US government blind to workplace automation, study warns

Policymakers do not have anywhere near enough information or data about how technological advancements and workplace automation could impact on the future of work, according to a study by researchers at the US’ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).

The study, Information Technology and the US Workforce: Where Are We and Where Do We Go From Here, presents a stark warning about how little the US government knows about what the impact of advances in IT, robotics and artificial intelligence on jobs will be, concluding that such a lack of knowledge could be catastrophic to the job market.

“Policymakers are flying blind into what has been called the fourth industrial revolution,” said the study co-chairs, Tom M Mitchell, the E Fredkin University Professor in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science, and Erik Brynjolfsson, the Schussel Family Professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Robots may already have impacted manufacturing, but wider technological advances could have an effect on almost every industry and occupation

Published today alongside a commentary by Mitchell and Brynjolfsson in the journal Nature, the study concludes that technological advances will likely have an impact greater than any workplace disruption previously – potentially impacting almost all jobs – and yet the US government has very little data about what may happen.

“There is a dramatic shortage of information and data about the exact state of the workforce and automation, so policymakers don’t know answers to even basic questions such as ‘Which types of technologies are currently having the greatest impacts on jobs?’ and ‘What new technologies are likely to have the greatest impact in the next few years?'” Mitchell explained.

“Our NASEM study report details a number of both positive and negative influences technology has had on the workforce. These include replacing some jobs by automation, creating the opportunity for new types of freelance work in companies like Uber and Lyft, and making education and retraining courses available to everyone through the internet. But nobody can judge today the relative impact these different forces have made on the workforce, or their net outcome.”

Donald Trump may not welcome the research, as it could impact upon his current focus on bringing jobs back to the US. Image courtesy of Andrew Cline /

The study argues that more research is urgently needed to determine how automation and other technological advances are set to impact on the future US workforce, with the co-chair’s commentary going so far as to call for an integrated information strategy that would pull together both public and privately held data into one unified source.

“Governments must learn the lessons that industry has learned over the past decade, about how to take advantage of the exploding volume of online, real-time data to design more attractive products and more effective management policies,” Mitchell said.

However, the study may not be welcomed by the Trump administration. The research comes at a time when the new administration is determined to attract manufacturing back to the US, and generate large numbers of new jobs in the process. As a result, such suggestions of a future problem with employment may not be met favourably.

Who’s watching now? Congress repeals broadband privacy protections

By a slim majority, the US House of Representatives has voted to repeal the broadband privacy protections put in place by the Obama administration. With the protections removed, internet providers such as Comcast or Time Warner will now be able to gather up all your data and use it to make truckloads more money.

Following a win for the internet providers in the Senate last week, the repeal passing by 50-48, Congress sealed the deal with a vote of 215-205 in favour of repeal. Predictably, the vote broke along party lines, with Democrats opposing the repeal while Republicans favoured the corporations. Notably however, 15 Republicans did break party lines to vote alongside the Democrats.

The bill will now pass to the White House and all signs indicate that Donald Trump is strongly in favour of the repeal. Supposedly, there will be a requirement for consumers to opt-in to their internet provider using and sharing their data but it’s hard to believe that, without the now outbound restrictions, there won’t be loopholes and shameless exploitation of the data now available.

Comcast is among the internet service providers that stand to benefit from the repeal. Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

However, in case you were worried that this was all done simply out of greed or well established corporate favouritism amongst the Republican Party, fear not. It turns out, they’re simply being fair. Because websites such as Google and Facebook don’t face the same restrictions as internet providers, it’s only fair for those restrictions to be taken off the providers. Why shouldn’t they also have the chance to hijack and sell your data?

FCC chairman, and one time Verizon Associate General Counsel, Ajit Pai released a statement in which he praised Congress’ decision to overturn “privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favoured companies over another group of disfavoured companies.”

So, in case it wasn’t abundantly clear here, the issue is not that consumers’ data is vulnerable to misuse by web companies (in which case you think you’d just extend the same restrictions on internet providers to companies such as Google) but that not enough companies are getting the chance to misuse said data.

Notably, while appointed to the FCC by President Obama, Pai only became Chairman under Trump and was in fact initially recommended to the FCC by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. Since his appointment as Chairman he has already taken swipes at net neutrality and, with his position in this new repeal, seems determined to ensconce himself, and by extension the FCC, as not so much independent but an additional branch of corporate cronyism.

Donald Trump is thought to be in favour of the repeal. Image courtesy of Andrew Cline /

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the recent repeal has significantly spiked interest in the use of VPNs. NordVPN alone has received an 86% surge in inquiries in the last few days. Given that any data passing through standard channels is about to go up for sale, it is perhaps sensible to look into alternatives.

“Such spikes in user interest in VPNs are not unusual – whenever a government announces increase in surveillance, people turn to privacy tools. We saw similar spikes back in November when UK passed the law dubbed ‘The Snoopers Charter’ or after the revelation about CIA surveillance by the Wikileaks,” said NordVPN’s CMO, Marty P Kamden.

“We are worried about the global tendency to invade Internet users’ privacy, and we are glad we can offer a reliable tool that helps people keep their information private. We want to stress that privacy tools are needed every day, not only during such moments – to protect yourself from ever-growing online security threats and increasing surveillance.”

It’s worth remembering that VPNs aren’t a catch-all solution, they rely on you trusting the VPN provider not to do the same thing you’re scared of your internet provider doing to your data, if nothing else. However, with the White House’s signing of the bill all but certain, don’t be too surprised if the ads popping up for you start getting a little too specific in the coming months.