People want automation but are afraid of machines, study shows

— WASHINGTON — It’s time to update a tired cliche. The saying should be the following: Machines. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Lippincott, a New York creative agency, released a survey Monday finding 81% of people are excited about an automated life, but 73% are scared to trust machines. The study was conducted among 2,000 people in New York this fall.

While we generally want the comforts and ease automation, computers and machines can provide, we’re wary of them, too.

“It vividly shows people aren’t even aware in their own consciousness of what they actually want,” said John Marshall, chief strategy and innovation officer at Lippincott. “If you told someone 10 years ago they’d make all their baby pictures public for the world to see, they’d stay in a stranger’s apartment instead of a hotel or they’d trust robots to manage their money, they’d say you were nuts.”

Marshall said the findings point to a rising conflict in our rapidly changing world.

“It’s going to quickly become very disconcerting for people,” Marshall said. “They’re quickly availing themselves to these technologies but espousing that they don’t want them, especially the tracking of data.”

Marshall recalled a study in New York City where hundreds of participants gave personal data, such as a fingerprint, in exchange for a cookie. People think they don’t want to be tracked, but in practice they routinely trade our privacy for something in return, like using Facebook or Google’s services.

Businesses must learn in changing times, traditional market research is less effective at revealing what customers really want, Marshall said. That’s a stance some leading innovators have long held.

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said.

He was not fond of using focus groups to develop products.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” Henry Ford famously quipped,.

There are two versions of the iPhone 7 — and one is way slower

— All iPhones may look the same, but under the hood it’s a different story.

Some iPhone 7s use a Qualcomm modem, while others have an Intel modem. That distinction could make a difference in how fast an iPhone 7 Plus can send messages and load your favorite app. A new report from Cellular Insights found that the Qualcomm modem performed 30% better than Intel’s. The researchers only tested the iPhone 7 Plus, but the two types of modems are also used in the iPhone 7.

So how do you make sure you don’t end up with the slower iPhone? If you have a Verizon, Sprint or SIM-free model, you’re in good hands, according to the Cellular Insights report. Another preventive measure is to make sure you buy your phone in the United States, China or Japan. Those are the only countries where the speedy Qualcomm version is sold.

Yet not every iPhone purchased in the U.S. has the faster modem. iPhones from T-Mobile, AT&T and Telstra include the Intel modem.

To determine if your iPhone has the Intel modem, check the model number, found in small print on the back of your smartphone. The Intel modem is in Model A1778 and Model A1784.

While the Intel modem is slower, it may not be slow enough to bother users. Cellular Insights ran comparison tests, showing that the Intel-powered iPhone 7 Plus was in the ballpark of the iPhone 6S in areas with poor reception.

It’s unclear why Apple is offering iPhones with two different speeds. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Some reports have suggested that by shifting some of its modem business to a Qualcomm competitor, Apple gains leverage to extract better prices from Qualcomm.

Obama warns of the danger of AI wiping out jobs

— WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) — President Obama joined a chorus of those warning of the potential downsides of artificial intelligence.

In an interview with Wired Magazine, Obama spoke of redesigning the social compact and starting a conversation around fair wages. He cited teachers as being underpaid, and called for a reexamination of what we value, and what we’ll pay for.

Obama addressed basic income, a proposal for all citizens to receive a government stipend in order to meet their costs of living. The idea has gained recent support among some futurists and economists, given concerns over how technology will eliminate jobs and impact salaries in coming years.

“Whether a universal income is the right model — is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people? — that’s a debate that we’ll be having over the next 10 or 20 years,” Obama said.

A 2013 Oxford study concluded that 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of being handled by machines over perhaps a decade or two. Some experts fear we’re headed toward mass unemployment.

Truck drivers, cab drivers and deliveryman are the most prominent example of those at risk. The tech and car industries are currently pouring billions into self-driving vehicle technology.

Businesses have long embraced automation because it lowers their costs and improves profits. But advances in technology are expected to broadly expand the jobs that automated machines can handle.

Of course, most Americans once worked on farms. Our country has survived transitions before. Yet experts caution this revolution in how we work could unfold much quicker, making it more difficult and unpleasant.

“Oh, we survived the Industrial Revolution, sure we did. But millions of people suffered tremendous hardship,” said Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, in a recent interview with CNNMoney. “This revolution could be faster and sharper and more devastating.”

