Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Web Secret 472: the people who train the robots

Before the robots take over our jobs, they will have to learn our jobs.

This is already happening.

The New York Times profiled five people who have been put in this remarkable position. More than most, they understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of artificial intelligence and how technology is changing the nature of work.

Here is the Cliff Notes version of that article:

Rachel Neasham, travel agent

Ms. Neasham works for a travel booking app Lola. She knew the company’s artificial intelligence computer system — its name is Harrison — would eventually take over parts of her job. Still, there was soul-searching when it was decided that Harrison would actually start recommending and booking hotels.

At an employee meeting late last year, the agents debated what it meant to be human, and what a human travel agent could do that a machine couldn’t. While Harrison could comb through dozens of hotel options in a blink, it couldn’t match the expertise of, for example, a human agent with years of experience booking family vacations to Disney World.

Ms. Neasham sees it as a race: Can human agents find new ways to be valuable as quickly as the A.I. improves at handling parts of their job?

Diane Kim, interaction designer

Ms. Kim works as an A.I. interaction designer at x.ai, a New York-based start-up offering an artificial intelligence assistant to help people schedule meetings. X.ai pitches clients on the idea that, through A.I., they get the benefits of a human assistant — saving the time and hassle of scheduling a meeting — at a fraction of the price.

It’s Ms. Kim’s job to craft responses for the company’s assistants, that feel natural enough that swapping emails with these computer systems feels no different than emailing with a human assistant.

Dan Rubins, chief executive

Mr. Rubins created Legal Robot, a start-up that uses artificial intelligence to translate legalese into plain English.

Having reviewed nearly a million legal documents, Legal Robot also flags anomalies in contracts.

Legal documents are well suited to machine learning because they are highly structured and repetitive. The less time lawyers need to spend reviewing contracts, the more time they can spend on, say, advisory work or litigation.

Sarah Seiwert, customer representative

It took two weeks for Ms. Seiwert to notice that her company’s A.I. computer system was starting to pick up on her work patterns.

She is a customer representative at the online test-prep company Magoosh. When an email comes into Magoosh, its A.I. system reads the email, categorizes it and routes it to the appropriate employee. After a few months, it starts to automate responses for some common questions. This happens when the A.I. has seen enough examples of how human agents handled the request that it gains confidence that its answer will be correct.

Even though the A.I. is learning from human, Ms. Seiwert doesn’t foresee a future where she’s out of a job. Too many questions still require a level of human intuition to know the appropriate answer.

Aleksandra Faust, software engineer

Formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo wants to build autonomous vehicles that can react properly under all kinds of unusual circumstances. Not only when drivers run red lights, but also when a child crosses an intersection riding a hoverboard while walking a dog.

Waymo’s cars have driven two million miles in the real world and billions more in computer simulations. But it’s impossible to program for every event.

Safety is a concern, but so is comfort. Take the process of braking at a red light. When human drivers see a red light, they tend to slow down gradually before coming to a full stop.

A sudden stop is dangerous because other drivers may not be paying attention. And it is jarring for the passengers.

Ms. Faust’s team creates different models for the most natural way a car should brake depending on how fast it is going.

We live in disruptive times.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Web Secret 471: the death of in person psychotherapy - part 2

This week I finally realized, (much sooner than expected,) the in person psychotherapy session is marching towards extinction.

It happened when I noted the sudden proliferation of apps and platforms geared towards a virtual or digital counseling/coaching experience.

I'm talking about you:

Encrypted texting platform  
WhatsApp.

Texting apps  
7cups.com  
Talkspace - raised 15 million in venture capital. Talkspace for business is invading the world of corporate mental health and EAP.

Online therapy platforms  
ginger.io
better help

Cognitive therapy app  
joyable.com - also marketing to the workplace

Coaching app  
Lantern - raised $17 million in venture capital

Mood tracking app  
T2 Mood Tracker - Who is behind this app? The US Department of Defense

Artificial intelligent weight loss coaching app
Sam - powered by IBM's Watson.

And I could have listed dozens more.

People born in 1993 are the last of the Millenial generation. In a couple of years, Gen Z will begin to enter the workplace.

They have never known a world without Facetime or Skype.

So combine money, the US military, IBM, millions of dollars and a growing number of users who are perfectly comfortable with digital media; couple that with a demand for immediate response.

