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Three truths that dare businesses to treat their employees differently

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Three truths that dare businesses to treat their employees differently

Employers and employees are being asked to do a lot to embrace ‘new normal’ models of work and workplace characteristics.

However, it can often be challenging to understand just how practical many of these models are to implement. For starters, there’s a lack of qualitative evidence and case studies for what ‘new normal’ working conditions will mean for most businesses. 

Those operating in 2022 and beyond are already seeing certain trends – let’s call them truths – come to the fore that will really impact how they proceed in business.

Those truths can be summarised as dealing with higher absentee rates, countermeasures to combat staff availability issues, and finding new ways to recruit and develop talent.

By understanding these truths and finding ways to address them, businesses are much more likely to be able to chart an acceptable path forward.

No people, no work

The first truth of the new business era is that work doesn’t get done if there’s no one around to do it. 

This speaks to multiple themes: the challenges of recruiting and retaining talent in the current environment; and the state of the ‘bed’ that employers have made for themselves when it comes to staff wellbeing and care.

On the available evidence so far, businesses that don’t take specific mitigating actions to address the risk of fluctuating staff availability and unstable resourcing levels may already be experiencing bumps to their business-as-usual operations.

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This is apparent in the numbers. 

Among U.S. workers that attend an office or shared space at least some of the time, “52% say they are at least somewhat concerned about being exposed to the coronavirus from the people they interact with at work, including 20% who are very concerned,” according to Pew Research.

Staff availability issues are apparent in other geographies such as Australia, where government figures show “22% of all employing businesses” are dealing with staff unavailability issues caused by Covid, with larger businesses the most likely to be impacted.

What this means for businesses is an immediate need to create workplace conditions where one person’s work or workload can be seamlessly picked up by someone else if and when the need arises.

That’s a marked departure from pre-2020 ways of working and may not come easily for many businesses, where knowledge often sat with certain people, and it is not always obvious to ‘outsiders’ how processes or workflows function. 

To better prepare for fluctuating staff availability, employers will almost certainly need to undertake a process discovery and mapping exercise to document exactly what each staffer does and how they do it.

Having processes well understood and well documented ensures that if a substitute comes in for temporary air cover, they have an agreed set of instructions they can follow, shouldering the workload of the missing staff.

Countermeasures to combat availability

The second truth is related: employees will rest easier if they know their temporary absence from work isn’t going to create a burden on or headache for their colleagues.

Businesses should avoid normalising “working through” Covid. Rather, they should focus their efforts on firstly understanding and documenting how employees work and then on automating portions of these processes to make them faster to execute and less labour-intensive or reliant on individuals to execute. Covid has certainly forced us to adapt to a hybrid/remote working model, and the modified processes should cater for this new norm where possible.

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Where other employees need to step in to cover for the absence of a member of their team, it is not difficult to understand how automated or bot-enabled assistance could make that task significantly easier. 

A bot could act as a process guide, stepping people who are otherwise unfamiliar with a process through each stage or each decision needed to progress an interaction or transaction through to completion. 

That kind of guided assistance will likely be extremely helpful to someone acting in an unfamiliar role. While they’re unlikely to be able to complete the process as quickly as their absent colleague, they can process some volume, and they’ll be a lot more efficient than if they had to figure out the stages of the process on their own. In some cases, automated workflows and bots could even complete the task without any human intervention.

Bringing new hires up to speed

The third truth is that the augmentation systems that benefit sick workers and their temporary replacements can also benefit other worker cohorts. 

Training and mentoring younger recruits, for example, was traditionally quite hands-on, requiring the assignment of a ‘buddy’ to show them the ropes – something more conducive to being performed in-person than virtually. According to a PwC survey, a company’s “least experienced workers need the office the most”; those with zero to five years of professional experience “are more likely to want to be in the office more often”. 

However, in a hybrid working world, that kind of close in-person mentoring may still not be possible. 

