sector, it is a seller’s market. So they may be more willing to take a risk, saying, “I like working here, but I don’t like what you are doing, and I can go make just as much across the street.” These people are well paid and in demand, so they aren’t taking a huge economic risk.

The alternative, of course, would be to just leave, not protest. However, what you may be seeing is that the job-hopping culture that engineers have lived in for decades now has led to the conclusion that there is nothing better out there. Google was supposed to be the great company. Now it is apparently not. So people are saying, “I want to work in tech, so I need to make tech some place I want to work in.”

Special Report: Top Tech 2021

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/innovation/special-report-top-tech-2021

graphic link to special report landing page

Last January in this space we wrote that “technology doesn’t really have bad years.” But 2020 was like no other year in recent memory: Just about everything suffered, including technology. One shining exception was biotech, with the remarkably rapid development of vaccines capable of stemming the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s roundup of anticipated tech advances includes an examination of the challenges in manufacturing these vaccines. And it describes how certain technologies used widely during the pandemic will likely have far-reaching effects on society, even after the threat subsides. You’ll also find accounts of technical developments unrelated to the pandemic that the editors of IEEE Spectrum expect to generate news this year.

Making such predictions is, of course, risky. We trust, though, that whatever we may have missed won’t possibly be as momentous as the earthshaker that we—indeed the whole world—didn’t see coming 12 months ago.

What Do Software Engineers Get Paid?

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/tech-careers/what-do-software-engineers-get-paid

The ranks of highest-paying software engineering companies underwent a bit of a shuffle in 2020, particularly at the entry level. That’s according to Levels.fyi’s 2020 report on software engineering salaries.

Levels, founded in 2017, builds tools to help employers and job seekers calculate and compare salary offers using standardized titles and job descriptions. The company gathers salary data through self-reports, verified when possible by pay stubs and other documentation.

According to the Levels 2020 report, at the entry level, engineers at Lyft are doing the best, with a median package of base salary, bonus, and stock grants of US $230,000 annually. In second place at $222,000 came Roblox, a newcomer to Levels’ charts. Roblox, an online game and event creation system, took off during the pandemic as a way to help children communicate with each other, and even hold birthday parties online.

For engineers with two-to-five years of experience, Airbnb’s package of $295,000 put it in first place, though that number dropped substantially from $334,000 in 2019. And for engineers with more than five years of experience, LinkedIn took the top spot, with a package worth $461,000.

Regional differences in engineering pay became a hot topic throughout 2020, with most software engineering jobs turning remote and companies beginning to contemplate, if not institute, geographically-based salary adjustments for engineers who moved their home offices beyond physical commuting distance. 

Levels did not include regional data in its 2018 analysis, and only reported limited data in 2019, so in the chart below, 2020 data stands alone. It reveals few surprises—the San Francisco Bay Area is at the top (minus cost-of-living adjustments), the position it has held in every regional study I’ve seen. These numbers may evolve over the coming year, as large California tech companies follow through on announced moves out of the region.

Peering Into the COVID-19 End Game

Post Syndicated from Mark Pesce original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/innovation/peering-into-the-covid-19-end-game

graphic link to special report landing page

Spoiler alert: We won’t get what we want in 2021. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect to remain in a kind of limbo for months yet, stuck in an uncomfortable place between health and illness, economic contraction and recovery, all while still maintaining awkward distances and yearning for heartwarming hugs.

We will, however, get what we need. There’ll be new tools, customs, and shared experiences to help us manage this weird time between the pre-COVID world and the postpandemic era. With the help of these things we’ll get better at persevering, as we adapt and develop new means of working and playing. We’ll even find novel ways of being together without, you know, being together. The diverse array of innovations that will emerge this year—medical, technical, occupational, and cultural—will surprise, dismay, and in some cases, delight us. And some of them, deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life, will persist long after the pandemic becomes a somber memory.

As the pandemic began to accelerate in March, April, and May of last year, the idea of a life lived primarily online became a sudden and immediate reality for tens, then hundreds of millions who huddled in front of screens to work, to meet, to learn, to socialize. And to buy. By April, in the United States and other developed countries, e-commerce had surged to levels more commonly associated with Cyber Monday—every day of the month. Students kept at home because of lockdowns learned how to master a new range of communications tools, while educators found themselves fighting those same tools in order to continue to connect with their classes.

Throughout this massive online migration we’ve learned, again, that fortune favors the fortunate: those with good computers, good smartphones, and access to stable, high-speed broadband connectivity. Disadvantaged students fell further behind as they lost access to the human resources available in the classroom, tumbling headlong into a digital divide that both deepened and broadened over the course of the pandemic. As things stabilize this year, we’ll see efforts toward healing that divide across education, work, and commerce.

Even before April, Singapore, China, and Taiwan had begun using smartphones to automate the painstaking, messy, and complicated business of contact tracking and tracing. As the pandemic spread, these app-based approaches did work well in about a half dozen countries in Asia. But in the West, initial high hopes dissolved amid a flurry of concerns that the experimental apps did too little to protect privacy. Even the most rigorous implementations, which modified iOS or Android to provide new application programming interfaces specifically for contact tracing, seemed to fail exactly where they were needed most, on public transport.

The gold-standard approach in smartphone-based tracking and tracing, pioneered in Taiwan, collects data on individual movement using cellphone towers. As a user moves around, the phone’s signal is detected by multiple towers, which triangulate the user’s location. This movement data can then be cross-correlated with that of other users to find out when and where two people got close to each other. If somebody later turns out to have been infected, a record of all those close contacts can be quickly compiled.

There’s a term for this sort of tracking: ubiquitous, passive surveillance. Wireless carriers have of course been tracking their customers’ comings and goings for decades. It’s something most people seem reluctant to ponder while they benefit from the always-on, wherever-they-go coverage of wireless networks. In Western countries especially, use of this location data collected by carriers is restricted by regulations drawn up long before the value of universal tracking to public health became apparent.

The tension between civil liberties and public health as been a consistent flash point during the pandemic, in ways that seem little different from a century ago, during the global pandemic of 1918. We’ve learned that technology doesn’t absolve us of the need for vigilance. We’ve also learned that apps by themselves cannot provide the solution or even prevent contact tracers from becoming overwhelmed as an outbreak accelerates. Where the pandemic has been controlled, technology can be very helpful; where it has not, it is of little use.

Other surveillance tools we’ve come to accept in the public sphere could this year get more intrusive. Take webcams, which have long been used to monitor parking lots, public spaces, private property, and baby nurseries. This year, expect to see webcams repurposed to monitor offices, reminding people to maintain social distance and also recording any potentially infectious interactions.

Some jobs, though, for example in the food, retail, and construction industries, are hard to do in isolation. For these, different tools will be needed, ones that automatically monitor and accumulate the risks of sporadic proximity to other people within the workplace. As those interactions reach a critical threshold, workers will have little choice but to move to lower-risk activities and environments until their exposure risk drops to a safer level. Although all of this is already possible with existing technologies and infrastructures, no one likes to be under the eye of the boss all the time, even for the best of intentions. And workers who resent being watched will find ways to thwart observation.

Office surveillance will be just the first ripple in a surge of Web-based workplace tools. Many businesses have of course already transitioned to long-term work-from-home policies. But the twin stressors of scale (everyone) and duration (all the time) have revealed weaknesses that still need to be addressed.

Here’s a big one: Most corporate networks have been designed to be outward-facing—in other words, to connect a business center with the world. But with the center now depopulated, network infrastructure needs more than an upgrade: It needs to be reconfigured to be more inward focused. This new reality has already accelerated a massive migration to cloud-based solutions. The biggest cloud providers, including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce, will all benefit.

All the tools that can’t be moved into the cloud will be rethought, redesigned, or simply abandoned as too insecure or unstable for long-term remote work. Just as 2020 saw a huge uptick in laptop sales, 2021 will see a hike in sales of servers, networking equipment, and all the physical infrastructure needed to serve a remote-first organization.

No amount of physical infrastructure, though, will be able to provide what we’ll arguably need the most this year: human connection. But emerging technologies, notably in the realm of AI, are on the verge of making the remote experience a lot less clunky.

Offices are microcosms of our societies. They bring us together, then give us an incentive to cooperate. With the right leadership, this congregation can produce spectacular results. The best leaders create an environment where employees feel they are held in mind. It’s a bit of management magic that’s pretty hard to deliver remotely.

The longer a team works remotely, the less likely it is to embrace an esprit de corps. Team meetings, standups, and progress reports delivered via ­videoconferencing are typically more excruciating than inspirational. Part of the reason is the patchy nature of broadband connectivity: It’s quite uneven, even in rich countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.

Late in 2020, graphics giant Nvidia offered one potential solution to this technical shortfall: a software development kit called Maxine that uses advanced AI capabilities available in the company’s next-generation GPUs. The software can analyze an incoming video stream from a webcam, remove any artifacts, and transmit upstream a higher-quality image using significantly less bandwidth. For those who have the necessary processor capacities (cheap laptops won’t have the right stuff), it means a better remote-working experience.

This year we could face new pitfalls in remote work, too. Some of these will arise from a soft underbelly of security issues that could be defended against when everyone shared a common office. Distance makes all of that much harder, and this means that security policies will become more strict, more onerous, and more costly. Nothing comes for free, and 2021 will be the year we explore the necessary costs of working from home.

Consider deepfakes. Over the last few years, we’ve seen how images of presidents, movie stars, and even long-dead Dutch masters can be turned into ­software-driven puppets, capable of being made to do anything. An aural equivalent of a deepfake can be used to synthesize the voice of anyone who provides a few minutes of audio to work with. We can now get anyone to seemingly say anything.

Soon, hackers might not even need a human to control the puppet. In 2020, OpenAI unveiled its GPT-3 ­text-generation engine, capable of fooling most of the people some of the time with its topical (if occasionally nonsensical) outputs. Combine GPT-3 with a deepfake and—voilà!—you’ve got an autonomous computer construct that looks real, sounds real, and even gives the appearance of thinking. In 2021, such creations will continue to fall short of passing a Turing test, but they could work just well enough to be the weapon of choice in a social-engineering hack. When your CEO Zooms in to say she can’t log into her account, how do you respond? Do you reset her password credentials, granting her access to the corporate network? (Hint: No.) Or do you demand two-factor authentication, to prove it’s really your boss?

By the end of 2021, with a vaccine and some good fortune, we will be venturing outside of our homes, traveling around far more freely than we are now. For the time being, the comforts and pleasures of home have never been so important, nor so accessible. All of our toys will go through their usual upgrade cycles over the next year. There’ll be new smartphones, next-generation game consoles, turbocharged graphics cards, and a heap of games to play. But do we really want to spend endless hours interacting with entertainments that emphasize our separation from others, or do we want to find some way to be together (kinda sorta) even when we’re forced apart?

Developers will find some sweet spots somewhere between Zoom fatigue and an in-person social-gaming experience like Pokémon Go. These will create experiences offering connection and community while minimizing the risk of infection. Some of this will be locative: keeping people at home, or close to it. Some will be temporal: keeping people out of the same spaces at the same time. We’ve never been forced to shape collaborative play to fit within the constraints of a pandemic. And yet, somewhat paradoxically, these limits could spur creativity.

