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Work → In Progress: Toward A Tech-Powered, Human-Run Future

Tech through a human lens
Tech through a human lens
Rozena Crossman

Machines replacing us humans: Depending on where you stand (and where you work!), this may sound like a dream or a nightmare. Societies have long been fascinated by the idea of handing over difficult jobs to robots, but individuals quickly start to fear what that may entail for their futures. For all the talk about training robots to take our jobs, it seems that for now it's really a matter of training humans to stay one step ahead.

In this edition of Work: In Progress, we take a look at how this technically-driven, but always human-run future is playing out in very different ways and locations. In Greece, for example, a startup has begun teaching competitive computer coding skills to the rising number of refugees who have arrived in the country. This is as much about social policy as job training, and alone will not turn the Greek tech sector into a Silicon Valley competitor. Still a change of mindset can be a powerful thing for a society. That's also the thinking in China where an essay in the Beijing-based Economic Observer asks whether the country will eventually lose its innovative edge because of a public school system that fails to encourage independent thinking.

The future of work is changing before our eyes: from our daily commute to our relationship with our bosses and colleagues (and robots) to how we sign our emails. Worldcrunch's new series Work: In Progress tracks these shifts as they unfold across the globe, uncovering the latest breakthroughs and connecting the dots in time for your next coffee break:

HONEY I'M HOME! Paternity leave has gained traction lately as Spain considers extending the allotted time off for new fathers to eight weeks — a nice chunk compared to the 11 days given to dads in neighboring France. Colombia, which currently allows eight days off, is also discussing the possibility of longer paternity leave. If this is the start of a worldwide trend, it could mean strides in gender equality touching all corners of the globe.


FINDING REFUGE IN CODING Unemployment in Greece was at 21.5% in 2018 according to OECD data, but InfoMigrants has even more troubling numbers. When taking into consideration the 70,000 refugee migrants that reside in Greece — of which only 10% are employed — the number comes out much higher. Luckily, startup initiatives like the Social Hackers Academy in Athens are trying to alleviate joblessness and creating real change at the same time: providing refugees with free, certified training in web development. The transition into the future amid social upheaval and technological acceleration means that decent knowledge of programming is crucial, and similar "refugeek" programs are cropping up in Spain and France.

IN FRANCE, GOING ALL-IN ON FULL REMOTE ... Remote working is nothing new by now, butLe Monde reports on a trend of French companies going 100% "télétravail," or full remote. Tech, e-commerce and online learning companies are the first to forgo offices entirely, and employees based everywhere from Paris to Nantes to Lyon are replacing the water cooler with morning Skype meetings and Slack chats. This is not necessarily new in the U.S., where companies such as WordPress already boast 550 remote employees, but it's a bold move for a country that generally still abides by traditional hierarchies in the workplace.

• Worldcrunch has the fullLe Monde article in English.

... IN ARGENTINA, REDESIGNING THE OFFICE Can the way your office is built help make you more or less happy at work? Mariana Stange, a realtor in Buenos Aires who helps firms relocate, says si!" She believes in the intersection of architecture and psychology, a.k.a. neuro-architecture. "It's the fruit of neuroscience and environmental psychology," Stange told Argentine daily Clarin. "It studies how the brain reacts to particular stimuli and the impact on humans of determined architectural environments and spaces, beyond issues of aesthetics and comfort." It may change the way a CEO looks for the company's next headquarters — or how a worker looks for his or her new job.

•​ Worldcrunch has the full Clarin piece in English.

AND WHO SAYS YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TWO? Andy Oziemblo, founder of a Chicago-based office furniture and interior design firm, sees a future where the distinction between home and office grows dimmer every day. The more that people can (or must) work remotely, the more companies will need the technology to connect everybody, he writes at Quartz. VoIP phones, which make phone calls through the internet rather than landlines, helps employees around the world appear as though they're calling from the office. "Making sure that all employees are on the same page when it comes to their tasks and team projects means meeting people where they are, whether it's at the office, the home, or in a café, potentially anywhere on the planet," says Oziemblo.

CREATIVELY CHALLENGED CHINESE CHILDREN (SAY IT THREE TIMES FAST) Millennials are digital nomads, Gen Z is hyper-connected, but what will the newest generation look like in the workplace? Even if these kids are still learning the alphabet and 2 + 2, Chinese parents are already worried about the national school system crushing creativity skills. An article translated by Worldcrunch from the Economic Observer discusses how the pressure of elementary school exams reinforces the idea that there are only two answers to every problem: right or wrong. Arguing that "curiosity, imagination and critical thinking are sources of innovation," author Yan Yong worries about China's competitiveness in the future global market.


TOO AWKWARD FOR #METOO "Keep quiet, settle and move on." Such is the mantra in many Swedish workplaces when dealing with conflicts. Although it protects victims of sexual harassment from being let go, it also prevents companies from firing the perpetrators. According to psychologist Carl Hellström, #MeToo and its zero-tolerance policies are incompatible with the Swedish work culture and legislation, making it difficult to dismiss employees even if they go wrong. It often comes at a financial and social cost, which many managers are not ready to pay yet.

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A Naturalist's Defense Of The Modern Zoo

Zoos are often associated with animal cruelty, or at the very least a general animal unhappiness. But on everything from research to education to biodiversity, there is a case to be made for the modern zoo.

Photograph of a brown monkey holding onto a wired fence

A brown monkey hangs off of mesh wire

Marina Chocobar/Pexels
Fran Sánchez Becerril


MADRID — Zoos — or at least something resembling the traditional idea of a zoo — date back to ancient Mesopotamia. It was around 3,500 BC when Babylonian kings housed wild animals such as lions and birds of prey in beautiful structures known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Ancient China also played a significant role in the history of zoos when the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) created several parks which hosted an assortment of animals.

In Europe, it wouldn't be until 1664 when Louis XIV inaugurated the royal menagerie at Versailles. All these spaces shared the mission of showcasing the wealth and power of the ruler, or simply served as decorations. Furthermore, none of them were open to the general public; only a few fortunate individuals, usually the upper classes, had access.

The first modern zoo, conceived for educational purposes in Vienna, opened in 1765. Over time, the educational mission has become more prominent, as the exhibition of exotic animals has been complemented with scientific studies, conservation and the protection of threatened species.

For decades, zoos have been places of leisure, wonder, and discovery for both the young and the old. Despite their past success, in recent years, society's view of zoos has been changing due to increased awareness of animal welfare, shifting sensibilities and the possibility of learning about wild animals through screens. So, many people wonder: What is the purpose of a zoo in the 21st century?

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