No. 100: Robot Relationships

Robots don't have to be cold and heartless: New York is deploying robot animals to combat loneliness in older adults and improve life expectancy. Plus, Oregon could become the first state to enact Universal Basic Income if voters approve it in November.

No. 100: Robot Relationships
Photo by Possessed Photography / Unsplash

It's hard to believe this is the 100th issue of the newsletter. THANK YOU for being part of my week – I honestly wouldn't be writing this newsletter if you didn't open it.

Milestones are perfect for reflection, so I'd appreciate it if you sent me what you like most about the newsletter and where you think it could improve. You can reply directly to this email – I'd love to hear what you'd like to see in the future.

Here's to the next 100.

~ Greg

What we're reading

New York has an Office for Aging that has handed out more than 30,000 robot animals since 2018 in an effort to combat loneliness among older adults. (TechCrunch)

  • The acting director of NYSOFA, Greg Olsen, said he was inspired by a robot pet that his daughter purchased from Amazon. The pets themselves are made by a company called Ageless Innovation which spun off from Hasbro in 2015.
    • People can pick from a dog, cat, or birds. Pet owners are less likely to experience loneliness, but taking care of an animal can be too difficult for some adults. The robots help bridge that gap.
    • It is surprisingly popular in Japan, where nearly 30% of the population is 65 or older.
    • In the United States, our Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has declared loneliness an epidemic on par with tobacco and obesity. Through that lens, you can almost think of these robot pets as a healthcare device – just much cuter.
  • I'm reminded of a recent surge of AI companies that allow you to create friends you can interact with as if you're messaging them over text. Kevin Roose wrote a fantastic article after interacting with AI companions for a month.
  • In short, we may be using technology to simulate connection a lot more often in the near future. I am torn about the benefits – clearly, the social impact is present because it helps address a mental health issue. But are we outsourcing part of the human experience in the process?

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is on track for a ballot vote later this year in Oregon. (Business Insider)

  • Organizers have collected enough signatures to get Initiative Petition 17 on the ballot in November, which would apply a 3% tax on businesses making more than $25 million per year in order to give every resident $750 per year.
  • UBI experiments across the country have generally gone well, though the practice is controversial. Oregon has one of the highest tax burdens in the country already, and business leaders are likely to push back on the proposal.
  • What makes UBI unique compared to other social safety net options out there is the flexibility – recipients choose where that money makes the most impact for them, whether that's rent, groceries, utilities, or something else.
    • I think there's potential here, but like pandemic-era handouts, I'm not sure everyone needs it. I'd like to see some sort of eligibility taken into account to reduce costs, perhaps on a progressive income scale to disincentivize evading eligibility criteria.
    • That said, there's a reason these efforts have yielded positive results: many people truly need the extra leg up. If someone is working full time and can't put food on the table or provide for their children, we ought to address the root causes, as varied as they can be.
    • Therein lies the power of UBI: the amount of bureaucracy you'd have to set up to manage the diversity of social services that people require could be simplified by a single payment and self-management.
  • Nothing is ever that simple, but I say run the experiment.

Job of the week

You might have noticed a lot of news from the Supreme Court over the past few weeks, especially since their decisions have touched on major social impact issues like Chevron deference and the "good neighbor" pollution rule. When it comes to the justice system, I'm reminded of the work that the Center for Justice Innovation does to help improve equity and ultimately divert people from the paths that lead to justice system intervention.

They are hiring regularly and in a variety of roles, from boots-on-the-ground case workers to administrative positions to executive-level leadership. If you are technology-minded, you should check out their Product Manager opportunity in New York City. They are looking for someone who has a few years of experience working in a cross-discipline organization on software improvements and enterprise tools. You'll find a plethora of other opportunities on their careers page as well.

Community roundup

  • California is returning around 2,800 acres of land along the Klamath River to the Shasta Indian Nation as part of an effort to remove dams and restore the environment. (USA Today)
  • A group of European entrepreneurs is proposing an energy interconnector between Europe and North America that would transfer energy produced by renewables. Energy usage is higher in the evenings when renewable energy sources like solar are at lower output; the idea is to send energy to another continent when energy production is still high on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. (CNN)
  • The Department of Education is exploring ways to extend Public Service Loan Forgiveness to early childhood educators, many of whom are deemed ineligible because early childhood education is often run as a small, for-profit business. If successful, it could extend relief to another 450,000 workers. (Business Insider)
  • People filing for disability benefits might find it slightly easier in the future. The Social Security Administration is removing obscure and outdated jobs from its database used to justify whether a disabled person can find a job or not. (CBS News)
    • I think I'd fall out of my chair if the SSA told me I couldn't receive benefits because I have solid prospects as a radiotelegraph operator. Honestly, if you read about what they removed, you'd think this rule change should have been required a long, long time ago.
  • The Trevor Project has released results for a national survey on mental health among LGBTQ+ young people: 18,000 people ages 13 to 24. In it, they found that 39% of survey respondents considered suicide in the past year and 12% attempted suicide. Numbers are higher for transgender and nonbinary young people. (USA Today)
    • If you or someone you know needs support, call or text 988 or visit Services are free and available 24/7.

Hot job opportunities

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Resource of the week

A tip of the hat to Russ from Godspeed for introducing me to this week's resource: Nonprofit Hive. It's a free service where they match nonprofit professionals to talk shop, provide mentorship, or simply network with like-minded people. They recently reached their 1000th member, which is pretty awesome.

I discussed the merits of a nonprofit career in No. 95: Decisions, Decisions – if you are currently in a nonprofit role or thinking about making a switch, consider checking out this group. I've joined similar conversations in the past and always found it gave me the energy I needed to keep working on my own social impact efforts.

Test your knowledge

Last week, we went part ambassadorial, part artsy. Responsibility for monitoring and protecting the world's cultural and natural heritage sites belongs to UNESCO: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. One thing that stuck out to me when I was researching UNESCO was the inclusion of 48 "transboundary" heritage sites. These are sites that span the boundaries of multiple countries, and UNESCO recommends that countries work together to submit transboundary nominations. I think this is so clever – a point of shared pride to spark international cooperation.

I was reminded of a recent article that said only 5-6% of plastic is actually recycled. Clearly, we need to move away from plastics in general and towards a material that makes less of an impact, and that inspired this week's trivia question.

What type of economy is focused on keeping materials and products in circulation for as long as possible?

Email me your guess, and I'll send one lucky winner a couple of One Work stickers!

I am standing in the middle of the room, slowly circling, hoping it won't take that long to pack everything (it obviously will...). You can find me on LinkedIn and Threads.

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Jamie Larson