Google Glass, originally developed from a passion project of company cofounder Sergey Brin, was supposed to unlock the next frontier in digital connectivity. While the smartphone has made technology and information omnipresent in our lives, Glass promised to remove the cumbersome barrier of a handheld device and allow for hands-free computing using voice and optical commands. Apps would seamlessly integrate with reality and life would never be the same. But that grandiose vision fell infamously short, as Glass failed to take off as a mass consumer product and the company stopped offering the product in 2015. Development went on in semi-secret, however, and the product has now found a second life as a business solution, which Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is calling Glass Enterprise Edition. In a fascinating profile of the surprisingly resurgent product, Wired‘s Steven Levy catches us up on recent events:
For about two years, Glass EE has been quietly in use in dozens of workplaces, slipping under the radar of gadget bloggers, analysts, and self-appointed futurists. Yes, the population of those using the vaunted consumer version of Glass has dwindled, tired of being driven out of lounges by cocktail-fork-wielding patrons fearing unwelcome YouTube cameos. Meanwhile, Alphabet has been selling hundreds of units of EE, an improved version of the product that originally shipped in a so-called Explorer Edition in 2013. Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations.
The new version has also undergone design advancements and now has more processing power, networking capability, and battery life, but that’s the least interesting part of the product’s evolution.
Most prognosticators of the future of work believe that as more and more rote mechanical and basic knowledge work is automated, many of the jobs that will remain for people will involve interacting with and caring for other human beings. As the US population gets older on average, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the health care industry will add more jobs than any other sector of the economy in the coming decade (other developed countries with aging populations are looking at something similar). The expansion of the health care workforce is the main reason why some economists see women having an advantage over men in the job market of the near future, and health care is also seen as a viable second career for many blue-collar men whose jobs in manufacturing have been eaten up by automation or outsourcing.
Lost in this conversation, however, is the question of whether the health care jobs of the future will provide as decent a living as the manufacturing jobs of the past. While highly skilled and trained professionals like nurses may enjoy good pay and job security, the majority of health care jobs are in direct care, comprising home health aides, nursing assistants, and direct support professionals for people with disabilities or special needs. Direct care workers make up a large and growing segment of the health sector, Soo Oh writes at Vox, and face little risk of being replaced by machines anytime soon:
One of the fastest-growing fields is direct care: There are at least 3.6 million direct care workers in the US, not including an estimated 800,000 unreported workers, according to researchers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase of more than 1 million new direct care workers — personal care workers, home health aides, and nursing assistants — between 2014 and 2024. Unlike food service or retail jobs, which round out the top five growing jobs, direct care workers are not in immediate danger of being edged out by automation or internet commerce.
Unfortunately, these jobs offer low pay, few or no benefits, and taxing work conditions:
In the fast-changing work environment of today, blue-collar jobs are being transformed and displaced by the advent of automation, while many of the fastest-growing jobs are in human-focused fields like health care. These changes have consequences in terms of gender dynamics in the workplace, as the jobs that are disappearing are traditionally “male”, while those that are growing are mostly dominated by women. At the Atlantic, Alana Semuels captures the experience of men in parts of the US where blue-collar work has dried up, as they find themselves shifting into jobs that were once considered “women’s work”:
Janette Dill, a sociology professor at the University of Akron, has found that men gravitate towards a certain kind of health-care job, avoiding the patient-centric kind of work that has traditionally been classified as female— jobs such as home health aides or nursing assistants. Instead, men tend to go work as surgical technologists, radiology technicians, and respiratory therapists. These are jobs that are new enough that they haven’t yet been defined as “women’s” work, Dill said.
These jobs are often portrayed as being technical, rather than nurturing. “There’s not that stigma around this kind of work,” she told me. In 1996, according to Dill, 16 percent of these types of jobs were held by men, but by 2008, that number had risen to 26 percent. The BLS has up-to-date numbers on some such jobs. Its data shows that while in 2016 there were a much greater share of women than men in most health-care support jobs, some occupations had a significant share of men. Men made up almost one-third of technicians in clinical labs, and 35 percent of what the BLS calls “miscellaneous” health technicians.
As the UK government prepares to implement the country’s withdrawal from the EU, a new report finds that Brexit may have a severe impact on British employees’ retirement savings, Sophie-Marie Odum reports at the CIPD’s People Management blog:
Falling interest rates and weak post-Brexit growth predictions mean that three-quarters (75 per cent) of UK workers are at risk of receiving a retirement income that’s below the government’s recommended minimum level, according to a new report. Based on the analysis of 500,000 defined contribution (DC) savers pension plans, consultancy firm Hymans Robertson found that 50 per cent of workers have an extremely low chance of reaching the level of retirement income regarded as appropriate by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Only 25 per cent have a good chance of meeting that level. Many workers paying into DC schemes will therefore need to pay more into their pensions, accept a lower income in retirement or work for longer. …
According to DWP calculations, a UK worker with an average annual salary of £30,000 would need a pension of £20,000 per year to maintain their standard of living, which takes into account reduced living costs during retirement. Someone who retired on a salary of £70,000 would need around £35,000 a year. The cumulative effect means that people could be working into their 80s before they have a pension they can retire on, said Richard Farr, managing director at Lincoln Pensions. “Brexit may be liberating in the long run, but in the short term it will be carnage.”
Brexit also stands to harm the UK’s National Health Service, which relies heavily on foreign labor, according to another report released last week. If its 57,000 current employees from the EU were to leave, the Institute of Public Policy Research warned, the public health care system “would collapse”:
“It is critical to public health that these workers do not seek jobs elsewhere. All EU nationals who work for the NHS, or as locums in the NHS system, should be eligible to apply for British citizenship. This offer should be organized by the regional NHS and mental health trusts, who would be responsible for writing to all NHS staff who are EU nationals to inform them of their eligibility,” [IPPR research fellow Chris Murray] added.