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Computers are hiring, rating and firing millions of Amazon workers.

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What does this mean for the future of the workforce?

Meet Stephen Normandin, a casualty of the system

According to an app tracker, Amazon’s Flex app has over 4 million users worldwide, with 2.9 million in the United States. According to one driver, he was dismissed for failing to complete deliveries due to a closed apartment complex. “I’m an old-school guy who gives 110% to every job”, said Stephen Normandin. Amazon claims to be attempting to ensure that its drivers have human oversight.

Amazon’s Flex programme is a huge success, but the advantages greatly outweigh the negative consequences. When Flex drivers believe they have been unfairly deactivated, they have little recourse because they are independent contractors. Drivers can pay $200 to have their disagreement resolved through arbitration, but few do so because they believe it is a waste of time and money. “Executives knew this was going to blow out,” claimed a former engineer who worked on the system’s design.

Amazon’s human-resources function is more automated than most organisations’. Machines can evaluate loan applications and even determine if someone is eligible for parole or should remain in prison. Legislators have looked into the issue, but have been slow to establish regulations to protect the public. The FTC is proposing a law that would oblige it to be more open about how algorithms influence people.

Neddra Lira, of Arlington, Texas, ran into issues too

Amazon Flex is a service that allows drivers to use the Amazon app to deliver packages and groceries. 

Drivers are evaluated based on their dependability and delivery quality, which is mostly determined by whether they arrived on time to pick up parcels. Lira, a mother of three, claims to have delivered approximately 8,000 parcels and to have had an “excellent” performance rating the majority of the time. She claims that there were instances when there were so many drivers lining up outside the delivery station that she had to wait an hour to get her products.

Lira Prakash, an Amazon Flex driver, claims she was deactivated for breaking the company’s terms of service. She described herself as a single mother who had been laid off from her usual work because of the pandemic. “It just wasn’t fair,” Lira explained, “I was on the verge of losing my house,” Amazon says it’s looking into it and will give her access to its Flex programme.

Amazon Flex drivers deliver about 95% of all packages on time and without issues, a person familiar with the program says. The computer engineers who designed Flex worked hard to make it fair and consider such variables as traffic jams and problems accessing apartments. But no algorithm is perfect, and at Amazon’s size, even a small margin of error can have a huge ripple effect. 

The system worked fine for Normandin for years

Normandin, a Seattle delivery driver, has been medically disabled for over a decade owing to a stomach condition and back issues that prevent him from sitting or standing for lengthy periods of time. When he couldn’t reach a customer at an apartment complex with its gates locked, he claims Amazon’s algorithm took notice. The organisation is currently in the process of instructing drivers on how to avoid making the same mistakes.

According to Normandin, he was fired by Amazon when his rating plummeted and he was unable to open an Amazon locker. He sent an email to the employer to reclaim his employment, but it took six weeks for his rating to improve. He claims that “they never rectified it,” and that “it took me six weeks to get my rating back up.” The customer care department of the corporation has been accused of not doing its job correctly.

He claims he was deactivated by the company’s algorithm and appealed to Jeff Bezos, who agreed to look into the matter but refused to reinstate him. He received an email from “Arnab” apologising for the delay and promising an update after a week of waiting. But he didn’t get his job back, so he had to start his own small-engine repair business. 

As bots and automation start to become commonplace, it is imperative that businesses understand how to strike a balance between the human touch and embracing technological advances. If we fail to do so, we risk alienating the workforce of tomorrow and stripping the workplace of any vestiges of the warmth, empathy, and compassion that defines the very essence of humanity.

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Apple will give PC makers sleepless nights with MacBooks’ new computing direction

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Steve Jobs built Apple on a formula of enduring simplicity and usability. With products that are approachable, and easy-to-use for seven and seventy-year-olds alike, it created a user base that is as extensive as it is fiercely loyal.

This simple, ‘it just works’ approach is reflected in the company’s culture as well, and can be seen in the software underpinning its gadgets, such as iOS. As a result, iOS is one of the world’s most popular operating systems, and dead easy to use. All Apple devices run the same software, something no other business has yet accomplished. When we consider Apple’s main competitor, Android, we see that it is more complicated and fragmented than iOS, with updates sometimes taking months to roll out. This combination of technology with simplicity, creativity and design, has been Apple’s secret sauce for success for the longest time.

Not one to rest on its laurels, Apple has upgraded its product lines for the second month in a row. After the Apple iPhone and a portion of the iPad series were updated last month, it was now time for Apple’s Mac and AirPods to be updated. Apple not only unveiled the new Apple MacBook Pro 14, but also updated the MacBook Pro 16 after a long hiatus during its ‘Unleashed’ keynote. With the arrival of the Apple M1 Pro and Apple M1 Max processors, the entire Mac line-up is looking to level up in the coming months.

