Automation isn’t taking over the human workforce

Automation isn’t taking over the human workforce

Fears of human workers being supplanted by automated machines were stoked again recently in former president Obama’s farewell address. “The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas,” he stated. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

Certain sources ostensibly suggest that robots could replace half of all jobs during the 2030s. Others claim that 62 percent of jobs that pay under $20 an hour could be performed by robots right now.

But the idea that technology is supplanting human workers is ludicrous.

Technology doesn’t harm the market, but fuels it.

It’s about what you don’t see …

An automobile factory invests in automated welding machines and lays off one hundred human workers. Advocates against automation immediately frame this as the tragic consequences of technological progress.

Not so fast.

This idea is wrong, yet is repeated so often that it is known as the “Luddite Fallacy,” named so after the British textile makers who went about demolishing mechanized looms for fear that they were replacing their work and rendering their skills obsolete.

The fallacy of the anti-technologists is in rushing to a conclusion simply by the plain, surface-level observation — one hundred men losing their jobs. But there is so much else going on that the anti-technologists do not see.

True, one hundred people are temporarily displaced from work. But the factory purchased the machine with the expectation that it will eventually “pay for itself.” The machine will decrease the cost of production and lower prices of its product on the market.

Lower prices leads to two consequences: the factory owner will generate more profit from increased demand. The company will either spend the extra revenue on more equipment or staff for the factory to increase production, or the owner will personally spend the surplus revenue on luxuries, and by doing flowing cash into profit for other industries.

Lower prices also leave consumers (including the displaced workers) with more money in their pockets, which they will spend on products in other industries and continue to stimulate the market.

The good that technology brings to the market — increased production, lower prices, and a better standard of living — significantly outweighs the minor misfortune of temporarily displaced workers.

So let’s illegalize technology!

In the context of online marketing, the situation is even more extreme. Not only does technology aid the market, but eCommerce should be glittering, golden proof that, without the technology that is blamed for supplanting the human workforce, eCommerce could not even exist.

Think about it: if it’s true that technological progress is hurting the economy by automating tasks formerly fulfilled by a human worker, then by logical extension, buying and selling virtually anything at all on the Internet is taking away someone else’s job opportunity. Just think of the old fashioned brick-and-mortar retailing that’s being completely overrun by the Internet market. Online retailing should be outlawed, right?

Dissolve every search engine and bring back Encyclopedias. Do away with the whole Internet, while you’re at it.

Outlaw email systems and bring back the Pony Express. Toss your computer out the window, and go back to writing letters with pen and paper. Or a quill and parchment, if we wish to fair.

Burn your desk and chair, and hire someone to be your personal foot stool. Ban big rig trucks and trains, and instead hire people to carry goods on foot. We’re creating new jobs, aren’t we?

I’m sure you get the picture.

The plot to downgrade the human race

While few have actually thought through their own arguments enough to actually disband eBay, Google, or the entire Internet, there are many groups with a political agenda. It involves using the technology that makes your business and civilized life itself possible as a scapegoat for their own plans.

For example, there is a growing movement in legislation to implement an automation tax on companies that utilize robot workers. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, ironically enough, has advocated for this tax. A tax that would not only hinder the profits of online sellers, but give government yet another way to regulate and confiscate from your earnings.

Robots replace human jobs? OK. Let’s figure out if it holds up by examining evidence from the real world.

Specifically, at the most iconic example of the online market: Amazon.

Amazon wrecks the myth of automation

According to GeekWire, while the robotic workforce is exploding in the Amazon company, it’s not overtaking the human workforce — both groups are growing together. The company said in a 2016 press release that “there are now 45,000 robotic units working alongside Amazon associates in more than 20 fullfillment centers.” That’s 50 percent more than the 30,000 units it reported in 2015, and 15,000 robots by the end of 2014.

“We’ve not seen a slowdown in our hiring at all because of increased automation,” said Paul Misener, vice president of global innovation at Amazon, in an interview with CNet. “It’s been our pattern. We continue to deploy automation and we continue to hire people. They go hand in hand for us.”

Amazon is particularly blamed for wreaking havoc on traditional, low-tech bookstores. There were once fears that the entire book-selling industry could become exclusively online.

Then Amazon opened its own brick-and-mortar shop in Seattle, putting a plot-twist into the narrative. Looks like the techno-giant that was blamed for the death of bookstores, might just be the one to save them.

The key is to increase production

Downgrading current technology to employ more people, or destroying goods for the sake of producing them all over again, are sinfully stupid methods of economic stimulation.

The strength of the economy is not measured by the number of jobs. It is measured by production. More jobs in the online market don’t mean anything unless those jobs are increasing your production.

And how do you produce? Keep creating. Keep innovating. And keep selling. Find easier, faster, freer ways to do it.

Producing is the only way to keep the cash flowing.

If assembly line bots, drones, and screw drivers help you do that, then why would you let someone take that from you?

Or tax it, for that matter?

Magento releases 1.9.3.2 update to the 1.x platform

Magento recently released the 1.9.3.2 update to the 1.x platform. Several of the more useful updates are included below:

The old tax calculation algorithm for shipping charges has been restored, allowing for Magento merchants to correctly charge consumers for products and shipping. Magento allows its users to set up a complex system of taxation, which gives eCommerce merchants tools to categorize products and customers into tax classes. A tutorial for setting up and managing taxes in Magento can be found here (https://www.hostknox.com/tutorials/magento/managing-taxes).

The “Price as configured” for bundle products displays correctly in the shopping cart. Users commonly complained that the feature showed a figure of zero no matter which bundle sub-products were selected for their products, while others complained of overpricing for bundled products if all input options were not selected. A guide to managing prices can be found here: (https://www.siteground.com/tutorials/magento/magento_price.htm).