And you have an explosion.

And the old office based clinical model will die.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Web Secret 470: the death of inperson psychotherapy - part 1

I finally found someone who tried Talkspace.

It's not someone I know personally or another psychotherapist.

It's Casey Schwartz, a reporter who wrote "What happens when you share your deepest anxieties with an app?" for Departures magazine.

Quick reminder, Talkspace is a subscription-based psychotherapy app that allows for unlimited texting with a licensed professional starting at $128 per month.

Schwartz writes: "Despite the absence of a personal rapport, I surprised myself ... [finding] some small but real degree of comfort at having this source of encouragement and cheer, who was always only a text message away ... Yet because I happen to know what it is to actually sit in a room with a living, breathing psychologist ... I registered all too glaringly the superficiality inherent in my Talkspace arrangement. To me, insight and advice are nice, but the relationship itself is the point.

Others see it differently. “Cost, access, and stigma,” ... “Those are the three pillars of why people are interested in digital therapy.”

...The online therapy movement ... has provoked plenty of skepticism. Justin Shubert, a psychologist in Los Angeles and the director of Silver Lake Psychotherapy, questions the very selling point of many of these programs: the instant access. “When a therapist is on demand, that’s reinforcing an immature way of relating for a lot of people, where the therapist is there to gratify the client’s needs wherever and whenever they want,” Shubert says. “That’s not how real relationships work.”

...As for me, I soon realized that I was hesitating to reveal anything truly personal ... Our exchange began to wear on my nerves on or around day six... I found I had come to dread the whole communication. So I did the only thing I could think to do: I ghosted my online therapist."


Schwartz lists a couple of other apps in the same vein as Talkspace:

Lantern Instead of therapy, Lantern offers “coaching.” Users share problems via text and receive highly structured strategies for feeling better in that moment, such as guided meditation or breathing exercises. Starting at $49 a month. In 2016, Lantern raised $17 million for its mobile-based mental health coaching program.

T2 Mood Tracker This free app enables its users to track their own mental health, helping them to identify patterns and triggers by which they might gain greater insight and control over changes in mood. Who is behind this app? Like many innovations in tele behavioral health - the US Department of Defense. War is not good for people and other living things.

Ginger.IO This app combines the concept of smartphone-based fitness tracking with live human feedback and care from a coach or therapist and/or a psychiatrist to help with medication support. Works with text-message exchanges as well as videoconferencing. Starting at $129 a month.

Sam Using artificial intelligence, Sam provides users with instant access anytime, to help them with losing weight. FYI, Sam is powered by IBM's Watson.

Who needs people to deliver counseling?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Web Secret 469: A video game to cope with grief

When was the last time you saw something remarkable?

I know, I couldn't remember either.

But today, I did.

When Amy Green's young son Joel was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, she made up a bedtime story for his siblings to teach them about cancer. What resulted was a video game, mostly created by her husband Ryan, "That Dragon, Cancer," which takes players on a journey they can't win.

That's right, someone used the video game, a medium we think we know, to accomplish something seemingly impossible.

To understand how this happened, you could watch Amy's TED Talk.

Or read Wired Magazine's thought provoking exploration "A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make the Most Profound Videogame Ever," written by Jason Tanz.

Tanz explains: "That Dragon, Cancer is not a tricky game to master. Indeed, it’s barely a game at all, more a collection of scenarios that the player explores and clicks through. There is some degree of agency—you can decide how long to spend in any particular scene, for instance — but the overwhelming sensation is one of being a bug caught in a rushing river; you might veer a few degrees in either direction, but you can’t alter the overall flow."

"The questions That Dragon, Cancer is asking... are the kind of spiritual and existential quandaries that have haunted humanity since Job: Why are we here? Can we influence our fate? What kind of God would allow such suffering? How do we endure the knowledge that we, along with everyone we have ever met and loved, will die?

...That Dragon, Cancer doesn’t provide any solutions to its queries
."

Tanz quotes Reality Is Broken, by designer and academic Jane McGonigal, in which she argues that we should engineer our world to be more like a videogame, incorporating its system of rewards and escalating challenges to help us find meaning and accomplishment in our lives. "Green, though, is doing the opposite. He’s trying to create a game in which meaning is ambiguous and accomplishments are fleeting. He is making a game that is as broken—as confounding, unresolved, and tragically beautiful—as the world itself."

