October 3, 2019 / askpang / Comments Off on It’s ALMOST like the problem isn’t just technical: Contractors target homeless people and BET awards in quest for more non-white faces
As anyone following the state of facial recognition and other automated identification systems knows, these systems suffer from bias problems: some have trouble recognizing facial features or detecting motion if a user has darker skin. The answer, we’re told, is obvious: make the databases bigger. Yet this amazing New York Daily News article by Ginger Adams Otis and Nancy Dillon describes a near-cartoonish level of deception that occurs when a company tries to deal with the problem.
When building the facial recognition system for its new Pixel 4, Google wanted to improve its facial recognition system, so it hired a contractor whose “teams were dispatched to target homeless people in Atlanta, unsuspecting students on college campuses around the U.S. and attendees of the BET Awards festivities in Los Angeles, among other places.”
“It was a lot of basically sensory overloading the person into getting it done as quickly as possible and distracting them as much as possible so they didn’t even really have time to realize what was going on,” he said.
“Basically distract them and say anything. ‘Just go ahead and hit the next button. Don’t even worry about that.’ That kind of stuff. Really just move it along. ‘Let’s go. Hit all the next buttons,’” the former temp said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.
It’s almost… almost as if the problem isn’t just with the technology, but somehow runs deeper.
Pang said that some of the world’s most creative people… used the restorative properties of rest to “restore their energy while allowing their muse, the mysterious part of their minds that helps drive the creative process, to keep going”.
I myself – one holiday in Yamba in the early days of the global financial crisis (GFC) – had the time to sit on the beach and on the couch to read David Hackett Fischer’s “Great Wave – Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History”. Sure, it was a history of inflation, but it was also coincidentally a history of the economy and banking crises for 800 years.
It set me up perfectly as treasurer of a small bank to manage the balance sheet and navigate my part in the P&L through the GFC in such a way as we made money.
All simply because I took the time to rest, relax, restore, and read.
A great example of how rest is essential and generative even (or maybe especially) during a crisis.
A while ago I had a piece in CEO Magazine (which I believe is published in Australia and New Zealand) offering “6 reasons why it’s more productive to work less.” I just saw tonight that the piece, which was behind a firewall when it first came out, is now available for free.
Today, overwork is the new normal. A 2015 survey by EY found that half of all managers worked more than 40 hours a week, and 39% were working more hours than in 2010. We treat rest as uninteresting, unimportant, and even a sign of weakness.
There are many reasons people feel the need to put in long working hours, and cultural norms that encourage overwork, but a small army of neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and engineers have shown that overwork is counterproductive in the long term.
They’ve found that regular breaks, outside hobbies, holidays and sabbaticals, sleep, and even daily naps make you a better worker. Why leaders should pay more attention to rest, and encourage the people who work for them to embrace it, too.
Reading it now, some of it anticipates the issues I talk about in my forthcoming book SHORTER (US | UK). Odd how these ideas run around, only semi-recognized, until they turn into something!
[T]oday’s young workers are looking for more than just fun or unusual perks to brag about to their friends when starting a new job. While on-site table tennis, a free bar and unlimited snacks has become de rigueur in the war to attract top talent – especially in the technology sector – three in five millennials are dismissing perks as nothing short of a gimmick.
So if foosball tables and a kombucha cart are out, what do they want?
50% list a 4-day workweek as their top “emerging perk.”
Much as I would love to be able to take this at face value and describe it as a Trend Among The Youth, the article doesn’t say anything about the methodology, and Seatfrog is a startup that makes an app that lets you bid on train ticket upgrades, so I’m not sure how this survey connects with their core business and competency.
Odsherred Municipality, a rural peninsula an hour north of Copenhagen, is trialing a 4-day week, according to The Local:
The northwest Zealand municipality’s 300-strong staff is to be given Fridays off, beginning this week, its HR head of department Kirsten Lund Markvardsen said.
A three-year trial of various new initiatives at the local council is the basis for the shorter working week.
Another change brought about by the trial will enable local residents to contact the municipality outside of traditional opening hours on working days.
“Members of the public will be able to call earlier and later in the day in return for us being closed on Friday,” Markvardsen said.
“That should enable us to provide better municipal service whilst giving our staff an extra day off,” she added.
In my forthcoming book SHORTER (US | UK) I talk a little about rural areas or small towns in the UK, Korea, and Japan that are experimenting with shorter workweeks. Sooner or later we’ll start to see places like Odsherred bring together local government, businesses, and schools, and coordinate a shift to a 4-day workweek. As a way to distinguishing itself, to attract people and businesses, and to guarantee that companies and families won’t have to deal with he problems created by having conflicting school and business schedules.
It sounds like the trial will last three years, which is a pretty generous period, and should give me plenty of time to get up there to do some interviews!
The Drum, which covers the marketing industry in Europe, has released a video about the 4-day week at The Lab, a London agency works a 4-day week with a 10-hour day. “‘Thursday is the new Friday’ is a phrase that we’re all familiar with but it’s now becoming a reality for workers at companies that are adopting a four-day week,” Drum CEO Diane Young says.*
It’s a good video, as you’d expect from a media company that follows the marketing world, and it does a good job talking about the benefits and challenges of shifting to a 4-day week. As founder Jonny Tooze explains,
I think one of the key things… is that because we are working slightly less hours, and those hours are compressed, we’ve had no real choice but to to improve process and become more efficient. And as a result, actually, the business is a better business.
