When reality TV comes to knock on your door, you often feel flattered and it seems that nothing but good can come out of it. However, over the years some series have caused occasional disruption on the lives of people that took part. I often wonder how far that goes. Has there ever been research about this? Aside from some irregular news with a big OOPS factor we don't know what the final result was. That is often nagging at me when I think about it. How many restaurants did Gordon Ramsey actually make better? How many people were satisfied with their extreme home makeover? How many girls became a super model? What did the idols get out of their fame? Questions that probably will never be answered because no one involved is interested in finding out. So we are left with the occasional laugh when things go really wrong. Imagine.......

I am sorry!

It is so cute. You have quarrel with your boyfriend. Shouting, slamming doors, a frying pan flying through the window! You feel hurt, sick, start watching “the way we were” with your best friend and a bag of chips. The next morning after you have a splitting headache from mixing sherry, wine and wodka you go to the kitchen for a strong, very strong coffee. After you get dressed and make yourself remotely presentable the door bell rings. There he stands with a lavish amount of roses in multiple colors and a camera crew. A what! Yes, you are on national TV and he is saying sorry! Can you forgive him? Will you take him back? He loves you after all and he is making a real effort? You enter an emotional roller coaster. How dare he to throw this on you? What is that camera man doing there? And that prying sneaky interviewer that you hate so much is pushing a microphone in you face. You begin to stammer and before you know it, you have said “yes”.

Happy faces you see when you meet your family and friends later that week. You are back together again and it was so romantic! You smile, and think of the laundry, his laundry, that is lying everywhere in the house. Some things did not change. A couple of years later you have found another partner. A more satisfying relationship. You parted with your former boyfriend on friendly terms. Pans did not fly any more. You both found something better. That evening the TV broadcasts part of the old “I am sorry” series. You find yourself and your former boyfriend back on screen. Your current spouse starts rolling this eyes and gives you that “is there something I should know” look. You sigh and realize you have a lot to make up for that night. Next day new friends and relatives begin to question you. You begin to understand this is far from over. But didn't you sign a paper? You were happy to be on TV. Got even some money for it. Yet, only lawyers can prevent this from happening again. And suddenly you know, you need a very very good lawyer.

Extreme makeover - home edition

You have an an apartment in the big town. You have plenty of books, simply because you like to read. There is nothing wrong with that. Many people suffer that kind of affliction. A disadvantage is of course that you need more space. It does not help that you have bottle collection of various fine whiskeys. Nevertheless you feel quite happy to sit on that old leather sofa with a book and a glass of whiskey in the evening. The TV ain't that important. You know it is old, but it has that light brown shiny colour that is so hard to get nowadays. When you draw the curtains (the earth color ones your mother bought for you just after your first marriage) are a bit dusty. It's not so apparent, but here and there it begins to unravel. When you go to your bed you realize that this style is called retro nowadays. You feel that you might need something new.

Next day, you mention this to that cute colleague at the coffee table. She starts to beam. There is this program on the telly now that helps people with such matters. Shall she make inquiries? You mumble something. She should not bother herself too much, but you can see you already lost the battle. She found a new project! Not long after a middle aged woman with a nice voice calls whether she can make an appointment! Astonished you set the date. You invite your colleague to come also. After all how can you leave her out? The designer comes to see your apartment. You are send away. She and your colleague will discuss the improvements. On the day itself you are entertained elsewhere while construction workers give your apartment a makeover. Then the final moment comes. You are allowed back home!

The moment you step into the hall your heart begins to sink. The old wallpaper is removed. That was to be expected, but the walls are now all in plain white. Instead of a wardrobe stands now a pink salon table, a decorative mirror and white curvy chair that is too low to sit on. Beside the mirror are some modern art paintings of the type you abhor. Seeing no reaction of delight on your face the designer begins to explain something about what she has done and why. Through the haze of words you catch a bit about clean fresh colors and the need for space. A suspicion begins to creep up, but you try to shake it off.cryingman It can't be true, can it? You are marched on to the living room. There you stand, they have looks of expectation. Will they now get that scream of delight? But you look around as if you are living a nightmare. The walls white! The chairs white! The windowsill white! The bookshelves gone! And for that matter where are the books? Where are the whiskey bottles you collected over the years. Where is your sofa? What are those purple and pink striped cushions doing on those designer chairs? Who ever thought that this was comfortable? Suddenly you can't stand it any more. To everyone's surprise you start to cry and sink sobbing on the clean white floor.