For example: the two-year-old game Among Us was only modestly successful before becoming the surprise hit of 2020. Like the party game Mafia, Among Us gets a group of online players to murder, lie, and accuse one another, offering a safe but rich social experience well-suited to pandemic lockdowns. The smash hits of 2021, shaped by postlockdown social-distancing constraints, will take us to places and times that enhance our safety, yet continuously delight, or infuriate, through their connections to other players. We will be playing together and always feeling one another’s presence. And yet we’ll never actually be in the same place at the same time.

A new generation of augmented-reality software and sensors, such as the lidar in the iPhone 12 Pro, will land in all our devices, not just our smartphones. Most notably, we could see early, developer-centric launches of long-anticipated consumer AR headsets from both Facebook and Apple [see “This Is the Year for Apple’s AR Glasses—Maybe”].

Everything that we’re now learning about augmenting the real world, for example adding ”digital depth” to games or for industrial purposes, will become part of a core set of capacities and expectations for all technologies throughout this decade. Just as we’ve spent the last three decades piling human knowledge into the Web, we’re on the cusp of investing another decade or two taking all of the data and metadata we’ve built up about our physical environment and all the things that occupy space and making that accessible and easy to understand through augmented-reality displays.

When we augment space, though, we change it. When we inhabit this augmented space, for example, by walking around a city seeing a continuous overlay of information about what we are looking at, we change our behaviors in it. That can open new possibilities for play, but it also means the world can speak directly to us, guiding us toward better, less risky (and less infectious) choices. That’s more important now than it has ever been.

This year, we’ll live somewhere between the chaos of the pandemic and the business-as-usual world beckoning to us from 2022. Being stuck there may bring feelings almost beyond our ability to bear. We’ll need distractions, and in particular, the endless distractions of one another. The closer we can safely get to one another, the happier we will be. Held in mind and in heart, though, we’ll at last emerge from the long trek back to safety and normality. In the meantime, we can distract, we can augment, we can connect, and we can play. All of it will feel more like work than we’d like.

But there’s a silver lining: We’ll learn important lessons that we can carry forward in our lives and careers. This year won’t be easy. But we needn’t—and shouldn’t—make the journey alone.

This article appears in the January 2021 print issue as “Peering Into the Pandemic End Game.”

Over-the-Air (OTA) Testing – important antenna parameters, test system setup and calibration

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/overtheair-ota-testing-important-antenna-parameters-test-system-setup-and-calibration

OTA testing

Future technologies and standards will make over-the-air (OTA) testing mandatory. At the same time, integrated antennas are becoming more common with each development cycle such as for low-cost IoT devices and 5G mmWave devices.

Since measurement requirements will change with OTA testing, engineers need a basic understanding of antennas and antenna measurements.

This paper provides you with extensive knowledge on the following:

  • Antennas in general, their parameters and different types, as well as antenna characterization and testing
  • The importance and execution of OTA test setup calibration
  • General concepts that are valid for any OTA test setup, e.g. in-chamber or lab-bench setups
  • Calibration verification
  • Array antenna calibration methodologies

AWS Marketplace would like to present you with a digital copy of the new book, Practical Guide to Security in the AWS Cloud, by the SANS Institute.

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/aws-marketplace-would-like-to-present-you-with-a-digital-copy-of-the-new-book-practical-guide-to-security-in-the-aws-cloud-by-the-sans-institute

Each of this book’s 27 chapters presents a component of a bigger picture that, once put together, creates a holistic approach for your organization’s security operations in the cloud. These resources model the whole life cycle of security, touching on aspects of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, and Respond. Reading this book’s 365 pages will help provide security teams with foundational knowledge and actionable advice to succeed as they move to the cloud.

Read this book to learn about:

  • Leveraging cloud services and automation to improve the effectiveness of security and compliance programs
  • Enhancing the protection of cloud-based applications, devices, and networks
  • Improving detection, response, and mitigation capabilities across the cloud
  • Incorporating AWS services and solutions in AWS Marketplace to advance your cloud security strategy

Techies Want a Vaccine Mandate Before Returning To the Office

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/tech-careers/techies-vaccine-mandate

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

With the United States poised to issue emergency use authorization for at least one COVID-19 vaccine, tech professionals are thinking about what that will mean for the workplace and returning to an office. Last week Blind, a company that operates private social networks for tech employees, asked its users three simple questions about the tech workplace and the COVID vaccine:

  • Do employers have the right to ask employees to get vaccinated before returning to the office?
  • Would you get vaccinated if your employer asked you to?
  • Would you go back to the office if vaccines are not mandatory?

An overwhelming majority (69 percent) of the survey’s 3273 respondents indicated that employers do have the right to mandate vaccination. Even more would comply with such a mandate.

Indeed, a vaccine mandate may be necessary to bring the majority of tech workers back into company offices. Only 36 percent of respondents indicated that they would be willing to return to in-person work without such a mandate.

Breaking the respondents down by company showed some differences. Tech professionals at Indeed and Netflix seem more willing to return to in-person work without a vaccine mandate than those at the average company, while tech workers at Airbnb, Cisco, Intuit, and Oracle are far less willing.

What is it about those workplaces that makes the difference? Could it be location? Company culture? The number of employees at the location? Or simply the design of the buildings? (I know I’d be more concerned about going to an office with sealed windows that’s accessed via elevator than a more open-air setting; certainly Oracle’s Silicon Valley conglomeration of office towers would raise my pandemic-primed hackles.) Perhaps we’ll get some insight on this vaccines roll out and tech companies prepare to move away from full-time work-at-home policies.

McMaster Engineering: Transforming Engineering Education and Fostering Research with Impact

Post Syndicated from McMaster Faculty of Engineering original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/mcmaster-engineering-transforming-engineering-education-and-fostering-research-with-impact

The Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., Canada is aiming to build on its ranking as one of the world’s top engineering schools by expanding its recruitment of both tenure-track and teaching track positions across multiple departments. This broad initiative is expected to continue the growth of McMaster as a leading destination for innovative teaching and research.

To support this growth and further develop McMaster Engineering’s longstanding strengths in research, innovation and graduate training, the positions being offered will include two Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC) and tenure-track positions, with specialization in the fields of micro-nano technology, smart systems, and bio-innovation.

“The rapid growth in the reputation of the Faculty of Engineering reflects our continuing focus on innovative research designed for impact and educating agile learners to become equipped to tackle our world’s greatest challenges,” says Ishwar K. Puri, McMaster’s dean of engineering.

In addition to successful applicants teaching both undergraduate and graduate level courses, they will also be expected to establish a strong externally-funded research program, supervise graduate students and foster existing or new collaborations with other departments and faculties.

“A range of perspectives leads to better insights and innovation, and our diverse and inclusive community is a key factor in our success. We welcome experts from around the world to be part of this next generation of growth and innovation in the Faculty of Engineering,” adds John Preston, McMaster Engineering’s associate dean, research and external relations.

The strength of McMaster Engineering has been its strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and an emphasis on research with impact.  This focus on R&D with real-world impact is demonstrated by how its research has scored in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in categories such as good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, and industry, innovation and infrastructure and climate action.

Earlier this year, McMaster ranked 17th in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and number one in Canada for good health and well-being and decent work and economic growth. The rankings recognize the important contributions universities make to their communities, countries and on an international scale.

In a combination of both its commitment to impactful research and collaboration, McMaster Engineering has also aimed at providing a supportive and inclusive environment that celebrates big ideas and commercialization while working with industry partners around the world to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

The Faculty’s mission to push the boundaries of discovery and innovation plays a significant role in helping McMaster University earn its reputation as one of Canada’s most innovative universities.

As Canada’s most research-intensive university, McMaster’s commitment to research continues to be reflected in its rankings. Most recently McMaster was named one of the world’s top 70 universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education rankings. As well, 14 academic disciplines at McMaster Engineering are ranked among the best in Canada by Shanghai Ranking.

Innovation extends to McMaster Engineering’s approach to education. In September 2020 after a two-year pilot, McMaster Engineering formally launched The Pivot, an historic $15 million initiative marking the largest transformation of the school’s curriculum, experiential learning and the classroom experience in the 62-year history of the Faculty.

This year, as part of The Pivot initiative, more than 1,100 first-year engineering students are experiencing the school’s new interactive course called Integrated Cornerstone Design Projects in Engineering. This novel course integrates concepts previously taught in four different courses into a single, seamless, project-based learning experience, allowing students to work in teams, design prototypes and solve real-world problems.

By transforming the engineering curriculum, reimagining the learning environment and amplifying experiential learning, The Pivot takes a project-based and experiential learning approach to developing future-ready graduates with design-thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets.

For more information on current opportunities within the Faculty of Engineering, view the postings here.

Sunshine Comes Out to “Manage the Mundane”

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/start-ups/sunshine-comes-out-to-manage-the-mundane

People haven’t always been so nice to Marissa Mayer, the early Google employee who rose to a vice president in that company, then took over as CEO of a struggling Yahoo only to be removed when the company was acquired by Verizon five years later in 2017.  They criticized her for being a fashionista and an ice queen, for micromanaging, for taking too short a maternity leave and for bringing her infant to the office, for failing at a turnaround that might have been an impossible task, and simply for being “no Steve Jobs.”

But Mayer seemed to never lose her sense of fun—her bright clothes make her stand out at any tech event, and her Halloween and Christmas decorations have become a local legend.

Two years ago, Mayer answered the “what comes after Yahoo” question by announcing a startup, Lumi Labs, cofounded with long-time colleague Enrique Munoz Torres. At the time, the two gave little indication about exactly what this tiny Palo Alto company would do beyond developing some projects and prototypes.

This week, Lumi Labs changed its name to Sunshine and released its first official product, Sunshine Contacts, an app that uses AI to organize, autocomplete, and update a user’s contacts. Previously the company did an experimental release of an app designed to manage holiday mailing lists.

OK, maybe a contact manager doesn’t sound like a change-the-world product, or one that needed to be backed by $20 million in seed capital. But don’t write it off just yet. Sunshine’s goal, according to the company’s web site, is to “make the mundane magical.”

“Imagine if your contacts magically stayed up-to-date with no effort on your part,” the company states.  “Or if the great photos you have of your friends got sent to them automatically. What if you never forgot another birthday?

“Smartphones have connected the world and put the entire internet into our pockets. We can get whatever we want delivered to our home whenever we want, sometimes by flying drone. With the rise of artificial intelligence, dreams of virtual assistants, self-driving cars and global facial recognition are no longer that far-fetched. However, despite transformational advances in technology, there are still tons of mundane, time-consuming tasks that we all do (or just don’t do) daily.”

Sunshine plans Contacts to be the first of many products aimed at these everyday problems. The app pulls in data from Apple and Google contacts, removes duplicates while using AI to distinguish between contacts with the same name, and automatically digs through LinkedIn profiles and other publicly available information to fill missing details, including addresses, profile pictures, and additional phone numbers. Going forward, it promises to automatically update contact information when necessary.

