My blog post of February 11 shared the account of four people who, despite COVID, have preserved and in some cases enhanced family connections and communication through the use of teleconferencing technologies. This essay will look at the present and future of distance collaboration for work.
It has not been easy, especially for couples who both have jobs and who have school-age children at home. There have been severe stresses in maintaining concentration and balancing work time; periods helping children with schoolwork; and time for chores, exercise, play, and being alone.
Contributed by Ron Baecker, an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).
My family is widely separated. I live in Canada. My brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and their families are in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; my cousins, their children, and their families are in Argentina, Spain, England, and on both coasts of the USA. Typically, I visit my niece and nephew once or twice a year; I manage a trip to Buenos Aires or Bilbao, Spain, about every 3 years. But not recently. I therefore Facetime with either my nephew or my niece almost every week. We also are about to have our fourth global family Zoom. This started out to celebrate individual birthdays, with great spirit and feeling of bringing the family closer together. The next event will celebrate 3 birthdays — ages 78, 41, and 9 — and a recent birth in the family in London. The 9-year-old birthday event will see us participating in a day-long scavenger hunt. What fun!
Ron Baecker is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).Gary Feldman, MD, FAAP, FABMG,is a retired physician who was the Public Health Officer of Ventura County and Riverside County in California for 14 years.They are two of theco-authors of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide.
The COVID-19 Solutions Guide, published in mid-June, described the effects of the first wave of the virus on senior care in North America as follows:
“As of early June, over one-third of the known COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been to residents and staff living and working in nursing and long-term care homes. As of early May, a shocking 82% of the known virus deaths in Canada have been to those in long-term care. A Canadian Forces report commissioned by the province on Ontario, released in late May, reported numerous incidents of poor infection control, residents being denied food or being fed improperly, residents being treated roughly, and staffing problems. A flurry of lawsuits is expected. In Ontario, a $50 million suit was filed on May 1, 2020, alleging that one of Canada’s largest operators of senior residences and long-term care facilities lacked “proper sanitation protocols and adequate testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19”. In the United States, nursing homes have sought emergency protection from lawsuits alleging improper care.”
Contributed by Ronald Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).
Readers of my blog will recall what I describe as digital dreams and digital nightmares.
Our world has been enriched by digital technologies used for collaboration, learning, health, politics, and commerce. Digital pioneers imagined giving humanity greater control over the universe; augmenting knowledge and creativity; replacing difficult and dangerous physical labour with robot efforts; improving our life span with computationally supported medicine; supporting free speech with enhanced internet reason and dialogue; and developing innovative, convenient, and ideally safe products and services. Online apps and resources are proving very valuable, even essential, in the era of COVID-19.
For most of human history, dyads and groups were only able to work and play together if they were collocated. All of this changed in the 19th century, when the first remote collaboration and entertainment technologies — the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio — were developed and widely commercialized. These were joined in the 20th century by television. By the middle part of the century, medical images were being transmitted over phone lines; soon thereafter, 2-way television was being used for remote medical consultations.
Nosedive was the first episode of the third season of the British science fiction television anthology Black Mirror. In this episode, everyone has a mobile phone which, when pointed at another person, reveals his or her name and rating. Everyone has a rating, which ranges from 0 to 5. The following happens continually as you are walking down a street or along the corridor of a building. You give a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to each person you pass, based on your instantaneous impression of that person and the nature of the encounter, no matter how trivial or quick the encounter is. A ‘thumps up’ raises that person’s rating a tiny bit; a ‘thumbs down’ lowers it. The other person concurrently rates you. Ratings determine one’s status in life, and the ability to get perks such as housing and travel. Therefore, people are on a never-ending, stressful, and soul-destroying quest to raise their online ratings for real-life rewards. Heroine Lacie desires a better apartment; she has a meltdown as she deals with unsurmountable pressure in the context of her childhood best friend’s wedding.
In this column, in my textbook, and in a speech “What Society Must Require from AI” I am currently giving around the world, I document some of the hype, exaggerated claims, and unrealistic predictions that workers in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) have been making for over 50 years. Here are some examples. Herb Simon, an AI pioneer at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), who later won a Novel Prize in Economics, predicted in 1958 that a program would be the world’s best champion by 1967. Marvin Minsky of MIT, and Ray Kurzweil, both AI pioneers, made absurd predictions (in 1967 and 2005) that AI would achieve general human intelligence by 1980 and by 2045. John Anderson, discussed below, made the absurd prediction in 1985 that it was already feasible to build computer systems “as effective as intelligent human tutors”. IBM has recently made numerous false claims about the effectiveness of its Watson technology for domains as diverse as customer support, tax filing, and oncology.
There is still time to buy a substantive book for the thoughtful techie or concerned citizen in your life. Allow me to recommend two choices that were published in 2019. One good option is my wide-ranging textbook Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, enough said …. But an unbiased choice is Shoshana Zuboff’s monumental The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The author signals her intentions with the book’s subtitle: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.
Zuboff, the Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita, Harvard Business School, defines and describes surveillance capitalism (p. 8):
Every Computer Science student should get significant exposure to the social, political, legal, and ethical issues raised by the accelerating progress in the development and use of digital technologies.
The standard approach is to offer one undergraduate course, typically called Computers and Society or Computer Ethics. I have done this during the current term at Columbia University, using my new textbook, Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019). We meet twice a week for 75 minutes. In class, I present key topics covered in the book, and welcome a number of guest speakers who present their own experiences and points of view. Every class is interactive, as I try to get the students to express their own ideas. There have been four assignments: a policy brief, a book report, a debate, and a research paper. Such courses are typically not required by major research universities, which is a mistake, but they are often required by liberal arts colleges.