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Speaker Abstracts


Robot Autonomy: Symbiotic Interaction and Learning
Manuela Veloso
Carnegie Mellon University

Robot autonomy can be viewed as a seamless and intelligent integration of perception, cognition, and action capabilities. Such combination is challenging, and probably unattainable, under an unlimited set of environments and a limited set of sensing, reasoning, and actuation devices and algorithms. We therefore argue that intelligent robots may then inevitably be limited in their capabilities. We introduce and discuss the concept of symbiotic autonomy, as the proactive robot interaction and learning from external sources, such as the humans, the web, and other robots. We discuss this general theme within the concrete case study of our CoBot mobile robots, which roam our university office buildings, as collaborative robots that perform service tasks of item transport and guidance.


Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles and Flying Robots
Vijay Kumar
Professor and Nemirovsky Family Dean
Penn Engineering

The number of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones has grown exponentially over the last three decades. Yet we are only now seeing autonomous flying robots that can operate in three-dimensional indoor environments and in outdoor environments without GPS. I will discuss the need for small, safe and smart flying robots and the challenges in control, planning, and coordinating large teams of robots with applications to search and rescue, first response and precision farming. Finally, we will explore questions of safety, security, privacy, and socio-economic impact. Publications and videos are available at


The Cognitive Economy: Opportunity & the Future of Work in the Age of Cognitive Computing
Guruduth Banavar

In the last decade, the availability of massive amounts of new data, development of new machine learning technologies, and availability of scalable computing infrastructure, have given rise to a new class of computing systems that are changing the way we live and work. These new "cognitive systems," like most noteworthy technological advances throughout history, are redefining certain human tasks and creating completely new categories of tasks that will enable us, through our partnership with machines, to take on the major challenges of our time from health to education to the environment. This talk will explore cognitive computing as a technological force that redefines, rather than eliminates jobs. We will look at topics such as: what jobs might be displaced by cognitive computing; what new job categories will be created by the advent of this new technology; and how we can best equip future generations to best leverage this new partnership with machines to create a beneficial future that advances humankind.


Employment and Income in the Age of the Robots
Richard Freeman

Today's technology differs from past mechanization and automation. Robotics is based on learning algorithms that gives machines comparative advantage at human skilled and professional work, which quantum computing will intensify. The three laws of robo-nomics tell us the future of work in the age of the robots: 1:Robots will become increasingly better substitutes for people; 2:Technological advance will reduce the cost of robots and force down the wages of workers. 3: The share of income earned by robots will increase. With current unequal ownership of capital, the beneficiaries from robotic technology will be the few with great wealth. Had Isaac Asimov been an economist he would have reported in the "Handbook of Robotics” (56th Edition, 2058 A.D) that “Who owns the robots rules the world”. To assure that workers benefit from this technology we must spread ownership of capital to more people.



"Should we fear the robots?: Automation, job shortages and rising inequality"
Lawrence Mishel
Economic Policy Institute

Those concerned about our robot future argue that technological innovation is accelerating and will generate substantial job displacement leading to rising unemployment and a growing wage inequality as those replaced by robots are unable to find decent jobs. No one knows the future but this story does not fit the facts of the post-1999 period. There’s no footprint of accelerated automation to be found in data on productivity or information equipment or software investment. Nor has an argument been offered for why the dynamics that allowed substantial past workplace innovation to occur without widespread technological unemployment have disappeared. Last, the prima facie evidence that technological change contributes to wage stagnation or wage inequality has been absent for the post-1999 period. These trends may not persist but if those fearing robot-caused inequality believe these trends have already been evident, they are mistaken.


Shaping Our Future with AI, Robotics, and Automation in the Workplace
Diane Bailey

To date, the academic and public discussion of the future of work in the face of advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation has been dominated by economists and technologists. The former seem split on whether these technological advances will disrupt our economy, while technologists largely agree such disruption is in the offing and merely differ on its timing (by the middle or end of this century). Implicit in the arguments of both groups is the notion of technological determinism, or the idea that technologies shape social and economic outcomes (and hence define progress), and that these outcomes are inevitable and universal. As a scholar of work and technology, I explore this notion and its consummation in the current case, namely that technology has, ultimately, an inalienable right to work that humans do not share. As part of this exploration, I consider the meaning of work in the face of solutions to a predicted jobless economy, such as paying the workforce dividends to stay home, that economists and technologists have put forward, as well as what it means for humans to show agency in technology choices that might lead to a different set of social and economic outcomes.


