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 return of the robots

Anne says: I haven’t written about robots for a while – however – that doesn’t mean I’m not following all things robot-related! In addition, the annual Disrupt Sydney conference is a little over a month away (Friday 21 September) and this year’s theme is: Robots Against the Machine? What chance do we have of ‘raging against the machine’ if we are trained to act like robots?

We’ll be posting more about Disrupt Sydney over the coming weeks, including special rates for readers of our Friday Faves! (Here’s a link to Nat’s first blog post about our workshop).

Now – back to the robots. This week I’ve selected 2 readings – intentionally, as they represent contrasting opinions on our future with robots. Both articles appear in the New York Times Big Ideas: A special section of the Times’ philosophy series, The Stone, in which authors, artists, philosophers, scientists and entrepreneurs answer the question, “What does it mean to be human today?”

Both articles also appear to accept the existence of robots and AI in our current and future lives. In the first article, I personally align with the more optimistic future outlined. However, Sherry Turkle has always presented alternative scenarios and views with balance. Views that frequently challenge my own perspective, while reminding me to question and challenge my position.

Article 1: We Are Merging With Robots. That’s a Good Thing.

“The old boundaries of the human self are being blurred by technology. The risks are real, but the potential is astounding.”

The article starts with a brief review of the current state: how emerging technologies more broadly, and robots more specifically, are enabling us to achieve tasks and activities – some of which may have seemed previously impossible.

“It’s… a world permeated by a growing swath of alien intelligences.”

The author then poses a question about the blur between being human and technology (or machines). Followed by a warning – or is it an observation?

“Part of this process involves getting used to the alien nature and pervasive reach of the many new subintelligences that now surround us.”

Again – more questions:  “How should we negotiate this dauntingly large space of human possibility? And what costs are we willing to tolerate along the way?”

The key elements of the answer: practice and ethics. What are we willing to accept to enhance our lives? And what are the implications? Intriguing and powerful opportunities lie ahead, perhaps the tension arises more from the speed of change without stopping to consider the ethics and impacts. 


Article 2: There Will Never Be an Age of Artificial Intimacy

“Robots may be better than nothing, but they still won’t be enough.”

Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor, illustrates her views through storytelling, scenarios that allow us to imagine how the future may play out. This article is about empathy, about relationships with innate objects – or robots – allowing us to avoid or augment or replace real-life relationships. Not a new perspective, one that has already been played out in movies like Her. 

Here’s her punch line:

“Yet through our interactions with these machines, we seem to ignore this fact; we act as though the emotional ties we form with them will be reciprocal, and real, as though there is a right kind of emotional tie that can be formed with objects that have no emotions at all.”

Now – as someone that tends to give names to all sorts of objects – from my first few cars (I’ve stopped now) to pot plants, and some devices (not my laptop or mobile) – I’m not surprised by this comment. However, the concern Turkle raises is a valid reminder: people are prepared to substitute companion robots on the basis that it would be “better than nothing”. We’re prepared to delegate our care of the elderly to robots, and even as our life partners because they won’t break your heart! Her opinion weaves a pathway through immortality and what we’re going to be prepared to sacrifice and leaves us with this thought:

“Being human today is about the struggle to remain genuinely empathic ourselves. To remember why it matters, to remember what we cherish.”

Perhaps her concerns can be combined with Andy Clark’s optimism – in practice and with ethics we have the ability to navigate these future scenarios. Another common element: the authors both raise concerns that require us to imagine how the future with robots and AI will play out. Not later – now – it’s not sci-fi anymore, it’s real.


Truth, Disrupted

Nat says: Several years ago, the Journalistic concept known as “Gatewatching” entered my vocabulary. The word was coined in defiance of our internet age and the observation that publishing gates, thanks to the internet, had been opened. Before our digital and Web 2.0 evolution, certain people and certain companies controlled information dissemination and its consumption. Newspapers were printed, stories were published in magazines, television was not on-demand, and airwaves were dominated by FM radio.