The tech industry has made rapid advances because for decades, computers have doubled in strength every two years, what’s called Moore’s Law. For example, the everyday smartphone is more powerful than the computers used to land on the moon. The graphics on today’s video games are overwhelmingly better than 20 years ago.

Tech companies that rely on cutting-edge computers, robots and software — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook — have become America’s five biggest businesses in recent years.

There are signs that we’re already seeing the impact of digital technologies on employment. The number of working U.S. men has been declining for more than 60 years, according to a recent White House report. In 1954, 98% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 were in the workforce. Today, that figure is 88%.

Median wages are no longer keeping pace with the U.S. GDP, thinning out the middle class. Wealth is increasingly held by the top 1% of the country. Money is concentrated in a smaller group of people in digital businesses, which are increasingly winner-take-all markets. MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee detailed this in their 2014 book, The Second Machine Age.

While there were multiple big winners in earlier times, think Coke and Pepsi coexisting, or Ford and GM — in the digital world there’s generally only one winner. Look at Google in the search engine space, Microsoft’s dominance on desktop operating systems and Facebook’s runway success in social networking.

While technology has for centuries generally improved the human condition, it always brings some negatives too. And it’s up to us to figure out what to do about them.

Amazon only needs a minute of human labor to ship your next package

— WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) — By the time you take an Amazon delivery off your stoop, walk into your home, find a pair of scissors and open the brown box, you’ve already spent nearly as much time handling the package as Amazon’s employees.

With 22 years of experience in e-commerce and an obsession with efficiency, Amazon has brought remarkable optimization to the warehouses where it stores, packages and ships goods.

On a typical Amazon order, employees will spend about a minute total — taking an item off the shelf, then boxing and shipping it.

The rest of the work is done by robots and automated systems.

One day last month, Amazon let me tour its fulfillment center outside Baltimore. The site was a GM plant until it closed in 2005. As I stepped inside the massive facility, my guide handed me a pair of gray gloves so I could try out the jobs that humans do alongside thousands of robots.

Amazon’s addition of robots in 2014 allowed it to store 50% more inventory, according to the company. With the robots, Amazon can more tightly pack the bookshelves that hold items.

Amazon employees, called pickers, used to have to walk up and down long aisles of goods to find each item on a shelf. With its Kiva robots, these pickers now stand in place, meaning they can pick more goods per shift. The Kiva robots will slide under a relevant bookshelf, lift it slightly, and bring it to the picker. As the bookshelf sidles up next to the picker, a computer screen alerts the picker where the item is located on it.

In Amazon’s Baltimore facility, which ships items smaller than a breadbox, everything can fit on the shelves. The shelves are partitioned into cubbyholes. Some of the slots are stuffed with multiple items, such as a few T-shirts and a six-pack of deodorant.

Once the item is scanned and placed in a yellow bin, the robot automatically drives away. Immediately, a new bookshelf that had been waiting its turn pulls up to the picking station, like a car in the line at a fast food drive-through.

The yellow bins — which are tracked as they move through the warehouse via their barcodes — then meander along some of the eight miles of conveyor belts in each warehouse to another station, where an employee boxes the package.

As the yellow bin arrives, a computer screen alerts the employee which size box to use. On our tour, we watched as some Amazon packers, the term for these employees, needed only 15 seconds to assemble the right box, add bubble wrap, tape the package, add a barcode and put it back on a conveyor belt.

Their speed is aided by a machine that spits out the perfect size of packing tape, depending on size of box being used. The only decision the packers have to make is how much bubble wrap to include.

The careful coordination in Amazon’s fulfillment centers is akin to a symphony. The buildings are remarkably loud too, making it tough to carry on a conversation amid the whirl of the conveyor belts.

After a package is back on the conveyor belts, it goes through a machine where an address label is automatically stamped on the box. Some of these boxes don’t even stop as a robotic arm descends and stamps the box with its final destination.

These packages then need to be directed to the right mail truck. As the boxes pass through what looks like a mini toll booth on the conveyor belt, red lasers scan them to determine where they need to be directed.

When the package crosses in front of the appropriate chute, an automated bumper slides across the conveyor belt, sending the package into the truck.

Then comes the last time an Amazon warehouse employee directly interacts with the package, as a person places it on a delivery truck.

Amazon said it has about 3,000 full-time employees in its Baltimore fulfillment center, which is nearly a million square feet. Amazon hired 76,700 new employees in 2015 and 38,100 in the first six months of 2016 as it builds out its distribution network around the country. Even as its mastery of machines limits the employee input needed on each package, there’s still a role for humans.