Guest Author

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

Pick a path - FutureworkNZ

Jun 13, 2019

Dave Heatley Technology is an irresistible force, emerging from inventors and relentlessly changing the nature of work and society. Or at least that’s the way it is often portrayed. You can see this in the titles of books about technology, including Average is Over and Race Against the Machine. But do societies and governments have choices about the technologies they adopt and accept? New Zealander Kinley Salmon argues in his book Jobs, Robots & Us that there are different types of technology, with different impacts on work. He describes these types as: Efficiency innovations, which allow firms to make and sell existing products for lower prices. These tend to reduce the demand for labour. Sustaining innovations, which improve existing products. These don’t generate large numbers of new jobs. Read More

The mothers of invention - FutureworkNZ

Jun 10, 2019

Dave Heatley Necessity is the mother of invention if camping without tent pegs, according to Kinley Salmon in his very readable book Jobs, robots & us. But the development and diffusion of innovation is a more complex story. Economists came rather late to the thinking about what influences technological innovation. The Solow–Swan growth model from 1956 was based on the premise that technological innovation determined long run economic growth but technological innovation itself was thought of as ‘exogenous’ – specified outside the model. As Salmon says it was “a bolt from the blue, the genius of a cranky inventor in their workshop, a eureka moment”. And the frequency of such eureka moments was assumed to be unaffected by the world around them. Then in the mid-1980s Paul Romer developed a … Read More

How endangered are New Zealand dolphins and sea lions? - Guest Work

Jun 05, 2019

Professor Steve Dawson, Professor Liz Slooten, Associate Professor Bruce Robertson The Department of Conservation (DOC) has downgraded the threat status of the New Zealand sea lion and New Zealand (Hector’s) dolphin. NZ sea lion has changed from “Nationally Critical” (the same category as the kākāpō) to “Nationally Vulnerable” based on “actual improvement”. The problem is, the available data do not support any actual improvement in sea lion numbers. Indeed, the graph in DOC’s publication (Baker et al. 2019) shows the decline is ongoing. Plus, across all breeding locations in 2019, there was a decline in the number of sea lion pups born, which is not what one would expect for a species showing “actual improvement”. The question must be asked then, how a species’ threat classification can improve when the data shows the opposite. New Zealand sea … Read More

Girl bosses and skills to beat job-killing robots - FutureworkNZ

Jun 04, 2019

John MacCormick    GirlBoss NZ urges us to take a strong gender perspective in our inquiry. Founder and CEO Alexia Hilbertidou’s submission was the first on our Technological change and the future of work issues paper. She says we need to give special attention to the opportunities and challenges women face in the fourth industrial revolution. I agree with Alexia – to shape public policy for the future of work we need to carefully consider gender, ethnicity and other dimensions of human diversity. GirlBoss NZ is working with schools and communities around the country to put gender on the agenda of New Zealand’s future of work conversation and, in particular, Maori and Pasifika women. They support young women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and … Read More

Are ‘dumped’ workers pressured into ‘rebound’ jobs in NZ? - FutureworkNZ

May 30, 2019

Tim Maddock    Are fast rates of re-employment always a good thing? New Zealand’s incidence of long-term unemployment is very low compared to other OECD countries. And, according to data from 2003-10, New Zealanders who lose their jobs involuntarily regain employment quickly, by international standards. But is the story actually all that rosy? Could people be choosing to take on a new job too quickly? Despite our fast rates of re-employment, job loss has persistent negative impacts for many New Zealanders. 2017 research by Dean Hyslop and Wilbur Townsend from Motu Economics and Public Policy Research matched people who lost their jobs with employees that had similar characteristics, and found that the long-term impact of job loss on earnings was around 15%. And at least half of this impact is likely to be from lower … Read More

The gig economy – flexible but tricky to measure - FutureworkNZ

May 27, 2019

Tim Maddock    It is hard to find a discussion about the future of work without some reference to the emergence of the so-called gig economy. In a speech last year, Grant Robertson suggested that the gig economy has challenged “the very notion of what a job is”. This statement begs the question: how big is the gig economy in New Zealand? And perhaps more importantly – is it growing? Unfortunately, answering these questions is much harder than you might think, as I recently learned while attending the Society of Labor Economists Conference in Arlington, VA (with our blog co-ordinator Dave Heatley). In her presidential address at the conference, Katharine Abraham from the University of Maryland discussed the paper Measuring the Gig Economy: Current Knowledge and Open Issues, which she co-authored. The study attempted to estimate … Read More

Call for independent watchdog to monitor NZ government use of artificial intelligence - Guest Work

May 27, 2019

John Zerilli, University of Otago and Colin Gavaghan, University of Otago New Zealand is a leader in government use of artificial intelligence (AI). It is part of a global network of countries that use predictive algorithms in government decision making, for anything from the optimal scheduling of public hospital beds to whether an offender should be released from prison, based on their likelihood of reoffending, or the efficient processing of simple insurance claims. But the official use of AI algorithms in government has been in the spotlight in recent years. On the plus side, AI can enhance the accuracy, efficiency and fairness of day-to-day decision making. But concerns have also been expressed regarding transparency, meaningful human control, data protection and bias. In a report released today, we recommend New Zealand establish a … Read More

Is the future of work happening now? - FutureworkNZ

May 20, 2019

Nik Green   Many people worry about the impact of new and emerging technologies like robots and artificial intelligence on the number and quality of jobs. But we tend to overlook how frequently the labour market changes in the ordinary course of events, and the role that technology plays in this change. We can see these developments in a couple of examples. Take bookstores. Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but available statistics suggest that New Zealanders are big consumers of books. For example, Nielsen data says that New Zealanders buy almost five million books a year. The Book Council’s most recent survey of reading patterns reported that New Zealanders read an average of 35 books a year. Despite this, the number of people employed in newspaper and book retailing fell by more than half between 2000 and 2018, and … Read More

The ‘Christchurch Call’ is just a start. Now we need to push for systemic change - Guest Work

May 17, 2019

Kevin Veale, Massey University The “Christchurch Call” summit has made specific progress, with tech companies and world leaders signing an agreement to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. The question now is how we collectively follow up on its promise. The summit in Paris began with the statement that the white supremacist terrorist attack in Christchurch two months ago was “unprecedented”. But one of the benefits of this conversation happening in such a prominent fashion is that it draws attention to the fact that this was not the first time social media platforms have been implicated in terrorism. It was merely the first time that a terrorist attack in a western country was broadcast via the internet. Facebook played a significant role in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, as covered in the … Read More

Don’t believe the hype - FutureworkNZ

May 17, 2019

Dave Heatley   Predicting technology is the first step towards predicting the labour market impacts of technology. But history tells us that technology prediction is like a game of chance. Make enough predictions and you’re sure to get some right… and many wrong, sometimes spectacularly. The president of IBM, Thomas Watson, purportedly said in 1943 that “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”. There’s some doubt over whether he actually said it; however, there is little doubt that IT insiders who should have been “in the know” have made some monumental mis-predictions. Here’s a few of my favourites: “Machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do.” Herbert Simon, 1956 “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, … Read More