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Average Is Over

Tyler Cowen

Workers will be put into 2 categories, based on answer to these Q's: Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not? Are your skills complementing the computer, or does it do better without you?

Companies have found that if the first thing you buy is cheaper than expected, you are more trusting and willing to spend on rest of shop. So if store cameras and computer ID you and see you head for the confectionery aisle, there will be a very temporary sale just for your benefit.

Fake reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor: too many superlatives, too many vague statements, few details, over-use of 'I' and 'me'.

Machines change the workplace but do not necessarily replace everyone. To keep a Predator drone airborne for 24 hours takes 168 people working in the background. Larger, Global Hawk surveillance drone needs 300. F-16 needs less than 100 people for a single mission.

Not just a PhD needed - need ability to mix tech knowledge with real-world problem solving skills.

Actually the manager who is the scarce resource, not the techie. No point in hiring new tech guys until you have someone who can manage and motivate them. Without a competent overseer, a single bad hire can screw up an entire team. The hires have to be reliable, conscientious, which puts greater value on women, who are more likely to follow instructions exactly without resentment.

Required qualification levels are moving up. A fire chief now usually needs a masters degree, which seems silly because has little to do with putting out fires. But in fact a need for a wide variety of tech knowledge about industrial and explosive subjects, plus leadership skills of public speaking and negotiation.

Freestyle chess favours players who may be just average club level, but who can interact constructively with multiple chess programs at same time. Today, anyway. But programs are getting very close to perfection, and soon will surpass human + program.

This step-by-step evolution is how intelligent machines are changing industries. First step are primitive machines that barely add anything. Second step need experts to program any alteration. Third step requires smart operators, but not programming. Final step is when program strong enough to do everything itself, at which stage the collaborators move on to an industry not quite as advanced.

Growing number of workers who are simply not worth hiring. Three quarters of today's youth can't qualify for armed forces - overweight, criminal record, drug use, bad credit.

Chess is gender specific - guys take more risks; women take up too much time thinking. And you can get a man to take more risks just by giving him an attractive opponent.

Lawyers and doctors will soon face rating apps. Better ones will open their records to the computer, lesser ones will try to avoid, but they will then end up serving the less well-informed (poorer) clientele. Those in bottom levels will have to lower their prices. Doctor may get lower rating because of poor empathy, even though reasonably able. So the poor will be the big winners - rich already know how to ID the best doctors or lawyers.

But doctors, lawyers (and teachers) will also rate their clients - on things such as how good they are at taking medicine or following exercise instructions. Low-rating clients may find themselves turned away or charged extra.

Already classifying customers - dress shops keeping record of women who return purchases, employers checking credit scores, banks checking those who take payday loans.

Apps to analyse dating profiles - best not to use 'I' too many times but use 'you' more frequently, avoid leisure words such as 'movie' but uses more social words such as 'relationship' and 'helpful'


Online ed is one place where new IT is emerging. No-one surprised when a new foreign aid program consists solely of dropping iPads into rural Ethiopia and letting kids figure out how to use them.

Instead of dry lectures and bland, homogenized textbooks designed not to offend anyone, learn through "cross-blog dialogue". Blogs compete for your attention.

Online ed flexible ways to keep student attention.

Online much more profitable for those who develop the resources. In the past a major effort to write a textbook and get it sold. But now can write an app to explain one small aspect in a better way, and have it incorporated into online courses around the world.

Online allows far better measurement. Khan Academy knows which videos lead to best performance on test scores, which videos have to be watched multiple times, and which bits get rewound and replayed. A trove of data on how students actually learn.

Some interesting lessons from chess. There are lots of teaching programs, and also ones which will analyse and critique your games. But they only work for motivated learners. So get an unusual egalitarian outcome. Previously the chess elite were those (typically E European) who had access to the huge game databases and experienced teachers. Now, a 19 yo kid from Norway, is world No 1. So smart, motivated people from outside the elites now ahead.