I have to admit I was smiling and nodding my head while reading Sunshine’s announcement. Having covered Mayer on and off for about a decade, I could see her fingerprints all over the company. In the various interactions I’ve had with her, she does seem like someone who wouldn’t want to forget a birthday or just about any occasion: for some time she set the agenda of holidays, milestones, and artists for Google Doodles and her holiday decorations are stuff of Silicon Valley legend.  She may indeed be a micromanager—she personally passes out Halloween candy to the more than a thousand trick or treaters that line up in front of her house (in non-COVID years)—but all the more reason she needs tools to help stay on top of everything.

And she does have a history of sweating the details around a user’s experience. In a lengthy interview I did with her in 2011, she talked about how she argued to make Gmail display “unfurled threaded” messages—not just group messages, but display the whole conversation at once. She made a successful case for what she called “infinite scroll” through the first thousand images that came up on Google image search. “I think it is important to not ask people to click too much and to basically go with the flow.” And she famously tested some 40 shades of blue to find a uniform color for Google’s offerings.

Put all that together in the hands of a busy entrepreneur, parent of three, and computer scientist, and of course she’s aiming at using AI to fix our address books. Sunshine promises that tools for scheduling and event organization will come next.

Here’s where the “nice” part comes in. First, the name. Who wouldn’t appreciate a little sunshine on these dark days? (Though I do wonder how much it cost to pick up the URL sunshine.com.)

Mayer certainly will try to make Sunshine a fun place to work. When Google’s first offices were just down the street from Sunshine’s digs, she organized regular Friday movie nights, and kept them going for some time after the company expanded. That will have to wait until after the pandemic, but in the meantime, there’s ice cream. Sunshine’s website reports “We like ice cream. We have it every Friday.” And while I rarely talk about fashion when covering tech, you can’t tell me that the peacock-print dress Mayer wears in some of the publicity photos isn’t intended to make a statement about company culture.

As for hiring, the company is currently looking for software engineers with expertise in Android apps, iOS apps, machine learning, systems, and security, to work via Google Hangouts and Zoom for now and in the company’s Palo Alto offices post-pandemic. Sunshine’s careers page states: “Above all, everyone on our team is smart, loves to learn, and is NICE. Because life is too short to spend time working with people who aren’t nice.”

And two photos on the website display a throw pillow with appliqued letters spelling out “Be nice or leave,” perhaps a warning to Mayer’s critics as well as future employees.

McMaster Engineering Grows Its Premier Program with Global Faculty Recruitment

Post Syndicated from McMaster Faculty of Engineering original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/mcmaster-engineering-grows-its-premier-program-with-global-faculty-recruitment

The Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., Canada is aiming to build on its ranking as one of the world’s top engineering schools by expanding its recruitment of both tenure-track and teaching track positions across multiple departments. This broad initiative is expected to continue the growth of McMaster as a leading destination for innovative teaching and research.

To support this growth and further develop McMaster Engineering’s longstanding strengths in research, innovation and graduate training, the positions being offered will include two Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC) and tenure-track positions, with specialization in the fields of micro-nano technology, smart systems, and bio-innovation.

“The rapid growth in the reputation of the Faculty of Engineering reflects our continuing focus on innovative research designed for impact and educating agile learners to become equipped to tackle our world’s greatest challenges,” says Ishwar K. Puri, McMaster’s dean of engineering.

In addition to successful applicants teaching both undergraduate and graduate level courses, they will also be expected to establish a strong externally-funded research program, supervise graduate students and foster existing or new collaborations with other departments and faculties.

“A range of perspectives leads to better insights and innovation, and our diverse and inclusive community is a key factor in our success. We welcome experts from around the world to be part of this next generation of growth and innovation in the Faculty of Engineering,” adds John Preston, McMaster Engineering’s associate dean, research and external relations.

The strength of McMaster Engineering has been its strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and an emphasis on research with impact.  This focus on R&D with real-world impact is demonstrated by how its research has scored in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in categories such as good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, and industry, innovation and infrastructure and climate action.

Earlier this year, McMaster ranked 17th in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and number one in Canada for good health and well-being and decent work and economic growth. The rankings recognize the important contributions universities make to their communities, countries and on an international scale.

In a combination of both its commitment to impactful research and collaboration, McMaster Engineering has also aimed at providing a supportive and inclusive environment that celebrates big ideas and commercialization while working with industry partners around the world to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

The Faculty’s mission to push the boundaries of discovery and innovation plays a significant role in helping McMaster University earn its reputation as one of Canada’s most innovative universities.

As Canada’s most research-intensive university, McMaster’s commitment to research continues to be reflected in its rankings. Most recently McMaster was named one of the world’s top 70 universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education rankings. As well, 14 academic disciplines at McMaster Engineering are ranked among the best in Canada by Shanghai Ranking.

Innovation extends to McMaster Engineering’s approach to education. In September 2020 after a two-year pilot, McMaster Engineering formally launched The Pivot, an historic $15 million initiative marking the largest transformation of the school’s curriculum, experiential learning and the classroom experience in the 62-year history of the Faculty.

This year, as part of The Pivot initiative, more than 1,100 first-year engineering students are experiencing the school’s new interactive course called Integrated Cornerstone Design Projects in Engineering. This novel course integrates concepts previously taught in four different courses into a single, seamless, project-based learning experience, allowing students to work in teams, design prototypes and solve real-world problems.

By transforming the engineering curriculum, reimagining the learning environment and amplifying experiential learning, The Pivot takes a project-based and experiential learning approach to developing future-ready graduates with design-thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets.

For more information on current opportunities within the Faculty of Engineering, view the postings here.

Prevent and Solve Common Test & Measurement Issues

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/prevent-and-solve-common-test-measurement-issues

With distance learning, students may not have a Professor nearby to help them setup and perform their labs. This leaves the student, the instruments and the device under test at risk. Share this troubleshooting flyer with your EE students to navigate some common issues.

Download Now

What We Lose When We Lose Museums

Post Syndicated from Allison Marsh original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/education/what-we-lose-when-we-lose-museums

It’s hard to overestimate the dire impact the pandemic is having on education. As clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks continue to pop up, kindergartens to graduate schools oscillate precariously between online, face to face, and hybrid instruction; administrators, educators, parents, and students struggle to plan and react.

But one important part of the education sector that hasn’t been getting much attention is the informal education that occurs outside the classroom, in museums, science and technology centers, and historic sites. These essential cultural institutions are in peril.

Consider the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, Calif. Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, was admirably early in facing the pandemic, issuing its first shelter-in-place order on 16 March. With that, CHM’s doors shut to the public, and they remain so nearly eight months later. In this time, the museum has pivoted to digital and virtual offerings: online events, interpretive videos, virtual educational experiences, essays, and blogs.

The museum is fortunate in that it has a robust endowment and generous individual donors, but the fact remains that it has lost one-third of its revenue due to being physically closed. A combination of pay cuts, the Paycheck Protection Program, and fundraising appeals have helped offset the losses so far. But curators still have extremely limited access to the museum facilities, so carrying out activities intended to build the collections and make them accessible remains a real challenge.

Things are far more dire at thousands of other museums. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the major professional association for museum staff and volunteers in the United States, released a report in June that found one-third of U.S. museums to be at significant risk of permanent closure in the next year and a half. Let that sink in for a minute. There are 33,000 museums in the United States. The people in the best position to know think that 11,000 of them could be gone by the end of 2021.

In a statement that resonated strongly with the AAM’s findings, John Dichtl, CEO of the American Association of State and Local History, issued this eloquent statement: “Without substantial assistance, many museums, historical societies, preservation organizations, and other institutions will likely close forever. Communities across the country will be left without anchor institutions that provide context for contemporary challenges.”

Why does that matter and why should you care?

Museums are cultural institutions entangled in the lives of towns and cities. Museums have the power to transport visitors beyond their day-to-day experience. They can push you out of your bubble and into a whole new world.

For adults, they provide important opportunities for lifelong learning. Years or decades after someone has finished their formal schooling, museums are the one consistent outlet where they can find well-researched exhibits and engaging public programs.

For children, museums offer a lively learning environment outside the classroom, one that can be fully immersive and experiential. “I have always loved science museums in particular—the interactive hands-on museums.… They just exude creativity,” Kathryn Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first U.S. woman to walk in space, said in a recent interview with the Computer History Museum.

Sullivan might be a bit biased. After her NASA career, she served as director of the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, and held the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Her career trajectory highlights the strong connection between museums and STEM education. Museums serve as powerful access points in our culture, Sullivan says, providing “engagement and understanding of nature or technology, or societal history, or natural history.”

Both of the authors of this post can also draw a line from our early museum visits to our current professions. Marsh began volunteering at the Science Museum of Virginia at the age of 14, and she went on to college internships at the Virginia Aviation Museum and the Franklin Institute.

Brock also shares a love of the Franklin Institute, especially the old mathematics gallery, and he often took his young daughters there, passing on to them a fascination with museums. The Air and Space Museum knocked his socks off when he was a kid, and he went there whenever he had the chance. Brock is now the Director of the Software History Center at the Computer History Museum; Marsh teaches history of technology and museum studies at the University of South Carolina.

Beyond their educational value, museums are also economic engines for their communities. In pre-pandemic days, museum-goers racked up more than 850 million visits to their favorite U.S. sites, which easily eclipsed the 483 million visits to all major league sporting events and amusement parks. Across the United States, museums employ more than 372,000 people directly and support an additional 325,000 jobs in the community, for roles such as exhibit design and fabrication, scriptwriting, and catering.

And yet, unlike other sectors of the economy, museums have been largely left to contend with the ongoing crisis on their own. Museums have had to share a tiny slice of the $2 trillion CARES Act funding—$200 million, or one ten-thousandth of the total—with other similarly shuttered performing arts institutions and libraries.

Do we as a society really value these vital cultural institutions, and the people who animate them, so little? How we choose to answer that question in the coming months, as the pandemic grinds on, may well determine the fate of thousands of museums across the United States.

About the Authors

David C. Brock is director of the Software History Center at the Computer History Museum. Allison Marsh is an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina and codirector of the university’s Ann Johnson Institute for Science, Technology & Society.

Are Electronic Media Any Good at Getting Out the Vote?

Post Syndicated from Steven Cherry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/podcast/at-work/education/are-electronic-media-any-good-at-getting-out-the-vote

Steven Cherry Hi, this is Steven Cherry for Radio Spectrum.

For some years and still today, there’s been a quiet but profound schism among political strategists. There are those who favor modern methods and modern media—mass mailings, robocalling, television advertising, and, increasingly, social-media advertising. On the other hand are those, including my guest today, who not only still see a value in traditional person-to-person messaging, but see it as, frequently, the better bang for the campaign buck.

Just last week [this was recorded Oct 5, 2020—Ed.] the attorney general of Michigan— a state that has been a battleground, not just for electoral delegates, but this methodological dispute—announced that two political operatives were charged with felonies in connection with robocalls that made a number of false claims about the risks of voting by mail, in an apparent attempt to discourage residents of Detroit from voting by mail. And last week as well, the Biden campaign announced a complete turnaround on the question of door-to-door canvassing, perhaps the gold standard of person-to-person political campaigning. Are they perhaps afraid of Democratic standard-bearers making the same mistake twice?

In the endless post-mortem of the 2016 Presidential election, an article in Politico argued that the Clinton campaign was too data-driven and model-driven, and refused local requests, especially in Michigan, for boots-on-the-ground support. It quoted a longtime political hand in Michigan as describing quote “months of failed attempts to get attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials.”

