What happens when designer babies enter the workplace?

#8 | A scientist named – He Jianku claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies. Shortly after the announcement was made, He Jianku disappeared to parts unknown. (Insert dramatic music here.) If what He claims is true, not only is this a major scientific breakthrough disrupting the scientific community – forever; its also a major headache for the HR department. Tune in to this episode to find out why. Please support my Starbucks habit (and support this podcast) by dropping a tip in my virtual jar. Thank you in advance. 


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HiringSolved

About the podcast:

The Jim Stroud Podcast explores the future of life itself by examining emerging technology,  the changing world of work, cultural trends and everything in between.

About the host:

Over the past decade, Jim Stroud has built an expertise in sourcing and recruiting strategy, public speaking, lead generation, video production, podcasting, online research, competitive intelligence, online community management and training. He has consulted for such companies as Microsoft, Google, MCI, Siemens, Bernard Hodes Group and a host of startup companies. During his tenure with Randstad Sourceright, he alleviated the recruitment headaches of their clients worldwide as their Global Head of Sourcing and Recruiting Strategy. His career highlights can be viewed on his website at www.JimStroud.com.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

On Nov. 28, He Jianku — a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford — announced to hundreds of scientists, colleagues and journalists that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies: twin girls with the pseudonyms Lulu and Nana whose DNA he claims to have altered to make them HIV-resistant. Though not verified, He’s work has been met with international outcry. Many consider such work to be an unethical violation of scientific norms and, amid conflicting reports about his current whereabouts, He Jianku (john-koo) has not been heard from since he made that announcement. (At least, not at the point of this recording.) I find all of this fascinating. Not only do I see the scientific community and society at large, changed irrevocably by this technological breakthrough, I foresee major headaches for the HR department. Why? I’ll let you know after this special message.

Ring-ring.

JIM: Oh! Sorry, everyone. One second… Jim Stroud.

CALLER: Hey Jim, I have to postpone our lunch meeting. I’m searching for the perfect candidate and my ATS is not making it easy.

JIM: Well, that doesn’t sound like fun. What about your CRM?

CALLER: Don’t get me started.

JIM: How many times have you had the perfect resume in hand and wished you could find more people just like them?

CALLER: Everyday.

JIM: You know what you need, right? You need a system that learns from you and suggests the right candidates at the right time.

CALLER: It doesn’t exist.

JIM: Oh, yes it does, and its name is HiringSolved.

CALLER: HiringSolved?

JIM: Yes, HiringSolvedHiringSolved is a tool that uses AI and Machine Learning to automate candidate matching, increase diversity, reduce time to fill, analyze the social web, and unlock the power of your ATS, CRM, and HRIS data.

CALLER: Interesting. Can you tell me more?

JIM: I would like to but, I’m about to do a podcast. I tell you what, check out their website at www.hiringsolved.com

CALLER: www.h-i-r-i-n-g-s-o-l-v-e-d.com

JIM: That’s right! www.HiringSolved.com. Go look at it now and I’ll call you back after the podcast.

CALLER: Okay, bye.

JIM: Sorry about that guys. Now, where was I?

Have you seen the movie Gattaca? It was out in the late 90’s, here’s a clip…. (Play the first few seconds of the movie trailer, maybe up to 1:23) In the movie Gattaca  Vincent Freeman (played by Ethan Hawke) has always fantasized about traveling into outer space, but is grounded by his genetically inferior  status. He decides to fight his fate by purchasing the genes of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law),  who has been determined to be genetically superior. Viincent assumes Jerome’s DNA identity and joins the Gattaca space program, where he falls in love with Irene (played by Uma Thurman). An investigation into the death of a Gattaca officer complicates Vincent’s plans. It’s a good movie with lots of suspense and intrigue. I recommend it.

As I said earlier, He Jianku’s research is not verified so, nobody knows for sure if he really did create the world’s first genetically edited babies resistant to HIV; but, I don’t think its too far-fetched to believe. In 2017, scientists in the United States successfully corrected a disease causing mutation by altering the genetic structure of a human embryo. Which mean, genes that carry certain diseases would not be passed on to “newborns.”