These days, anyone can have an opinion and a presence online. The Gatewatching concept was in relation to such a presence, advising journos to — as the name suggests — watch the publishing gates. News these days can break-first on Twitter, anyone with access to a device and the internet can have their own YouTube channel and give advice, and anyone can create, and be a victim of, what has become known as “fake news”. A recent example warning of this comes from Jordan Peele’s impersonation of Obama saying things he never said, and the shared article takes this further by discussing our fake news age in relation to truth and reality’s disruption.

Interestingly, however, technology has always shaped or distorted our perception of reality. Take, as an example, the creation of a man-made park. You will see trees and grass, but there is nothing “natural” about their arrangement. The land was landscaped, the trees planted, and the pathway etched in and around the park solely for the purpose of human enjoyment. Or go to the cinema, as another example, and watch a sci-fi movie. You know that what you are seeing on screen is not real (such as an intergalactic space war), but the feeling you get from the cinematic experience is very much real. I think the author Don DeLillo put it best in his book Cosmopolis when he said, “There are dead stars that still shine because their light is trapped in time. Where do I stand in this light, which does not strictly exist?” Thanks to our science and technology, we know about the thing called space-time and the speed of light, meaning our questioning of what is “real” has always been debated even before our fake news digital era.

The shared article talks about the need to protect and educate people about their susceptibility online, as well as outline the broader issues of what a lack of trust and the spreading of “false” information is doing to us in terms of manipulation and deception. What such an era calls for, in one regard, is greater regulation and monitoring of those publishing “gates”, but also calls out for our own critical thinking abilities — to let reality be reality, however weirdly or falsely it presents itself, but to always question information we engage with. In the information age, we get things pushed to us and we also pull information to ourselves on a daily basis. What is needed is our attention to the questioning of such information. Can we separate art from artist? Is the line between truth and fiction really so clear-cut? When we talk about what is there, are we ignoring what is not there? The emphasis becomes not one of knowing what to think, but that you think — and how.


What really is a liveable city?

Helen says: I’ve often wondered how Melbourne could be considered the ‘most liveable city’ seven times over (now second place behind Vienna), well ahead of some of our other beautiful cities. Not to say that Melbourne is not beautiful, but weather forbid, really? As it turns out, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index was designed to help companies determine if, and how much, hardship allowance should be paid to employees when relocating them. So do the measures used to identify the most liveable city, actually reflect what is important to its residents?

According to this article, the index “uses 30 indicators to measure five categories of liveability: stability (safety), health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. And 26 of the indicators are based on the ‘judgement of in-house expert country analysts and a field correspondent based in each city’”. Who the Economist’s critics are, how the categories are determined and how the indicators are weighed are not covered in this article. This type of information comes at a pretty penny and the authors, working in the field of Urban Research at RMIT University, were restricted to freely accessible information.

Some interesting observations are made: On education – with over half of Australian students attending public schools, looking only at the availability and quality of private education provides an incomplete picture. On crime – despite having the ability to objectively measure the type and frequency of crime, a rating is still applied to safety by an Economist expert. On relevance – considerations absent include traffic congestion, sustainability, housing affordability and accessibility to essential amenities.

The article concludes that “if we really want to create liveable cities that promote the quality of life of citizens, we need transparent and objective measurements” and measurements that better reflect what is important to its residents. For my part, I’d include the weather!


ScreenX: The latest move by cinemas to fend off Netflix

Joel says: Since the rise of Netflix, cinemas are having an increasing struggle in getting people to get out of the house and view films in cinemas. The incredible value for money and ease of accessibility for not only Netflix but all streaming platforms such as Stan and HBO GO has spoiled us. I know I’ve personally said numerous times over the last year when viewing a movie trailer “I’ll see it when it releases on Blu-Ray” or “I’ll rent that when I can stream it,” and it seems movie cinemas are now having to innovate to get people like me interested in going out to the movies.

In a move to fight back against the disruption of Netflix, audiences can now see the latest cinematic releases with 270-degree views across three big screens instead of one.

Cinemas across the world are increasingly adopting a new gimmick called ScreenX, which surrounds audiences in 270 degrees — one screen at the front, two at each side — for an audiovisual experience that is supposed to be more immersive than the at-home experience.

