Technology and Economy Discussion Questions

Please answer 7 question from each modules: any 6 questions in black and a questions in blue.  All questions are based on the module resources.  An excellent answer should be 2-3 paragraphs long, it should be as detailed as possible.

Module 1.  

1.  Explain what is meant by ‘the hockey stick of prosperity’.  List as many early drivers of prosperity and describe one in detail.

2. Think of one important invention from each of the following three periods of time -before 18th century, 18-19th century and 20th century before 1990.  What groups of people did this invention empower and how?

3. How did farming lead to the invention of the internet? How did the share of farmers in the US labor force change throughout history? What forces were responsible for the drop in agricultural population?

4. What is meant by the “market revolution”?  In what ways did it transform the work lives of people in the US and all over the world?

5. Unpaid work around the house was a full time job that required non-trivial amounts of time and effort on the part of our ancestors for thousands of years. Thanks to technology, we now spend less time on cooking and cleaning and more time working for pay or enjoying leisure. Share your thoughts on which household innovations may have had the most significant impact on our quality of life.  Speculate about how the availability of time saving innovations have influenced men and women’s decision to work, study, marry and have more/fewer children.

6. Globalization was made possible by technology.  What is globalization, and what kind of technologies made it possible in the past and what is making it possible now?

7. Describe what is meant by The 4th Industrial Revolution. Identify some of its impacts.

8. The technological you.  Describe your own relationship with technology: What is you college major? What kind of jobs will it lead to?  What technology skills are needed in order to succeed in those jobs?  What is your superpower (your strongest skills, does not need to be in technology)?   What technology do you use regularly and why -what does it help you achieve? 

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Module 2.  

1. How did the internet transform the newspaper industry? How did newspapers survive? What interesting changes do you observe in the media industry these days?

2. Think about shopping today and in the future. 20 years ago, during the first internet boom of the late 1990s, many people thought that shopping malls, bookstores and grocery stores were about to disappear because online shopping and home food deliveries threatened to replace them. Yet the brick-and-mortar shops are still alive, even though we have eBay, Amazon and other online options.  How did the digital age change our shopping experience, and why did the old-fashioned shops survive? The new 3D printing technology may soon allow us to print things at home. Will that put traditional shops out of business?

3. Education is changing: online classes and massive free online courses (MOOCs) are on the rise, college level courses are available to anyone with good internet connection. What are the pros and cons of online education?  Will traditional education survive?

4. Think about the future of personal transportation. Using study resources and your own knowledge, explain how different cars of the future will be compared to cars today. What features would you like to see in the car of the future?  Notice that certain features may create ethical dilemmas like the one in case of who is responsible for a driverless vehicle mistake. What is your thought on how it might be resolved?

5. What are some of the cutting edge technologies identified as the most influential by the World Economic Forum and the Singularity hub?  Describe one that caught your attention and explain why you chose it.

6. Technology makes the marriage market more efficient. How does matching work? Do matched marriages fair worse, just as good, or better compared to arranged marriages or random ‘love’ marriages?  Do you observe any other impacts of technology on the modern family – dating, marriage stability, divorce, decision to have children or not?

7. Science fiction. Which of the predictions from Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novels came true?  What about other predictions of your favorite science fiction writers – did they came true or not? I am thinking of Bradbury’s mechanical hound from Fahrenheit 451,  and looks like we don’t have the hounds, but we have GPS and Google maps which can serve a similar purpose (of tracking down people’s location).

8. Interview your parent, your grandparent, your boss or someone you know age 40+, preferably someone who worked in the same industry for 20+ years. Your goal is to describe the impact of technology on this person’s workplace over the last 20 years. What kind of technology did they use 20 years ago? What are they using now? How did his/her job tasks change? What tasks are now automated?  What kind of skills are they looking for when they hire new workers? What are his/her big predictions about the future of the industry – will the internet and automation play a larger role? will new products or services emerge that will affect his/her workplace?

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Module 3.  

1. Diamandis, a well-known entrepreneur and futurist, claims that we are entering “the age of abundance”.  At the same time, robots are replacing human jobs. What are the pros and cons of automation?  What kind of tasks will most likely be replace by robots in the near future, and what tasks will remain human?  Can your job be automated? Are there ways to make our jobs robot-proof?

2.  When smart machines eliminate work, citizens may have a hard time finding jobs in order to earn income so they can buy goods and services produced by robots. What are some of the solutions to this problem? And by the way, what are we going to do with all the extra time when you don’t have to work as much?

3. In his talk about the future, the famous scientist Dr.Kaku described several new products that are going to be available during our lifetime. What will the future look like?