To be continued (note all these stories are inspired by real series, but are not factual descriptions of what happened there)

 

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When you reading this the Dutch government just concluded a congress about the robotization of the labour market. The congress is organized by the Dutch vice-prime minister (Labour Party) and initiated by a Labour Party think tank. That they take the initiative is not surprising. After all this party finds it's roots in the “working” class. But traditional boundaries are of no use when the future labour market is discussed. It is something that affects all of us, and if you think you are safe think again. The future is already upon you.

The people who are organizing the congress are worried. Worried that the current working population is caught unprepared. Worried that a mismatch in working skills will keep unemployment high. Estimates presented at the congress say that between 28 and 42 percent of the working population in the Netherlands will be affected. What the figures for Finland would be I can only guess, but since Finland and the Netherlands are comparable in many ways it seems likely that it will be the same. Can it affect you? You can check! On this link you find a 72 page report (OOPS!). From page 58 on you find a table with occupations that can be affected. Zero stands for no effect, One for certain disappearance.

What are the working skills of the future? Are you a wine critic? Then your job is in danger! Do we need to give everyone a higher education? Well, you might wish that the answer was a simple as that. Technology is both a threat and blessing. It depends on how this is handled (here you find a TED talk about that)

Starting with the agricultural sector you might find that the number of farms and related jobs has gone down over the last two centuries. There is no reason to assume that this trend will stop. Farms are getting bigger and managed professionally by a few people and laborious tasks are getting done by robots. Even those that require intelligence can processed more efficiently by robots.

I really recommend that you click this video to play. It highlights the equation "Technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can't match" + "Economics always wins" = "Automation is inevitable." in a very compelling way.

People who work in administration or medical professions are likely to be cut out from the job. There is now already a big tendency to cut in the overhead. After all computers are good with numbers and analysis. The painstaking checking of an accountant is better done by computers. Analysis of strange occurrences can be done with standard statistics. There the computer wins from the medic or the accountant. The diagnostics is usually much better because a computer has a huge database to compare with.

Can a robot walk the stairs to bring a cup of tea to an elderly lady”

Probably not. But there other scenarios. One is that already now nurses that visiting people homes are not allowed to do anything extra. They can't bring a cup of tea anymore. It is up to you or your relative. Instead they are transformed into a visiting cleaning woman. Once a week she comes. Cleaning is easy to automate. Now already there are small robots that can clean your house as efficient as she does. So in the next phase she is fired and substituted by that ever more sophisticated cleaner robot. You will get a repairman visiting you when the robot diagnostics detect a malfunction, but that nice cup of tea with lovely company is forever gone.

You are an administrative worker processing the incoming bills from the suppliers. They are still send by postal mail, but already now your company is requiring them to be in a certain format “so they can be paid properly”. Next year your company decides to open an email address where bills have to be send encrypted and digitally signed in that certain format. The computer can read them into the administrative system now without you touching them. Your manager can spend an hour a week to approve or reject bills. If there is something out of ordinary the system will alert him. The need for your job is over.

You are a doctor working at the local health care institute. When a patient has an illness you enter the symptoms into the computer. An expert system gives you a list of possible diseases ranked according to probability of occurrence. It also informs you which medicine are suitable and which are not (depending on the patient's medical history). You are now already doing this and are aware that you rarely deviate from the computers advice. In fact the nurse next door could do what you are doing if she was trained in doing more diagnostics. So next year that is exactly what is happening. You thinking about going back to university to do research, but there are not great many places and you will miss the contact with the patients.

So there it is. Robotization will hit everyone. Not just the low educated, but also those have learned a profession. The middle class will suffer a lot from this development. The economist warns that “median wages are likely to remain stagnant for some time and income gaps are likely to widen”. It then goes on to say

Anger about rising inequality is bound to grow, but politicians will find it hard to address the problem. Shunning progress would be as futile now as the Luddites’ protests against mechanised looms were in the 1810s, because any country that tried to stop would be left behind by competitors eager to embrace new technology. The freedom to raise taxes on the rich to punitive levels will be similarly constrained by the mobility of capital and highly skilled labour.”

That is a daunting prospect, but it's not too late to do something about it. We need to prepare. That's what the congress was for. And that's also something I would like to see in Finland. Robotization can bring short term benefits to combat the effects of a graying population, but in the mid-term we have to prepare our children for a changing world.

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