Friday Faves: What We’re Reading This Week

Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

The Future of Work in Australia: Anticipating how new technologies will reshape labour markets, occupations and skill requirements

Anne says: This week I selected a report prepared for the NSW Department of Education, authored by the Centre for Workplace Leadership (a partnership with University of Melbourne and Commonwealth Department of Employment). The report reviewed current technological advances – such as automation, AI, robotics – with a view to the future of work, future roles, skills and employment opportunities.

This report attracted my attention, predominantly because it was a local Australian report that considers our context – economical, social and political position. Not surprisingly, many of the findings are similar to other reports focused on US or EU contexts. In particular, one of the findings regarding the effects of new technologies, found no evidence of disappearing jobs which appears to be mostly overemphasised hype. Older, traditional jobs may be changing or eliminated, but new ones are negating these effects on the employment market. However, what was evident in the results, again nothing new here, was the changing nature of work. People are still needed for abstract, cognitive tasks, while the routine tasks subside due to automation.

The authors cited their scepticism in terms of job losses in Australia of 40% due to the introduction of automation. Their view aligns more to impacts of changing jobs, altered job structures and hours of work, rather than losses. In contrast to other countries, it appears the Australian workforce has been shielded by investments in upskilling and education. Their recommendations support further investment in the uniquely human skills: communication, teamwork and empathy, which they cite as our foundational advantage over machines.

This report contains messages for both organisations and individuals – to stay current and employable you need to invest in education. Robots won’t be taking our jobs tomorrow, but automation and other technologies are going to impact the nature of work.


Why Your Board Needs A Chief Philosophy Officer

Nat says: There seems to be numerous types of ‘Chiefs’ for all the corporate ‘Indians’ of the modern workplace these days. Some of the different types are listed below, but what caught my attention with the shared article is that businesses in France, and even Google in the US, have begun hiring in-house philosophers as the next ‘Chief’ inside the company. In the words of the article, this new Chief is said to be a “mixture of consultant, life coach and strategist”.

  • Chief Information Officer
  • Chief Administrative Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Customer Officer
  • Chief Ethics Officer
  • Chief Risk Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Chief Happiness Officer

The philosophical lover that I am really likes the idea of a Chief Philosophy Officer (CPO), but I do however have my reservations about who should fill such a role (of course I have concerns, I wouldn’t be into philosophy if I didn’t!). The reason being is that philosophy, as an approach towards interpreting the world and its meaning, is based on multiple and conflicting schools of thought. There is no right or wrong or definitive answer, there is only contemplation, hence what makes philosophy philosophical. As a side note, there is a great Monty Python philosophy skit that probably tells you all you need to know about philosophy.

In hiring a CPO, one would automatically question which philosophical school of thought the person aligns to, as this will influence their perception of the company and the level of contribution the CPO will make. A big problem for me is that most philosophical education, especially in Western contexts, has its formalized teachings and practices predominately geared towards Western schools of thought only. The reason I bring this up is that there are hundreds of Eastern philosophies that are seldom explored but for which, in my opinion, are more than complimentary with the established Western views.

For example, one of the things that makes some Eastern philosophy interesting for me is a critique of identity. In the West we celebrate our individualism often at the cost of our collective society. We believe we came into this world, rather than coming out of it. The former situating us as being different from nature, the latter seeing us an expression of it. How we see the relationship between self and other is fundamental to philosophical thought. For business, this can impact perceptions on corporate social responsibility, ethics, sustainability, and technology. Furthermore, philosophy itself attracts criticism. In fact, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th C, Martin Heidegger, famously said that “Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy”. He instead turned to art as an avenue for human truth revelation, and he also engaged in Taoist and Zen Buddhist texts (aka Eastern philosophies) in the formation of his so-called ‘Western’ ideas. So, perhaps, the real ‘Chief’ that businesses need to invest in are in fact artists or even ‘enlightened Gurus’ — someone who will actually make people within the company question their very existence.


NASA twins Scott and Mark Kelly are not quite as identical as they used to be

Joel says: This week’s tech news has been mostly made up of near endless articles about Facebooks and the Cambridge Analytica incident. But filtering through all that I found an interesting article about a pair of identical twins employed by Nasa who after a trip to space are no longer as identical as they were before the trip.

