Uber suffered a legal blow this week when a California judge granted class action status to a lawsuit claiming the car-hailing service treats its drivers like employees, without providing the necessary benefits. Up to 160,000 Uber chauffeurs are now eligible to join the case of three drivers demanding the company pay for health insurance and expenses such as mileage. Some say a ruling against the company could doom the business model of the on-demand or “sharing” economy that Uber, Upwork and TaskRabbit represent. Whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely to reverse the most radical reinvention of work since the rise of industrialization – a massive shift toward self-employment typified by on-demand service apps and enabled by technology. That’s because it’s not a trend driven solely by these tech companies. Workers themselves, especially millennials, are increasingly unwilling to accept traditional roles as cogs in the corporate machinery being told what to do. Today, 34% of the US workforce freelances, a figure that is estimated to reach 50% by 2020. That’s up from the 31% estimated by the Government Accountability Office in a 2006 study. Many aren’t ready for the on-demand economy that Uber represents, such as these taxi drivers in Brazil. Reuters Rise of the gig-based economy In place of the traditional notion of long-term employment and the benefits that came with it, app-based platforms have given birth to the gig-based economy, in which workers create a living through a patchwork of contract jobs. Uber and Lyft connect drivers to riders. TaskRabbit helps someone who wants to remodel a kitchen or fix a broken pipe find a nearby worker with the right skills. Airbnb turns everyone into hotel proprietors, offering their rooms and flats to strangers from anywhere. Thus far, the industries where this transformation has occurred have been fairly low-skilled, but that’s changing. Start-ups Medicast, Axiom and Eden McCallum are now targeting doctors, legal workers and consultants for short-term contract-based work. A 2013 study estimated that almost half of US jobs are at risk of being replaced by a computer within 15 years, signaling most of us may not have a choice but to accept a more tenuous future. Robot suit via www.shutterstock.com The economic term referring to this transformation of how goods and services are produced is “platform capitalism,” in which an app and the engineering behind it bring together customers in neat novel economic ecosystems, cutting out traditional companies. But is the rise of the gig economy a bad thing, as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton suggested in July when she promised to “crack down on bosses misclassifying workers as contractors”? While some contend this sweeping change augurs a future of job insecurity, impermanence and inequality, others see it as the culmination of a utopia in which machines will do most of the labor and our workweeks will be short, giving us all more time for leisure and creativity. My recent research into self-organized work practices suggests the truth lies somewhere in between. Traditional hierarchies provide a certain security, but they also curb creativity. A new economy in which we are increasingly masters of our jobs as well as our lives provides opportunities to work for things that matter to us and invent new forms of collaboration with fluid hierarchies. Sharing into the abyss? Critics such as essayist Evgeny Morozov or the philosopher Byung-Chul Han highlight the dark side of this “sharing economy.” Instead of a collaborative commons, they envision the commercialization of intimate life. In this view, the likes of Uber and Airbnb are perverting the initial collaborative nature of their business models – car-sharing and couch-surfing – adding a price and transforming them from shared goods into commercial products. The unspoken assumption is that you have the choice between renting and owning, but “renting” will be the default option for the majority. Idealists take another tack. Part of the on-demand promise is that technology makes it easier to share not only cultural products but also cars, houses, tools or even renewable energy. Add increasing automation to the picture and it invokes a society in which work is no longer the focus. Instead, people spend more of their time in creative and leisurely activities. Less drudge, more time to think. The “New Work movement,” formed by philosopher Frithjof Bergmann in the late 1980s, envisioned such a future, while economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin imagines consumers and producers becoming one and the same: prosumers. From self-employment to self-organization Both of these extremes seem to miss the mark. In my view, the most decisive development underlying this discussion is the need for worker self-organization as the artificial wall between work and life dissolves. My recent work has involved studying how the relationship between managers and workers has evolved, from traditional structures that are top-down, with employees doing what they’re told, to newer ones that boast self-managing teams with managers counseling them or even the complete abolition of formal hierarchies of rank. While hierarchy guarantees a certain security and offers a lot of stability, its absence frees us to work more creatively and collaboratively. When we’re our own boss we bear more responsibility, but also more reward. And as we increasingly self-organize alongside others, people start to experiment in various ways, from peer to peer and open source projects to social entrepreneurship initiatives, bartering circles and new forms of lending. The toughest tension for workers will be how best to balance private and work-related demands as they are increasingly interwoven. Avoiding the pitfalls of platform capitalism Another risk is that we will become walled in by the platform capitalism being built by Uber and TaskRabbit but also Google, Amazon and Apple, in which companies control their respective ecosystems. Thus, our livelihoods remain dependent on them, like in the old model, just without the benefits workers have fought for many decades. In his recent book “Postcapitalism,” Paul Mason eloquently puts it like this: “the main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial.” To avoid this fate, it’s essential to create sharing and on-demand platforms that follow a non-market rationale, such as through open source technologies and nonprofit foundations, to avoid profit overriding