“M1 Pro and M1 Max take Apple silicon even further, and are unlike anything else in a pro notebook,” says Johny Srouji, Senior Vice President of Hardware Technologies at Apple. “With massive gains in CPU and GPU performance, up to six times the memory bandwidth, a new media engine with ProRes accelerators, and other advanced technologies, M1 Pro and M1 Max take Apple silicon even further, and are unlike anything else in a pro notebook.” According to Apple, the M1 Pro boasts a 16-core GPU that is up to 2x quicker than the M1 and up to 7x faster than the integrated graphics on the current Windows 8-core PC laptop chip.

For the first time, the MacBook line-up has two options that offer exactly the same series of features and specs. Both will get the M1 Pro and the M1 Max chips. The MacBook Pro 16-inch and an all new 14-inch join the existing MacBook line-up. The 16-inch variant is 16.8 mm thick while the 14-inch option is 15.5 mm thick, and the new design language adds rounded edges. Less reliance on dongles too, with the HDMI port, an SD card slot, headphone jack with Hi-Fi audio support and more Thunderbolt ports.

Apple has made some big statements about the new MacBooks’ battery life. They say that the 14 inch MacBook Pro can play video for up to 17 hours, and the 16 inch variant can play video for up to 21 hours.

When we look from this window, although there are many companies in our age, there is no other company that offers the depth and breadth of expertise Apple brings to the table. Another feature of Apple is that it intelligently extends its product range and range. With its latest product boasting a power-packed punch, Apple is well poised to take on all comers for some more time yet.

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How 5G rollout, tech innovations will define the future of Indian telecom

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According to a recent CII-Deloitte paper titled ‘Digital reset — Touching a billion Indians,’ technological breakthroughs with 5G could reshape the future of communication in India.  

India is making a big contribution to the next generation of telecom services, with enterprises partnering to widen options. Shortly, private networks are projected to witness a surge in demand from businesses in fields such as healthcare, education, finance, e-commerce, and entertainment.  

“Telecom has played a critical role in causing a shift in consumer behavior. According to Peeyush Vaish, Partner and Telecom Leader at Deloitte India, “data availability has pushed more and more digital services to the end-user.” 

However, India’s telecom sector still faces significant challenges on the route to the 5G rollout. “The government, telecom regulators, telecom service providers (TSPs), and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must collaborate,” Vaish said, citing poor fiberization, local hardware production, high spectrum costs, and the selection of appropriate 5G standards and bands as important challenges.

But even beyond the bones of infrastructure and networking that defines these technological advances, there is a story to be told beyond mere connectivity. India’s great mass huddles in its hinterland, and 5G, or even lesser forms of connectivity, have been levers of great social growth and upliftment, impacting our communities like never before. While the industry can be referred to in colder terms as a ‘service enabler’, the honest truth is that it is a democratiser par excellence, a lever for social equity that is truly once-in-a-generation. Digital India has laid the platform for a lot of these advances, and India Inc. too is playing a part in scripting this growth story. Through a continued collaboration of government and industry, India can hope to leapfrog its growth trajectory to an altogether new level on the back of this telecommunications push.

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Can fuel cells be a better option than EVs?

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As the automobile world is moving its focus to electric vehicles, traditional names like Tata Motors to new-age technology companies like Ather Energy and Ola are throwing their hat into the ring with an array of mobility solutions. As pollution levels touch extraordinary levels and the impact of climate change starts to make itself all the more apparent, a new wave of mobility seems to be taking root. 

Why FCEVs?

Every automobile enthusiast celebrated the introduction of EVs. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) were the first EVs to hit the market. Despite their merits, these cars are not a viable alternative to Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) based vehicles because they have a limited range-per-charge capacity and are reliant on external charging facilities.Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles, or FCEVs, can overcome this shortcoming and prove to be a better alternative to traditional ICE vehicles. 

FCEVs do not require external charging and instead use a fuel such as hydrogen to create the electricity needed for driving and to charge the built-in batteries for auxiliary functions. FCEVs, like ICE-based vehicles, will require gasoline, but it will be a green fuel that will not pollute the environment. What’s more, they do not produce noxious exhaust fumes; their only by-product is pure, distilled water, making it a clean, green mobility solution that can serve us all.

So when can I drive one? 

Although FCEVs are not yet present in India, they have been tested. National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), the country’s largest power provider, had encouraged the automobile industry to procure such vehicles for experimental projects in 2021.  

According to news sources, the project has caught the interest of major automakers Toyota and Hyundai Motor, as well as Indian companies Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, and KPIT Technologies. Because their powerplants are so specialized, FCEVs are also much costlier to build than regular gas-powered cars, causing a bit of a catch-22 situation, as consumers are waiting to jump on this bandwagon once ownership costs get rationalised and the refueling infrastructure gets created. Automobile companies, on the other hand, are holding their cards close to their chest as they try to understand if there’s enough consumer interest to warrant the hefty investments FCEVs demand. This is a Mexican standoff that will go on for some time yet.

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