Space travel and DNA story. What’s not to like?

One twin went to space, the other stayed on Earth — and the year they spent apart seems to have left its mark on their DNA. As part of NASA’s Twins Study, astronaut Scott Kelly was sent to the International Space Station while his identical brother Mark, also an astronaut, stayed on Earth. NASA created the study to research how one year in space could affect the human body.

Researchers took biological samples from Scott before, during and after his mission and then compared them to Mark’s samples. The full findings will be revealed in an official study later this year but the preliminary insights have revealed that a few thousand genes were altered during Scott’s space station sojourn — no great surprise, given the stress placed on his body — some 7 per cent of those genes did not return to normal expression levels, even six months after landing.

NASA has also learned that Scott’s chromosomes lengthened during his time in space. Inside his white blood cells, the protective caps or “telomeres” at the end of each chromosome expanded.

“Researchers now know that 93 per cent of Scott’s genes returned to normal after landing,” NASA said.

“However, the remaining 7 per cent point to possible longer-term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia.”

The study was designed to explore the health risks that humans might face during extremely long-haul spaceflight, such as travelling to Mars.

Since the publishing of this artilcle NASA have released an update to the preliminary findings to clear up some of the ambiguous wording of the initial report after other scientists pointed out that if Scott’s DNA had changed by 7% he would be scientifically classified as a new species and no longer human. The scientists say the findings in the preliminary report are actually caused by gene expression.

NASA issued the following statement updating this article on March 15, 2018:

Mark and Scott Kelly are still identical twins; Scott’s DNA did not fundamentally change. What researchers did observe are changes in gene expression, which is how your body reacts to your environment. This likely is within the range for humans under stress, such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving.

The change related to only 7 percent of the gene expression that changed during spaceflight that had not returned to preflight after six months on Earth. This change of gene expression is very minimal.  We are at the beginning of our understanding of how spaceflight affects the molecular level of the human body. NASA and the other researchers collaborating on these studies expect to announce more comprehensive results on the twins studies this summer.

Who knows, maybe all those sci-fi movies about mutants from space are just humans who did experience a large enough gene change?


In Data We Trust

Helen says: This week in the US the first fatality from a driverless car incident was reported. With all the hype around driverless vehicles dramatically reducing accidents by removing human error this fatality, so early in driverless car trials, has been somewhat of a shock. It’s claimed the car was operating in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel when the pedestrian was struck. So who is to blame?

An article in The Conversation by Raja Jurdak and Salil Kanhere discusses this question around liability.  Was it the driver in control, the car manufacturer, the software company, the vehicle owner, the service centre or a combination of these?

‘Autonomous vehicles are information-rich platforms thanks to the range of sensors on board that track, monitor and measure everything. Navigation sensors determine routes. Situational awareness sensors detect obstacles, follow lane marks and read traffic signs. And performance measurement monitors track critical functions like tyre pressure and oil levels.’

This data can be used to recreate the scene but can it be tampered with to influence an investigation outcome?

The authors suggest blockchain can ensure data integrity ‘by providing a reliable audit of circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as any communication between the vehicle and the participating parties immediately prior to or following the accident’. This information can be shared with all relevant parties ‘maintaining user privacy while providing transparent and reliable liability decisions.’

It’s important we get this right, not only with driverless cars, but also for other data driven technology so that we receive data we can trust and ensure correct accountability.


Banks have to know their customers. Shouldn’t Facebook and Twitter?

“…Regulators need to understand how digital platforms can be weaponised and misused against its citizens, and equally importantly, against democracy itself”.

Emilio says: Is it about time that the tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter face regulation?

In the wake of damning revelations this week that the data firm linked to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Cambridge Analytica, had accessed personal data of 50 million Facebook users, the chorus for regulation is growing and getting louder – as is the movement for users to leave Facebook altogether due to this alarming breach of privacy.

To drive home the point, an interesting analogy is being made in this article between financial institutions and the tech behemoths like Facebook – where the former is subject to comprehensively stringent regulations to ensure no criminal and unlawful activity results in the sending and receiving of funds; but none exists for the latter. 

Overnight, Facebook founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised for the privacy breach – and said the question was not whether Facebook should be regulated so much as how best to do it. “I’m not sure we (Facebook) shouldn’t be regulated”, he said. He added that he’d like to see regulation on advertising transparency. 