Or you could do none of the above, and play the game.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Web Secret 468: ThinOPTICS

At what age will you need reading glasses?

When I was young, I was a bit off with my guess.

By several decades.

I thought I wouldn't need reading glasses until I was in my eighties.

In fact, the average age at which Americans get reading glasses is around 40. By age 45 most of us are doomed.

And here's the truth: reading glasses are a pain in the neck.

People lose them, forget them, and otherwise never seem to have them on hand when they need them.

It's SUPER annoying.

Thank the Lord for ThinOPTICS.

They are wafer thin, weightless, pince-nez, that fold into an insubstantial case you can attach to the back of your smartphone.

They come in 6 different colors, or, if you want more visual excitement, in designer patterns.

For under $30.

You can thank me now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Web Secret 467: Slouching towards Gattaca

To this day, one of the finest and most important science fiction films I have ever seen is Gattaca (1997).

Briefly, the movie depicts a time in "the not-too-distant future", when eugenics is common. A genetic registry database uses biometrics to classify those so created as "valids," while those conceived by traditional means and thus more susceptible to genetic disorders are known as "in-valids". Genetic discrimination is illegal, but in practice genotype profiling is used to identify valids and qualify them for professional employment while in-valids are relegated to menial jobs.

After I watched Gattaca, 20 years ago, I knew that all I had to do is sit back and wait, and past would become prologue.

On April 6, 2017, I received an email from 23andMe announcing that: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted 23andMe authorization to offer ten genetic health risk reports including late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, celiac disease, and a condition associated with harmful blood clots."

The email also noted: "23andMe is now the only company authorized by the FDA to provide personal genetic health risk reports without a prescription."

RED ALERT.

I wasn't the only one to be alarmed. By April 7, Popular Science published an article titled "Getting your genetic disease risks from 23andme is probably a terrible idea." I quote from this article at length below:

"If you could know whether you were going to develop a debilitating, inevitable, untreatable disease at age 50, would you want to? 23andMe is offering you that opportunity—but they’re not going to ask you that question.

The central problem is this: 23andMe aims to give you all the information you want about your genetic background, but they don’t want to be responsible if that knowledge actually impacts you. Are you upset by results that indicate you’re likely to spend the last years of your life dependent on a caretaker, shaking uncontrollably, and losing the ability to speak? Talk to someone else. You’re not 23andMe’s problem anymore.

You can’t unring that bell. [emphasis mine]

And if a company is going to sell customers their right to know, they should have to provide help when that knowledge hurts."


It gets scarier:

"23andme's ultimate business plan product isn’t really a kit, [it's] YOU [emphasis mine]. With a massive database of genetic information, the company can turn around and sell that data to other companies...23andMe assures customers that all their information is completely anonymized. Of course they would never, ever break that rule. Except that even if they don’t, it turns out you can find out a man’s last name using only the short repeats on his Y chromosome and access to a genealogy database. Oh, and then you can identify his age and which state he lives in using publicly accessible resources."

Full circle back to Gattaca.

It only took 20 years.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Web Secret 466: Upwork

Here is my observation after 10+ years working as a web editor.

Most people out there can't write for s**t.

And that includes:

Boomers with PhDs

Millenials of any sort

Physicians

Lawyers

Real estate brokers

And there's more...

It's a disease that has reached pandemic proportions.

Have you ever tried to read a product manual?

Case in point, yesterday I tried to change the water filter in my Miele refrigerator/freezer for the first time.

I read the manual and I still I could not remotely ascertain where to find the location of the filter.

I called Miele customer support (MCS).

Me: "uh, it says the filter is located in the freezer compartment, but I don't see it."

CS: chuckle "Oh, it's actually under the freezer compartment."

Me: ???

CS: "You can only see it if you open the freezer compartment, get on your knees, and look under."

How about spelling that out in the manual, accompanied by some helpful diagrams?

Come to think of it, they need to improve origami instructions. I'm cool until I get to about step 5 - then I'm lost. How did they get from step 4 to step 5?

But I digress.

If you need help with writing of any sort, and other dreaded tasks like web development.

If you need an app maker.

If you need a personal assistant.