I confess I saw something of that phenomenon on a recent Saturday. I’m living in Pittsburgh these days, and in the morning, I worked a Pennsylvania-based phone bank for my preferred political party. One of my first calls was to someone in the Philadelphia area, who told me he had already made his absentee ballot request and asked, while he had me on the phone, when his ballot would come. “There used to be someone around here I forget what you call her but someone I could ask stuff of.” That was strike one.

In another call, to a man in the Erie area, the conversation turned to yard signs. He said he would like to put one out but he had no idea where to get it. Strike two. In the late afternoon, two of us went to a neighborhood near us to put out door-hangers, and if we saw someone face-to-face we would ask if they wanted a yard sign. One fellow said he would. “We were supposed to get one,” he told us. When he saw we had a stack of them in our car, he sheepishly added, “We were supposed to get two in fact, one for a friend.” That was my third indication in one day that there was a lack of political party involvement at the very local level—in three different parts of what could well be the most critical swing state of the 2020 Presidential election.

When I strung these three moments together over a beer, my partner immediately thought of a book she owned, Get Out the Vote, now in its fourth edition. Its authors, Donald Green and Alan Gerber, argue that political consultants and campaign managers have underappreciated boots-on-the-ground canvassing in person and on the phone, in favor of less personal, more easily-scaled methods—radio and TV advertising, robocalling, mass mailings, and the like.

Of particular interest, they base their case with real data, based on experimental research. The first edition of their book described a few dozen such experiments; their new edition, they say, summarizes hundreds.

One of those authors is Donald Green, a political scientist at Columbia University focusing on such issues as voting behavior and partisanship, and most importantly, methodologies for studying politics and elections. His teaching career started at Yale University, where he directed its Institution for Social and Policy Studies. He joins us via Skype.

Steven Cherry Don, welcome to the podcast.

Donald Green Thank you very much for having me.

Steven Cherry Modern campaigns can employ an army of advisers, consultants, direct mail specialists, phone bank vendors, and on and on. You say that much of the advice candidates get from these professionals comes from war stories and not evidence. Robocalls seem to be one example of that. The study of a 2006 Texas primary found that 65 000 calls for one candidate increased his vote share by about two votes.

Donald Green Yes, the robocalls have an almost perfect record of never working in randomized trials. These are trials in which we randomly assigned some voters to get a robocall and others not and allow the campaign to give it its best shot with the best possible robocall. And then at the end of the election, we look at voter turnout records to see who voted. And in that particular case, the results were rather dismal. But not just in that case. I think that there have been more than 10 such large-scale experiments, and it’s hard to think of an instance in which they’ve performed well.

Steven Cherry The two robocallers in Michigan allegedly made 12 000 calls into Detroit, which is majority black—85 000 calls in total to there and similar areas in other cities. According to a report in the Associated Press, calls falsely claimed that voting by mail would result in personal information going into databases that will be used by police to resolve old warrants, credit card companies to collect debts, and federal officials to track mandatory vaccines. It quoted the calls as saying, “Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to The Man. Beware of vote-by-mail.” You’ve studied plenty of affirmative campaigns, that is, attempts to increase voter participation. Do you have any thoughts about this negative robocalling?

Donald Green Well, that certainly seems like a clear case of attempted voter suppression—to try to scare people away from voting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. I haven’t heard the call. I’d be curious to know something about the voiceover that was used. But let’s suppose that it seemed credible. You know, the question is whether people take it seriously enough or whether they questioned the content, maybe talking to others in ways that undercut its effectiveness. But if robocalls seldom work, it’s probably because people just don’t notice them. Not sure whether this one would potentially work because it would get somebody to notice at any rate. We don’t know how effective it would be. I suspect not terribly effective, but probably effective enough to be concerning.

Steven Cherry Yeah, it was noticed enough that complaints about it filtered up to the state attorney general, but that doesn’t give us any quantitative data.

For decades, campaigns have spent a lot of their money on television advertising. And it can influence strategy. To take just one example, there’s a debate among Democrats about whether their candidate should invest in Texas because there’s so many big media markets. It’s a very expensive state to contest. What does the experimental data tell us about television?

Donald Green Experience on television is relatively rare. One that I’m most familiar with is one that actually I helped conduct with my three coauthors back when we were studying the Texans for Rick Perry campaign in 2006. We randomly assigned 18 of the 20 media markets in Texas to receive varying amounts of TV advertising, and various timings at which point it would be rolled out. And we conducted daily tracking polls to see the extent to which public opinion moved as ads rolled out in various media markets. And what we found was there was some effect of Rick Perry’s advertising campaign, but it subsided very quickly. Only a few days passed before it was essentially gone without a trace, which means that one can burn quite a lot of money for a relatively evanescent effect in terms of the campaign. I really don’t think that there’s much evidence that the very, very large amounts of money that are spent on television in the context of a presidential campaign have any lasting effect. And so it’s really an open question as to whether, say, the $300 million dollars that the Clinton campaign spent in 2016 would have been better spent least as well spent on the ground.

Steven Cherry In contrast to war stories, you and your colleagues conduct true randomized experiments. Maybe you could say a little bit more about how hard that is to do in the middle of an election.

Yes, it’s a juggling act for sure. The idea is, if we wanted to study, for example, the effects of direct mail on voter turnout, one would randomly assign large lists of registered voters, some to get the mail, some to be left alone. And then we’d use the fact that voting is a public record in the United States—and a few other countries as well—to gauge voter turnout after the election is over. This is often unsatisfactory for campaigns. They want to know the answer ahead of time. But first, we know no good way of answering the question before people actually cast their ballots. And so this is something that’s been done in increasing numbers since 1998. And now hundreds of those trials have been done on everything ranging from radio, robocalls, TV, direct mail, phone calls, social media, etc, etc.

Steven Cherry One thing you would expect campaign professionals to have data on is cost-effectiveness, but apparently they don’t. But you do. You’ve found, for example, that you can generate the same 200 votes with a quarter of a million robocalls, 38 000 mailers, or 2500 door-to-door conversations.

Donald Green Yes, we try to not only gauge the effects of the intervention through randomized trials but also try to figure out what that amounts to in terms of dollars per vote. And these kinds of calculations are always going to be context-dependent because some campaigns are able to rely on inexpensive people power, to inspire volunteers in vast numbers. And so in some sense, the costs that we estimate could be greatly overstated for the kinds of boots-on-the-ground canvassing that are typical of presidential elections in battleground states. Nevertheless, I think that it is interesting to note that even with relatively cautious calculations, to the effect that people are getting $16 an hour for canvassing, canvassing still acquits itself rather well in terms of its comparisons to other campaign tactics.

Steven Cherry Now that’s just for turnout, not votes for one candidate instead of another; a nonpartisan good-government group might be interested in turnout for its own sake, but a campaign wants a higher turnout of its own voters. How does it make that leap?

Donald Green Well, typically what they do is rely on voter files—and augmented voter files, which is, say, voter files that had other information about people appended to them—in order to make an educated guess about which people on the voter file are likely to be supportive of their own campaign. So Biden supporters have been micro-targeted and so have Trump supporters and so on and so forth, based on their history of donating to campaigns or signing petitions or showing up in party primaries. And that makes the job of the campaign much easier because instead of trying to persuade people or win them over from the other side, they’re trying to bring a bigger army to the battlefield by building up enthusiasm and mobilizing their own core supporters. So the ideal for that kind of campaign is a person who is very strongly aligned with the candidate that is sponsoring the campaign but has a low propensity of voting. And so that that kind of person is really perfect for a mobilization campaign.

So that could also be done demographically. I mean, there are zip codes in Detroit that are 80 percent black.

Donald Green Yes, there are lots of ways of doing this based on aggregates. No, you often don’t have to rely on aggregates because you typically have information about each person. But if you were to basically do it, say, precinct by precinct, you could use as proxies for the left—percentage-African-American—or proxies for the right demographics that are associated with Trump voting. So it’s possible to do it, but it’s probably not state of the art.

Steven Cherry You mentioned door-to-door canvassing; it increases turnout but—perhaps counterintuitively—apparently, it doesn’t matter much whether it’s a close contest or a likely blowout, and if it doesn’t matter what the canvasser’s message is.

Donald Green This is one of the most interesting things, actually about studying canvassing and other kinds of tactics experimentally. It appears that some of the most important communication at the door is nonverbal. You know, you show up at my door, and I wonder what you’re up to—are you trying to sell me something, trying to, you know, make your way in here? I figure, oh, actually you’re just having a pleasant conversation. You’re a person like me. You’re taking your time out to encourage me to vote. Well, that sounds okay. And I think that that message is probably the thing that sticks with people, perhaps more than the details of what you’re trying to say to me about the campaign or the particularities about why I should vote—should I vote because it’s my civic duty or should I vote because I need to stand up in solidarity with my community? Those kinds of nuances don’t seem to matter as much as we might suppose.

Steven Cherry So it seems reminiscent of what the sociologists would call a Hawthorne effect.

Donald Green Some of it is reminiscent of the Hawthorne effect. The Hawthorne effect is basically, we increase our productivity when we’re being watched. And so there’s some sense in which being monitored, being encouraged by another person makes us feel as though we’ve got to give a bit more effort. So there’s a bit of that. But I think partly what’s going on is voting is a social activity. And just as you’re more likely to go to a party if you were invited by a person as opposed to by e-mail. So too, you’re more likely to show up to vote if somebody makes an authentic, heartfelt appeal to you and encourages you to vote in-person or through something that’s very much like in-person. So it’s some gathering or some friend to friend communication as opposed to something impersonal, like you get a postcard.

Steven Cherry So without looking into the details of the Biden campaign flip-flop on door-to-door canvassing, your hunch would be that they’re making the right move?

Donald Green Yes, I think so. I mean, putting aside the other kinds of normative concerns about whether people are at risk if they get up and go out to canvass or they’re putting others at risk … In terms of the raw politics of winning votes, it’s a good idea in part because in 2018, they were able to field an enormous army of very committed activists in many of the closely contested congressional elections and showed apparently very good, good results. And the tactic itself is so well tested that if they can do it with appropriate PPE and precautions, they could be quite effective.

Steven Cherry In your research you found by contrast, door-hangers and yard signs—the way I spent that Saturday afternoon I described—have little or maybe even no utility.

Donald Green Well, yard signs might have some utility to candidates, especially down-ballot candidates who are trying to increase their vote share. It doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on voter turnout. Maybe that’s because the election is already in full swing and everybody knows that there’s an election coming up—the yard sign isn’t going to convey any new information. But I do think the door hangers have some residual effect. They’re probably about as effective as a leaflet or a mailer, which is not very effective, but maybe a smidge better than zero.

Steven Cherry You’re more positive on phone banks, albeit with some qualifiers.

Donald Green Yes, I think that phone banking, especially authentic volunteer-staffed phone banking, can be rather effective. You know, I think that if you have an unhurried conversation with someone who is basically like-minded. They’re presumably targeted because they’re someone who shares more or less your political outlook and you bring them around to explain to them why it’s an important and historic election, giving them any guidance you can about when and how to vote. You can have an effect. It’s not an enormous effect. It’s something in the order of, say, three percentage points or about one additional vote for every 30 calls you complete. But it’s a substantial effect.