4. In his 2013 talk, Ray Kurtzweil (technology world’s biggest celebrity) explains Moore’s law, mentions technology-driven price deflation, discusses whether 3D printing will destroy the fashion industry, defends open source information sharing, and expands on some brain engineering techniques. What is Moore’s law and why we should care about it?  Pick any issue discussed in this presentation and share your thoughts on how this trend may affect us.

5.  Which of the drone applications do you consider most promising?  Are there jobs that drones may potentially create or eliminate?

6. How close to immortality is technology projected to bring us? What are the ways in which it might be achieved? If humans are to live to age 200, how will it change any of our decisions, for example how much education we get and how much risk we take in life? What legal or ethical issues may immortality create?

7.  Explain the idea of ‘singularity’ or the idea of ‘artificial intelligence’.  How can humans benefit from it?

8.  Share your examples of technology adoptions. Your examples can come from your city, your work, or something you read about in the news. Share a picture if you can. What kind of technology got adopted, where and why? Did any skills get eliminated? Were any jobs created by this change? How are all of the involved parties likely affected?

Here is my example of technology that most likely resulted in a loss of jobs:  hot food vending machines that are now widely spread in some west European countries such as Norway. I can imagine a lot of sales people lost their jobs when these monsters replaced their low skill sales jobs. Indeed the company does not have to pay these robots wages, health insurance, pensions and payroll taxes. Of course, someone has to service these robots, so a higher skill jobs was possibly created too, but maybe only one job created for each 10 jobs lost. It would also be interesting to consider gender impact of this change. If the old sales jobs employed females and the new robot service jobs are more likely to be ‘male’ jobs, then women are disproportionately affected by this automation. We don’t have hot food vending machines in the US yet, possibly because the US fast food industry fears that one company switching to robots may start a brutal competition spiral that may end in all sales personnel in McDonalds and Pizza Huts eventually replaced by robots. Well, may be not, but feel free to think of various consequences of automation in your own example. There may be a good use for machines like this for distributing food in ebola epidemics affected areas where contacts among humans are undesirable.

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Module 4. 

1. Describe one of the features of the new economy: peer to peer sharing, reputation capital or trust.  Give an example of business built on sharing or a business in which buyers and sellers value reputation.  How does the business work? How can good reputation create value and bad reputation hurt a business? Why is trust important?

2. Over the last 10 years, new businesses emerged with innovative ways to create value by offering new services or old services in new ways. Can you think of an innovative business near you?  Is there a new company in your town that uses an interesting businesses model?  Here is my example of an innovative business: a services exchange site fiverr.com that allows people all over the world to trade skills for money.

3. One of your readings, a Businessweek article discusses teen millionaires, entrepreneurs under age 17. What kind of projects did these young people launch?  Do these kids have any secrets of success other than a good internet connection and super helpful parents?

4. Google is one of the most innovative companies in the world.  Yet many of its products die before ever succeeding. Why do products die?  Have you observed any new products that failed in your town or your workplace? How can you explain the failure?

5. Review the list of famous rich successful people who dropped out of college.  Who are these people and in what way are they different from you and me? Should you drop out of college to start your own business – why or why not?

6. Many – if not most – successful companies in the US were started by immigrants!  Recall that Steve Jobs’ biological father was from Syria. The question is: if immigrants create wealth, innovation and jobs, should countries welcome as many immigrants as they can?  or should countries somehow select and welcome only ‘good’ immigrants? If so, what are the characteristics of a good immigrant?

7.In his video statement, professor Rushkoff criticizes digital companies and suggests a better way to serve local communities. Explain his arguments and his suggestions of how businesses can improve their operating models.

8. Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos are famous entrepreneurs and innovators.   While looking for profitable opportunities, they created products that have empowered millions of people. Who is your favorite entrepreneur from any country, and why? Which of their creations do you consider the most groundbreaking, revolutionary or important?  In what way does it empower people, and what group of people? 

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Module 5.

1. What is the network effect and where do we observe it? Why is creating a cool new product not enough for starting the network effect?  How can this effect be created?

2. What is Bitcoin, how does it work, and what makes it valuable? Can anyone start issuing currency?  What problems is Bitcoin likely to encounter? Are private currencies going to replace the dollar one day?

3. What is Big Data and where is it being used?  How can large amount of data be of value to companies like Facebook and others? Can consumers benefit from big data?

4. In the past, small businesses had two ways to procure startup funds: use family money or borrow from a bank. Now a new source of financing has emerged: crowd funding. What is it? How does it work? What are the advantages and disadvantages to investors and borrowers?

5.  In the past, governments all over the world were the main sources of financing innovations. Now things are changing: private organizations sponsor innovations. Lookup xprize.org. What kind of projects are being financed at this time? Who pays for the projects? How does this information help us predict what the next breakthroughs are going to be?