You need not suffer anymore.

Meet Upwork.

The freelancing website that will connect you with people who possess the time and/or skill to perform the tasks you can't squeeze into your daily schedule, or don't have a clue how to get done.

Sign up tout de suite.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Web Secret 465: Earth 2050

A couple of days ago, my mind exploded.

And I thought yours should to.

And all because I looked at a map.

Of course it wasn't your typical map - Earth 2050, provides a fascinating glimpse at a future based on predictions from futurists, professionals and members of the public.

If you want more background on this amazing project, read the Wired article.

But if you want to barely suppress screams of delight and awe, as well as an incipient panic attack, just click here.

Jaw drop.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Web Secret 464: Felix Gray

If you are reading this post, then most likely you're staring at a computer screen.

Maybe for a long time. Maybe for hours.

And by now, we all have a pretty good hunch that doing that is not great for our eyes.

Take it away, Felix Gray.

As they explain on their website:

"Our bodies were never supposed to spend all day in front of screens. Computer Vision Syndrome, also known as Digital Eye Strain, is categorized by the negative side effects of overusing computers. Symptoms include eye strain, blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes, and neck and back strain.

... this is a rapidly growing problem, which makes sense given how often we now stare at our screens. The average American is now in front of a computer for 7.5 hours a day. 200 million people—over 50% of the U.S. population—already report symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome. And this number is increasing 7% per generation.

That’s why Felix Gray started. Our lenses are designed to combat Computer Vision syndrome by filtering blue light and eliminating glare. Blue light is high energy light emitted by screens and glare is unnecessary feedback that enters into the eye."


Felix Gray is not the first company to sell computer eyeglasses.

But they are the first to make them stylish.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Web Secret 463: Universal Basic Income

Universal basic income (UBI)is a form of social security in which all the citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, to cover basic expenses like food, rent, and clothes.

Elon Musk is one of the many technology leaders who has jumped on the UBI bandwagon:

"I think we'll end up doing universal basic income," Musk told the crowd at the World Government Summit in Dubai... "It's going to be necessary."

The economic forecasts for the next several decades don't bode well for the American worker...President Barack Obama [has] warned Congress about the looming threat of job loss, based on several reports that found that as much as 50% of jobs could be replaced by robots by 2030.

The downside of that projection is that millions of people would wind up out of a job — a possibility Musk discussed at the summit.

"There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better," he said. "I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen."


UBI will be essential in order to avoid a 21st century retread of the French Revolution in which the unemployed rise up en masse to destroy the upper class. Preventing a few thousand jobs from going to Mexico will not prevent the mass extinction of these U.S. blue collar - and even white collar - jobs.

How will EAPs position themselves to be effective and relevant in this new workplace landscape?

I don't yet know.

But we have 13 years to come up with an answer.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Web Secret 462: Aeon

Do you want to explore new ideas about subjects ranging from psychology to health, from technology to culture and more?

Delivered in a variety of mediums, on a really beautiful website.

By thought leaders.

Of course you do. You want Aeon

Aeon is a digital magazine publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. Asking the big questions and finding the freshest, most original answers.

Aeon has four channels. One is Essays – longform explorations of deep issues written by serious and creative thinkers.

Example: "A bug for Alzheimer’s?" - A bold theory places infection at the root of Alzheimer’s, explaining why decades of treatment have done little good.

The second is Ideas – short provocations.

Example: "There is nothing inevitable or natural about chronic disease."

The third is Video - streaming a mixture of curated short documentaries and original Aeon content.

Example: "Can writing an 11,000-page autobiographical thesis cure addiction?"


The fourth is Conversations inviting the reader to input their own arguments and points of view.

Example: "How does increased involvement of fathers in childrearing alter public perceptions of masculinity?"

Aeon - committed to big ideas, serious inquiry and a humane worldview.

That’s it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Web Secret 461: Ignite

In need of mental stimulation but don't have the attention span for a TED Talk?

You need Ignite.

Ignite is a series of speedy presentations. Presenters get 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. The result is a fast and fun presentation which lasts just 5 minutes.

What can you learn in just 5 minutes?

Quite a lot as it turns out.

Surprise! Your child has autism. Now what?


How to Get 5 Million People to Read Your Website


There are hundreds of them. On a multiplicity of topics. From all over the world.