And if you are able to extract a commitment to vote from that person and you were to be so bold as to call them back on the day before the election to make sure that they’re making good on their pledge, then you can have an even bigger effect, in fact, a very large effect. So I do think it can be effective. I also think that perfunctory, hurried calls by telemarketing operations are rather ineffective for a number of reasons, but especially the lack of authenticity.

Steven Cherry Let’s turn to social media, particularly Facebook. You described one rather pointless Facebook campaign that ended up costing $474 per vote. But your book also describes a very successful experiment in friend-to-friend communication on Facebook.

Donald Green That’s right. We have a number of randomized trials suggesting that encouragements to vote via Facebook ads or other kinds of Facebook media that are mass-produced seem to be relatively limited in their effects. Perhaps the biggest, most intensive Facebook advertising campaign was its full-day banner ads that ran all day long—I think it was the 2010 election—and had precisely no effect, even though it was tested among 61 million people.

More effective on Facebook were ads that showed you whether your Facebook friends had claimed to vote. Now, that didn’t produce a huge harvest of votes, but it increased turnout by about a third of a percentage point. So better than nothing. The big effects you see on Facebook and elsewhere are where people are, in a personalized way, announcing the importance of the upcoming election and urging their Facebook friends—their own social networks—to vote.

And that seems to be rather effective and indeed is part of a larger literature that’s now coming to light, suggesting that even text messaging, though not a particularly personal form of communication, is quite effective when friends are texting other friends about the importance of registering and voting. Surprisingly effective, and that, I think, opens up the door to a wide array of different theories about what can be done to increase voter turnout. It seems as though friend-to-friend communication or neighbor-to-neighbor communication or communication among people who are coworkers or co-congregants … that could be the key to raising turnout—not by not just one or two percentage points, but more like eight to 10.

Steven Cherry On this continuum of personal versus impersonal, Facebook groups,—which are a new phenomenon—seem to lie somewhere in between. Some people are calling them “toxic echo chambers,” but they would seem to maybe be a godsend for political engagement.

Donald Green I would think so, as long as the communication within the groups is authentic. If it’s if it’s automated, then probably not so much. But to the extent that the people in these groups have gotten to know each other or knew each other before they came into the group, then I think communication among them or between them could be quite compelling.

Steven Cherry Yes. Although, of course, that person that you think you’re getting to know might be some employee in St. Petersburg, Russia, of the Internet Research Agency. Snapchat has been getting some attention these days in terms of political advertising. They’ve tried to be more transparent than Facebook, and they do some fact-checking on political advertising. Could it be a better platform for political ads or engagement?

Donald Green I realize I just don’t know very much about the nuances of what they’re doing. I’m not sure that I have enough information to say.

Steven Cherry Getting back to more analog activities, your book discusses events like rallies and processions, but I didn’t see anything about smaller coffee-klatch-style events where, say, you invite all your neighbors and friends to hear a local candidate speak. That would seem to combine the effectiveness of door-to-door canvassing with the Facebook friend-to-friend campaign. But maybe it’s hard to study experimentally.

Donald Green That’s right. I would be very, very optimistic about the effects of those kinds of small gatherings. And it’s not that we are skeptical about their effects. It’s just, as you say, difficult to orchestrate a lot of experiments where people are basically opening their homes to friends. We need to talk to rope in more volunteers to bring in their friends experimentally.

Steven Cherry The business model for some campaign professionals is to get paid relative to the amount of money that gets spent. Does that disincentivize the kind of person-to-person campaigning you generally favor?

Donald Green Yes, I would say that one of the biggest limiting factors on person-to-person campaigning is that it’s very difficult for campaign consultants to make serious money off of it. And that goes double for the kind of serious money that is poured into campaigns in the final weeks. Huge amounts of money tend to be donated within the last three weeks of an election. And by that point, it’s very difficult to build the infrastructure necessary for large-scale canvassing or really any kind of retail-type politics. For that reason, the last-minute money tends to be dumped into digital ads and in television advertising—and in lots and lots of robocalls.

Steven Cherry Don, as we record, this is less than a week after the first 2020 presidential debate and other events in the political news have maybe superseded the debate already. But I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about it in terms of getting out the vote. Many people, I have to say, myself included, found the debate disappointing. Do you think it’s possible for a debate to depress voter participation?

Donald Green I think it’s possible. I think it’s rather unlikely to the extent that political science researchers have argued that negative campaigning depresses turnout, tends to depress turnout among independent voters, not so much among committed partisans who watched the debate and realize more than ever that their opponent is aligned with the forces of evil. For independent voters, they might say, “a plague on both your houses, I’m going to participate.” But I think that this particular election is one that is so intrinsically interesting that the usual way that independents feel about partisan competition probably doesn’t apply here.

Steven Cherry On a lighter note, an upcoming podcast episode for me will be about video game culture. And it’ll be with a professor of communications who writes her own video games for her classes. Your hobby turns out to be designing board games. Are they oriented toward political science? Is there any overlap of these passions?

Donald Green You know, it’s strange that they really don’t overlap at all. My interest in board games goes back to when I was a child. I’ve always been passionate about abstract board games like chess or go. And there was an accident that I started to design them myself. I did it actually when my fully-adult children were kids and we were playing with construction toys. And I began to see possibilities for games in those construction toys. And one thing led to another. And they were actually deployed to the world and marketed. And now I think they’re kind of going the way of the dinosaur. But there’s still a few dinosaurs like me who enjoy playing on an actual physical board.

Steven Cherry My girlfriend and I still play Rack-O. So maybe this is not a completely lost cause.

Well Don, I think in the US, everyone’s thoughts will be far from the election until the counting stops. Opinions and loyalties differ. But the one thing I think we can all agree on is that participation is essential for the health of the body politic. On behalf of all voters, let me thank you for all that your book has done toward that end and for myself and my listeners, thank you for joining me today.

Donald Green I very much appreciate it. Thanks.

Steven Cherry We’ve been speaking with Donald Green, a political scientist and co-author of Get Out the Vote, which takes a data-driven look at maximizing efforts to get out the vote.

This interview was recorded October 5th, 2020. Our thanks to Mike at Gotham Podcast Studio for audio engineering. Our music is by Chad Crouch.

Radio Spectrum is brought to you by IEEE Spectrum, the member magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

For Radio Spectrum, I’m Steven Cherry.

Note: Transcripts are created for the convenience of our readers and listeners. The authoritative record of IEEE Spectrum’s audio programming is the audio version.

We welcome your comments on Twitter (@RadioSpectrum1 and @IEEESpectrum) and Facebook.

Should the DoD’s Tech Professionals Work From Home—Permanently?

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/tech-careers/should-the-dods-tech-professionals-work-from-homepermanently

With tech companies announcing plans to continue allowing—and even encouraging—employees to work remotely beyond the end of the pandemic, the U.S. Defense Innovation Board has urged the Department of Defense to improve its own work from home policies.

In a September report, the board, an advisory committee to the Secretary of Defense, pointed out that the DoD “has traditionally struggled to compete for digital talent,” and “the emerging work from home norm creates an opening for the Department to either adapt and narrow the gap or fall further behind in competing for top-notch technical talent.”

Right now, the Department of Defense is allowing some employees to work remotely, using standard remote collaboration tools with an extra layer of security, but has not decided whether use of these tools will be permitted after workers return to the office. The Defense Innovation Board’s report argues that not only should these tools be preserved, but the use of such tools, along with accompanying infrastructure upgrades, should be expanded. Embracing remote work permanently would, the report claims, allow the DoD to hire a “more agile, diverse, and distributed workforce.”

In addition to urging the DoD to follow in the footsteps of commercial tech employers, the Defense Innovation Board made a few suggestions that I haven’t seen coming from tech businesses, and which those firms might want to embrace in return.

For one, the Board suggested that the DoD create “a nationwide network of dedicated co-working or shared workspaces” for remote work. This, it suggested, might be a way of handling classified work in a more distributed fashion, but it also could be a way for businesses to better fulfill the desires of employees to live wherever they want, but work some number of days each week at home and some in an office.

In another suggestion, the Board urged that, as part of an effort to change the culture around remote work, that senior DoD leaders “should commit to periodically working from home to model behavior, norms, and expectations around performance and presence; this will also create a demand for IT capabilities to remain up-to-date and not atrophy.”


When User Experience Means Life or Death

Post Syndicated from Daniel P. Dern original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/tech-careers/when-user-experience-means-life-or-death

For kidney patients who do their own dialysis at home, nurses must review information data gathered during a treatment session. “These nurses need to know quickly when there is a problem like peritonitis, which can kill a patient in a day—but not be overwhelmed with alerts and messages,” says Merryl Gross, an information architect and senior UX Designer for Fresenius Medical Care North America. The company’s Web-based software for clinics and nurses who are responsible for dialysis and other services needs to be carefully crafted. It has to display information in a way that draws nurses’ attention to both immediate and long-term problems, without being confusing or overwhelming.

“Basically [it’s] applying human psychology to the design of made objects,” says Gross. “Different fields have their own names for this,” Gross notes. “When it’s a control panel in an airplane cockpit, we call it human-factors engineering. When it’s software, we call it usability and user experience (UX).”

Gross started on her path by taking an elective course in human factors as an MIT undergraduate in the early 1980s. Field trips included visits to the control tower at Boston’s Logan Airport and the control room in New Hampshire’s Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant—places where rapid, correct responses by staff are critical.

The high stakes force clear, if sometimes surprising, interface decisions. “We saw where one power plant had replaced the numbered levers for the control rods with levers from beer taps,” recalls Gross. “It meant that if there was an emergency requiring quick action, instead of yelling ‘Drop lever No. Six!,’ which could take a new—or stressed—employee several seconds to identify, they could yell ‘Drop the Coors lever!,’ which even a new employee could locate instantly.”

After graduating from MIT, “I did human-factors engineering at Telephonics, designing control panels for radios for military and aviation use…. But after a year, I decided that to do more of the human-factors parts I needed a master’s degree, so I went to Tufts and got my master’s in engineering psychology.”

From there, Gross went on to work on the UX aspect of software design at companies including IBM, SilverPlatter, IDX Systems, and GE Healthcare, which, as software architectures evolved, brought her to working on software as a service (SaaS) and Web apps.

For people interested in a UX design role, Gross says, “You can start with a subspecialty like usability testing, then add, like, information architecture or interaction design to broaden your focus.” Someone with coding experience “may be able to start as a UI designer.” Or, Gross says, “You could go the graphic artist route, if a company needs controls designed as part of the work. If you do technical writing, there are UI writers who do the text parts of user interfaces.”

She also suggests some skills that it’s good to have in your portfolio: “Wireframing, ideation, conducting iterative design reviews, usability testing, and creating functional specifications.” For specific software tools, Gross recommends getting experience with “Adobe XD, Sketch, Balsamiq, or other wireframing tools; outlining and flow tools like Overflow or [Microsoft] Visio; and collaboration tools like InVision or Miro.”

