The Data-Driven Optimization of the Worker

By Alexis C. Madrigal

1. The math of large numbers means that companies with lots of employees are going to try to optimize everything.

"Technology means that no matter what kind of job you have — even if you're alone in a truck on an empty road — your company can now measure everything you do. In Earle's case, those measurements go into a little black box in the back of his truck. At the end of the day, the data get sent to Paramus, N.J., where computers crunch through the data from UPS trucks across the country. 'The data are about as important as the package for us,' says Jack Levis, who's in charge of the UPS data. It's his job to think about small amounts of time and large amounts of money. 'Just one minute per driver per day over the course of a year adds up to $14.5 million,' Levis says."

 

2. Are exotic species bad? Not always

"Despite numerous examples of invasive species harming eco-systems, exotic species may actually be able to fill ecological gaps in their new home, such as those left by native species that have become extinct... A collaborative research project between scientists at the University of Canterbury and the University of Oviedo, Spain, has examined the role of exotic birds in dispersing the seeds of native New Zealand trees and shrubs... 'Many of our native species have already become extinct and sometimes we need new species to fill their role. Although they often do harm, we can’t always assume that non-native species are the bad guys in our constantly changing eco-systems,' Professor Tylianakis says."

 

3. From 1980 to 2009, the twin rate for non-Hispanic white women doubled. 

"The number of twin births more than doubled from 1980 through 2009, rising from 68,339 to more than 137,000 births in each year from 2006 to 2009. In 1980, 1 in every 53 babies born in the United States was a twin, compared with 1 in every 30 births in 2009... If the rate of twin births had not changed from the 1980 level, approximately 865,000 fewer twins would have been born in the United States over the three decades."

 

4. Meet Muriel Cooper. She's badass.

"Muriel Cooper (1925–1994) was a graphic designer who spent the bulk of her career working at MIT. In the mid-50s, she started as a designer in the Office of Publications. By the mid-60s she was the first Design Director at the MIT Press, where she rationalized their production system and designed classic books like The Bauhaus (1969) and Learning from Las Vegas (1972), along with about 500 others. In the mid-70s she founded the Visible Language Workshop in MIT’s Department of Architecture, where she taught experimental printing and hands-on production. And by the mid-80s, she was a founding member of the MIT Media Lab, designing early computer interfaces."

 

5. A great post and comment discussion (!) on the state of cognitive science and what we call artificial intelligence.

"Neuroscience has given us an incredibly sophisticated picture of the anatomy of the brain. It has done remarkably little to tell us about the cognitive process of the brain. In a very real way, we’re still stuck with the same crude Hebbian associationism that we have been for 50 years. Randy Gallistel (who, in my estimation, is simply the guy when it comes to this discussion) analogizes it to a computer scientist looking at the parts of a computer. The computer scientist knows what the processor does, what the RAM does, what the hard drive does, but only because he knows the computational process. He knows the base-2 processing system of a CPU. He knows how it encodes and decodes information. He knows how the parts work together to make the input-output system work. The brain? We still have almost no idea, and looking at the parts is not working. It’s great that people are doing all of these studies looking at how the brain lights up in an MRI when exposed to different inputs, but the actual understanding that has stemmed from this research is limited."

+ It references this brilliant profile of Douglas Hofstadter in The Atlantic by wunderkind James Somers. 

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

basal, basic. These un-English-looking adjectives, neither of which existed before the 19th c., were manufactured merely as adjuncts to certain technical uses of the noun base in botany, chemistry, & architecture , where fundamental would have been misleading. But they are now supplanting fundamental, with its 500-year tradition, in both general & fig. contexts. 

 

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Small Amounts of Time and Large Amounts of Money

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/04/the-data-driven-optimization-of-the-worker/360838/