Warning: the quality of Ignite sessions varies greatly, ranging from fantastic to terrible.

Fortunately, you can figure this out in a matter of seconds and move on.

Refreshing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Web Secret 460: the Internet health report

Mozilla - the maker of the Firefox browser - just released the first ever Internet health report.

And why should you care?

"The Internet is an ecosystem. A living entity that billions of people depend on for knowledge, livelihood, self-expression, love…. The health of this system relies on – and influences – everyone it touches. Signs of poor health in any part impacts the whole. We’re all connected."

Okay, I get it. But how would you determine the health of the Internet?

You measure five factors:

1. How open is it? “Open” means that anyone can publish or invent online without asking for permission, and that the technologies used to run the Web are transparent and understandable.

2. Who is welcome online? Everyone deserves equal opportunity to access the Internet, and to use it to improve their lives and societies.

3. Who controls the Internet? Decentralization means the Internet is controlled by many. It’s millions of devices linked together in an open network. No one actor can own it, control it, or switch it off for everyone.

4. Is it safe and secure? The safety and security of the Internet impacts us all. We should be able to understand what is happening to our data, and have the ability to control how it is used.

5. Who can succeed online? We need everyone to have the skills to read, write and participate in the digital world, so more people can move beyond consuming to actually creating, shaping and defending the Web.

Party on, Mozilla.

You done good.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Web secret 459: Fiverr

Fiverr is a global online marketplace offering tasks and services, beginning at a cost of $5 per job performed, from which it gets its name. The Fivver taglines are "Everything your business needs, simplified. Talented freelancers, millions of digital services, on budget and on time."

The site is used on the one hand by freelancers who use it to offer their services, and on the other hand by small businesses, private practices and startups to inexpensively create and grow.

Typical services include:

logo creation

article and blog post writing

social media marketing

website building

viral videos

and much, much more.

Fiverr explains the power of getting s**t done in an amusing video.

Freelance services for the lean entrepreneur.

That could be you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Web Secret 458: the real impact of workplace automation

We have all heard the dire forecast: in about 10 years or so, half of the jobs in existence today will be automated.

Bye bye jobs.

Not so fast.

It's more complicated than that explains James Manyika, a Director at the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), in his recent article, "Workplace automation: Separating fiction from fact."

The article explains that - astoundingly - back in 1964, US President Lyndon Johnson created a national commission to examine the impact of automation on the economy and employment. At that time, LBJ pointed out that automation should be viewed as an ally, not an enemy:

“If we understand it, if we plan for it, if we apply it well, automation will not be a job destroyer or a family displaced. Instead, it can remove dullness from the work of man and provide him with more than man has ever had before.”

Hard to be that optimistic a half century later, because technology has advanced at breakneck speed. Manyika writes: "...who back then could have imagined the legions of robots at work today in manufacturing... Machines today increasingly match or outperform human performance in a range of work activities, including ones requiring cognitive capabilities....Will robots replace humans in the workplace? And if so, how quickly?"

Manyika proceeds to quote from a recently published McKinsey Global Institute report on automation and its potential effects on productivity and the global economy.

Among the findings, "...almost half the activities we pay people about $15 trillion in wages to do in the global economy have the potential to be automated using currently demonstrated technology."

Scary, but there is a twist. "More jobs will change than will be automated away in the short to medium term. Only a small proportion of all occupations, about 5%, can be automated entirely using these demonstrated technologies over the coming decade..."

Manyika adds: "As companies deploy automation, we ... need to think more about mass redeployment rather than unemployment, and also ... think about people working alongside machines and the skills that will be needed for the workforce of today and tomorrow... They include capabilities that are inherently human, including managing and developing people, and social and emotional reasoning.

He concludes: "Just because the technical potential to automate a workplace activity exists does not mean that it will happen anytime soon...The pace and extent of automation will depend on a range of factors of which technical feasibility is only one—and there are still some important barriers to overcome, including the ability of computers to generate and understand natural language. Other factors include the dynamics of labor supply and demand. If there is no shortage in the labor market of cooks, it may not make business sense to replace them with an expensive machine."

Turns out that for the near future at least, humans are tech proof.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Web Secret 457: Millenials in the workplace

Working with Millennials can be a challenge.