Now if you do a search on “designer babies” you will find a lot, and I do mean a LOT, of articles discussing the ethics of the science. Some people say that designing babies is a good thing while others poo-poo the idea. Here is a breakdown of the pros and the cons. First, the pros…

Designing babies would mean that you not only reduce the risk of genetic diseases but you also stop diseases from being passed on to future generations. Because you can enhance intelligence through this process (at least, from what I’ve read), there’s a better chance the child will succeed in life. One could also give their child genes that neither of the parents carry; for example… musical and dance giftings. Your child could be the next Beyonce; despite the fact that you and your spouse struggle with karaoke. And the biggest plus to designing children, I suppose, would be a better understanding of how genetics increase life span. Does that mean immortality? I doubt it. But it might mean that the average person may one day live to be 100 years old.

And now, the arguments against designing children…

As heartless as it may sound to some, I can foresee many pregnancies terminated simply because the genetic recipe was flawed in some way. The hair isn’t blonde enough. The IQ is not high enough and it must be optimum if the child is to compete in modern society.  Geneticists are not perfect. Maybe getting rid of one disease, sparks the genesis of another one that is even more deadly and because its so new, there is no way to treat it. Before you know it, we are surrounded by zombies from “The Walking Dead” and I’m only way halfway kidding.

In the rush to make perfect children, I can see us forgetting the children who have no say in how their genes are manipulated. Maybe they discover they have talents that they do not desire and decide to rebel against their parents and in the case of being a musical genius, refuse to sing; no matter how much their parents implore them. Maybe they would feel the loss of individuality and be stuck in a sort of limbo; somewhere between discovering what they want to do with their lives and what their parents designed them to be.

And if that is not enough, there are the issues the Human Resources department will have to face.

What are the ramifications of employing adults who were once designer babies? On the plus side, companies that focus on hiring “designer babies” can brag that they offer exorbitant healthcare benefits because it is unlikely certain diseases and conditions would even occur with designer babies; since those conditions were likely screened out at birth. Designer babies would tend to have IQs higher than the national average due to their genetic enhancements so companies who hire them would likely be more efficient, productive and innovative. Designer babies would be better educated and have lots of business contacts as they tend to come from wealthy families that can afford designer baby enhancements. With all of these advantages, its no wonder companies hire as many designer babies as they can find and do all they can to retain them. But isn’t that discriminatory to natural born humans?

What happens when natural born humans figure out why they are not being considered for high-paying jobs, at the same rate, as these designer babies?  Will they protest and file lawsuits against the company? If they do, how will that affect the employer brand of the company? As expensive as it would be, at least in the onset, to have designer children, most of the hiring population would be natural born humans. This means that no matter how many designer babies you hire, its likely the majority of the people you hire will be natural born and they won’t want to work for a company who denies them upward mobility.

As such, HR department, you have a massive recruiting problem which in turn, is a massive bottom line problem because if your employment brand is bad, it only stands to reason that the consumer side will follow. 

So, for the record, I am against genetic manipulation for the sake of making “perfect” children. I think the ethics prohibit us from going down this path and would encourage things like killing offspring with Down Syndrome; they do that in Iceland, you know.  And who can say how all of the genetic manipulation will affect future offspring? What happens when a designer baby mates with another designer baby? What happens when a designer baby mates with a natural human? What happens when two people have children naturally but one of them or both, have a designer baby in their lineage? Nobody knows now, but thanks to scientists like, He Jianku, we will in the future, for better or worse.

A Future Talk on Careers with Dr. Tracey Wilen

NOTE: I’m thinking of doing a podcast where I interview interesting people about the future of work, life and everything in between. Consider this to be the pilot episode. If I do more of these, it will be because of the comments and encouragement of my listeners. So, please do share your thoughts.

A podcast about the future of everything.

My guest in the premiere episode of “Future Talk” (working title) is Dr. Tracey Wilen.  We discuss the career confusion of mature workers and millennials  seeking to progress in their career, how to figure out a career path in this constantly changing technological landscape,  what to do when you don’t know what to do next in your career and more. Get a pad and pencil (or have you texting finger ready) to take notes as lots and lots and lots of strategies are suggested herein.