In addition to traditional job listings, Gross suggests looking at specialty recruiters like Clear/Point Staffing Consultants for those interested in UX. But she warns, “Beware of any listing that asks for someone to wireframe, design, and code the entire front end—that’s a place that doesn’t know what they need.”

This article appears in the November 2020 print issue as “Merryl Gross, Information Architect.”

Banking, Cash, and the Future of Money

Post Syndicated from Steven Cherry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/podcast/at-work/innovation/banking-cash-and-the-future-of-money

Steven Cherry Hi this Steven Cherry for Radio Spectrum.

We’re used to the idea of gold and silver being used as money, but in the in the 1600s, Sweden didn’t have a lot of gold and silver—not enough to sustain its economy. The Swedes had a lot of copper, though, so that’s what they used for their money. Copper isn’t really great for the job—it’s not nearly scarce enough—so Swedish coins were big—the largest denomination weighed fortythree pounds and people carried them to market on their backs. So the Swedes created a bank that gave people paper money in exchange for giant copper coins.

The Swedes weren’t the first to create paper money—they missed that mark by about several hundred years. Nor will they likely be the first to get rid of paper money, though they may have the lead in that race. A few years ago, banks there started to refuse cash deposits and to allow cash withdrawals, until a law was passed requiring them to do so.

A new book about the history and future of money has just come out, imaginatively titled, Money. It’s not specifically about Sweden—in fact, those are the only two times Sweden comes up. It’s about money itself, and how it has changed wildly across time and geography—from Greek city-states in 600 B.C. to China in the eighth century and Kublai Khan in the thirteenth, to Amsterdam in the seventeenth, Paris during the Enlightenment, and the U.S. in the nineteenth century and cyberspace in the twenty-first.

It’s a wild ride that the world is still in the middle of, and it’s told in a thoroughly researched but thoroughly entertaining, and I mean laugh-out-loud entertaining, literally—I had to finish the book last night downstairs on the couch—told as a series of stories by one of radio’s great storytellers. Jacob Goldstein was a newspaper reporter before joining National Public Radio’s popular show, Planet Money, which he currently co-hosts, and he’s the author of the destined-to-be popular tome, Money, newly minted by Hachette Books. And he’s my guest today. He joins us via Skype.

Jacob, welcome to the podcast.

Jacob Goldstein Thanks so much for having me. And thank you for that very kind and generous introduction.

Steven Cherry Jacob wasn’t fair to the title of the book, and I wasn’t entirely fair—

Jacob Goldstein I didn’t want to be petty, but that thought crossed my mind—.

Steven Cherry —and I wasn’t entirely fair about what the book is about. The full title is Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing, which hints at what I take your book’s thesis to be: Money is whatever we trust for the exchange of goods and services. Money is whatever we trust to be money.

Jacob Goldstein That’s right. And, you know, I’m not sure like on one level, I worry that that’s a little bit obvious. But I do think there is this thing that happens. And it was quite striking to me as I was doing the research for the book. And that is in whatever period people are living in, whatever monetary regime, they—we—seem to think that whatever we’re doing as money, whatever we’re using for money, however we’re doing money, is like some kind of natural law. It’s like the way money must be is the way we’re doing it now. And everything else is just crazy or weird. And the point I was trying to make in the subtitle of the book is That is not so. Right? We are constantly inventing and reinventing money. And, you know, it has changed many times in the past and it will continue to change in the future.

Steven Cherry We can’t tell the whole story of money here in 20 or 30 minutes. But let’s touch on the history in order to understand some of the things you say about its future. You say that it’s easy to think of money as growing out of a barter economy, but there has never been a barter economy. We went straight from more or less self-sufficiency, maybe augmented by status-seeking gifting, to empowering cowrie shells and other things as a way to store value over time—a kind of proto-money.

Jacob Goldstein Yes. So the piece about barter is really to refute this kind of standard historical story of money. For a long time the set-piece story about the origin of money was it’s very inconvenient to barter, right, because for you and I to trade—to do business with each other, whatever—you have to have what I want and I have to have what you want. But if we could just have some intermediate thing—some piece of silver, a dollar bill—that would solve the problem. Which is a very tidy story. But anthropologists in the 20th century started raising their hands and saying, sorry, economists, it just doesn’t appear that the world works that way. And what they described instead is a much more, I don’t know if organic is the right word, a much more social kind of construction of money where you have lots of small nonindustrial societies with lots of rules about giving and getting. And what you have to give somebody’s family if you’re going to marry them or somebody’s family if you killed somebody in their family. And those kinds of norms really seem to be the roots of money.

Steven Cherry You look at the history of the world, the beginnings of money, and kind of summarized things by saying the first writers weren’t poets, they were accountants, which as a writer, I find a sobering thought and you must too.

Jacob Goldstein I mean, I respect accountants. I feel like they do something very useful. Let’s not be too highfalutin.

I respect accountants, like, I respect them more now that, you know, now that I’ve written the book. That period that is Mesopotamia, essentially the classic cradle of civilization several thousand years ago, and what happened there, apparently, obviously, it’s a long time ago…. But what seems to have happened there is people initially would give each other like a clay sort of ball with maybe a cone in it or a ball, a sphere in it as like an IOU. So I would give you a clay ball with a cone in it. And that would mean, I don’t know, I owe you six sheep. And then from there, people were like, wait a minute, maybe we don’t have to put a little cone inside the ball. What if we just pressed it into the clay on the outside? And the notion is that, that is proto-writing. And then these cities start to spring up, the civilization gets more complex, and you get this essentially class of accountants who are working at the temple—which is kind of like a temple/city-hall—and they develop Cuneiform. They develop the first kind of writing, which is making marks in clay tablets, basically to keep the ledgers of the temple of the city-state.

Steven Cherry In the 5000-year history of money, the gold standard takes up three percent of that time. But it’s a pretty important century and a half and it still influences how we think of money. So maybe tell us how it began.

Jacob Goldstein I think you’re right. I think it does. Gold and silver were money for quite a long time, for thousands of years. But when economists use the phrase the gold standard, then in this very particular period of time from, what, 1830-ish, give or take a few years, to basically the 1930s—that century-ish.

And what happened was, it started in Britain, which was the most important economy of the world. And lots of countries had sort of used gold and silver and kind of gone back-and-forth. And it’s hard to have two different metals as money because their values can change. So Britain feels like, all right, we’re just going to be on the gold standard. And because Britain was so important, lots of people followed them. The 19th century, as it progressed, was this first great wave of globalization. Lots of other countries followed onto the gold standard. And so that by the end of the 19th century, most of the major economies of the world were on this kind of uniform gold standard.

Steven Cherry Yeah, I said a century and a half because we officially went off the gold standard in the 1970s, but it was really barely more than a century: Even before we officially went off the gold standard, you say FDR, in 1933, for all intents and purposes, took us off it.

Yes, the depression was really the big turn. And I think, you know, just this year, 1933 is an incredibly momentous year in the history of money. So what’s happening is, the Depression, obviously. And people didn’t realize it at the time—and I feel like the vernacular version of the story doesn’t really include this fact—but a core problem with the depression, maybe the core problem with the depression, was the gold standard. And that—among economists now—is not controversial. That’s what everybody thinks. And what happened was, you know, there was this crash in 1929 of the stock market and the economy started to plunge.

And, you know, now what happens when there’s a crash and the economy starts to plunge, is the Federal Reserve, the central bank, can essentially create more money and make it easier for people who are in debt to stay afloat—make it easier for businesses that are in trouble to stay open. But that was not the case then. It was, under the gold standard, the Federal Reserve wound up doing essentially the opposite. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates, which took up a bad crash and turned it into the Great Depression. And that sent prices falling and banks collapsing.

And so Roosevelt gets elected in ’32, takes office in ’33, and he, against the advice of almost all of his advisors who tell him that going off the gold standard will mean, quote, “the end of Western civilization,” basically goes off the gold standard. He says, you know, the key rule under the gold standard is a dollar is worth a fixed amount of gold or a fixed amount of gold is worth a dollar. It was like 20 dollars and change got you an ounce of gold. And that had been the case decade after decade. He’s like, we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to do that. A dollar is going to get you less gold than it used to. And that is why I say and most people say he was really the one who took us off the gold standard. And I should say ’33, when he did that, was when the Depression started to get better. Now, clearly, it didn’t get all better until WWII, but very clearly the turn things are going down before then and they start going up after them. And it’s true in many countries, as each country goes off the gold standard you see each country starting to get better from the depths of the Depression. Now, for a few decades after that, to your point, it was true that ordinary people could no longer exchange dollars for a fixed amount of gold, but other countries could change their currency for dollars and then other countries could change dollars for a fixed amount of gold. But that was basically a formality. And Nixon ended that formality in ’70 or ’71.

Steven Cherry One of the great things about your book is, I thought I knew the story of the gold standard and William Jennings Bryan and the Cross of Gold, and you tell that story, too. But then you come along with something really interesting and crazy, like the story of Irving Fisher, who you describe as a Yale economist, a health food zealot, a Prohibitionist, and a fitness guru who filled a floor of his New Haven mansion with exercise equipment. It turns out when he wasn’t exercising and making his hapless employees join him, he devoted much of his life to trying to untie our idea of money to gold and instead to something a little bit more like the Consumer Price Index? Tell us about the money illusion.

Jacob Goldstein Sure. I’m glad you like Irving Fisher. I love Irving Fisher. You know, I had been covering economics for, I don’t know, 10 years. When I wrote this book and I didn’t really know about Fisher. I feel like he has largely been forgotten, in part because in 1929 he said the stock market was on a permanently high plateau, like, two weeks before the market crash. So bad investing advice, but great economist. OK, the money illusion. So the money illusion was this idea that he articulated that is really very resonant today. And the basic idea of the money illusion is we get confused by inflation and deflation. So a simple example is, you know, if you if your parents say they bought their house, whatever, 40 years ago and they paid $100,000 for it and they sold it this year and they got $400,000 for it, they might think, great, I made, you know, $300,000. I made 4x my investment—I did great on that house. In fact, they are wrong—because of inflation. Right? Because $400,000 today buys you less than $100,000 bought 40 or 50 years ago. It may be semi-obvious in that case, but that kind of misunderstanding creates a lot of problems. It was one of the problems in the Depression, when you had deflation, when you had prices falling by like 30 percent. And it’s very hard for people to take like a wage cut of 30 percent, even though the stuff they buy gets 30 percent cheaper. So they end up—businesses end up laying off workers. So this idea that we are confused by inflation and deflation is really important. And it is, frankly, a big part of the reason that the Federal Reserve today tries to maintain this low, steady, two-percent rate of inflation.

Steven Cherry You describe the travails of the euro. How it miraculously worked for a while and how it stopped miraculously working. It seems it failed in some of the same way as the gold standard itself, even though everyone was off it.

Jacob Goldstein Yeah, that’s really insightful. That is correct. And in some ways, it is, in fact, quite similar. One of the fundamental features of the international gold standard that, you know, high 19th-century gold standard was because each currency was fixed to a set amount of gold. It also meant that each currency’s relationship to every other currency was the same. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but if one dollar get to four pounds today, one dollar will get you four pounds forever. Everything is in the same relationship. And the euro effectively did that to all of the countries in Europe.

