Science Diet: Technology Destroying Jobs?


This is a new column, a weekly selection of five science/technology stories that are timely and relevant, fascinating and inspiring, and certain to stimulate your mind.

1. Technology is destroying jobs, MIT professor says

We start off with a piece that wasn’t actually published last week. But it’s provocative enough to deserve a re-plug. This piece in the MIT Technology Review features the work of Erik Brynjolfsson, who argues that rapid technological change – robots, automation, software – is destroying jobs faster than it is creating them. Productivity increases, the economy grows, but employment opportunities decrease – and inequality increases. Think about that when you cheer on the robots at Shaastra this time.

And you’d be wrong if you think this only applies to developed countries with a high-degree of automation: think about the mobile phone. Available in the U.S. since 1983, the mobile phone was introduced in India only a decade later and took another decade to become ubiquitous. But here we are, using the latest iGadgets. Conclusion: The adoption curve of new technology is significantly accelerated, and is shorter, for developing countries like ours.

2. Rationalist Narendra Dabholkar assassination case

Alright, it happened a month ago. But police are still clueless. If you hadn’t heard of him before, you should now. He fought the fake godmen in Maharashtra and tried to introduce the “Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill” in the Maharashtra Assembly. The name of that bill should tell you what he fought against. Here’s a piece in Down to Earth which tells you more. If you find the tone too strident, try this obituary in The Economist.  The New York Times deems us “a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.”

3. Not enough scientists to study mosquitoes

The dengue virus is no stranger in our campus. Stat: India has 34% of global dengue and 11% of global malaria cases. But we’re no closer to effective eradication of diseases like malaria, chikungunya, and dengue because we don’t have enough entomologists – scientists who study insects. A couple of interesting facts: “Increase in global temperature is turning favourable for mosquitoes as warm temperature helps in their reproduction.” And, regarding a certain species of mosquito which carries malaria: “men are more likely to be bitten by it than women.”

4. “We contain genetic multitudes”

The prolific and always-excellent Carl Zimmer writes in the NYT about how cells in your body can differ genetically – that is, not all cells in your body have the same DNA. In fact, neurons containing your DNA could be part of your mother’s brain. This also means that DNA tests aren’t the last word in identifying someone, because genetic information from one cell may not be indicative of DNA elsewhere in the body. Who knew? And as a bonus, you can add two new words to your vocabulary: chimerism and mosaicism.

5.       Profiting from ozone-depletion

The U.S. has been trying to arm-twist India on the issue of phasing out of ozone-layer-depleting gases used in refrigerators and air-conditioners. Not out of concern for the environment, but to sell their patented technology and make money – because the gases meant to replace chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) are hardly less harmful. “First, companies made money out of CFCs, then they made money out of the alternatives. Now, they want to make money out of the alternatives to the alternatives, all in the name of saving the planet.”

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