Democratising access to well-documented processes and creating bots that can guide anyone through an unfamiliar process can be great aids for more junior staff.  A flow-on benefit is meeting the requirements of younger workers who expect an enhanced level of automation similar to the modern apps they interact with in their personal lives.

Wrap in some artificial intelligence to those capabilities, and it is likely that newer hires will be able to function with less hand-holding during a time when staffing may be short and where having every employee productive in at least some capacity is more important than ever before.

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Amazon won’t have to pay hundreds of millions in back taxes after winning EU case

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Amazon won’t have to pay hundreds of millions in back taxes after winning EU case

LONDON (AP) — Amazon won’t have to pay about 250 million euros ($273 million) in back taxes after European Union judges ruled in favor of the U.S. e-commerce giant Thursday, dealing a defeat to the 27-nation bloc in its efforts to tackle corporate tax avoidance.

The ruling by the EU’s top court is final, ending the long-running legal battle over tax arrangements between Amazon and Luxembourg’s government and marking a further setback for a crackdown by antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager.

The Court of Justice backed a 2021 decision by judges in a lower court who sided with Amazon, saying the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, had not proved its case that Amazon received illegal state support.

“The Court of Justice confirms that the Commission has not established that the tax ruling given to Amazon by Luxembourg was a State aid that was incompatible with the internal market” of the EU, the court said in a press release.

Amazon welcomed the ruling, saying it confirms that the company “followed all applicable laws and received no special treatment.”

“We look forward to continuing to focus on delivering for our customers across Europe,” the company said in a statement.

The commission said it “will carefully study the judgment and assess its implications.”

The case dates back to 2017, when Vestager charged Amazon with unfairly profiting from special low tax conditions since 2003 in tiny Luxembourg, where its European headquarters are based. As a result, almost three-quarters of Amazon’s profits in the EU were not taxed, she said.

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The EU has taken aim at deals between individual countries and companies used to lure foreign multinationals in search of a place to establish their EU headquarters. The practice led to EU states competing with each other and multinationals playing them off one another.

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Tesla autopilot recalls: 2 million vehicles need to have their defective systems fixed

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Tesla autopilot recalls: 2 million vehicles need to have their defective systems fixed

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla is recalling nearly all vehicles sold in the U.S., more than 2 million, to update software and fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when using Autopilot.

Documents posted Wednesday by U.S. safety regulators say the update will increase warnings and alerts to drivers and even limit the areas where basic versions of Autopilot can operate.

The recall comes after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

The agency says its investigation found Autopilot’s method of making sure that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system.”

The added controls and alerts will “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility,” the documents said.

But safety experts said that, while the recall is a good step, it still makes the driver responsible and doesn’t fix the underlying problem that Tesla’s automated systems have with spotting and stopping for obstacles in their path.

The recall covers models Y, S, 3 and X produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year. The update was to be sent to certain affected vehicles on Tuesday, with the rest getting it later.

Shares of Tesla slid more than 3% in earlier trading Wednesday but recovered amid a broad stock market rally to end the day up 1%.

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The attempt to address the flaws in Autopilot seemed like a case of too little, too late to Dillon Angulo, who was seriously injured in 2019 crash involving a Tesla that was using the technology along a rural stretch of Florida highway where the software isn’t supposed to be deployed.

“This technology is not safe, we have to get it off the road,” said Angulo, who is suing Tesla as he recovers from injuries that included brain trauma and broken bones. “The government has to do something about it. We can’t be experimenting like this.”

Autopilot includes features called Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with Autosteer intended for use on limited access freeways when it’s not operating with a more sophisticated feature called Autosteer on City Streets.

The software update will limit where Autosteer can be used. “If the driver attempts to engage Autosteer when conditions are not met for engagement, the feature will alert the driver it is unavailable through visual and audible alerts, and Autosteer will not engage,” the recall documents said.