It meant that the money in Greece was the same value as the money in Germany as the money in Italy, as the money in France. And that is okay when everybody is doing fine—or badly. But when the economies diverge, when, say, Germany is doing great and Greece is doing really badly, that is actually quite bad. You know, when the currencies are separate and they diverge, then Greece, if it had its own drachma, can say, oh, we need to wait, we need to put some more money in the system. We need to make it easier for people to borrow, so that, you know, we can get unemployment down. Business will invest and hire. But when Greece gave up the drachma and joined the euro, they lost the ability to do that. And so in the same way that under the gold standard, all these countries are linked together, under the euro, all these countries are linked together.

Steven Cherry You point out that America is a confederation of states, but we don’t treat Arizona the same way the Europeans treated Greece. And in fact, this was anticipated. The chancellor of Germany at the time said we need to either be politically unified as well as fiscally, or neither.

Jacob Goldstein That’s right. And I think that is still an open question. I mean, I think in the long run for the euro to survive. Europe, the eurozone needs to become more like a United States of Europe. And interestingly, they do seem slowly to be moving in that direction. This year in response to the pandemic and the economic crisis that went with it, the E.U. authorized borrowing at the EU level. A lot of money. So that is a new thing. And that is more like being a single country. Like in the US, the federal government borrows trillions of dollars and sends that money to people in Arizona and in Florida and in Maine. And that is now what the European Union in a smaller way is starting to do. So they do seem to be moving in that direction. And it does seem like in the long run, they either got to be a lot more like one country or give up on sharing a currency.

Steven Cherry The first time I saw a millennial pay for a cup of coffee with a credit card, I was shocked, but now I do it myself.

Jacob Goldstein Do you mean the phone—use the phone? It’s pretty good.

Steven Cherry That that day is coming.

Jacob Goldstein Okay.

Steven Cherry I mentioned, early on, the Swedes working their way toward ending cash and they’re not alone. Is that something you foresee?

Jacob Goldstein I mean, it seems like in the long run it will happen, right? I don’t think I have super insight into what’s going to happen, but it certainly seems directionally like that is the way we’re going. One interesting countervailing trend is the fact that more and more paper money is going out into the world. Even if you account for the growth of the economy, the amount of paper dollars in the world is growing faster than the economy.

Now, there is a gap between what we do in our everyday lives, which is pay for a cup of coffee with a credit card or our iPhone and what’s going on with paper money. A lot of that paper money is hundred-dollar bills. There are more hundred-dollar bills than one-dollar bills. You know, there’s like, 40 hundred-dollar bills for every man, woman, and child in America. And pretty clearly, a lot of that is just crime.

Paper money is really good for crime or tax evasion, which is crime. Some of it is, you know, people in other countries where the banks are not stable, the currency is not stable, they’re holding hundreds. So that is not a crime. This economist, Ken Rogoff, has said we should get rid of big bills, but I don’t know. I mean, sure, in the long run, I suppose cash will go away.

You know, there are a lot of people who don’t have bank accounts. And so, you know, a standard refrain is the end of cash would be bad for those people. And that is true. But it’s also worth pointing out that it is bad for them now not to have a bank account. If you don’t have a bank account, you tend to get screwed. You have to carry cash on you, which is not safe. You have to go to a check-cashing store. You have to pay a high fee. So like the problem of people not having bank accounts gets lumped into the problem of not having cash. But that’s a problem in either world and it’s a problem. You know, the government could solve that by giving people bank accounts or debit cards. So that seems like a solvable problem that’s often lumped in with the end of the cash. It seems worth solving on its own.

Steven Cherry Well, people want the post office to go back to acting a little bit like a bank. And that seems like a good idea to me.

Jacob Goldstein Yes. And it seems like a reasonable role for the government, frankly. Money is very much a government thing—certainly now, but really always. And giving people a way, today, when even people who don’t have a bank account have a smartphone, it seems like a very solvable problem.

The Hoover Institution seems about as mainstream conservative as it gets. But you quote, an economist affiliated with it is calling banks—and we mean ordinary banks like Wells Fargo and Ulster Savings of Kingston, New York, which holds many mortgage—huge crony capitalist nightmares. Our banks, huge crony capitalist nightmares. And more to the point. Can you imagine a world without banks?

Jacob Goldstein As a reporter, I’m not going to weigh in on whether they are huge crony capitalists nightmares. But to your point, it is striking that—that is John Cochrane, who is a very, very pro free market, classic style economist who told me that. And, you know, the reason he said that is banks—well, banks do this very special thing in the economy. They create money, right?

When banks make loans, they are actually creating money. And that is this public function. How much money there is matters to everybody—creating money is this kind of public thing. They’re able to do it because the government, you know, guarantees are deposits at the bank. And the Federal Reserve, which is part of the government, promises—that’s a standing promise—that it will lend money to banks in a crisis. And in exchange for those guarantees, banks are very heavily regulated by the government. You would say not always regulated well; some people say not always regulated enough; but they are heavily regulated. So that is what the conservative economist is talking about when he describes it as a huge crony capitalist nightmare. It is this web, this close linkage between the government and the banks.

And to your question about a future without banks, I mean, the reason you basically need to—or at least the reason we have decided to—have that linkage is: Banks are fundamentally unstable. And that’s not because they’re evil or anything like that. It’s just the basic structure of the most plain-vanilla Main Street bank is, you have your money there on deposit that you can take out all of it at any moment. But also that money is loaned out to somebody to buy their house. Your mortgage rate is there that you don’t have to pay back for 30 years.

And so the nature of any bank is if everybody with a deposit goes and ask for their money back at any time, the bank doesn’t have it. And that is a big problem. And so the way we have solved it is by creating this whole web, this old crony capitalist thing, in the words of this economist and what he has suggested and what a lot of economists going back to Irving Fisher, who you mentioned before, suggested all the way back in the Depression was: Why do we have to do it this way? Why do we have to have this fundamental problem that we do all this work to solve? What if we just stopped, started from scratch and imagined a different world? So the problem is that banks are doing these two different things. They’re holding our money, they’re letting us get direct deposit, letting us pay our bills online. That’s one thing they’re doing. Then the other thing they’re doing is they’re making these loans that people may or may not pay back. Not everybody pays back a loan. There’s fundamental risk in lending. And there are moments when lots of people don’t pay back their loans. And that’s when we have financial crises. Why not separate those two things? So on the one hand, you would have a money warehouse, call it, where you would deposit your money, you get your direct deposit there, you pay your bills there—the basic things we do with the bank day-to-day, your checking account. Now, you might pay a fee for that because they’re providing a service. Fair. Fine.

And then you would have another kind of thing, another kind of company that is making loans. But that money is coming from people who, (a), know they might lose it and (b), cannot demand it back at any time, which is basically like, we have bond mutual funds today, and that’s basically how they work. You invest your money and the bond fund essentially is lending out your money and you can, in that case, ask for it back. But, you know, you might lose money if the people who borrow don’t pay back the money, you will lose money. The government doesn’t have to come in and bail you out. So, like, that idea actually seems quite reasonable to me and it would solve a lot of problems.

Now, politically, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen anytime soon. But you could imagine if there were another financial crisis, another big bank bailout, it is the kind of big change that we’ve seen before and it’s imaginable to me.

Another thing that might be politically undoable involves your final question about the future of money in the book, which involves something called modern monetary theory—yet another way in which money might evolve. What is modern monetary theory?

So modern monetary theory is a set of ideas about how money works. That has become popular with a small group of economists who tend to be associated with the political left. Stephanie Kelton is maybe the most prominent and she was an adviser to Bernie Sanders a few years ago. And their basic idea is this. We have been too worried about the government running deficits. They don’t say you can always run deficits, but they say there are a lot of times when we would be better off if the government just spent more money. To, you know, get people working. Get the economy going. And the standard response to that in traditional economics has been, well, if that happens, interest rates are going to go up. Inflation is going to go up. And that is going to be bad.

And what the modern-monetary-theory theorists say is, well, if inflation goes up, what we can do is we can raise taxes. We should keep spending and keep spending, keep helping people, keep doing stuff in the economy and wait for inflation to actually go up. And to be fair, they say there’s different things you can do. But one of the important things they say you should do when inflation goes up is raise taxes because raising taxes takes money back out of the economy. And it is a way to fight inflation.

They also say attach to their set of ideas. We should have a jobs guarantee. The government should offer everybody a job. So those are the basic pieces. The government should be more willing to run deficits. The government should offer a jobs guarantee. And one of the key ways you can fight inflation is raise taxes.

Steven Cherry As I read the book there seems to be a sort of historical line that can be drawn from Irving Fisher, the money-illusion fitness-nut guy to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who seems to be an endorser of modern monetary theory—and by the way, who happens to be my mother’s congresswoman. Is that fair to say?

Jacob Goldstein I like all the Queens shout-outs.

Steven Cherry Is that fair to say? And what is that historical line?

Jacob Goldstein Well, let me think about that. Certainly an easier line, a more obvious line for me, is from Irving Fisher to … whoever … Jerome Powell, Janet Yellen—to the people, to the modern chairmen and -women of the Fed. Irving Fisher solution to the money problem and to the gold standard was we should manage the dollar not based on gold, but just based on how much the stuff everybody buys costs. What we want is for prices to be basically stable. And that is essentially the way the Fed works now. So that to me is the clearer line. I think to draw a line from him to modern monetary theory is a bit more of a stretch. I mean, if you zoomed out more, you could say, well, in both cases they’re saying, look, the way we do money now is wrong, is suboptimal, and we could be doing this better. So I think at an abstract level, there’s that connection. But I think, practically speaking, he’s pretty close to the way money, in fact, works now.

Steven Cherry You seem sympathetic to Fisher’s ideas and maybe modern monetary theory, but you also write in the book for modern money to work—to have banks and a stock market and a central bank—there needs to be tension. Investors and bankers and activists and government officials all need to be arguing over who gets to do what and when. Does modern monetary theory eliminate too much of that tension?

Jacob Goldstein It may I mean, you know, one of the things working on the book has done for me is it’s made me humble in terms of trying to be prescriptive or predictive. I’m able to think about different things and talk about them. But, you see time and again, really smart people who know a lot being just wrong about the world, about the present, about the future. So, I mean, one thing I will say about modern monetary theory is just in terms of the political realities, the notion that Congress will raise taxes to fight inflation seems like a thing that might not happen. And there is an argument that, well, you wouldn’t have to have Congress vote every time. Congress could create an automatic mechanism that is out of their hands. But still, people know when their taxes go up and they tend not to like it. And so, one place to look at and think about with modern monetary theory is that particular crux—do you really think Congress will set up a system that will automatically raise taxes to fight inflation when necessary?

Steven Cherry In the fall of 1933, President Roosevelt wrote in a letter to a Harvard economist, “You place a former artificial gold standard among nations above human suffering and the crying needs of your own country.” You say in the book, the most important word in that sentence is “artificial.” And I was reminded of something you wrote earlier in the book: “The Incas had rivers full of gold and mountains full of silver. And they used gold and silver for art and for worship. But they never invented money because it was a fiction they had no use for.” The most important words in that sentence are “fiction” and “use.” Money is a useful fiction—maybe the most useful fiction we have because it shares with some other primordial fictions the same character. I’m thinking of love and faith. And that character is trust. Is that the basis of all of this?