The technology which first debuted back in 2012 has now made its way to over 150 cinemas worldwide. But only made its way to the US last year with the release of the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean film. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer said:

“Seeing our film span three entire walls of an auditorium, and to be able to have the film extend beyond the screen has been exciting”

Although, the new experience hasn’t been received overly positively by reviewers, stating that only 10-15% of the Pirates film takes advantage of the 3 screens, used mainly for wide shots before returning to the single screen and that the quality of the footage on the walls was noticeably different to the main film footage.

It’s in its early days (out here in the west) but with some work, ScreenX could be the break out hit that gets people back in the cinema. Or is it the next fad that will under deliver and go the way of 3D? Only time will tell.


How to prepare your kids for jobs that don’t exist yet

Artificial Intelligence will rule the jobs of the future, so learning how to work with it will be key. But the skills needed might not be what you expect.

Jakkii says: Robots will take our jobs! Or not. We’ve explored this topic many times throughout our Friday Faves series, so I was immediately interested in this more optimistic future-looking headline.

The author consulted with Avi Goldfarb, author and Professor at Rotman, University of Toronto. Goldfarb suggests future jobs will fall broadly into three categories:

  1. People who build artificial intelligence
  2. People who tell machines what to do
  3. Celebrities (including actors, artists, athletes, and writers)

If you stop to consider the types of work we do now, my immediate reaction is to think ‘they can’t all fit into 3 categories!’. As I reflect further, that’s probably true, yet there are also probably broader-sweeping categories than I initially think of that we could apply in order to group our work into a handful of categories. This might suggest that the continued rise of AI will eliminate jobs if we can condense our current work down into fewer groups; however, the article points to a 2017 Gartner study that found AI will create more jobs than it ‘kills’. Goldfarb says:

“The most valuable combinations of skills are going to be people who both have good training in computer science, who know how the machines work, but also understand the needs of society and the organization, and so have an understanding of humanities and social sciences,” he says. “That combination, already in the market, is where the biggest opportunities are.”

So how might we prepare for this future? The headlines:

  • Humanities
  • Don’t specialise
  • Stay tech savvy

Give the article a read for more detail on each, but I must admit though I’ve already read the article each made sense to me immediately. Nat often discusses philosophy & ‘technophilosophy’ in our Friday Faves, and in fact in one shared a piece that discussed why students should study philosophy, a view that would seem to broadly align with Goldfarb’s view and suggestion that humanities are a key aspect to preparing for the jobs of the future. AI are not humans, and though they are programmed by humans what will always separate us is our very humanity. Surely, then, the study of being human and what that has, might and should mean is as important as it ever was – for all of us.


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: Populous time bombs, disrupting death, and toddlers and aliens. 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.


Australia’s population hit 25 million

China’s demographic timebomb

Disrupting death: Technologies for digital immortality

Toddlers talking to aliens


Australian Bureau of Statistics population clock

Newest Australian resident likely to be young, female and Chinese

Australia to hit 25 million – young and growing

Evolving communities megatrend

The China Post’s Year of the Pig stamp for 2019 shows a happy pig family with three piglets


Tupac Hologram Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre Perform Coachella Live

George Lakoff’s book Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind

Silicon Valley is solving for death

Silicon Valley wants to thwart the grim reaper 


Join us on September 21 for DISRUPT.SYDNEY™ 2018: Robots against the machine?

DISRUPT.SYDNEY™, in its 6th year, is Australia’s first and oldest disruption conference. In recent years we talked a lot about what makes innovations disruptive. This year we look at the other side of the coin: Managing for innovation, disruption and change from within. With two Q&A panels, parallel workshops after lunch, and an interactive futures session on ‘digital humans’ in the afternoon, DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2018 is shaping up to be another engaging highlight.

Visit the DISRUPT.SYDNEY website for more information and registration

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may also like

a half-closed laptop sits on a desk with a mouse next to it and an empty chair

2 years ago

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…

Read more
a pile of dark grey question marks with one bright yellow and one bright blue question mark standing out from the pile, depicting better questions

2 years ago

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…

Read more
series of yellow characters on top of yellow rods, focusing on a smiling character

2 years ago

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…

Read more
Photo of a crowd of people dressed in business casual walking in a city setting, focusing on a blonde woman in the centre

2 years ago

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…

Read more