Steve LeVine

Some of Germany's 1.3m migrants may still be jobless in a decade

Arriving in Germany, 2015 (AP/Kerstin Joensson)

A senior Germany official says that a significant number of the migrants who have crossed into the country over the last couple of years will fail to obtain employment over the next five and even ten years, per the Financial Times.

Aydan Özoğuz, commissioner for immigration, refugees and integration, told the newspaper that as many as 75% of the 1.3 million refugees who have entered the country from the Middle East and northern Africa will still be out of work in five years, and many of them up to a decade.

Why it's important: The flood of migrants, along with unemployment and stagnant wages, have been a primary factor in the shakeup of politics across Europe, including Brexit and high vote totals for anti-establishment politicians in the Netherlands, Austria, France and elsewhere. If what Özoğuz says comes to pass, Germany's leaders could be in for a greater challenge from political opponents.


An AI algorithm says domestic security risk is down

Mass shootings are up in the U.S., but domestic security risks have been falling for a month, according to an artificial intelligence algorithm used by GeoQuant, a Berkeley-based political risk firm.

Meanwhile, the multiple crises abroad — North Korea, Syria and Russia among them — have raised U.S. geopolitical risk, said Mark Rosenberg, GeoQuant's CEO. In late May, the firm's measure of domestic security risk crossed over the geopolitical risk line.

What it means: Unlike on Wall Street, where algorithms are now widely used for trading and forecasting, machine learning tools are new in political risk. GeoQuant is one of the first firms testing them in the field, developing forecasts alongside political scientists. According to its current forecast, the threat of U.S. political violence remains high, with the decline in security risk coinciding with the Trump administration's greater openness to police crackdowns, along with the fall of border crossings and immigration.

Data: GeoQuant; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios


The war to create the singularity

A bible of AI futurists. [Gisela Giardino/Creative Commons]

One of the great current dramas is the global competition for artificial intelligence: machines that will think for themselves and, one day, many think, be smarter than humans. That forecast inflection point — the time of super-human intelligence — worries a lot of people, since no one knows what machines can or will do once they are smarter than their inventors.

A key question is, if super-human intelligence is invented, in which country and which lab will it take place, since it could be the most powerful technology ever invented. "Artificial intelligence in the wrong hands can transition from being a tool to being a weapon," the inventor Dean Kamen tells Axios.

  • Adding uncertainty is that much of the work is taking place in private labs, uncontrolled by a country. "If it's private companies — as I expect it will be — it's far from clear that any government would be able to effectively regulate it," Bremmer said.

Moore doesn't think inventors are anywhere close to inventing "strong AI," as super-human intelligence is called. Indeed, nothing that researchers are currently working on anywhere will get there, he said. "We will need a wild new idea to make that happen. I'd guess there's a 5 percent chance that someone will make this kind of breakthrough in any decade," he said.

But an AI war is on nonetheless. Why does Bremmer think the breakthrough will come in the U.S., when China is spending far more money on AI? He said

"The U.S. has the best universities, the most innovative private sector, and the biggest lead on the most important technologies at the moment," he said. "And while China may soon be the world's largest economy, truly groundbreaking AI is likely to come from combining the insights from many disparate fields and making them work together — something Beijing will struggle with."


6th graders are helping save bees from killer mites

Ann Arbor 6th graders and their mentor, Palani Palani-Appan.

Ever since they arrived in the United States in 1987, red, hairy varroa mites have been attacking honey bees. They get into a hive, and within a short time, all the bees are dead. Along with pesticides and viruses, the mites are behind the collapse of much of the U.S. population of wild and managed honey bees.

Enter sixth grade inventors from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who have patented a digitally connected alarm system to warn bee-keepers of mite infestation. Their invention inspects bees as they enter a hive, detects the tell-tale presence of a red spot -- the mite -- on bees, shoots a photo and emails an alert to the bee-keeper.