Here's why...

... As explained by Simon Sinek, a British/American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant. He is the author of three books including the 2009 best seller, "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action."

And that is all I am going to write about that topic.

He said it better.

So watch. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Web Secret 456: Honey

I never buy anything online without using ebates, a browser add on that gives you cash back when you spend money at one of over 1,800 stores.

In addition, I also used to comb sites like retailmenot.com for coupons.

Well there is a better way.

Introducing Honey, another browser add-on that automatically applies coupon codes at checkout and, also finds better prices on Amazon for you, immediately.

Here s a 25 second video that tells you everything you need to know:


Happy shopping!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Web secret 455: High Tech, High Touch redux

 I first wrote a web secret about high touch in 2014. I am writing about it again in a different context.

In a recent blog post, I asked what does increased automation mean for those of us who are working in behavioral health care or employee assistance?

I pointed out that fortunately, what we do as mental health professionals is tech proof.

At least until right before The Singularity, when robot brains will be indistinguishable from human ones.

I feel confident that we will continue to thrive for at least a few decades, maybe even 50 years or more, because of a concept coined in 1982 by John Naisbitt, an expert in futures studies.

Naisbitt wrote Megatrends, the fruit of 10 years of research, in 1982. In it, he theorized that in a world of technology, people will long for personal, human contact. High tech, high touch.

How prescient!

He thought about this before Time Magazine's famous "The Computer, Machine of the Year" issue of 1983, for which the caption was "The computer moves in." I can still remember how shocked everyone was that a machine was on the cover instead of a person.

Naisbitt further elaborated on his concept in his 1999 update "High Tech, High Touch - technology and our search for meaning."

Based on exhaustive research, he described us as living in "a Technologically Intoxicated Zone," where we are bombarded with technological stimuli and live distanced and distracted.

At that time, Naisbitt noted that we struggled to bring high touch back into our lives, seeking meaning in religion and self-help books, popping Prozac and seeking connection to nature by driving SUVs and buying clothes from L.L. Bean.

The book suggested we pull the plug on the computer and TV, turn off the cell phone and beeper, and spend more time with family and friends.

He wrote this in 1999, before the smartphone and social media...

Back to the present, we may deliver services via portable technologies, but at least for a while, the therapist/client relationship will still be valued.

And employees will need the help of their EAPs to cope with the rapidly changing employment landscape.

And we will still need to pull the plug.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Web Secret 454: the robots are coming

As I write this, the New York Times published 2 articles today:

The first: Amazon to Add 100,000 Jobs as Bricks-and-Mortar Retail Crumbles

The article's key points are:

"Amazon’s new warehouse in Baltimore is a rare economic bright spot there, employing 3,000 people full-time...

...With Amazon’s announcement ... that it plans to hire 100,000 new employees in the next 18 months, the Baltimore facility and at least 70 other Amazon fulfillment centers across the country stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries.

Fifteen miles away in the suburbs, all that is left of Owings Mills Mall is rubble, demolition having started in the fall, after the last anchor stores, Macy’s and J. C. Penney, closed within months of each other.

...the two scenes [are] an example of ... 'creative destruction'

...it’s key to remember that online retailing has destroyed many times that number of positions at malls and shopping centers across America."


The second article "Robots Will Take Jobs, but Not as Fast as Some Fear, New Report Says" opines that:

"...A measured pace is likely because what is technically possible is only one factor in determining how quickly new technology is adopted, according to a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute...

The report...concludes that many tasks can be automated and that most jobs have activities ripe for automation...

[Other reports are less sanguine.] Examining trends in artificial intelligence, researchers at Oxford University, estimated in a widely cited paper published in 2013 that 47 percent of jobs in the United States were at risk from automation...

...Such uncertainties led the McKinsey researchers to calculate the pace of automation as ranges rather than precise predictions. The report’s multifactor scenarios suggest that half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055. That threshold could be reached 20 years earlier or 20 years later, the report adds, depending on economic trends, labor market dynamics, regulations and social attitudes.

So while further automation is inevitable, McKinsey’s research suggests that it will be a relentless advance rather than an economic tidal wave..."


What does this mean for those of us who are working in behavioral health care or employee assistance?

What we do is tech proof.