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ABOUT MY GUEST

Dr. Tracey WilenDr. Tracey Wilen is a researcher and speaker on the impact of technology on society, work, and careers. A former visiting scholar at Stanford University, she has held leadership positions at Apple, HP, and Cisco Systems. She was an adjunct professor for Bay area colleges teaching classes in business, technology and women’s workforce topics.Dr. Wilen was named San Francisco Woman of the Year (WOW) and honored by the San Francisco Business Times as the most Influential Woman in Bay Area Business. She is a finalist for 2018 Women Advocate of the Year for Women in Technology(WIT). Dr. Wilen has authored 13 books, her newest book is Career Confusion: 21st Century Career Management in a Disrupted World (2018) a companion book to Digital Disruption; The Future of Work, Skills, Leadership, Education and Careers in a Digital World (2018). Available for order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

To contact Dr. Tracey Wilen:

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Microchipping Employees is a No-good, Horrible and Terrible Idea

#7 | A Wisconsin company made it possible for their workers to throw away their employee ID cards, forget all their passwords, make copies and get food from a vending machine in a surprisingly convenient way. The magic solution? A small medical procedure actually – employees were given a choice to receive a tiny microchip under their skin. Its called “microchipping” and its a no-good, horrible and terrible idea.  I explain why, in detail, in this episode. Listen in and be sure to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.


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Special thanks to our sponsor:HiringSolved

About the podcast:

The Jim Stroud Podcast explores the future of life itself by examining emerging technology,  the changing world of work, cultural trends and everything in between.

About the host:

Over the past decade, Jim Stroud has built an expertise in sourcing and recruiting strategy, public speaking, lead generation, video production, podcasting, online research, competitive intelligence, online community management and training. He has consulted for such companies as Microsoft, Google, MCI, Siemens, Bernard Hodes Group and a host of startup companies. During his tenure with Randstad Sourceright, he alleviated the recruitment headaches of their clients worldwide as their Global Head of Sourcing and Recruiting Strategy. His career highlights can be viewed on his website at www.JimStroud.com.

Subscribe now!

 PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

A Wisconsin company made it possible for their workers to throw away their employee ID cards, forget all their passwords, make copies and get food from a vending machine in a surprisingly convenient way. The magic solution? A small medical procedure actually – employees were given a choice to receive a tiny microchip under their skin.

The company’s name is Three Square Market and 50 of their 80 employees volunteered to be microchipped preferring convenience over privacy concerns and so far, there have been no complaints. So, is microchipping employees a good thing? I say no! And I will list reasons why companies should avoid this practice like the plague, after this word from our sponsor.

Ring-ring.

JIM: Oh! Sorry, everyone. One second… Jim Stroud.

CALLER: Hey Jim, I have to postpone our lunch meeting. I’m searching for the perfect candidate and my ATS is not making it easy.

JIM: Well, that doesn’t sound like fun. What about your CRM?

CALLER: Don’t get me started.

JIM: How many times have you had the perfect resume in hand and wished you could find more people just like them?

CALLER: Everyday.

JIM: You know what you need, right? You need a system that learns from you and suggests the right candidates at the right time.

CALLER: It doesn’t exist.

JIM: Oh, yes it does, and its name is HiringSolved.

CALLER: HiringSolved?

JIM: Yes, HiringSolved. HiringSolved is a tool that uses AI and Machine Learning to automate candidate matching, increase diversity, reduce time to fill, analyze the social web, and unlock the power of your ATS, CRM, and HRIS data.

CALLER: Interesting. Can you tell me more?

JIM: I would like to but, I’m about to do a podcast. I tell you what, check out their website at www.hiringsolved.com

CALLER: www.h-i-r-i-n-g-s-o-l-v-e-d.com

JIM: That’s right! www.HiringSolved.com. Go look at it now and I’ll call you back after the podcast.

CALLER: Okay, bye.

Sorry about that guys. Now, where was I?

Three Square Market is not the only company to use microchips on its employees; Epicenter which provides workspace for more than 300 digital companies in Stockholm, Sweden, has been implanting its employees and people who use its workspaces for years. A UK-based company called BioTeq has already given 150 UK workers implants and Biohax, a Sweden-based company is in discussion with several British legal and financial firms to get them on the cyborg bandwagon.

