Could a robot become your new boss?

Meet Sparks. He is a robot. And he is your new manager.

Sound crazy? Maybe not. According to a new report published by the Boston Consulting Group, the percentage of robots taking over manual labour will increase from 10% today to nearly 25% by 2025.

Well-paid jobs in the automotive sector, computer and electronic products, electrical equipment and machinery are slowly being replaced by robots and computers.

Computers aren’t just taking over our factories. They are digitizing our restaurants as well. The University of Oxford stated there is a 92% chance fast food preparation and service will become automated in a few decades. Applebee’s, Chili’s and other restaurants allow customers to buy food on a tablet without having to talk to a waiter. (Am I still expected to tip the tablet for good service?). Panera Bread announced they will be replacing their cashiers with kiosks. They are following the same path as our grocery stories, many of whom offer self-serve automated cashiers.

One American robotics firm claims is has created a machine that can produce 360 hamburgers per minute. I’m not sure if I would want to eat one of those burgers, but with technology like this, who needs to hire a cook?

Delivery representatives and truckers may become extinct as well. Amazon.com wants to send unmanned drones to your home and deliver packages. Companies are designing cars that drive by themselves.

Actors have reason to be worried too. Animators can create cartoons that looks just like human beings. Who needs a director to recast a scene several dozen times when you can just tweak their expression in a software program? Who needs live celebrities like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie when you have a brand icon like Laura Croft from the popular video game Tomb Raider?

Robots, machines and computers taking over jobs is nothing new. Over the past 200 years, automated robots have been taking over work that used to be done by humans and animals. But the pace is getting a lot faster.

The theory is that workers who are displaced by robots will be retrained and find new jobs. Easy, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s say you spent three years earning a diploma. You worked for five years in the field only to be displaced by a sleek new super-computer. That means you have to go back to school again to earn another three-year degree. How many times do you have to go back to school to establish your career? People lose a considerable amount of earning potential when they spend half of their working lives in school.

We need to make sure new technology doesn’t disrupt people’s jobs and their working lives to the point where people have to spend half of their working lives in school instead of working.

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What will you be doing on March 28 from 8:30-9:30 p.m.?

Earth Hour logo
It’s Earth Day again and time for all of us to use our power to change climate change. Earth Hour is a global environmental movement by World Wildlife Foundation which started in Sydney, Australia back in 2007.

Every March, Earth Hour celebrates the symbolic “lights off” hour which has grown from a single city initiative to a mass global event involving more than 162 countries and 7,000 cities and towns. The movement is collectively supported by millions of individuals, organizations, and governments. As of 2014, it has grown to become the world’s largest mass participation event in history.

Here’s why Earth Hour was created:

Stage 1 – Bring people together through a symbolic hour-long event

The first stage has been achieved – the symbolic act of lights off around the world to inspire and unite people behind a common purpose.

Stage 2 – Galvanize people into taking action beyond the hour

The second stage was to take Earth Hour beyond the hour. The movement has seen major success in the past two years through “I Will If You Will,” the Earth Hour City Challenge and remarkable environmental outcomes from Russia to Argentina. The Earth Hour brand has become a platform to help countries mobilize individuals on environmental priorities.

Stage 3 – Create an interconnected global community sharing the mutual goal of creating a sustainable future for the planet

Earth Hour in 2014 swept the globe, bringing together millions of people from 162 countries and territories across all continents. The movement proves that one person has the capacity to inspire change. You have the power to make a difference.

How will you change climate change?

Earth Hour belongs to you. Celebrate your commitment to the planet with your friends, family, community or at work – in your own way. A simple event can be just turning off all non-essential lights from 8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

For one hour, focus on your commitment to our planet for the rest of this year. To celebrate, you can have a candlelit dinner, talk to your neighbours, stargaze, go camping, play board games, create or join a community event – the possibilities are endless.

We’re not the only ones who celebrate Purple Day!

EpilepsyPurple Day is an international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide. On March 26th annually, people in countries around the world are invited to wear purple and host events in support of epilepsy awareness.

Canadian school girl Cassidy Megan created the idea of Purple Day in 2008, motivated by her own struggles with epilepsy. Cassidy’s goal is to get people talking about epilepsy in an effort to dispel myths and inform those with seizures that they are not alone. The Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia came on board in 2008 to help develop Cassidy’s idea which is now known as the Purple Day for epilepsy campaign.

Epilepsy is the tendency to have recurrent seizures. It is the same thing as a seizure disorder. A single seizure does not constitute epilepsy which is a disorder (not a disease) of the central nervous system, specifically the brain. A seizure occurs when the normal electrical balance in the brain is lost. The brain’s nerve cells misfire: they either fire when they shouldn’t or don’t fire when they should. The result is a sudden, brief, uncontrolled burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures are the physical effects of such unusual bursts of electrical energy in the brain.

The Stats

  • 50 million people have epilepsy world wide
  • It is estimated that 1 in 100 people have epilepsy
  • In 50% of cases the cause is unknown
  • Approximately 0.6% of the Canadian population has epilepsy
  • Each day in Canada, an average of 42 people learn that they have epilepsy

For more information on Purple Day and Epilepsy, visit www.purpleday.org.