Catalog price rules, a tool for selecting certain products to be put on sale, now return the correct price. These rules are distinguished from coupons, because they take effect before the shopper places the product into their cart, which increases sales following the simple logic that shoppers are attracted to lower prices. A tutorial for creating catalog price rules can be found here: (http://docs.magento.com/m1/ce/user_guide/marketing/price-rules-catalog.html)

To view the full list of technical renovations, please refer to the links below:

Enterprise Edition: http://devdocs.magento.com/guides/m1x/ce19-ee114/ee1.14_release-notes.html?_ga=1.187917025.834397724.1489463757#ee114-11432

Community Edition: http://devdocs.magento.com/guides/m1x/ce19-ee114/ce1.9_release-notes.html?_ga=1.187917025.834397724.1489463757#ce19-1932

Website Security & PCI Compliance

Much like death and taxes, hackers are one of the certainties of life in the internet world. A single shared server can have dozens of hacked websites on it and a website can easily be hacked multiple times a year if not properly defended. Being small and obscure isn’t necessarily going to save you either. Hackers very seldom target individual sites, at least initially. Your average hacker is going to start with a network scan of a large block of IP’s, sometimes several thousand. After your hacker gets a list of IP addresses that respond, they’ll run a vulnerability scan on those servers.

The vulnerability scan will likely come back with a series of potential hacks, or exploits that could be employed in order to gain access. The important thing to note here is that an attacker doesn’t need to know that your site exists in order to find it on the web, locate a security vulnerability, and exploit that vulnerability.

So how do you stay ahead of the hackers?

Updates

The easiest way to keep hackers at bay is also the most mundane. Update everything. Software vendors are constantly releasing updates and patches to help keep you safe but most sites are woefully behind on updates. Updates and upgrades often take a back seat to work that seems to more directly impact the business but they’re the heart of security. Both your web software & your server should be checked for updates and kept up to date regularly.

 

Web Application Firewalls

You’re probably familiar with the firewall that runs on your computer and it should stand to reason that a firewall is even more critical on servers that are constantly exposed over the internet. A Web Application Firewall is a piece of software or hardware that’s responsible for blocking malicious traffic to your website. A WAF can be a physical piece of hardware you’ve purchased and dropped in a rack or it can be a service, like CloudFlare, that your route your traffic through before it hits your server.

 

DDOS Protection

DDOS stands for Distributed Denial of Service and it’s a method of attack that relies on overpowering a web server by throwing massive amounts of generic traffic at it. A DDOS is less common than a exploit because it generally requires the attacker to have access to a large pool of machines to initiate the attack from. Unlike an exploit, which generally seeks to access restricted data on your website, a DDOS exists purely for the purpose of taking you off of the web. As a general rule, if you’re being DDOS’d, you’ve either upset someone or you’ve got a hacker testing his abilities on your website. The attacking party has little to gain from this brand of attack.

So how do you stop a DDOS? Your two options tend to be to bulk up, or add enough resources to handle the traffic, or to employ a DDOS prevention service. These tend to be expensive but they’ll filter out the illegitimate traffic before it gets to your site.

Unless you’re running a very large business, employing a DDOS protection service can often be fiscally unfeasible. I would recommend leaving this one alone, unless you happen to be attacked, or trying to find a hosting service that offers one bundled at a discount rate, as many do.

 

Penetration Tests & Vulnerability Scans

A penetration test, or pen-test for short, involves hiring an Ethical Hacker to attempt to break into your website and show you where it’s vulnerable. Someone running a basic vulnerability scan is also an option and often cheaper. The difference? A vulnerability scan will look for holes in your security, a true pen-test will seek to exploit them.

It’s important, if you’re considering running a pen-test, to speak with your hosting provider prior to the test. If you’re on a shared server, your fake hack attempt could be seen as a real hack attempt on other websites on your server and may constitute illegal action. A good ethical hacker should be able to provide you with information about what is legal and what’s not when it comes to testing a website for vulnerabilities.

PCI Compliance

PCI stands for Payment Card Industry and PCI Compliance is generally a requirement to accept payments on the web. So, how do you find out if your website is PCI compliant?

PCI Compliance is often determined by a PCI compliance scan run by your credit card gateway provider. That could be someone like PayPal or Authorize.net. Normally, while your site is still small, you’re not going to see too many of these. As you start to increase revenue, you’re more likely to start getting messages from your payment provider to become PCI compliant.

The next question that comes up is how we get there. Well, there’s not really one path to PCI Compliance. Every scan is going to turn up different results and different vulnerabilities and standards that need to be met. I can suggest a few loop holes to get around it entirely.

The first is to avoid processing credit cards on your website at all. Using services like PayPal standard and 2Checkout, where a customer is directed to an external website to pay, will completely remove you from the scope of PCI Compliance. If you never actually take a credit card number, you can’t be liable for one.

The second(almost as good) method is to use services like Authorize.net Direct Post. In this scenario, visitors are putting in their credit card number on your website but it’s sent immediately to Authorize.net without ever going through your web server. I won’t get into the technical details of how this works, but it greatly lowers the scope of your PCI requirements.

As a final note on PCI, never, NEVER, store credit card information on your own website. Even though it’s possible to be PCI Compliant while storing local credit card numbers, the risk is simply higher than the reward could ever be. Do you remember what happened to Target recently? Imagine that being your business with hundreds or thousands of customers with credit card numbers filched from your store.E

This post is an excerpt from the short e-book, Understanding Websites from a Business Perspective, available on Amazon.