Obviously with this type of technology there are concerns but, some people who have been microchipped have dismissed them. Here are 2 quotes from a CNBC article.

QUOTE #1: – “The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.” END QUOTE #1

And this is quote #2…

QUOTE: Sandra Haglof, 25, who works for Eventomatic, an events company that works with Epicenter, has had three piercings before, and her left hand barely shakes as Osterlund injects the small chip. “I want to be part of the future,” she laughs. END QUOTE

I could quote from several articles but the basic argument for microchipping employees is “convenience” and I’m sorry, that is not compelling enough for my endorsement of this procedure. I think the disadvantages far outweigh the benefits.  Let me count the ways…

  1. technology designed for one purpose may later be used for another. A microchip implanted today to allow for easy building access and payments could, in theory, be used later in more invasive ways: to track the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks, for instance, without their consent or even their knowledge.
  2. …it opens the door to potential complications that could lead to lawsuits for the company. Think about personal privacy complaints; security lapses; workers’ compensation claims should the chips cause medical issues. Would employers be financially responsible if the chip affected an employee’s health? And what if that employee goes to another company that requires a microchip and that person gets sick some time later. Who is responsible for that health issue? The first company who microchipped them or the current one? And while that is tied up in court, will the employee recover or suffer until their demise?
  3. …religious accommodations should a company require chipping. Some Christians may see chipping as the “mark of the beast” discussed in the book of revelation and may reject the idea of working for your company on that basis alone.  Christianity is a major religion so, requiring microchipping could severely hamper your recruiting efforts.
  4. …what happens to the chip when an employee leaves? Who owns the data then? If it belongs to the company, what about any personal information that may have been collected during its use?  Would the employee have the right to restrict access to it once gone? Could that data be sold to a third party? …and of course, there are security concerns. Gary Davis is the Chief Consumer Security Evangelist for McAfee, is a computer security company based in Santa Clara, Calif. He said in a SHRM Online interview, QUOTE “I could see bad actors trying several techniques to attack the chip itself or the data that is transmitted to and from the chip.” END QUOTE He goes on to say…  QUOTE “The biggest risks [with RFID] are … eavesdropping, data corruption or modification, and interception attacks.” END QUOTE All of that to say, at present, its too easy to hack those things.

And even as I make my case against microchipping employees, I know there are still some who will do it anyway. Perhaps they will call me a luddite, someone who fears new and disruptive technologies. Trust me, I’m not. I can just see the big picture on this and it doesn’t bode well for a person’s individual privacy. The chance of exploitation is just too great and the argument of its more convenient is just not convincing. I mean, I could see someone arguing for microchipping employees the same way people have argued for driverless cars: the adoption of the technology could reduce accidents by minimising human error. Well, if microchipping employees can be shown to have substantial safety benefits, and the process of implanting (and removing) microchips can be undertaken in a safe, quick, painless and unobtrusive way – with proper measures to protect privacy – then I imagine a legal path to requiring the microchipping of employees being made.

Of course, all of this could be a moot issue because of State Senator Becky Harris who introduced Senate Bill 109 would make it a Class C felony to require someone to be implanted with a radio frequency identifier aka microchip. Its not a law yet. We’ll see how it goes.

If you love what you heard, hate what you heard or, don’t know what you just heard, I want to know about it. You can reach me at my website – www.JimStroud.com. In addition to finding source material and related information for this podcast episode, you’ll find other goodies that I hope will make you smile. Oh, before I go, please financially support this podcast with a little somethin’-somethin’ in my virtual tip jar. (There’s a link in the podcast description.) Your generosity encourages me to keep this podcast train chugging down the track. Whoot-whoot, whoot-whoot, whoot-whoot…

How Emerging Technology is Disrupting the Training and Development Industry

#6 | Attention Human Resources department, instead of spending so much time and money developing an onboarding program and/or a series of training initiatives, why not simply plug your workers into a matrix-like system and have that information uploaded into their brain? Easy-peasy. Now, if you think that sounds crazy, even impossible, you will be intrigued by what I share in this episode. (wink-wink) Listen in and be sure to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.