No tax on tampons! The campaign to remove GST on menstruation products

No tax on tamponsA group of Canadian feminists is raising money to shoot a video about the campaign to remove the GST on feminine hygiene products.

Did you know that we pay GST for period products like tampons and pads but not incontinence products, or non-essential items like cocktail cherries?

Getting the government to support a private member’s bill (aka a proposed law that is introduced by an individual Member of Parliament, in this case who does not belong to the governing party) is admittedly difficult, but promisingly, an online petition has garnered a lot of attention with over 60,000 signatures.

This campaign is clearly strongly resonating with Canadians.

Another way to make a strong impact in support of this campaign is to visit www.canadianmenstruators.ca and print and sign a hard copy of the petition that will be tabled in the House of Commons.

Petitions can be mailed in, no postage required, to MP Irene Mathyssen’s office no later than April 27, 2015.

Parlez-vous français?

francophonieMarch 20 marks International Francophonie Day to commemorate the signing of the Niamey Convention in Niger on March 20, 1970 and today celebrates the French language and francophone culture around the world. The convention established the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique and its successor, The International Organization of La Francophonie (La Francophonie), whose mission is to embody the active solidarity between its 80 member states and governments (57 members and 23 observers), which together represent over one-third of the United Nations’ member states and account for a population of over 890 million people.

Globally, there are over 274 million French speakers worldwide and it is the 9th most spoken language. English and French are the only two languages to be spoken on all five continents and as we know, are the two official languages of Canada. In Canada, a Stats Can report from 2011 shows that French was the first language for 7.7 million Canadians or 23.2% of the population.

Here’s another reason to celebrate; our own former Governor General, Michaëlle Jean was recently elected Secretary General of La Francophonie on November 30, 2014 by its 57 member states. She is the first woman to hold this post, although not the first Canadian; Jean-Louis Roy was the first, and only, secretary-general of the organization from 1989 until 1997.

Très bien!

It’s not easy being a PhD

CUPE 3902A lot of people think professors have a great life. That they live and work in cushy ivory tower universities where they write books and teach students about science, the humanities, and other subjects.

I wanted to be a history professor when I was in university. I love studying the growth of the labour movement in Canada and the United States, and most tenure track professors earn between $80,000 and $150,000 a year, much more than the average Canadian salary of $38,700 a year.

But I found out most PhDs in the social sciences don’t become full-time tenure track professors. Many spend their days working as part-time lecturers who rarely get tenure. Many drop out and find other avenues of work. Most professors are contract teachers who only make an average of only $28,000 a year. That is a pretty poor dividend after spending 10 years in university.

Tenure track positions are slowly becoming the minority of teaching staff at our universities. At the University of Toronto alone, contract workers make up 60% of the teaching staff.

Universities make money from students enrolled in PhD programs and employ cheap labour from graduate teaching and research assistants.

This is one of the key reasons why teaching assistants at University of Toronto and York University are on strike. Graduate students at U of T receive a minimum funding package of $15,000 a year. This amount hasn’t increased since 2008, and it’s well below the $19,307 poverty line for a single adult living in Toronto. And it isn’t much better for York University’s teaching assistants either.

If you care about how we treat educators in our country, support workers at the University of Toronto and York University today.

Public pensions are more stable than we think

“Pension funds are wildly unsustainable,” says the Toronto Sun.

The National Post stated there is a “problem of unaffordable public pensions.”

When you listen to conservatives talk about pensions, it sounds like the whole pension system that has provided retirement security for millions of Canadians for nearly 50 years is suddenly bankrupting the country.

But how bad is the situation? Are our pensions really that unaffordable?

Not according to the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), the organization who looks after pension plans for most of Ontario’s hospital workers. They recently issued a statement saying the pension fund is in good financial shape. In fact, HOOPP has $1.15 for every pension dollar it spends. It also posted a 10% growth rate over the past 10 years. That means nearly 300,000 hospital workers have enough money invested in HOOPP to retire comfortably.

Contrary to what right-wing pundits are saying, public run pension plans are in good financial shape and they provide better retirement security than most private sector plans.

Sometimes people get angry about how strong public sector pensions are. But instead of attacking public sector workers, they should begin demanding private employers to provide the same type of pensions.

76% of private sector employees don’t have a pension. Half of the employees in the private sector who have a pension have defined contribution plans. So if an employee contributes 5% of their incomes into an RRSP, the employer will match that amount. But these plans are much more unpredictable and generally don’t provide much money to retire. Sometimes employers will only match a maximum 1% contribution. 1% from the average annual Canadian salary, which is $38,700 a year, is not enough to retire on.

Big funds like HOOPP bring financial expertise to manage these funds properly. They also lack a “for-profit” motive, which keeps fees low and returns high. They are also more able to handle market fluctuations than an individual’s personal RRSP.

It’s time for the private sector to step up to the plate and begin providing their employees with pensions. They have done it in the past and there is no financial reason why they can’t do this today.