Between the lines: The students' alarm system, their entry in a Lego-sponsored invention competition, addresses one of the biggest problems in the bee crisis: a time gap in noticing a hive infestation. Since bee-keepers are alerted, they can act to attack the mites.

These young inventors were finalists in the competition, organized by FIRST, a global science and technology youth group led by the inventor Dean Kamen. The theme in this year's competition was how to help wildlife. The winners of the $20,000 grand prize, announced Tuesday evening in Washington, DC, were an Ontario, Canada, group of students with the invention of a way to monitor the water intake of horses.

How the bees idea works: Palani Palani-Appan, a Toyota engineer serving as a mentor for the Ann Arbor students, told Axios that they worked wholly with off-the-shelf technology. They started with a cheap Raspberry Pi PC that they fashioned into a motion detector for the interior of the hive. Then they used a Python program to inspect for the red spots. "The biggest problem has always been that you don't have time to inspect every hive," Palani-Appan said. "Now, the first day you know the mites are there, and there are many ways to solve it."

Expert Voices Featured

Preparing for the rise of AI

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

People who enjoy a lot of respect — like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk — warn of a coming artificial intelligence apocalypse. Others say the conversation has become alarmist — either that general AI is unlikely, or that even if it arrives, it will be here to help, not harm us.

Those are good debating points. But whatever the case, shouldn't we start preparing for any eventuality, especially since some researchers appear to be rushing far ahead of our think-tankers and policymakers? So what should we know now? We asked four varied experts for their thoughts. Here are their answers:


Bigger-than-life CEOs are kings no longer

Thomas Edison, GE's original head. [AP]

The United States carries less weight than it once did in international affairs. Now, the country's formerly fawned-over multi-national companies and their once-deified CEOs are on the wane, too.

Recent weeks have seen the shockingly unceremonious dethroning of once baronial CEOs Jeff Immelt of GE, Mark Fields of Ford, and Mario Lognhi of U.S. Steel, reports the New York Times. Their companies, once viewed as having all-but unlimited industrial potential, are scrambling next to Apple, Google and Facebook.

A level deeper: The shift of fortunes doesn't connote an economic advance. Given the ubiquity of their products, the tech giants seem ultra-important to society. But that's only on the level of gadgetry. In 1990, the big three Detroit carmakers racked up about $250 billion in revenue and employed 1.2 million people. In 2014, today's big Silicon Valley three made the same revenue but employed only about a tenth of the people -- just 137,000.


Inventor: Next big thing engineered organs, not AI

Kamen [Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm Green/Creative Commons]

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, an advanced prosthetic arm for Darpa, and numerous medical devices freeing up the lives of diabetics, says the next big thing is not robots or artificial intelligence, but engineered organs that will not be rejected by the body.

  • People with a diseased liver, heart or kidney will receive a new one, fashioned from their own cells. Kamen tells Axios that such organs will be somewhat available in five years, and widely used within a decade. "You won't need immunosuppressants, because it will be your organ," he said.
  • Between the lines: Kamen said engineered organs will be relatively cheap, and will be made as easily as an iPhone. "People think the big stuff is the cloud and artificial intelligence," he said. "I think the next big thing is regenerative medicine."
  • Kamen has raised about $300 million, including $80 million from the U.S. Defense Department, for a consortium of researchers working on regenerated organs.

It may be just a matter of time before jobs crater

U. Ivanov/Creative Commons

There is a fundamental question embedded in the debate over the future of work: will expanding automation pass without damage to job creation -- or are we headed into a catastrophic job crisis?

Last week, Google's Eric Schmidt embraced the optimistic view. Speaking in Paris, he said humans will work alongside machines, not be replaced by them. Indeed, " there is in fact going to be a jobs shortage," he said.

But a number of technologists and venture capitalists think that the speed and breadth of automation will lead to massive job loss. "If we don't have machines and software capable of performing most of the tasks we call labor in 30, 40, 50 years, then it will be a failure of Google and our technology ecosystem," said Doug Clinton, a venture capitalist with Loup Ventures.