Depending on a Tesla’s hardware, the added controls include “increasing prominence” of visual alerts, simplifying how Autosteer is turned on and off, and additional checks on whether Autosteer is being used outside of controlled access roads and when approaching traffic control devices. A driver could be suspended from using Autosteer if they repeatedly fail “to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility,” the documents say.

According to recall documents, agency investigators met with Tesla starting in October to explain “tentative conclusions” about the fixing the monitoring system. Tesla did not concur with NHTSA’s analysis but agreed to the recall on Dec. 5 in an effort to resolve the investigation.

Auto safety advocates for years have been calling for stronger regulation of the driver monitoring system, which mainly detects whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel. They have called for cameras to make sure a driver is paying attention, which are used by other automakers with similar systems.

Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who studies autonomous vehicle safety, called the software update a compromise that doesn’t address a lack of night vision cameras to watch drivers’ eyes, as well as Teslas failing to spot and stop for obstacles.

“The compromise is disappointing because it does not fix the problem that the older cars do not have adequate hardware for driver monitoring,” Koopman said.

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Koopman and Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, contend that crashing into emergency vehicles is a safety defect that isn’t addressed. “It’s not digging at the root of what the investigation is looking at,” Brooks said. “It’s not answering the question of why are Teslas on Autopilot not detecting and responding to emergency activity?”

Koopman said NHTSA apparently decided that the software change was the most it could get from the company, “and the benefits of doing this now outweigh the costs of spending another year wrangling with Tesla.”

In its statement Wednesday, NHTSA said the investigation remains open “as we monitor the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety.”

Autopilot can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane, but is a driver-assist system and cannot drive itself, despite its name. Independent tests have found that the monitoring system is easy to fool, so much that drivers have been caught while driving drunk or even sitting in the back seat.

In its defect report filed with the safety agency, Tesla said Autopilot’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”

A message was left early Wednesday seeking further comment from the Austin, Texas, company.

Tesla says on its website that Autopilot and a more sophisticated Full Self Driving system are meant to help drivers who have to be ready to intervene at all times. Full Self Driving is being tested by Tesla owners on public roads.

In a statement posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter, Tesla said safety is stronger when Autopilot is engaged.

NHTSA has dispatched investigators to 35 Tesla crashes since 2016 in which the agency suspects the vehicles were running on an automated system. At least 17 people have been killed.

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The investigations are part of a larger probe by the NHTSA into multiple instances of Teslas using Autopilot crashing into emergency vehicles. NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety problems with Teslas, including a recall of Full Self Driving software.

In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said Tesla shouldn’t be calling the system Autopilot because it can’t drive itself.

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AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this story.

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Why Was Sam Altman Fired? Possible Ties to China D2 (Double Dragon) Data from Hackers

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Theories are going around the internet why Sam Altman was fired. On an insider tech forum (Blind) – one person claims to know by third-hand account and how this news will trickle into the media over the next couple of weeks.

It’s said OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models, which includes GPT-4. This data was obtained through a hidden business contract with a D2 shell company called Whitefly, which was based in Singapore. This D2 group has the largest and biggest crawling/indexing/scanning capacity in the world 10x more than Alphabet Inc (Google), hence the deal so Open AI could get their hands on vast quantities of data for training after exhausting their other options.

The Chinese government became aware of this arrangement and raised concerns with the Biden administration. As a result, the NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed that OpenAI had been using data from D2. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, which is a major investor in OpenAI, was informed of the findings and ordered Altman’s removal.

There was also suggestion that Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board. This lack of candor ultimately led to his dismissal and is what the board publicly alluded to when they said “not consistently candid in his communications with the board.”

To summarize what happened with Sam Altman’s firing:

1. Sam Altman was removed from OpenAI due to his ties to a Chinese cyber army group.

2.OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models.

3. The Chinese government raised concerns about this arrangement with the Biden administration.

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4. The NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed OpenAI’s use of D2 data.

5. Satya Nadella ordered Altman’s removal after being informed of the findings.

6. Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board.

 

We’ll see in the next couple of weeks if this story holds up or not.

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