Jacob Goldstein I think so. I mean, certainly today, when we have fiat money, money that is backed by nothing, the dollar is only backed by our trust in the United States government, the United States economy. It’s this notion that our country as an entity, as a political entity, which obviously is another kind of fiction, will persist. And function. So it’s more obvious today, but I think even if you look back to a time when people are using, say, gold itself or silver itself as money, the gold- or silverness of the thing is not the money part. The part that makes it money—his thing we know we will be able to exchange for other things—is trust that other people will also think it’s money. It’s money if everybody thinks it’s money. And if everybody doesn’t think it’s money, it’s not money.

Steven Cherry Jacob, your book is a highly useful—and as I said, wildly entertaining—nonfiction. And I thank you for writing it and for joining us today.

Jacob Goldstein It’s very kind of you to say. I really had fun.

Steven Cherry We’ve been speaking with Jacob Goldstein, author of a new book just released: “Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing,” about the past, present, and future of this most important made-up thing.

This interview was recorded September 2, 2020. Our audio engineering was by Gotham Podcast Studio in New York. Our music is by Chad Crouch. My thanks to the folks at Hachette for helping this along.

Radio Spectrum is brought to you by IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

For Radio Spectrum, I’m Steven Cherry.

Additional Resources:

The Last Days of Cash: How E-Money Technology Is Plugging Us into the Digital Economy (IEEE Spectrum special report on the future of money)


The Murderer, The Boy King, And The Invention Of Modern Finance (Planet Money podcast)


The Economist Who Believes the Government Should Just Print More Money (New Yorker profile of Stephanie Kelton)


Note: Transcripts are created for the convenience of our readers and listeners. The authoritative record of IEEE Spectrum’s audio programming is the audio version.

We welcome your comments on Twitter (@RadioSpectrum1 and @IEEESpectrum) and Facebook.

It Will Take More Than Antitrust Enforcement To Light Innovation’s Fire

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/innovation/it-will-take-more-than-antitrust-enforcement-to-light-innovations-fire

What are the key technology policy issues that will face the next U.S. President and Congress? How about fixing a crumbling innovation system and saving democracy?

That was the gist of a discussion among four technology and policy experts convened over Zoom by the Computer History Museum earlier this week.

U.S. innovation isn’t on a path heading in the right direction, the panelists warned, and big changes are needed.

Considering the U.S.’s ability to create and deploy innovative technology, Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in the economics of innovation and public value at University College, London, said that the U.S. government has moved away from the “glorious decades,” when the public and private sectors worked together on ambitious, mission oriented projects that spanned broad areas including basic research, applied research, and procurement policy. Now, she says, the federal government only sees its role as “fixing market failures.”

“China is learning the lessons of what worked in the U.S. at the same time that the U.S. is unlearning the lessons,” Mazzucato said, pointing to China’s commitment to investing in greening its economy. This, she said, is the kind of “patient, long-term finance” that companies need—and that the U.S. doesn’t have right now. “The Death Valley phase [of a startup] can last 15 years,” she said, “while VCs want five year exits. China has that long term finance.”

Judy Estrin, CEO of JLabs and former CTO of Cisco, concurred. “Our tax policy has been backwards. R&D tax credits don’t incentivize research, they incentivize short term development,” she said. And look at “long term capital gains—a year is not long term.”

What should that ambitious, mission-oriented project be? Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of the think tank New America, said: “We could see a national mission to radically decrease health inequities. The space race triggered the science age, Covid and the problems it spotlights” could bring on “the health age.”

Pushing towards a green economy could be another option, though, Slaughter said, the two aren’t unrelated. “Much of what we could do to create a green economy would help health.”

Estrin warned the group that technology by itself isn’t the answer, and called for bringing in experts from social sciences and the humanities. “We shouldn’t go after these moonshots by saying we are just going to throw technology at them, in the same way that you don’t solve a pandemic with just technology; public health is driving it, not just science. As we look at these moonshots, we need to have tech at the table but not dominating the table. [Tech] contributed to the problem, so as we contribute to the solution, let’s broaden the table.”

Antitrust in the Spotlight

Tech industry regulation and, in particular, antitrust law was in the spotlight the day of the Computer History Museum event, with the U.S. House of Representative’s antitrust subcommittee this month just releasing the majority report from its 16-month-long investigation into competition in digital markets. The report concluded that the tech behemoths—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google—are behaving in anticompetitive ways, to the detriment of innovation.   The panelists considered whether updating antitrust law—and enforcing it to stop anticompetitive behavior—would spark innovation.  

“Antitrust is a serious issue, but it’s not a silver bullet,” said U.S. Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). “There are issues in terms of mergers, in platforms tying their own services, and in wanting platforms to have portability of data and interoperability with other platforms. There is a way of having thoughtful antitrust regulation that will preserve economies of scale, that won’t break up companies without a rationale, but will increase competition and the possibilities for new entrants. But people who think that if we have better antitrust enforcement we will have a better innovation economy…it’s just one part” of what needs to happen.

Slaughter expressed doubts about just how important those economies of scale really are. “Platform companies say ‘You can’t break us up because we have to be this big to compete with Huawei and Alibaba, and we need a lot of data’” to develop artificial intelligence, she said.

“That may not be true even on its face—AI might not need that much data. But even if it is true, are we not willing to regulate our own industry just because Chinese companies will be bigger?”

Perhaps more urgent than dealing with antitrust issues for the U.S. government is for the U.S. to figure out exactly what it wants the Internet to be. Said Slaughter: “China has the authoritarian Internet, Europe has the highly regulated democratic Internet,” but the U.S. has “the Wild West or nothing. We need to think about what are a person’s digital rights, and how can you use technology consistent with non-authoritarian uses. We need a vision of an open internet that is rights-regarding.”

Education, Immigration, and Healthcare Policies All Impact Innovation

Lighting a fire under innovation in the U.S. will take a lot more than setting a goal, fixing the incentives for investment, cracking down on anticompetitive behavior, and sorting out digital rights.

“It’s broader than that,” Slaughter said. The U.S. “needs to invest in education, to have a workable immigration situation, invest in equity, and to have [universal] health insurance.”

On education, she said, “We have the talent we need, but we are not educating the talent adequately. We are educating a small segment, but there is a mass of talent we need to be educating.”

The need to fix our immigration system, she indicated, is obvious. “It’s not just Silicon Valley and importing India’s best engineers, it is the ability to have a whole clash of cultures and ways of thinking. We’ve always innovated with many of our immigrant citizens leading the way.”

 “The equity piece,” she said, goes back to talent. “Unless we are using all of our talent, we aren’t going to lead globally.”

The issue of healthcare, she suggested, is connected to the ability of innovators to take risks. “The work on risk-taking shows that you need at least minimal security. Our innovators are people who, if they fall on their faces, will only fall so far; they won’t end up on the street without health insurance. One of the best things Obama did for Silicon Valley was to extend kids to age 26 on their parents’ health insurance. [Now] they have four years after graduating college to take risks,” even to try starting companies.

Innovating Without Breaking Democracy

Of course, fixing innovation isn’t much good if that innovation breaks democracy. Technology needs to be good for society, not bad, the panelists warned. And getting that to happen will take a significant shift in how Silicon Valley does business. Explained Estrin:

“Given our dependence on digital technology, we have to stop thinking about just encouraging technology, but think about how we change power dynamic. How technology is wielded today is unbalanced. They—the industry, the platforms—have too much power. We need to figure out how to achieve a better balance between technology and humanity. This isn’t easy, but until we do this, we will be playing catchup.

“In addition to mitigating the devastating impacts of today’s platforms on democracy and public health we have to think about new technologies, about what governs our life in virtual worlds, about whose values are driving our future.”

Estrin went on to talk about an inherent danger in today’s tech culture.

“There is a worship of dominance and disruption that is incentivizing problematic behaviors,” She said. “Look at the common mantras: ‘Scale fast/fail fast’ creates a winner take all environment. ‘Move fast and break things’ [implies that] disruption is good without regard for the consequences. Some things can’t be fixed later—like democracy. ‘Make everything frictionless’ [is another, but] the right type of friction is critical to a functioning society.”

She admitted that changing the culture to one that considers disruption thoughtfully, that steps back and considers the possible harm a technology could do to the world or society, won’t be easy.

“It is hard to find technologists who are free of the tech utopian mindset,” Estrin said.  As engineers, “we are trained to think about the good.” But, she said, we “need a counter perspective while still understanding details of the technology…. We need to think about how [we can] augment organizations that exist or create new organizations that can provide this understanding, that can educate individuals, that are not just going to take us down the same path.”

Will Relocating Engineers Embrace a Pay Cut?

Post Syndicated from Tekla S. Perry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/tech-careers/will-relocating-engineers-embrace-a-pay-cut

Back in May, as the tech workforce moved into the virtual world, Facebook announced that at least some employees could work from home permanently—and choose to relocate. There is a catch to that: Salaries, the company said, would be adjusted to reflect local costs of living. In June, job search firm Hired released a study that reported that only 32 percent of tech professionals around the world would be willing to take such a cut.

Now, just a few months later, as remote workers settle into their commute-less work life, the numbers of those willing to accept a pay cut seems to have grown. Blind, a company that operates private social networks for tech employees, surveyed 5,591 tech professionals and found that 44 percent would be willing to take a pay cut linked to a lower cost of living and 8 percent were indifferent; 48 percent would be opposed to such a cut.

The numbers vary by employer, with tech professionals working at Square, Lyft, Facebook, VMware, and Dropbox the most willing to sacrifice salary for the ability to relocate, and Expedia, PayPal, Microsoft, and Oracle the least [see chart, below].

Comments from those willing to take a cut generally fell into the “what’s the big deal” category. One Facebook employee wrote: “I don’t understand all the fuss, are people demanding everyone around the world be paid the same? Let’s be real, your pay range is based on your location. People who feel they moved to a place that had 30-50 percent lower range [and] shouldn’t be paid like the local employees crack me up.”

Another respondent at Facebook wrote, “It makes sense. Your pay is always defined by market. When you move from Austin to Bay Area do you tell company to keep [the] same pay? No. You ask for hike for Bay Area market.”

A respondent at VMware wrote, “I’ll gladly do this. It’s only a reduction on base, and base makes up half of my [total compensation]. So a net 6.5 percent decrease in my total to move to a place where houses are 20 percent of the price and taxes alone make up the difference? Sign me up.”

Those who would not take such a cut argue that regional salary differences are inherently unfair.

Wrote a respondent at Hulu: “You guys aren’t getting it. It doesn’t matter that ‘pay is always based on location.’ That old way of thinking needs to die because it exploits labor. The employee’s labor provides the same value regardless of working location. Ask the company tough questions. ‘Is my value to the company less if I live in North Carolina or Colorado?’ If they won’t budge, quit.”

A respondent at Splunk would go even further: “Honestly, the companies should give work-from-home employees pay raises, not cuts. Why? Because they aren’t having to pay for a physical location to employ you anymore. If the company downsizes their offices, this saves the company a boatload. Also, the pay should be based on the job, not the location where you choose to live. If you thought I was worth 400k when living in San Francisco, how did my skills suddenly decrease when I live somewhere else?”