6. Read the introduction to the book ‘Free!’ by Andersen and an article about free prices.  What kind of products and why are offered for free?  How would you explain why the pdf version of the book has typos and strange symbols in the middle of the text?

7. Read chapter 2 of the book ‘Free!’.  Explain what you learned.

8. Based on your own readings of tech news, share a news story related to technology and economy.  Comment.

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Module 6.  

1. Based on the MRUiversity videos, put together a list of factors that explain why some countries are rich and some are poor, why some economies grow and others don’t. Which of these factors can be improved with advanced technology?

2. How can the economic development of countries be measured and compared?  Use UN human development index or CIA Factbook to compare indicators from any two countries. Explain briefly what your metrics include and what you discovered.

3. In his presentation, Hans Rosling describes an interesting demographic trend. What is this trend? How do advances in science and technology contribute to it? Is it expected to continue?

4. What is the best way to help the poorest countries, according to the TED talk by Collier?  What do you think is a good way for the industrialized world to help people in the poor countries?  Can any specific advances in technology and innovations be borrowed from the rich world to empower people in poor countries?

5. Browse through the World Economic Forum about lessons and the Social Innovation Guide. What do you think of social entrepreneurship? What motivates business people to start these projects? What kind of projects succeed, and how can success be measured when a business is not for profit?  What else have you learned from these articles about social entrepreneurs?

6. Browse through the UN sustainable development goals. Identify one or more goals which may be attained with the help of technology and innovation. Explain why you think so.

7. Choose a company from a list of the most innovative businesses of the past year and research what makes it innovative. Here are some of the questions you may want to research: What does it produce (products, services, bundles of both)? Is it organized any differently than a typical company? Does it have a unique strategy to reward work, to price its product, to expand into new markets? Does it operate in more than one country?  Does the concepts of reputation capital apply to this company, and how? How can you explain its success?

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Module 7.  

1. Read Physics for Future Presidents and listen to unconventional ways to solve environmental problems. What are some of the best solutions to the global warming problem? Which of these solutions do you find the most promising?

2. Food – our basic need – is changing with technology. We enjoy the convenience of mass produced fast food and precooked meals made with GMO crops, and they have the potential to reduce world hunger.  What are some of the advances in food production that can help the developing world? Why do some people oppose GMOs?

3. If we want to solve the world problems, it may be easier to simply design smarter people who would be able to stop fighting and start thinking of more productive activities. How do you like this idea?

4. How does web video power global innovation? What is crowd accelerated innovation? What makes it a powerful force? Are you part of it?

5. There are many armed conflicts in the developing world. How can technology help us stop wars?  I sometimes wonder if every teenager in Afghanistan and Congo had access to broadband connection and a good computer, would they choose to play war games instead of real wars?  Share your ideas of how technology can be used to promote peace.

6. Select an innovative company. This may be a company from the list of the most innovative businesses, or a business based on sharing (Uber, Zipcar, WeWork, Instacart, Rent the Runway, ThredUp, Chegg), or one that provides on demand service (Postmates, Seamless, UberRUSH, FreshDirect), or a company that is disrupting a “traditional” industry model (Casper, Warby Parker, even Netflix). What kind of old problem has this company solved for its customers? How did it solve it?  What is unique about it – does it have an innovative strategy to reward work, to price its product, to expand into new markets? Does it operate in more than one country?  Do the concepts of reputation capital, network effect, trust and free pricing apply to this company, and how? How can you explain its success?

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Module 8.  

  1. Browse through the Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum. What are some of the main risks facing businesses worldwide?  Which of these risks should we be most concerned about, and why? Can you think of solutions to any of these risks?

2. Technology can help us solve crime, but it can also enable crime. What new types of crime can be enabled by technology? How can technology help us solve and prevent new and old kinds of crime?

3. We share a lot of information about ourselves through social media, web searches and apps. Phones with GPS and surveillance cameras can track our location at any time. Companies and governments have access to all this information. Do we still have any privacy? What do we get in exchange for losing privacy? Why is some privacy desirable?

4. What are intellectual property rights? How are they protected, and why might some copyright protection be useful? How and why can too much protection be harmful?  Can software developers and artists can make money without copyright and patents?

5. Read or listen to any part of the book “Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future” by Cory Doctorow. Describe the author’s main message and share your thoughts.

6. In his book on law and economics written 15 years ago, D. Friedman discusses several curious problems of the cyber age and points out interesting legal implications. Read one of the chapters and share your thoughts.

7. Some applications of technology are ridiculous and even dangerous. Downloadable medicine, exorcism offered over Skype, and more.  Share your own samples of questionable or harmful applications of technology.

8. Give a long answer based on ‘Predictive Policing’ book. Describe several ways in which big data can help prevent or solve crime.

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