all other considerations. The development of the operating system Linux and web browser Firefox are examples of the possibility and merits of these models. Between hell and heaven Millennials grew up in the midst of the birth of a new human age, with all the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. As they take over the workforce, the traditional hierarchies that have long dictated work will continue to crumble. Socialized into the participatory world of the web, millennials prefer to self-organize in a networked way using readily available communication technology, without bosses dictating goals and deadlines. But this doesn’t mean we’ll all be contractors. Frederic Laloux and Gary Hamel have shown in their impressive research that a surprisingly broad range of companies have already acknowledged these realities. Amazon-owned online shoe retailer Zappos, computer game designer Valve and tomato-processor Morning Star, for example, have all abolished permanent managers and handed their responsibilities over to self-managing teams. Without job titles, team members flexibly adapt their roles as needed. Mastering this new way of working takes us through different networks and identities and requires the capacity to organize oneself and others as well as to adapt to fluid hierarchies. As such, it may be the the fulfillment of Peter Drucker’s organizational vision: … in which every man sees himself as a “manager” and accepts for himself the full burden of what is basically managerial responsibility: responsibility for his own job and work group, for his contribution to the performance and results of the entire organization, and for the social tasks of the work community. Bernhard Resch, Researcher in Organizational Politics, University of St.Gallen This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The world today is facing some serious global challenges: creating sustainable development in the face of climate change, safeguarding rights and justice, and growing ethical markets, for a start. All of these challenges share some connection with science and technology – some more explicitly than others. We are currently witnessing a growth in traditional technology – with computers processing data in new and exciting ways. We’re also seeing the birth of transformative technology, such as bioengineering. But the question is not about old or new technology – rather, it is about how they are being used to facilitate or change human behaviour. Good tech, bad tech Developments in information and communication technology (ICT) are vitally important to help us make better, more informed choices about how we prepare for the future. For instance, democratic governance is about being able to articulate contesting views across society and from different parts of the government. The advent of the internet allows us to receive and spread such information. Likewise, security and public safety relies on having good information on risks and their potential threats. Consider, for example, the way police departments in New York and Memphis have been able to make better use of data to prevent crime. While science and technology are giving us the tools to improve, they – and the people who use them – are also presenting serious problems. Technology connects us, but it also makes us vulnerable to cyber-attacks. The amount of information that we produce every day through our phones and computers can help shape our environment to cater to us. But it also means that our identities are perhaps more vulnerable than ever before, with smart phones and club cards tracking our every move. Similarly, in biology, we are able to make amazing gains in physical corrections, repairs, amendments, and augmentations, whether replacing old limbs or growing new ones. But we must also seriously consider the issues around ethics, safety and security. The debate around gain of function experiments, which give diseases new properties to help us study them, is a good example. Hopes and fears To help us grasp the shape and scope of these challenges, the Millennium Project – an international think tank – releases an annual State of the Future report, which outlines the major hurdles facing humanity over the next 35 years. It illustrates our complicated relationship with science and technology. Just as the beginning of the industrial revolution influenced the underlying themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we too are worried about the unforeseen complications that the latest developments could bring. The report tells us of the great hopes that synthetic biology will help us write genetic code like we write computer code; about the power of 3D printing to customise and construct smart houses; of the future of artificial intelligence where the human mind and the computer mind meet, rather than conflict. Frankenstein bringing his monster to life. twm1340/flickr, CC BY-SA But at the same time, the authors of the report – Jerome Glenn, Elizabeth Florescu and their team – express fears that there is a great chance we could be outstripped in pace by the evolution of scientific and technological development. The authors suggest that we seek out human-friendly control systems, since advances in these fields mean that lone individuals could make and deploy weapons of mass destruction. There are two concerns here: one to do with agency, the other relating to structures. Individuals have the potential to use scientific and technological advances to cause harm. This is a growing problem, as science and technology continues to degrade what Max Weber referred to as the state’s “monopoly on violence”. To reduce the risks associated with agency, we will rely on structures that encourage good behaviour, such as systems for justice, education and the provision of basic necessities for life. But it is not clear how we will arrive at such structures, and where the responsibility to develop them will fall; whether it’s to regions, states or international organisations. This is especially pressing, as many states have either foregone a welfare system, or are in the process of destroying it. It’s unclear where education and training come in, or how regulatory control is to work across so many local, national, societal, and commercial boundaries. An ethical approach? Whether or not our global society is outstripped by science and technology largely depends on us. And this is part of the problem, as William Nordhaus warned us as early as 1982, in his work on the Global Commons. The report calls for an ethical approach to creating systems, forms of information, and models of control that would allow us to engage with science and technology as it develops. This means embedding ethical considerations into the way we think about the future. The authors want a larger discussion on global ethics, such as that we have seen rooted in the work done by the International Organisation for Standardisation – the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards. Ultimately, where we end up in relation to science and technology is a matter of coming to terms with how we interact with these developments. Until we do so, a safe and prosperous world may elude us. David J Galbreath is Professor of International Security, Director of Centre for War and Technology at University of Bath. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The digital economy contributed $79 billion to the Australian economy in 2013/14, representing 5.1% of Australia’s gross domestic product, while 22% of employees now work intensively with ICT, according to a new Deloitte Access Economics report. The report, titled The Connected Continent II: How digital technology is transforming the Australian economy, was commissioned by Google and follows up from a similar report in 2011. The $79 billion contribution is up from $50 billion or 3.6% of GDP in 2011, representing a 50% increase in real terms. It is forecast to grow further to $139 billion, or 7.3% of GDP, by 2020. To put that into perspective, mining currently represents 8.3% of the Australian economy, manufacturing is 6.4%, and construction is 8%. However, the digital economy is already a larger slice of the Australian economy than transport (4.7%), real estate services (2.7%), education (4.6%) and retail. A number of sectors that are larger, such as finance (8.3%) and health tech (6.4%) are in the process of being disrupted by tech startups or absorbed into the tech sector. Around 4% of Australia’s workforce is directly employed in specialist information and communication technology (ICT) roles, but this figure sells short how important the sector is in terms of the workforce. Less than 3% of all ICT workers are directly employed by the tech and media sectors. Meanwhile 2.5 million employees, or 22% of the workforce, are in positions that involve regularly dealing with ICT. These knowledge workers include accountants, accounting clerks, advertising, public relations and sales managers. According to the report, aside from direct economic activity involving ICT and tech workers, the sector plays an important role in accelerating the rest of the national economy. “We estimate that the economy was about $45 billion bigger in 2013 than it otherwise would have been because of the productivity impacts of digital technologies, approximately 3% of the Australian economy. Higher productivity means Australia has greater output for its inputs to production,” the report states. The full report can be downloaded here. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.
News that Google representatives are in talks with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are seen as further evidence the web company is looking to set up a series of low-orbit satellites to help connect more people to the internet. Reports earlier this month said Google was planning to spend more than US$1 billion on a network of 180 satellites to provide internet access from space. Then Google revealed last week that it paid US$500 million for the satellite imaging company Skybox. It says the deal will give it access to better imaging technology for Google Maps, but it could also see it launch a new satellite network for delivering internet access. Google is already experimenting with new ways to provide internet access in remote locations through its Project Loon, which began in New Zealand last year and uses antenna held aloft in balloons. Access to digital networks and information are playing an increasingly important role as we move towards a more networked society. The global population today is approximately 7.1 billion, yet only 2.4 billion people are connected to the internet. Over the next six years this is expected to double, reaching 5 billion in 2020. It’s not just about the web Significantly, internet users will not be the key source of growth. There is increasing demand coming from a range of devices, systems and infrastructure being connected to the internet – home security systems, personal health monitors, cars, trams, trains, smart meters for power, gas and water, traffic lights and offices, as well as public spaces and buildings. As the internet is further industrialised the big technology companies are tapping into the growth in networked devices – usually referred to as the Internet of Things. Currently, 16 billion devices such as smart phones, tablets, security systems and smart meters have a network connection. This will grow exponentially towards 50 billion in 2020. There is a change in the focus of connectivity too - from individual people to houses, towns and cities. Large information and communication technology (ICT) companies such as Google are driving this increase in global connectivity, as their biggest market growth opportunity lies in the areas of population that do not have internet access. The World Economic Forum – which monitors the digital divide through its annual Networked Readiness Index – also sees the urgency in making the internet accessible to remote communities from the developing world. They are the people likely to benefit from substantial improvements in the quality of life through access to ICT. Other players trying to connect the world Google is not alone in this race. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has also announced similar satellite plans to connect the unconnected, through the internet.org project. There have been past attempts to increase internet connectivity via satellites, such as the Iridium Project by Motorolla, now Iridium Communications. Iridium provides satellite phone connectivity across the globe via a constellation of 66 satellites. The service is limited by very low data rates - approximately 10kpbs - with costs of around A$1 to A$2 per minute of access. Well ahead of its time, the Iridium project faced significant challenges with a range of technological issues as well as failing to effectively monetise the idea. There were serious issues with the inter-satellite links needed to maintain the network, its handsets were bulky and its internet access plans were expensive. It remains largely an emergency communication tool and for infrequent access such as asset tracking in maritime/defence applications. Iridium plans to launch a new satellite service, Iridium NEXT, delivering peak download rates of 1.5Mbs by 2017. We will have to wait to see if the second incarnation of Iridium can increase its subscriber base. There have also been several other commercially yet-to-be-proven proposals that looked at high altitude long operation platforms making use of aircrafts and balloons to deliver similar broadband services. These platforms use the millimetre-wave (30-300 gigahertz range) frequency bands (currently targeting around 28-33 gigahertz range) to deliver broadband wireless services to locations theoretically wherever access is required. But none have yet to offer a product to market. Current satellite constellations are small (such as the 66 in Iridium) with each satellite often covering an area in excess of 1000km2. With limited bandwidth (often less than 100 megahertz available) to share between thousands of subscribers, individual subscribers get very low internet speeds. Looking for growth Yet new services are emerging. The Federal Communications Commission in the United States has approved Globalstar’s request to use a frequency band adjacent to the WiFi frequency window to offer satellite based WiFi coverage. Additionally, operators such as Intelsat and Inmarsat provide satellite internet connectivity across the globe. The growth in connected people and things presents an expanding market opportunity. Google’s business relies on its users delivering information upon which it can target advertising. It appears to be pre-emptively meeting the projected demand in order to increase its services. Satellite technology has matured and is now able to provide increased access and throughput to users and devices. Google’s approach is similar to that deployed by mobile phone operators. By increasing the number of satellites, individual beams can cover smaller areas, approximately 100-200km2 thus sharing scarce frequency spectrum with fewer customers, increasing internet access rates. Competition for Australia’s NBN In Australia, NBN Co offers broadband plans using existing satellites to about 3% of Australian population scattered around the massive landmass in areas with lower population density. The company has been designing its own satellites, which will be launched soon to increase access to broadband in remote Australia. But the project is facing major obstacles in terms of securing the highly regulated satellite launch rights. It is reported that NBN is in negotiation to secure a launch orbit spot. Google is not confining its vision to satellites or balloons. Google Fiber also plans to offer fibre connections with greatly improved speeds (compared to that offered by NBN) in selected USA cities directly competing with traditional telcos such as AT&T. This is driving innovation in the sector, with these new technologies providing possible options for the NBN to deliver broadband to cheaper and faster to remote Australian regions where wireline access to broadband may be difficult. Google’s satellite play highlights its serious intention to move into the new converging world of computing and communications, driving further competition and changes in the communications sector in the near future. Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas is currently the Director of Melbourne Accelerator Programs (MAP) which supports entrepreneurial activities of the University Community through business acceleration models. He is also an Associate Director for the Institute for the Broadband-Enabled Society. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
The father of Swisse chief executive Radek Sali has launched a defamation action following claims on ABC’s consumer affairs program The Checkout, claiming a recent episode ‘‘severely injured his reputation and standing’’. Presenters Craig Reucassel and Julian Morrow along with executive producer Nick Murray and the ABC are all named as defendants in the lawsuit. Avni Sali’s lawsuit centres around claims made during the episode broadcast March 21, which alleged the National Institute of Integrative Medicine he founded was not independent in conducting clinical tests of Swisse products. “The program was meant and was understood to mean that the plaintiff performed clinical tests... and then manipulated the published results for the commercial benefit of Swisse,’’ Sali says. Packer lieutenant John Alexander appointed to Seven West Media board Seven West Media has announced it is appointing John Alexander, the former executive deputy chairman of James Packer's Crown Casino empire, to its board of directors. "We are delighted John has accepted the invitation to join the board of Seven West Media," Seven West chairman Kerry Stokes states. “His success in media and business speaks for itself. His appointment adds further depth to the board of our company as it continues to develop its businesses.” Treasury looks at closing tax loopholes for digital services The Treasury has released an issues paper examining the ways in which international online giants, including Google, Apple and Microsoft, minimise their tax bills by shifting profits from online services into low-tax jurisdictions. “The global reach of multinational enterprises, along with the developments in information and communication technology…provides them with a high degree of flexibility in how to structure their affairs,” the paper states. “These developments raise serious concerns about the efficiency, equity and sustainability of the income tax system.” The paper also calls for submissions suggesting possible solutions to the erosion of tax revenues by international tech companies, along with further data that could assist the Australian Tax Office. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.9% to 14831.6. The Aussie dollar is up to US102.48 cents.
The Victorian Government has unveiled the $8 million Technology Voucher Program in a bid to drive the use of cutting-edge technologies, offering vouchers worth up to $250,000.
The tech industry says the decision to scrap the living-away-from-home allowance will make it harder to attract overseas talent, as firms become increasingly reliant on skilled foreign workers.
A new survey reveals that men prefer instant messaging to communicate with colleagues and customers away from the workplace while women gravitate towards social media.