Is Technological Change a Thing of the Past?
Joel Mokyr

In this talk, I take on the new wave of technopessimism that argues that we will not be able to replicate the technological achievements of the long twentieth century, and that in the future productivity gains will be limited because all the "low-hanging technological fruits" have been picked. I show that in the past technological flourishing has been a function of four factors: diversity and competition; incentives; the two-way interaction between theory and application; and focusing devices that directed innovation. On all four accounts, the next half century should be a time of unprecedented progress, even if its exact features cannot be predicted.


Ethical Issues Regarding Work in the Future
Debra Satz

What is the future of work? Can robots take over all of our work, and if so, what happens to human workers?  Given that technology drives much of the nature of our education, and influences our well-being, what values should cover it?  Many theorists simply view technology as an exogenous variable that needs to be adapted to.  While there is truth in this perspective, it overlooks the ways that we have choices about the kinds of technology we choose to develop.

My talk will explore the ethical considerations at play when technology displaces human workers.  I expect to look at the changing nature of work and its implications for human wellbeing, and how technological breakthroughs engage questions of equity, fairness and meaning.


Automation, Robotics and the Temporality of Everyday Life
Judy Wajcman

Technologies are not neutral tools that emerge independently of the society that invents them. Rather, their design and use reflect as much as shape society. So what does the contemporary fascination with humanoid robots and automation more generally tell us about how our culture envisages the relationship between humans and machines?

This lecture will examine the ways in which robotics embody the desire to save valuable time by enabling us to complete tasks ever faster and more efficiently. They are supposed to make our lives easier. Yet we hear constant laments that we are pressed for time, and that the ceaseless advance of technology is itself speeding up every aspect of daily life. How do we explain this conundrum?

The futuristic visions of the evangelists of Silicon Valley reflect conventional notions of what work is and how it should be done. Software agents, like Siri, are thus promoted as the solution to time poverty. Yet such machines are shaped by our own appetite for, and ideas about, novelty and convenience in a service economy. Perhaps we need a feminist reimagining of robotics to provoke more radical conceptions of the relationship between digital devices and the lived experience of time.


Generational Myths about Digital Savvy
Eszter Hargittai

There are widespread myths about the digital savvy of today’s youth who have grown up with digital media: by virtue of having used information technologies all of their lives, they are all assumed to be inherently savvy with such technologies. Yet research does not support such assumptions and we ignore such evidence at our peril. Presuming widespread youth savvy strips schools and libraries of resources necessary to ensure a digitally skilled workforce in the future.

While some youth, like some older adults, are very savvy with technologies, many are not. By assuming that children arrive in school already comfortable with and knowledgeable about digital media, we miss a crucial opportunity to level the playing field among youth of greatly varying digital savvy. People from lower socioeconomic status across all ages are less skilled with information technologies than their more privileged counterparts. Even among the highly educated, understanding important privacy and security attributes of digital media can vary widely.

By touting them as inherently skilled and more proficient than those senior to them, children as well as young adults are left without an opportunity to improve their digital savvy as there are no avenues for them to seek advice and improve their skills. This talk will offer an important reality check about the lack of digital savvy among today’s youth with important implications for how the future workforce may be lacking in crucial skills.


The Generative Dance Between Us and Our Machines -- New Ways to Learn, Work, Explore, and Imagine
John Seely Brown

As we all know, we do not need to race against the machine but rather find creative or generative ways to dance with the machine - to create an ever expanding symbiotic relationship between our imaginative capabilities and the machine's brute force logic. But how might this dance be structured? And how might we better understand how to put our imagination to purpose in creating and scaffolding a pragmatic imagination? And that will be the focus of my talk.


Public Policy Panel: Can public policy have an effect on the future of work, and if so, what options might be available? 
Panel - Public Policy: John Leslie King (moderator), Daniel Castro, Stuart W. Elliott, John Markoff, David Nordfors

The extremes are excluded here: no problem means no need for public policy; and public policy is irrelevant if nothing can help.  We assume, therefore, that there is a problem and public policy can address it.  The United States traditionally uses market-based approaches: labor markets correct anomalies, and public policy responds to "market failures". For example, during the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps put the unemployed to work.  Furthermore, World War II, a kind of public-works project, put an end to the Depression.  Political opinions vary on how effective public policy is, and discussion can quickly become ideological. Nevertheless, a public-policy discussion is politically inevitable, even when people disagree on specifics. The public discussion this year has brought demands to reset the balance between trade and protectionism (keeping jobs here or bringing them back), calls for better education and training, suggestions of a guaranteed minimum income to handle those displaced by automation, and calls for changes in tax policy to address wealth and income inequality.  The panelists will discuss, among themselves and with the audience, the broad questions of the need for and efficacy of public policy, as well as specific policy suggestions.




DeLange Conference Home Rice University July 8, 2016