But ed different to chess in that didn't have an academic bureaucracy worried about protecting their jobs. "We like to pretend our instructors (are great teachers), but too often they don't come close to that ideal. They are something far less noble, something quite ordinary. They are a mix of exemplars and nags and missionaries, packaged with a marketing model that stresses their nobility and a financial model that pays them well.

Harvard etc not going to issue credits for their Online ed because that would cannibalize their high premium business. But if a lower level college does, then guy in Bangladesh is going to prefer that reward to a pat on the back from Harvard.

Because of computers, chess instructor doesn't have to spend any time teaching student how to do things like analyze weaker positions - the computer does all that. The human instructor has become more impt as a motivator, teaching pacing and the psychology of opponents. And it's interesting that the motivator needs to be in the room with the student - outsourcing via Skype to cheap Indian tutors doesn't work well.

'Conscientiousness' required - and can be monitored constantly - attendance, punctuality, are you on eBay of Fark or Facebook during work hours?

(London Times)

Do you want your child to have a job in 2033? If so, according to a book that is gripping policy makers in Washington, they had better start deferring to computers. Society is about to be divided into Big Earners and Big Losers and those who rage against the machine are destined for the scrapheap.

Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University in Virginia, delivers the bad news cheerfully. Inequality is on the rise, he argues, and the middle class will soon be seen as a quaint feature of a bygone era.

Over the next two decades, he predicts, society will become a 'hyper-meritocracy' in which 15% will be richly rewarded for their adeptness in harnessing technology and the remaining 85% will be consigned to a fragile existence in which wages freeze or fall and few get a second chance at success.

His book, Average is Over, concludes that we are about to enter the age of genius machines, and it will be the people who work with them that will rise. For the rest, life will be decidedly tough and although the fracturing of society is not inevitable in a metaphysical sense, he told The Sunday Times, he had little optimism that governments would do the things necessary to make the situation better.

An engaging and eclectic thinker, Cowen, 51, was chess champion of New Jersey at 15, has written a guide to ethnic dining and is a prolific blogger. The Los Angeles Times has described him as a man who can talk about Haitian voodoo flags, Iranian cinema, Hong Kong cuisine, abstract expressionism, Zairian music and Mexican folk art seemingly with equal facility.

Last year, he was invited to Downing Street to deliver a seminar on industrial policy and warned against Britain embracing the politics of envy.

Cowen emphasises the importance of humility in accepting that computers usually know best and has reflected this in his own life. He met his wife 10 years ago via, a medium that forced them out of our usual intuitions and to our mutual benefit. He is enthused by the advances in chess brought by computers and accepts that he might not have succeeded as a young player using software because "I'm not sure how humble I was back then."

The key, he says, is to realise that, as in freestyle chess, in which players can consult computer programs, the human and computer together are stronger than just the computer and certainly stronger than just the human.

Being the best at chess - or anything in life - is no longer good enough. The humans who are best at freestyle chess are not the grandmasters but people who are smart and know something about chess but also know when to defer to the computer and when your wisdom actually counts for something. Computer algorithms, he argues, are becoming better at knowing what we want than we do - and successful people will just go with this. Reading Amazon or Yelp reviews leads to better choices - as does walking away from a business deal because a software program tells you it's too risky, even if your gut is telling you to hang in there.

The downside is that employers will also use computers with oppressive precision to measure output, weed out slackers and spot those who have not always been steady and conscientious. Making a fresh start will become next to impossible.

How do we help our children to succeed in this brave, somewhat scary new world - to be part of the 15%? Cowen says the future is too unpredictable to produce lists of jobs to gravitate towards or to avoid. But he does advise avoiding excessive specialisation: Do what you enjoy, learn general skills, learn how to learn - and learn how to retrain yourself.


Cowen argues that there will be a premium on service jobs that make people feel better and on reliability. A lot of these new jobs will be service sector jobs, so some of that will be looking after old people, some of that will be looking after young people, nannies, some of it greeting customers who show up. Looking after the rich will also be lucrative.

