Tag Archives: Computers

The robots are coming for half your jobs!

According to recent research, about half of all jobs in the US are vulnerable to computerization.

What does that mean?

Well, take a look at your computer. See it? Right, imagine that it has a kid – a super smart, maybe even mobile kid, which is going to be a mix of computer and robot – a robuter or combot, if you like…although the latter somehow sounds a bit dirty… Over the coming 20 years or so, that kid and its classmates might do up to 45 per cent of the jobs that you and your fellow meat bags do at the moment.

According to the research, the takeover is going to happen in two stages. First, the robot/computers are going to claim transportation/logistics, production labour, and administrative support as their domains. Of course, administrative support is already theirs, and both productions labour and certain parts of transportation are already dominated by computers. Just think of autopilots.

Some positions in services, sales, and construction might also end up going to robots in this first stage.

The ‘second wave’, as it were, could mean computers taking over jobs in management, science and engineering – as well as the arts.

The latter might lead to a massive resurgence for cubist art…and to ballets with ballerinas that can do 750 pirouettes a minute. So count me in.


Pentagon uses 50 year old COBOL code to figure out who to pay

A recent story by Reuters details how the Pentagon’s payment system is heavily reliant on COBOL computer code, much of which is about 50 years old – seven million lines of Cobol code basically decides who gets paid.

And the code hasn’t been updated in the last 10 years or more….

While this is, of course, worrying for a lot of service personnel, many of whom have been on the receiving end of the mistakes made by the system, it’s probably good news for people worried about whether or not the system can be hacked.

As the Defense Joint Military Pay System, the office responsible for overseeing the system told Reuters:

“As time passes, the pool of Cobol expertise dwindles.”

Five things that make programmers shudder

Programmers and software developers are generally in high demand, can work with challenging problems and get paid pretty damn well to do so.

So it’s a great gig, right?

Well, to a points, it seems….because programmers and software developers are people. And people can always find something to worry about.

Proof, you want? Why then, Yoda, take a look at a recent article from IT World, that lists the five most scary things for programmers.

In reverse order of scariness, they are:

5. Incompetent management and coworkers
– Think blundering bosses, who thing that python must be dangerous to have in the office and C++ is a really strange grade to get.

4. Being forced to learn or use a specific technology
– Like being a trekkie and being forced to go to a Star Wars convention.

3. No longer liking my job
– How does knowing seven programming languages help me realise my (new) dream of becoming safari guide?

2. Losing my job
– Few words are as scary to programmers as ‘outsourcing’

1. Screwing up
– Let’s face it, programmers see bugs everywhere, all the time. And sometimes they’re actually there…

Are stock traders going to back away from the speed of light?

High-frequency trading (HFT), where technical tools and computer algorithms are used to trade stocks at a speed that is, well, simply put, ‘silly fast’ might have seen its heyday, according to a piece in Advanced Trading.

Basically, the problem with HFT can be boiled down to this: it buys and sells stocks at a ridiculous rate, reacting instantly to sometimes minuscule changes in market prices, creating little bits of profit, but the speed means that computers are basically running the show, and they can screw up. Big time. Space Odyssey 2001-like big time.

Bloomberg Business week put it like this:

“According to estimates from Rosenblatt Securities, as much as two-thirds of all stock trades in the U.S. from 2008 to 2011 were executed by high-frequency firms; today it’s about half. In 2009, high-frequency traders moved about 3.25 billion shares a day. In 2012, it was 1.6 billion a day. Speed traders aren’t just trading fewer shares, they’re making less money on each trade. Average profits have fallen from about a tenth of a penny per share to a twentieth of a penny.”

So, lower profits, less trades (still stupidly many). Add the fact that law makers are looking at ways of taxing these trades (a really hard job) and we might have seen the end of HFT….or at least until someone in the market invents a computer-like warp drive and then they’ll be at it again.

What I mean is that markets today are a breeding ground for new technology and innovation that used to happen in places like MIT or NASA, so don’t be surprised if someone figures out that the answer isn’t to slow down, but speed up to a pace where no-one else can keep up.

Killer robots and human rights – it’s on!

Killer robots. Two words that you’d usually find in science fiction books and film manuscripts – or in heated discussions on sci-fi fan forums where Asimov’s three rules of robots are often invoked as the final gospel.

Whether or not Asimov was thrown on the table at the UN this week is hard to say, but the United Nations did find themselves discussing killer robots.

The central question raised was: Should robots be allowed to take a human life, without direct supervision or command?

The reason behind the question being raised is that several countries are developing robotic weapons that can automatically aim and fire weapons at objects they perceive as threats / legitimate targets.

The new ‘killer robots’ mean that fewer soldiers will be in harm’s way in a future war-zone, but it does raise issues about how trustworthy robots are on a battlefield.

I know it’s a bit old school, but in my book a good illustration of just how wrong war can go when robots run rampant is the movie WarGames. A computer starts out playing tic-tack-toe and within a week it’s on the cusp of starting a nuclear war…

UK online benifits wants you to welcome (back) Windows XP and IE6

Photo by: luc legay

Anyone in the UK wishing to claim benefits through the Government’s online services had better not have bought a new computer any time during the last, say, decade or so.

A pointed out in a rather sweet piece in The Inquirer, people wanting to claim either Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Overseas State Pension can do so online by visiting the website Gov.UK. From here they’ll be directed to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) where they’ll be asked to fill out an online form.

“This service doesn’t work with some modern browsers and operating systems,” the website warns.

What DWP is actually saying is that the site struggles can’t really interact with anything that’s either a) not a PC using Microsoft products and/or b) any Microsoft newer than
Microsoft Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6.

Just to clarify, Windows XP was released in 2001 and Microsoft has recently announced that it’s no longer going to release updates for it. Internet Explorer 6, on the other hand, is…no, Internet Explorer 6 is also from 2001…

But don’t worry, DWP say they are working on something.

“We are considering how best to provide this service in future. You may want to claim in another way,” they say of their website.

I’m sure they’d be very happy if you send your forms in by mail-coach….

Reminiscing about (sort of) happy days and an old friend

One of my best friends has reached double digits! Well, when I say best friends it might be a bit of an overstatement. We do see each other every day, but we rarely really talk. And I think it might be a bit of an unhealthy relationship where I’m really the user and the one who seems to be in charge. However, my friend seems to like to be told what to do and how, and it’s an open sort of of relationship. You could say that I’m the primary user, but my friend can see others at other times….but we’re just friends, it’s not a relationship as such – even though I’ve probably spent more time with my friend than with any woman. Ever.

OK, I admit it, I have spent some time with my friend and women. Well, sort of, anyway. Ahem, yes, let’s move on.

My friend seems pretty passive-aggressive at times, just shutting down and refusing to talk to me if something goes wrong. The good thing is that it usually doesn’t take that long before my friend seems to forget what was wrong. It does however mean, that my friend really isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but hey, who is?

In a lot of ways, I should move on, but you know how it is: you get used to each other, the way we like to do things and, well, I’d say we’re all a bit conservative when it comes to our friends. Partly because it takes time and energy to figure out how a new friend work, what makes them tick and who they really are. And old friends can be a bit like a worn out couch – it might not look or feel like a new one, but you know the wear and tear and it just feels – well, comfortable to sit in.

So even though my friend is nearing his last days, and our relationship is going to come to an end at some point within the next couple of years. it’s probably going to last for a while yet.