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29 June, 201329 June, 2013 0 comments TED TED
“we’re going to see more and more things that look like science fiction"

Lately, you can’t scan the technology section of a paper or magazine without seeing articles about robots replacing humans in the workforce. In a recent TED talk, economist Andrew McAfee mentions driverless cars, Siri, Watson, and other examples of robots performing jobs previously held only by humans.

In the first minute, he forecasts that “we’re going to see more and more things that look like science fiction, and fewer and fewer things that look like jobs.” Well, that sounds bleak. I almost don’t want to keep listening, but anyone who makes a statement that bold in the beginning of a TED talk is going to pivot somehow, or offer a ray of hope. So let’s stick with it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been warned that the technological age of unemployment is upon us — McAfee hearkens back to the Luddites who destroyed looms to protest the Industrial Revolution, which they were convinced would ruin us. But they were wrong. Since the Industrial Revolution, our economies have generally been okay, McAfee argues. So why would things be different this time?

Because the technology is different.

Our machines have skills that no other technology has ever had. They can see, hear, speak, understand, write, and attend to our needs, and that’s only the beginning. This is the “New Machine Age.”

But don’t worry, McAfee says. This is actually great economic news. Technological progress allows output to go up, prices to go down, and volume and quality to increase. Instead of regarding it as “shallow materialism,” McAfee suggests we regard it as “abundance,” which is what we want.

He also points out that once androids start doing all the crappy jobs, humans won’t have to do them anymore, which will provide the freedom to create a new type of society in which performers, thinkers, innovators, artists, etc. can exchange ideas and philosophies, where people who work crafts and trades can become “makers.” In short, he’s envisioning a society that “looks a lot like a TED conference.” While I love this sentiment, McAfee doesn’t really address how such a shift will enable people to pay the bills in the meantime. He seems to be suggesting that, along with a shift in occupation, we’ll also experience a shift of values in which these ideas (and not just technological ones) are worth money. Time will tell, but man do I hope he’s right.


He does acknowledge that it won’t be as easy as that, and there will be challenges. He’s not worried about the rise of killer robots or the Terminator scenario, but he is worried about the fact that corporate profits are up, while wages are down. The median income in the U.S. has gone down, while inequality continues to increase. He refers to what we all know to be true about the struggling middle class, and underscores how important it is for the middle class to be stable and prosperous.

He’s worried about middle class workers who, in addition to suffering economically, have also been proven to struggle in other areas of life. Studies show that blue-collar and middle-class workers tend to have more existential and marital/familial difficulties, and they tend to stop engaging in society as much. The class and employment disparity could, McAfee argues, threaten the “progress we made with the civil rights movement.”

Economically, this isn’t such a hard issue to solve. It’s “Econ 101,” he says, which suggests education that results in relevant, appropriate skills, entrepreneurship, and redoubled investment in infrastructure. Socially, though, it’s a lot more complicated. McAfee endorses radical solutions, such as a guaranteed minimum income and wealth distribution. He argues that they won’t make us lazy or complacent, and refers to Scandinavia, where such support systems are in place and countries boast higher social mobility than in the U.S.

McAfee’s biggest fear is that we’ll end up with “glittering technologies embedded in a shabby society, and supported by an economy that generates inequality instead of opportunity.” The solution, he argues, is to keep the middle class engaged — we have to continue to believe that the world is a fascinating place to explore. People who have been through the ringer, especially in terms of employment and economics, don’t feel that way anymore. Instead of being “bored into submission,” McAfee suggests leaning on technology to re-engage people in education and society, and raised awareness of the machine age and its implications.

He ends on a note of optimism, quoting Abraham Lincoln: “I’m a firm believer in the people.” Humans haven’t forgotten how to rise to a challenge, he assures us.

Until a robot starts writing for GFR, I’m going to believe him.

TagsTags: ted future_jobs 
17 March, 201317 March, 2013 1 comments TED TED

TedTalk by George Dyson tells the amazing story of Project Orion, a massive, nuclear-powered spacecraft that could have taken us to Saturn in five years. With a priceless insider's perspective and a cache of documents, photos and film, Dyson brings this dusty Atomic Age dream to vivid life.

TagsTags: orion 
21 May, 201221 May, 2012 0 comments TED TED

Until we escape the feedback loop of unsustainable consumerism... the reality is that job creation occurs when consumers spend money, not when robber barons amass wealth and invest in politicians and legislation to lower their taxes and favor their businesses. Endless exponential growth is a failed paradigm anyway, so why are we even arguing about the drivers of infinite consumption??

On another note, TED curator Chris Anderson is full of it in saying this was not censored, and that is "needlessly partisan" when the issue is ALL ABOUT PARTISANISM! Manipulation of perceptions is the game here, and shame on TED for not allowing an important perspective to be viewed. Anderson's excuse that the talk was rated as mediocre belies the standing ovation at the end of the video. Nick Hannauer

TagsTags: ted job_creators 
30 April, 201230 April, 2012 0 comments TED TED

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Build and Surf an Origami Hang Glider on a Wave of Air (revised August 22, 2010)

Good News! I have completed (July 2011) instructions for foam gliders, which I think are much better for beginners: easier to adjust, lighter weight so you have more time to react, not affected by high humidity (makes paper limp). To check out foam gliders, go here.

Shortcut to the EZR Origami Hang Glider Pattern (PDF)

If you want to know more about the history of walkalong gliding, there is great new material, including interviews with the pioneers of walkalong flight.

Yikes! You are surfing a paper airplane on an invisible wave of air that you create with a piece of cardboard. With practice you learn how to levitate the origami hang glider using only your hands to create the wave. Check back soon to see foam gliders

If YouTube is blocked at your school, try this SchoolTube equivalent link Part 1 Here are some still shots from the introductory video. If you would rather start walkalong gliding with an easier to build project, go here to the tumblewing instead.

If YouTube is blocked at your school, try this SchoolTube equivalent link Part 2 Here are some still shots from Part 2, the construction video.


If YouTube is blocked at your school, try this SchoolTube equivalent link Part 3 Here are some still shots from Part 3, more construction.

If YouTube is blocked at your school, try this SchoolTube equivalent link Part 4 Here are some still shots from Part 4, adjusting and flying. It is not clear in the video, but the center of gravity marks are only starting points. You can add tape if it stalls or cut off tape if it dives.

Part 5: Advanced Flying (with your hands)

If YouTube is blocked at your school, try this SchoolTube equivalent link Part 5 Here are some still shots from Part 5, flying with only your hands

Here is a video that shows how our origami hand glider flies using the same principle as big hang gliders


Here is the SchoolTube equivalent

Here is a video about the Walkalong Glider History and New Directions. Here is some text explanation for the images.


Here is the SchoolTube equivalent

Finally, here is great clip from Scientific American Frontiers. The program was mostly about Dr. Paul MacCready, the inspiring pioneer of human powered flight. However, this was a segment about his son, Dr. Tyler MacCready, and his foam walkalong glider (commercially available, see YouTube text box). Also, check out this preview of excellent video (it won an Academy Award for best short documentary) about the making of the human- powered Gossamer Condor. You can see a teenage Tyler both test piloting the airplane and flying a walkalong glider.

How did the project go for you? Contact me

Back to home page

TagsTags: glider 
21 April, 201221 April, 2012 0 comments TED TED

A fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners who aren't echo chambers.” (Margaret Heffernan)

Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counterintuitively) how the best partners aren’t echo chambers -- and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree. The former CEO of five businesses, Margaret Heffernan explores the all-too-human thought patterns -- like conflict avoidance and selective blindness -- that lead managers and organizations astray.

TagsTags: dare ted 
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