At least until right before The Singularity, when robot brains will be indistinguishable from human ones.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Web Secret 453: 3% and other miracles

When I was a tween we moved from the U.S. to Switzerland, and lived there for two years.

This was the late sixties and in those days, when you were in another country, you were completely cut off from just about everything in your native land.

Long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive. Air mail took two weeks to get there. It took time - months - for the latest music to get to the local record store. Forget about watching current TV shows. Those took years.

You were effectively walled off.

After two years we returned and I was a stranger in a strange land.

I was out of the loop, didn't get the jokes, or the references.

Fast forward to 2017. Everyone around the world can watch Game of Thrones at the same time.

Spotify allows me to access the music I heard at a restaurant in Italy, upon my return to New York. Versailles, a French TV series broadcast on Ovation about a young Louis XIV's quest to build his famous palace, was made in English so as to reach the largest global audience. The show's creators asserted that if Louis was alive, he would have agreed to the use of English, because he was always trying to communicate his ideas to the largest population possible.

But this isn't just about the globalization of American entertainment.

It's about all entertainment, from every corner of the world making its way to your screen as well.

Netflix recently released 3%, their first ever Brazilian science fiction TV series - available in English or Portuguese.

I'm watching.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Web Secret 452: Atlas Obscura

Hidden worlds.

Once you get past the obvious travel destinations and sights, what is there to see?

As it turns out, a whole lot.

Let the website "Atlas Obscura" show you the way.

Atlas Obscura describes itself as "the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places.

In an age where everything seems to have been explored and there is nothing new to be found, we celebrate a different way of looking at the world. If you're searching for miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper, the Atlas Obscura is where you'll find them."


In my own New York City backyard, I discovered the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital Ruins.

When I was a teenager, my mother and her Parisian friends were perplexed by my insistence on visiting the Catacombes de Paris, the underground burial site of 6 million people.

The website is inspiring me to visit the Vampire Café in Tokyo, Japan.

Or Ball's Pyramid in Australia, a barren sea spire that is home to the world's rarest insect.

But for now, I will happily armchair travel.

And you should too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Web Secret 451: machine learning

Machine learning: a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.

Essentially, the computer teaches itself.

Concretely, what does that mean?

Google invested a huge amount of expertise, time and money to teach its Google Translate program to do just that.

A recent article in the New York Times, The Great A.I. Awakening by Gideon Lewis-Kraus explains what happened next.

Google Translate suddenly and almost immeasurably improved.

Like overnight.

A Japanese professor noticed this happen. He told the program to translate a Japanese version of Hemingway's “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” into English. In 24 hours, Google Translate went from producing this:

"Kilimanjaro is 19,710 feet of the mountain covered with snow, and it is said that the highest mountain in Africa. Top of the west, “Ngaje Ngai” in the Maasai language, has been referred to as the house of God. The top close to the west, there is a dry, frozen carcass of a leopard. Whether the leopard had what the demand at that altitude, there is no that nobody explained."

to this:

"Kilimanjaro is a mountain of 19,710 feet covered with snow and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. The summit of the west is called “Ngaje Ngai” in Masai, the house of God. Near the top of the west there is a dry and frozen dead body of leopard. No one has ever explained what leopard wanted at that altitude."

In his article, Lewis-Kraus noted that "Even to a native English speaker, the missing article on the leopard is the only real giveaway that [the passage] was the output of an automaton."

Remarkable.

Machine learning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Web Secret 450: Man Therapy

I am frequently asked what is typical utilization for an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

And I answer "it depends."

The reason is demographics. If you have mostly female employees, you are always going to have much higher utilization than if you have mostly male employees.

Men have greater difficulty seeking help than women. It's a stereotype, but unfortunately true.

In 2006, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decided to tackle the challenge of male suicide prevention. Cactus, a Denver based ad agency, offered to do some pro bono work and come up with a campaign that would reach working aged men who were potentially high risk for suicide and unlikely to seek help on their own.

Their brilliant idea? Man Therapy, an interactive mental health campaign targeting working age men (25-54) that employs humor to cut through stigma and tackle issues like depression, divorce and anxiety. The campaign features the fictional Dr. Rich Mahogany, described by Adam Newman in the New York Times as “an affable, mustachioed, middle-aged man whose personality might be described as Dr. Phil meets Ron Burgundy...” The underlying message is that all men should be aware of their mental health, treat it like they would a broken leg and strive to get better.