Later, he expands on the benefits:
Having a workforce that is super-engaged is fundamental to the success of a business. The 4-day working week does improve engagement in business, there’s no two ways about it. If you’ve got higher engagement you have high productivity, you’ll get better work from people, you get more discretionary effort, people will love the business more, and love being part of it more. That will also increase profitability for the business.
And also it will give you a chance to have some time off as leaders…. In my day off, you know, I do a lot of thinking about the business. One of the things that I found, and one of the things I really hoped to find, was boredom: I’ve actually found periods of boredom back in my life…. The natural human reaction to boredom is to get creative, and it forces you to be creative as a person– and that is where life really is, right, that’s where the essence of life is, when you’re in a creative space. If you’re hectic and busy and you know write on emails and social media and running around doing this job and that job and that job, you are just absolutely not creative whatsoever. When you’re sitting, then you’ve got a shitload of time to do whatever the hell you want, and you get inspired; you can be creative and you can just do some amazing stuff of your life.
And that’s what people are doing right now. You’ll find that in the business… the stuff they’re doing is immense and really fun.
Young also interviews several people at the company about how they use their extra time, and how a 4-day week changes daily work. As one person explains,
It’s longer days because we still work the same amount of hours…. It’s more intense as well, but in a way it’s good because it helps you prioritize really on what you actually need to do. So then you focus on the stuff that you actually really really need to get done within a week, and you don’t have as much time to get sidetracked by email… or slack messages coming in all the time. So you just keep your focus where it needs to be.
*As is so often the case, the automated transcript is garbage; for some reason, Scottish accents remain impervious to artificial intelligence. I spent some time in Glasgow and Edinburgh interviewing companies for my new book, and I use an automated service to create transcripts; it’s almost always awesome, but it chokes once you go north of Hadrian’s wall.
“What is a working-day? What is the length of time during which capital may consume the labour-power whose daily value it buys? How far may the working-day be extended beyond the working-time necessary for the reproduction of labour-power itself?” It has been seen that to these questions capital replies: the working-day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose without which labour-power absolutely refuses its services again.
Hence it is self-evident that the labourer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour-power, that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and law labour-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital. Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfilling of social functions and for social intercourse, for the free-play of his bodily and mental activity, even the rest time of Sunday (and that in a country of Sabbatarians!) — moonshine!
But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its were-wolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential.
It is not the normal maintenance of the labour-power which is to determine the limits of the working-day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory, and painful it may be, which is to determine the limits of the labourers’ period of repose.
Capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power, that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.
From The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, Deduced from Principles of Political Economy, in a Letter to Lord John Russell (published anonymously and later credited to Charles Dilke, and available online):
[W]here men heretofore laboured twelve hours they would now labour six, and this is national wealth, this is national prosperity… [W]ealth is liberty– liberty to seek recreation–liberty to enjoy life–liberty to improve the mind: it is disposable time, and nothing more.
Peter Barnard, in a comment on Jenni Russell’s recent column talking about REST (US | UK) points to an Adam Smith quote from the Wealth of Nations about the value of rest:
It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.
The quote is in Book 1, Chapter 8, “On the Wages of Labor,” and is at the end of this observation.
Excessive application during four days of the week is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together, is in most men naturally followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by force or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible. It is the call of nature, which requires to be relieved by some indulgence, sometimes of ease only, but sometimes, too, of dissipation and diversion. If it is not complied with, the consequences are often dangerous, and sometimes fatal, and such as almost always, sooner or later, brings on the peculiar infirmity of the trade. If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate than to animate the application of many of their workmen. It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.
So my next book SHORTER (US | UK) is essentially one long footnote to this paragraph, much as Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato, as Alfred North Whitehead put it.
Wired UK has a piece by Hazel Sheffield explaining “Why four-day working weeks may not be the utopia they seem.” To my practiced eye, one thing that the article does well is find a new example of a company that’s moved to four-day weeks, and hasn’t been written about much: Big Potato, a board game company in Shoreditch, London:
[Tris] Williams started a board games company called Big Potato with two co-founders in Shoreditch in 2014. It has since expanded to 20 people. Williams had always prided himself on running a progressive company. Big Potato offered its workers flexible working hours and cake and sandwiches on Friday lunchtimes, when everyone got together to play games. When he saw Perpetual Guardian’s story he said to his co-founders Ben Drummond and Dean Tempest: “We own a company, we can do what we want, let’s try it out.”
They end up moving to a four-day week and it went pretty well. So as the title puts it, why isn’t the four-day week a utopia?
Basically, it comes down to 1) not all companies or sectors can do it, 2) some implementations can be tough. Which is fair, but it’s a far cry from the “what manner of evil sorcery is this, foul demon?!?” kind of response the idea got even a year ago. If one of the tougher hits against the four-day week is that not everyone can do it– and the response to that is that not everyone works a five-day, forty-hour week right now, and that’s okay– then the ground is shifting!