Friday Five: Rise of automation will worsen inequality

4 min readOct 23, 2020


Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Increased automation will worsen inequality

Machines will perform half of all work tasks by 2025, according to a World Economic Forum report, rising from the current level of a third. This has serious implications for inequality levels, as robots are likely to displace millions of manual jobs in administration and data processing, affecting the lowest paid workers the most.

The WEF report said that a ‘robot revolution’ would create 97 million jobs worldwide, notably in care, big data and the green economy, but would destroy almost as many. Millions would need to be reskilled, while governments would have to provide stronger safety nets for workers already under threat due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

2. Everybody needs good Facebook neighbours

Facebook is testing out a new feature called Neighborhoods that helps users connect with others who live near them. As you may have guessed from the spelling, it’s only in the US for now, and lets users display local posts, groups and marketplace items — very similar to Nextdoor, which is massive in the US.

Personally, I’m not sure how necessary this feature is, as surely people can just join their community Facebook groups already? Having said that, my local group often descends rapidly into arguments about parking, fireworks and dog poo, so maybe a dedicated section that avoids such squabbling would be a good idea.

3. Microsoft develops assistive eye-tracking AI

In a breakthrough that could be hugely important for people who use assistive technology, researchers at Microsoft have developed an eye-tracking AI that works on any device. Gaze tracking has the potential to help people living with motor neuron diseases and disorders use computers and communicate with others.

But estimating a person’s gaze is tricky due to variables including head pose and eye rotation. And while commercial gaze trackers exist, they are very expensive. So the news that Microsoft has developed an ultra-precise, hardware-agnostic gaze tracker that works with any off-the-shelf webcam is very welcome indeed.

4. NHS tests out drone to carry Covid-19 tests

An NHS drone is being used to carry Covid-19 samples, test kits and protective equipment between hospitals in Essex. The trial aims to establish a network of secure air corridors for drones to navigate via GPS. The drones can carry a maximum weight of 2kg, fly for 60 miles and can withstand harsh weather.

The project is being funded through a share of a £1.3m grant from the UK Space Agency and aims to avoid courier call-out waiting times, free up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus. Great idea — now let’s hope those pesky seagulls leave it alone…

5. A 14-year-old scientist has Covid on the run

Scientists around the world are racing to come up with a cure or a vaccine for Covid-19 (preferably both), but the latest idea to beat it has come from a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Texas. Anika Chebrolu, an aspiring medical researcher and professor, has won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, netting a $25,000 prize.

Anika has gained recognition for her work finding a molecule that can selectively bind to the virus’s spike protein, using in-silico methodology for drug discovery to do it. She’d now like help from 3M scientists to conduct in-vitro and in-vivo testing of her drug candidate. I think I could just about tie my own shoelaces when I was 14…




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