To this end, legislation in the US is being drafted to regulate online political advertising that would require social media platforms like Facebook to disclose who is buying and running political ads – but many argue this won’t go far enough to police the platforms entirely and protect the personal data of users.

Further, there is the added complexity of the existence of millions of automated users (ie, bots) which could be hard to stop in their tracks of disseminating propaganda.

Given that social media platforms like Facebook haven’t been around for a long time, perhaps closer scrutiny is warranted now. As the pieces of the puzzle are unraveling showing how Facebook was used as a vehicle for political mass manipulation in the US, assisted by foreign organisations who had done it quite easily, public sentiment towards full accountability of tech platforms like Facebook is mounting, and the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal could well be the tipping point. 


Facebook and the death of privacy

Jakkii says: If you weren’t anticipating I’d talk about Facebook this week, you haven’t been reading my Friday Fave pieces of late! (wink)

Concerns with Facebook’s (and other tech giants’) ability to regulate itself, manage privacy and protect data are nothing new – we’ve touched on these issues in previous Friday Faves. Their role in the disruption of democracy – real or perceived, small or large – isn’t new either, and is something I’ve covered in past Friday Faves in some detail. Yet despite growing concerns among researchers, analysts and interested parties, by and large there seems to have been a collective ‘what can we do?’ shrugging off of all of this – until now. Since the Cambridge Analytica story first broke last week, Facebook seems to be all anyone is talking about at the moment.

And rightly so. This story has so many elements, not least of which is something we simply do not discuss enough – ethics. Much of the defences being made by Facebook, the researcher who conducted the survey that harnessed the data sold to Cambridge Analytica (CA), and indeed CA themselves are simply ‘we/they didn’t (technically) do anything wrong.’

It’s true that the user Terms of Service (ToS) at the time of the data collection allowed the data to be collected in the way it was (allowing harvesting of ‘friends’ data though those friends themselves had not authorised the app or completed the survey), and it seems to also be true that there was no explicit ‘rule’ that disallowed the onsale of data to third parties – certainly it is true there was no reasonable oversight of developers and data collectors by Facebook. Yet this all fails to address the ethics behind data collection, including informed consent. It is laughable to suggest that users read, let alone understand, complex ToS that are almost exclusively written in complex language that does not make clear exactly what you are agreeing to – nor the implications of such an agreement. They are designed to protect the platform, not the user, and the general consense is that people do not read them – they agree to them as a ‘necessary evil’. It is, however, important that we educate ourselves and, at a minimum, pay more attention to our privacy and our data online. The Guardian offered up a piece this week on how to protect your privacy on Facebook, while Wired have published ‘The complete guide to Facebook privacy‘. Both are worth a review.

In terms of reading this week, I’m going to direct you to The Guardian’s collection: The Cambridge Analytica Files. This link will take you to page 2 (of 2) so you can view the oldest first – the collection is quite extensive for a story not quite a week old.

There was also an excellent thread on Twitter exploring Facebook’s ‘good intentions gone bad’, and another great one from Sir Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the web), and an opinion piece in the NY Times by Zeynep Tufekci, whose Ted Talk I have linked to in an earlier Friday Fave.

And if you haven’t read much at all about the topic, the linked piece this week is a good overview of the situation drawing largely on the perspective of a whistleblower from Facebook (or, rather, formerly of Facebook).


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast


In this episode, Kai & Sandra spend the bulk of their time talking about the Facebook & Cambridge Analytica story, which of course ties in nicely to the piece Jakkii shared. While we’d of course recommend both, if audio is more your thing, this is a must listen episode of The Future This Week.

This week: Cambridge Analytica is not the real story, backchannel gig chats, and a fading giant. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week:

This is the smoking gun at the centre of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica story

Gig platforms’ claims over worker chat groups

How GE got disrupted

Other stories we bring up:

A recap of the Cambridge Analytica saga in the Guardian

Facebook has finally been hit where it hurts the most 

Cambridge Analytica controversy and Australian political parties

Cambridge Analytica was not a data breach

Zuckerberg on Cambridge Analytica

People are increasingly having a bad user experience on Facebook

The Verge’s guide using Facebook while giving it the minimum amount of personal data


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