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Special thanks to our sponsor:

About the podcast:

The Jim Stroud Podcast explores the future of life itself by examining emerging technology,  the changing world of work, cultural trends and everything in between.

About the host:

Over the past decade, Jim Stroud has built an expertise in sourcing and recruiting strategy, public speaking, lead generation, video production, podcasting, online research, competitive intelligence, online community management and training. He has consulted for such companies as Microsoft, Google, MCI, Siemens, Bernard Hodes Group and a host of startup companies. During his tenure with Randstad Sourceright, he alleviated the recruitment headaches of their clients worldwide as their Global Head of Sourcing and Recruiting Strategy. His career highlights can be viewed on his website at www.JimStroud.com.

Subscribe now!

 PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast

Attention Human Resources department, instead of spending so much time and money developing an onboarding program and/or a series of training initiatives, why not simply plug your workers into a matrix-like system and have that information uploaded into their brain? Easy-peasy.  Now, if you think that sounds crazy, even impossible, you will be intrigued by what I share after this special message.

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In the famous movie trilogy – The Matrix,  the main protagonist – Neo learns Kung Fu by  plugging his brain into a computer and uploading the knowledge. Well, today we are one step closer to science fiction becoming science fact.  Recent research shows that it may be possible to enhance a human’s existing ability to learn new skills and rewrite someone’s memories. If you would indulge me, this is research example number one (of two research examples).

Lead by Matthew Phillips, the HRL Labs research team (which does R&D for the Boeing Company and General Motors) has made use of a neuro-stimulation technique called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) – a noninvasive, painless shock that makes use of a constant, small electric current to excite specific brain regions. Using tDCS technique, the researchers excited certain areas in the human brain that are responsible for learning and skill retention. Translation? A little shock here, a jolt of lightning there and you will be able to learn things quicker than you have ever leaned things before.

In an experiment, HRL Labs tracked the brain data of six military and commercially trained pilots. Through transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), they inserted the same pattern in a novice while s/he learned how to pilot in a flight simulator. With this strategy, as published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal, the novice pilot learned 33% faster than the group that didn’t use this strategy.

Here’s another brain experiment bringing us closer to the Matrix. Neuroscientists Stéphanie Trouche (troo-shay) and David Dupret (DU-PRAY)  from Oxford’s MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit trained mice to prefer a particular location using cocaine. Then they altered those positive associations using optogenetics—a genetic technique in which living brain cells can be manipulated or controlled with light (typically via fiber optic cables). As a result of this brain manipulation technique, the mice lost their preference for the cocaine-associated environment, suggesting to all concerned that their memory had been rewritten. What makes this experiment so significant, it that it affirmed the longstanding notion that memories are physically resident in the brain, and that they’re subject to… manipulation.

If you are in the corporate training industry then, the thought of people instantly learning new skills must have you feeling a bit uneasy; it may even have you considering other career options. Well, when it comes to uploading knowledge directly into the brain just like in the movie – The Matrix, you can relax. However, don’t get too comfortable because there are at least 2 technological advances that should concern you and they are: augmented reality and “see what I see” glasses.

If you have ever played “Pokemon Go” or opened up an iPhone app that made it look like you were breathing fire or had bunny ears, then you know exactly what augmented reality is. Now that technology is fun for you and your friends but, how does that help you at work?

Well, imagine people wearing special augmented reality glasses or safety helmets with visors on them and being able to help  those in the field by being able to recognize equipment and therefore assist co-workers with diagnostics, or system upgrades or even simple repairs; again, all thanks to the augmented reality graphics projected on their visors or special glasses.  If you want to see this in action, look up a company called Daqri. (spelled, D-A-Q-R-I) They are doing some Very cool stuff over there. Another technology, somewhat along those lines, is See-What-I-See Glasses.