Between the lines: There appears to be consensus that the jobs picture will be fine for the next five or even 10 years. But after that is when the sides diverge: artificial intelligence is expected to gain commercial traction and begin to take a serious bite out of jobs.


There is hope in the rust belt

Chuck Beard/Pittsburgh Magazine

In 1950, Pittsburgh's population was 676,000. Today, it's about 304,000. Like a lot of Rust Belt cities, many of those people are elderly: 18.3% of Pittsburgh's population are 65 or older, next to only one other U.S. city -- the Florida retirement metroplex of St. Tampa-St. Petersburg -- for such a concentration of senior citizens.

In short, Pittsburgh is a shrunken exemplar of deindustrialization: The world's population is flocking to ever-enlarged cities, but in country after country, this is after fleeing the old urban heartland, per the Financial Times.

  • This is problematic: joblessness, flat incomes and blight make such cities cauldrons of alienation and resentment, and a primary source of the anti-establishment upheaval that has roiled politics in the U.S. and Europe.
  • But Pittsburgh is also an example of how a former steel town can come back. Wages there grew by 9% a year from 2010 to 2015, bucking the trend of stagnated income growth.

For the first time ever, more than half the world's population lives in cities. But in terms of depopulation, Pittsburgh finds itself an international showcase among former industrial giants, along with cities such as Yichun, China; Khulna, Bangladesh; Riga, Latvia; and Sendai, Japan.

Pittsburgh's achievement is to stabilize itself: To get there, city officials bought up abandoned steel plants and offered them up to startups and artists.

  • This is not a classic success story: the number of jobs is merely steady, not growing, according to the Brookings Institution. And not everyone is thriving -- amid the financial crash, the median wage of black Pittsburgh residents plunged by 20% from 2010 to 2015.
  • But its progress is significant given the global rust belt context, and the decades of preceding misery.

Future of Work

Welcome back, and thanks for your emails this week — I read and try to respond to them all. We snagged an early copy of the new book by the "Second Machine Age" gurus, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. Let me know what you think, and what we're missing. Just reply to this email, or email

1 big thing: Tech giants spend like they're nations

Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

For decades, corporate America has spurned big-lab research-and-development spending, the type that delivered the dizzying and broad tech and economic progress of the last century. But a belief that artificial intelligence is going to drive the next big economic wave has led today's largest companies — like Google, IBM and Microsoft — to revert to the old, ambitious R&D model. And their Chinese competitors — Baidu and Alibaba — aren't far behind.

The five companies listed above — plus Amazon, Apple and Facebook — combined are investing more in R&D than many entire economies. In 2015, for instance, the entire U.K. economy — companies and the government — invested $53.8 billion in R&D, less than the $58.2 billion posted by the big eight, as seen in the chart above.

Go deeper: My colleague Chris Matthews explains why this new trend matters, and what it means for economic inequality.

2. Scaring grocery stores worldwide

Gene J. Puskar / AP

In the 1970s, oil behemoths — then kings of the corporate world — bought up department stores, beef canners and even the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Now, it's the turn of the big five U.S. tech companies:

What was most surprising about Amazon's $13 billion acquisition of Whole Foods is its juxtaposition against CEO Jeff Bezos' years of denunciations — and destruction — of brick-and-mortar chains.

What's next?

  • We already have Silicon Valley moving in on Detroit's turf, creating a tense contest for who will dominate self-driving vehicles.
  • To the degree that the deal is a signal of a wave to come, don't look for the tech giants to mimic the oil companies and venture far from their core businesses.
  • Amazon is unlikely to order a mass firing of workers, which would risk disrupting the successful Whole Foods brand.

Go deeper: I look at The Washington Post example for how Bezos could treat Whole Foods.

3. Get rich in the new age

In 2014, MIT economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson created a new zeitgeist with a book declaring The Second Machine Age — a time of technological advancement as revolutionary as the first machine age, which saw the widespread adoption of electricity and the automobile.