He adds: For service sector jobs, a lot of women have advantages over men. How many people want to hire a male nanny? Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people find women more reliable.


Not the marketers who did a business course on marketing, but those who know how to market themselves. In any society with higher inequality, marketing matters much more, Cowen says. The wealthy have increasing demands on their time and are bombarded with information from all sides.

So how do they decide who to employ? Cowen argues: People who have the ability to somehow be persuasive or catch notice or be rhetorically effective or have a good trademark or personal brand - the returns there are skyrocketing.


There are now computer programs that can mark essays. "I find it quite remarkable," Cowen says. "They seem to do it pretty well." But this does not mean teachers will be out of a job. The ones who can be inspirational life coaches will do especially well.

"For a good coach, a good tutor or a good role model, the returns will be very high," Cowen says. In Hong Kong and South Korea, some tutors make millions of pounds a year. "Those tutors are not the smartest people, they're the best motivators . . . the theatrical side of it is becoming more important."


Cowen says those who are computer whizzes will obviously do well. But most of us are not like that.

"If you do the humanities in a really smart way, you can do really well. That's counterintuitive but . . . managing people, persuading, will be job skills with very high returns." Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook co-founder, studied psychology at Harvard (though he did not graduate).

A combination of technical knowledge and the ability to solve real-world problems will be at a premium. Those who can prioritise and sort information effectively will be sought out by those in the 15% who do not have the time to do it themselves. "People will want to go to generalists who will be filters in different ways," Cowen predicts.

Those who realise the computer is king

Smartphones already do everything for us bar making the tea. Siri does not always know the right answer and your GPS is far from infallible, but these tools are improving all the time. Humans who believe they know best are wrong and will be punished in the workplace for their arrogance.

Cowen contends that those who listen to computers will win the glittering prizes, even if they might feel their pride a little battered at first. The possibilities for computers telling us things about ourselves that we don't know are endless.

In Average is Over, Cowen writes: "During a date, a woman might consult a pocket device in the ladies room that tells her how much she really likes the guy. The machine could register her pulse, breathing, tone of voice, the level of detail in her narrative, or whichever biological features prove to have predictive power."

The conscientious

Those who put in the work stand to inherit the earth. Cowen believes that within the next five years the world's best education, or something close to it, will be available online at no cost. Just because something is there and is free, however, does not mean everyone will take advantage of it. Only the self-motivated and conscientious will take advantage.

Already conscientious students from India are beating American slackers. The ability to monitor performance and track record, and for employers to have easy access to those records, means that the steady worker who turns up on time, never has a gap between jobs and does not take sick days will be prized.


Despite the big divide between the 15% and the 85%, Cowen foresees a high degree of social mobility. People are rising from the middle, and indeed the bottom, all the time, often immigrants . . . it's completely wrong to think the current elite will capture all of those gains.

As highly motivated and conscientious workers, immigrants are always likely to do well. Immigrants are one group where when they see a bigger divide, they try harder to make that leap, Cowen says. Immigrants took a risk and perhaps gave up a comfortable and safe lifestyle back home to strive for more.


Lorry drivers will soon be out of a job as driverless vehicles are perfected. Journalists who write basic match reports or summaries of the stock market may be about to find that computers can do as good a job and make fewer mistakes. Filing clerks are already no more.

But the biggest losers Cowen identifies are young men. They might be smart, energetic, maybe even very creative, but they're often not that disciplined, not that conscientious, and these new institutions will be measuring their value every step along the way.

Cowen writes that psychology and experience tell us that women are on average more conscientious than men . . . more likely to follow instructions and orders with exactness and without resentment. While some men are extremely dedicated to work, perhaps to the point of being monomaniacal, there is a big downside to male employees too.

Men, in greater numbers, will be more irresponsible, more likely to show up drunk, more likely to end up in prison, and more likely to become irreparably unemployed. He warns that if you're a young male hothead who just can't follow orders, and you have your own ideas about how everything should be done then you should forget about ever making it into that 15%.

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