If you are a fan of the Mission Impossible movies, then no doubt you have witnessed Tom Cruise (as the master spy – Ethan Hunt) put on a pair of glasses (or hi-tech contact lenses) and somewhere in a van, his workmate is seeing everything from Tom Cruise’s perspective. Well, the concept of having spy glasses is a reality today that brings a lot of benefit to the workplace. For example, when out-of-the-ordinary problems occur in the field, all-too-often a second team needs to be dispatched, costing the company both time and money. Rather than rolling a second truck with more senior technicians when an unfamiliar problem is discovered, top talent can now work from a central location and literally see what the field service teams are seeing from their “See what I see” glasses. A construction crane operator, for example, could remotely operate cranes at construction sites around the globe. The most experienced workers will be available to transport their skills across time and space—without ever leaving their desks.

Now, I love this super tech stuff! I love it when science fiction and emerging technology from movies hit workplace reality. However, as cool as it all is, I feel compelled to consider the whole picture. What are the pros and the cons?

On the one hand…

  • People learn by doing so, augmented reality can increase productivity by decreasing training time.
  • If you have several employees immersed in an augmented reality experience, at the same time, they can learn things together; improving workplace dynamics, and quite possibly, the efficiency of the overall team.
  • Augmented Reality in training is still a fresh concept so, if your company adopts it now you will have a strategic advantage over your competitors.
  • And… you save money by not having to print off so many training manuals.

And then, there is the other hand…

I can’t quote you exact pricing on what augmented reality hardware and software will cost your company but, I know some of the Virtual Reality hardware can run you around $3,000 for one user. So, for now, the cost of entry is pretty high.

That being said, I believe the price will come down eventually, as it always does and improve with each generation; especially when you have a lot of competition in the space. For instance, Facebook and Samsung recently partnered to deliver a VR system for consumers. Microsoft released its HoloLens, an Augmented Reality device that can bring computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing diagrams to life to help engineers boost their productivity. And Google has announced a reboot of its Augmented Reality Glass product, now renamed “Project Aura.” And Google also announced an inexpensive VR system — Google Cardboard — with all that activity, it’s clear the costs of producing and purchasing virtual reality and augmented reality will soon drop dramatically. {/music}

Something else to keep in mind too is Virtual Reality sickness, which (I think) would likely affect users of Augmented Reality tools. (Again, I am totally speculating.) For those who don’t know, many virtual reality devices sometimes leave users disoriented if used for more than an hour at a time. Developers are already working toward a solution, and, again, that is virtual reality; but, I imagine the same thing happens to those passionate about Pokemon Go and other augmented reality games. But, I’m not a Pokemon Go player so I can only guess. If you know for sure, let me know?

If you like what you just heard, hate what you just heard or don’t know what you just heard, I want to know about it. You can contact me via my website www.JimStroud.com or you can message me on LinkedIn, Twitter… I’m everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Oh, oh, if you want to support my Starbucks habit by dropping a little somethin’-somethin’ in the virtual tip jar I will not be mad at that, at all. There is a donation link in the podcast description. Thank you in advance.

Is Immortality the Best Employee Benefit?

#5 | What would happen if companies offered their employees immortality as an employee benefit? In this burgeoning age of digital afterlife services, such an offering is closer than you might imagine. If you have never heard of this new niche in the tech industry, prepared to be amazed when you tune into my latest episode.


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Special thanks to our sponsor:

About the podcast:

The Jim Stroud Podcast explores the future of life itself by examining emerging technology,  the changing world of work, cultural trends and everything in between.

About the host:

Over the past decade, Jim Stroud has built an expertise in sourcing and recruiting strategy, public speaking, lead generation, video production, podcasting, online research, competitive intelligence, online community management and training. He has consulted for such companies as Microsoft, Google, MCI, Siemens, Bernard Hodes Group and a host of startup companies. During his tenure with Randstad Sourceright, he alleviated the recruitment headaches of their clients worldwide as their Global Head of Sourcing and Recruiting Strategy. His career highlights can be viewed on his website at www.JimStroud.com.

Subscribe now!

 PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Hi! I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

In my book, “Retention is the New Recruiting,” I discuss perks and privileges companies dole out to keep their employees happy and on the payroll. One perk that did not make the book, because I just discovered it, is immortality. Yes, now, it is quite possible for companies to offer their employees life after death. And, I’m not kidding. Find out more after this message.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are a prime time for cybercrime. While you chase the best deals, hackers and criminals chase you with phishing campaigns, malware attacks, scammy banners, or fake e-commerce sites. Cybersecurity may seem very complex, but NordVPN makes it as easy as it gets. NordVPN’s cutting-edge technologies shield your Internet activity from hackers and malware, protect you on public Wi-Fi networks, and even block annoying ads. Go to JimStroud.com/secure to get NordVPN at 75% off. This is a limited time offer for listeners of The Jim Stroud podcast so, act NOW! Again, go to JimStroud.com/secure to get NordVPN and secure your online shopping and internet browsing today.

I think for as long as there has been life humanity has been obsessed with death. Religion, myth and legends filled that void for centuries but now, we are in a digital age and people are looking at technology as an escape from what eventually comes for us all. Did you know that there is an industry dedicated to virtual immortality? Some call it the “digital death industry,” or the “afterlife online services industry” or “digital afterlife services” or “death tech” industry.  Whatever the nomenclature, here are just a few of a growing list of companies who are now selling (or will one day sell) everlasting life at an affordable price.

Tech firm Eter-ni-me is beta testing an app that will allow users to create a digital “avatar” of themselves after they die. How? Well… Eternime’s app collects data about you by harvesting your smartphone data, and by asking you questions through a chatbot.  The goal is to collect enough data about you so that when the technology catches up, it will be able to create a chatbot “avatar” of you after you die, which your loved ones can then interact with.

When Eugenia Kuy-da lost her close friend Roman Ma-zu-ren-ko to a car accident in 2015, Kuyda missed him so much that she created a chatbot of him.  Eugenia said QUOTE “I wanted to tell a story about him and tell him some things I hadn’t been able to. I put together around 10,000 of his text messages and together with a brilliant AI engineer on our team, Artem, we made a bot that could replicate the way Roman used to speak.” END QUOTE From that experience Replika was born. Replika is an app in which you confide in an AI-powered chatbot that learns about you as you chat to it. And as of now, the app has more than 200,000 monthly active users.

Ever-days” is a company which creates pop-up social networks when a person dies. These networks are used to notify people of that person’s death, and thus far have been set up via funeral homes, although Everdays has recently launched a consumer app.

Eter9, created by Portuguese software developer Henrique Jorge, is a social network that uses artificial intelligence to learn from its users and create a virtual self, called a “counterpart”, that mimics the user and lives on after he or she dies.

Hossein Rah-na-ma, An entrepreneur and researcher based at Ryerson University in Toronto, and a visiting faculty member at MIT’s Media Lab, is building an application called Augmented Eternity; it lets you create a digital persona that can interact with people on your behalf after you’re dead.

I imagine that any company offering these types of perks would no doubt get the attention of the press and a bit of buzz in their respective industries. I also think that it would help shape the culture of the company as a bit quirky, innovative and/or pragmatic; depending on how the offering is spun.  However, I admit to being split on whether or not I would recommend that companies offer these types of services as benefits to their employees. On one hand, I have the testimony of Marius Ur-sa-che, CEO and Co-Founder of E-ter-ni-me, who said his service was beneficial because people can use it to reflect. QUOTE “We had people from the beta programmes who said it’s like having an imaginary friend and it’s providing some comfort.” END QUOTE

But, I remain a bit skeptical.

At a gut level, I have to wonder if its healthy for people to interact with a digital alter-ego of their deceased loved ones. I mean, some might use it as a form of therapy but others might isolate themselves with the digital alter ego and not be able to move forward with their life. If you want to see an example of that, check out the Netflix show – Black Mirror. (I love that show!) There is an episode called “Be Right Back” that depicts a woman who used technology to create a duplicate of her dead husband. (It is thought-provoking to say the least.)

I’m also wondering, what if hackers get into the machines and cause these digital alter egos to say profane things; as a joke. (How horrible would that be?)

Or, finally, what if some company manipulates the grief of love ones to sell their products. “Buy Juicy Cola! Because its what nana would’ve wanted.” Now that may sound ludicrous at best, cruel at the worse but as of now, there are no regulations in place to police this industry. So, who’s to say what could happen?

Of course, these are just my random thoughts. I would love to hear yours. Leave a comment on my blog at www.JimStroud.com. Do it now or, have your digital alter ego do it for you later.

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