The centerpiece of the campaign is the ManTherapy.org website, where men and their loved ones will find they have a virtual appointment with Dr. Mahogany. He greets visitors, makes them feel at ease and then provides an overview of what they can explore during their visit.

From there, visitors can navigate through Dr. Mahogany’s office where they can find useful information about men’s mental health including the Guy’s Guide to Gentlemental Health. Men can also choose to take an 18-question quiz to evaluate their own mental health, access resources and explore a wide range of actions, including accessing do-it-yourself tips, seeking therapy referral sources, linking to local support groups or a crisis line.

Here is a sample Man Therapy video:


I encourage you to explore every link on this innovative, entertaining website. The approach has been successfully exported to other countries and won countless awards.

Bravo.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Web secret 449: TZK seminars

This past year, the New York State division of professional licensing announced that there would now be a continuing ed requirement for me to renew my license as a clinical social worker.

I immediately went on line to find out where and how I could acquire the requisite CEUs.

Most of the approved providers were outrageously expensive and inconvenient.

Hello TZK seminars.

Now I was a little cautious because quite frankly the name "TZK seminars" accompanied by a very 90s looking, no frills website seemed sketchy.

TZK seminars sounded like the subject of an infomercial on some open access channel at 3 am.

In this case, do not judge the website by its landing page.

TZK is a super convenient, incredibly affordable, excellent resource to get CEUs via live and recorded (home study) webinars.

So far I have watched:

The Treatment of Hoarding Home Study

Understanding and Treating The Cybersexually Addicted

New Developments in Ethics and the Law

Being an Expert in Child Custody Cases.

All have been excellently taught and interesting.

I can get my CEUs without ever leaving my apartment.

I also like that TZK allows you to sign up for a live webinar at the very last minute - even 15 minutes before the program starts. I never know when I am going to have a block of time to get continuing ed and I love being able to squeeze in some learning whenever it suits me. TZK sends me a url where I can access the program, and I have the choice of calling in or using my computer to listen to the audio.

Easy.

Other than watching the webinars, TZK requires a validation test after each program before emailing the certificate of attendance.

Well done, TZK!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Web Secret 448: Fake apps

It stands to reason that if we have fake news, we can have fake apps.

And unfortunately, you can't assume that an app is safe to use just because it's listed in the Apple store or Google Play store. Fake apps pop up faster than our mobile services can get rid of them, so it is on users to perform due diligence.

Most of us rely on apps to help make our lives more convenient and more fun. (In fact, 85% of the time we spend on smartphones is on apps.)

I, for example, am hopelessly addicted to Fairway Solitaire, (download at your own peril.) However, app scams are on the rise. From Uber to banking apps to shopping apps, hackers are tricking smartphone users with fake apps.

Just last week users were tricked by a ‘Coach’ app which promised 20 percent off bags,” says Karl Volkman, CTO of SRV, Inc. and tech trends expert. (Full disclosure, Karl sent me a press release with the info quoted in this blog post.)  “However, Coach actually doesn’t have an app at all.”

So how can you tell the difference between a fake app and a real app? Volkman says to look for the following things:

Be a grammar nazi. Check for incorrect spelling, poor grammar, or other signs that the app was not created by a professional organization.

Read the reviews. It’s important not to just zero in on a five-star score, especially as reviews can be easily faked. Instead, read the reviews and look for signs it may not be authentic. Again, check for excessively poor grammar/spelling, as well as over-the-top gushing about the app. If you are seeing nothing but rave reviews for a unheard of app, chances are that there something is amiss.

Talk to your tech buddies or people at the Genius bar. “Say, ‘Hey, have you ever heard of this app?’” suggests Volkman. “Ask around. For example, if the people in the Coach scam mentioned above had asked around about the Coach app, they might have learned that Coach does not even have a app.”

Look for the logos. Hackers will often mimic logos (such as that of Netflix, Coach, or Uber) and the results will look quite good…until you look a little deeper. Perhaps it is fuzzy, off-center, or otherwise poorly reproduced.

Check the developer’s profile. Who created the app? Look them up online if possible. A reputable developer should have a Google trail.

Then download Fairway Solitaire.