We got ahold of a copy of their new book, Machine, Platform, Crowd, a sequel that comes out in the U.S. on June 27. It is a guide for business leaders through the thicket presented by artificial intelligence, tech companies with tremendous reach, and the power of the crowd.

A thought bubble from Chris Matthews: This is a smart roadmap for business executives. Not so much for society, for whom the authors have a simple message: buckle your seat belts and kill before being killed. That's not good enough. Our political leaders, for starters, sorely need instructions for navigating internet-fomented hacking and cyber crime.

Go deeper: Read Chris's review.

4. We're getting old; we'll need robots

Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

To say that Japan's population will shrink over the next 83 years is an understatement. According to official state figures, the country will go from about 126 million people today to about 50 million in 2100, a 60% plunge.

  • Moreover, the makeup of Japan's population will utterly change, too. From about 15% of the population, people 65 and older will be 35% in 2100. And the working age population taking care of the old is shrinking: in 1970, Japan had 8.5 workers to support every retired person; in 2050, the number will be 1.2.
  • These are devastating numbers, and, as you see in the chart above, they reflect the trend in most of the world. Right now, the median age across the planet is around 29. In 2100, it will be 42. When you exclude Africa, the whole world will be, on average, 60 or older in just over three decades.

All of which is to say there is good reason for the development of elderly care robots. Many robot companies are focusing on just this area of development. Watch this video of iRobots CEO Colin Angle, speaking to Axios about how the elderly can "age gracefully in place."

Go deeper: read the rest of the story here.

5. Health care is a jobs bonanza, except when it isn't

Chris Canipe / Axios

The U.S. economy has had one, big, reliable source of increased employment over the last decade — health care, which has added jobs all the way through, including during the 2008-09 recession, which ripped through other sectors.

  • But this growth hasn't been evenly distributed — health jobs have been a bonanza for Californians and New Mexicans; but east of the Rockies, not so much.
  • In many counties, the number of health care jobs actually fell between 2013 and 2015, after implementation of the Affordable Care Act (in the map below, brown indicates up to 20% added employment between 2013 and 2015. Blue is up to minus 20%.). Nationally, health jobs rose to 19.2 million in 2015, up from 18.6 million two years earlier. (We reported last week on the relationship, by state, between increased jobs and health care coverage.)
  • Why it matters: If the Republican-controlled Congress cuts coverage, that could slow down job growth. But this map shows winners and losers in terms of health care employment, and suggests that some places could lose more, and others gain, should a new law be enacted.
Go deeper: The interactive version of the map, as well as the local data.

6. Worthy of your time

A few stories we liked from Axios and across the Web:

  1. The future grocery is mobile, self-driving, and run by AI (Fast Company's Adele Peters)
  2. Cities are shrinking. How Pittsburgh is dealing with it (Financial Times' Kate Allen, behind the paywall)
  3. Wages took about 150 years to recover after the Industrial Age plunge (The Economist)
  4. Uber's $68 billion valuation is at risk (Axios)

1 fun thing: The age of automated restaurants

Amy Harder

Technically speaking, Eatsa isn't new: this automated restaurant opened two years ago in San Francisco, and now is also in DC and New York. But, with "a vibe straight out of The Jetsons," it has a decidedly new feel, according to my colleague Amy Harder, who visited one the other day in New York. Her report:

"A friend told me about this place on Madison — a futuristic restaurant, she called it. If the future is fast and employee-less, Eatsa is definitely that: it was five minutes or less from order to pick-up. I spoke with a worker who said she alone was watching the whole place.

"How it works: I wanted the kale salad (which as you can see above turned out to be scrumptious). All you do is step up to an iPad, punch in your order, swipe your chip — it was less than $9. Before I knew it, a number showed up next to my name on a big board, leading me to an electronic cubby where the salad was waiting, filled with corn, cheese, quinoa and avocado. I tapped the glass, and was gone."