Robotic vines and robots in the office.

Plus the short-lived Pepsi Navy.

That time Pepsi owned a twenty-ship military fleet. I guess I was 14 when this happened, in 1989, so I have no recollection of it nor had I heard about it until this tweet from Iyad el-Baghdadi crossed my timeline:

Apparently Pepsi had made deep, deep inroads in to Soviet culture after a joint exhibition in 1959 in Moscow and New York and photo ops with Nixon and Khruschev. Pepsi managed to keep Coca-Cola at bay and maintain a monopoly on the USSR’s dranks business until 1985. In 1989, a financially devastated and widely boycotted Soviet Union was desperate to somehow get their hands on a massive quantity of Pepsi to quench the national thirst. They made a deal with whatever they had on hand that was of any kind of value, which was…:

“…Pepsi and the government of the Soviet Union signed an amazing deal that traded cola syrup for 17 submarines and three warships (including a frigate, a cruiser, and a destroyer).”

Tame the bosses of today before taking on the robots of tomorrow. The biggest worry most people seem to have about the steady infiltration of AI in to the American workplace is that robot(ic)s will displace massive numbers of jobs that people currently do. And I generally thought that way as well, until I printed out and read this really smart paper by Pegah Moradi and Karen Levy from Cornell University in the Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI (hat tip @timhwang). It’s unpaywalled and available for open download and perusal. Levy summarizes their findings brilliantly in this tweet:

In short, Moradi and Levy uncover four ways that AI will enhance and accelerate practices that are already bad about the workplaces we inhabit today that are far more immediate and easier to predict than job loss - and deserve the main focus of our concern right now. They are workplace practices that will be made more and more efficient through the use of emerging AI tools, but they are the very practices that those concerned with the state of affairs for huge swaths of workers should already be seeking to rein in.

These are functions like predictive technologies that operate behind the scenes as a part of hiring practices, scheduling that takes in to account the market value of time rather than a human-suited contiguous shift, automated detection of loss and fraud by employees (or anticipating loss and fraud and taking action on that prediction), and so-called “time theft” reduction. An employee is accused of “time theft” when they take “too many breaks”, don’t execute as many tasks as the company’s benchmarks for what should be doable, or undertake activities on the job that have been excluded by the employer as functions that qualify as part of work. Today Amazon is infamous for ruthlessly enforcing these types of expectations and practices with respect to warehouse workers.

Much sooner than worrying about robots taking over jobs that people can do, we should be seeking to fix how much it sucks to be a worker in many of these industries and enterprises that are some of the engines of economic growth. They are the far less sexy but far more fundamental challenges we can’t continue to ignore. I underlined too many passages to share here without overwhelming the scroll, but I’ll just share a piece of the conclusion here:

“…the issues resulting from integrating AI with work are not wholly new, but are instead the continuation of a long line of labor concerns that have endured and transformed throughout the history of industrialized work. But the specter of AI in the workplace does not necessarily spell doom or dysphoria; rather, it elucidates the burdens placed on workers, and may bring new energy to creating policies that protect workers for generations to come — ultimately protecting the quality of work, not just its quantity.”

Creepy robots inspired by creeping vines. I just recently finished reading Dawn, by Octavia Butler. The technology Butler envisioned was like nothing I’d thought about before - all organic and all a function of mastery of the biological world. A ship that carried a species of master DNA traders was actually a massive living thing, endlessly configurable and living in symbiosis with the beings. Humans were placed in suspended animation inside of plants that had been adapted to care for them and keep them safe and nourished. Ship walls were smooth plant walls with no doorknobs, that would open by shrinking away when the right chemistry passed over the right spots. It’s an incredible work, and I only wish I had read it sooner. I’m on to the next in the series.

It’s with these eyes that I saw this kind of thinking come to life in this video:

Researchers at Stanford and UCSB have created this creepy system of ever-expanding tendrils that can grow and grow and has all kinds of applications.

You just have to watch the video.

These are the bananas I found for you this week. You can hit “reply” and it’ll go only to me. Thank you.