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Hired by the Data, Fired by the Data

Geplaatst op nov 23, 2013 in News

And That’s a Good Thing

They’re Watching You At Work

The Atlantic

The term Big Data, admits writer Don Peck, “has quickly grown tiresome.” But the power of analytics as a mechanism for making decisions about hiring and firing is still growing, and the “application of predictive analytics to people’s careers … is enormously challenging, not to mention ethically fraught.” Indeed, the idea that stats may determine whether we’ll flourish in careers or be temps forever is both promising and deeply concerning. Peck traces the history of hiring in America, noting that attempts at psychological testing based on “science” in the 1950s were largely abandoned in favor of ad hoc interviews. But we know that favoritism and bias are all too common in these situations. Now that science is making a comeback, Peck explores some of the new ways in which companies will be able to make some of their most important decisions.

One is a start-up called Knack, which uses video games to measure how people function neurologically when it comes to skills like problem solving; the game has been used by Royal Dutch Shell. In 2010, Xerox started using “an online evaluation that incorporates personality testing, cognitive-skill assessment, and multiple-choice questions about how the applicant would handle specific scenarios that he or she might encounter on the job.” The color-coded rating (red, yellow, or green) generated by an algorithm helps guide the company in its hiring decisions. The attrition rate fell by 20% in the initial pilot period, and over time, the number of promotions rose. Then there’s GILD, which uses data to search out software engineers who might have been missed by traditional forms of recruiting.

In the end, Peck surprises himself: He now believes “that we’re headed toward a labor market that’s fairer to people at every stage of their careers.” That is, one that isn’t based on who you know or what kind of degree you have. 

Can I Get a “Toot Toot”

Auto Correct

New Yorker

First, two sets of stats: Americans are in 10 million car accidents every year, and 9.5 million are their own fault. Second, the Google self-driving car has covered 500,000 miles without causing a single accident, and it can go 50,000 miles on a highway without experiencing a major error. So what’s not to love about a car that you can get to work in while playing Candy Crush and not killing anyone? In this lengthy piece on the past, present, and future of the self-driving car, Burkhard Bilger reports on the broad stakeholder issues facing our driving future. One player is the famed Google X lab, where extensive research on two cars — a Prius for regular street use and a Lexus for highways — is aimed at radically changing how we drive.

The company wants to eliminate people’s need to own vehicles — most are used for merely an hour or two a day, and public transportation featuring self-driving cars akin to taxis could shake the entire car industry. “They want to make cars that make drivers better. We want to make cars that are better than drivers,” says one Google engineer. “They” — car companies — are also developing self-driving cars, but view automation as a process that helps make driving easier and much safer while maintaining the inherent pleasure many feel in driving a car. Indeed, notes Bilger, “Mercedes builds cars for people who love to drive, and who pay a stiff premium for the privilege.” But what about young people who learn to drive distracted, with phones and gadgets at their fingertips? And then there’s a host of moral issues, like whether or not the car should stop or swerve to avoid hitting someone’s cat. The technology is getting there — Bilger describes the Google Lexus as behaving “like a dancer in a quadrille” when it meets traffic. 

“Psssst. Your Waterproof Speaker Is Right Here.”

The Amazon Whisperer

Fast Company

Fast Company editor Jason Feifer wanted a cheap, waterproof, Bluetooth-enabled, rechargeable speaker so that he could listen to podcasts in the shower (we’ve all been there). He typed his needs into Amazon, and one product popped up: something called Hipe (but was Hipe the brand or the model?). He bought it, and when he had questions, he sent an email, which produced a reply from a mystery man named “Sam.” But what was this “Hipe” and who was behind it? The trail led Feifer to Chaim Pikarski, who essentially built a business around Amazon product reviews. Each of his “buyers,” as he calls them — the elusive Sam is one — “scours the web to learn all the features people wish a product had, and hire a manufacturer, often in China, to make the desired version.” The buyer gets to name the product — hence the mysterious “Hipe.” The company can then compete against speaker companies (or any other type of product manufacturer, for that matter) without needing to become one itself. Pikarski’s company, C&A Marketing, is also pretty profitable: sales in nine figures and a 30% annual growth. 

And, yes, Feifer eventually got to meet Sam. 

Baby Steps

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Baby Boom

Wall Street Journal

China’s revision of its one-child policy may be more illusion than reality, but its impact on the Chinese psyche and economy has apparently been significant. Makers of baby formula and diapers saw their shares jump. Same thing for companies that make pianos, because more babies means more little pianists. The Wall Street Journal says 48% of the 79 million Chinese women of childbearing age could be affected by the policy change; if just a quarter of them had second children, there would be 9.5 million additional babies in the next five years. Chinese bloggers have been joking about people’s pent-up desire for more children, saying that on the evening when the news broke, young couples went to bed early.

Despite the economic euphoria and the joshing, China still faces an accelerated demographic decline, Gordon G. Chang writes in Forbes. The one-child policy has led to a lopsided sex ratio, with more boys than girls, and the country’s total fertility rate is low, well below what demographers call the “replacement” rate of 2.1 births per female. Many young women today are rejecting Chinese tradition and skipping marriage and motherhood altogether. The cautious, phased relaxation of the policy is seriously inadequate, Chang says; China’s demographic trajectory is already set, with the number of young people declining and the elderly population ballooning. —Andy O’Connell 

A Silicon Valley of One

Insights from an App-Developer Veteran: Think Simple, Low-Risk


If you’ve been nursing a few app ideas and wonder what it takes to be a successful independent app developer, listen to self-taught programmer Rob Jonson, who has been releasing apps for a decade. When he looks at big-money app developers who are riding waves of hype and seeking venture capital or big tech buyouts, he wonders “why they didn’t just build their app in the evenings, launch it, and see what happens. Most will disappear without a trace, but a good idea that fulfills a need will gradually find a market. And probably has as much chance of hitting it big as any other decent app, with a lot less risk.” Jonson has never had employees and spends little on development, design, or launch. He finds that his most popular apps are those that he’s developed for himself to satisfy his own needs. And he makes it a point to respond personally to users’ emails. “People are surprised and pleased to get an email from the real developer,” he says. —Andy O’Connell 


Costs and Rewards

Just 90 Companies Caused Two-Thirds of Man-Made Global Warming Emissions (The Guardian)
How Snapchat Plans to Make Money (Business Insider)
What It’s Like to Fail (Priceonomics)

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