Tech Fix: Your iPhone Slowed Down. Here’s What to Do When the Solution Is Just as Slow.

Apple may be dealing with the fallout for a while. The company published a lengthy memo in December saying that smartphone batteries became less effective over time and that its software was intended to prevent iPhones with older batteries from unexpected shutdowns. Apple also apologized to customers for the slowdowns, offered discounts for its battery-replacement program and said it would introduce software to gain visibility into the health of an iPhone battery.

Yet since then, consumer advocacy groups have filed lawsuits against the company for failing to disclose that the software would throttle old iPhones. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have also started an inquiry into the matter, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named because the details were confidential. Bloomberg earlier reported the inquiry.

Early Wednesday, Apple said in a statement that it had received questions from some government agencies and that it was responding to them; the company did not specify the agencies it had heard from. The Justice Department declined to comment.

As for the wait times that Ms. Schipper and others are experiencing for a battery replacement, a spokeswoman referred to Apple’s support webpage, which states that battery supplies at its stores may be limited.

Let’s not wait around. Here’s a guide to other solutions to keep an iPhone running in the absence of an Apple battery replacement.

Third-Party Repair Shops

Plenty of irate Apple customers are turning to local third-party repair shops to get their iPhone batteries replaced. At Mega Mobile Boston, twice as many customers are coming in for iPhone battery replacements than in years past, said Adam Fullerton, the store’s operations manager.

Third-party repairs are a decent — but imperfect — solution. One drawback is that they vary in quality; some repair shops buy lower-quality batteries that don’t last. So to find a good shop, rely on word of mouth and reviews on the web, similar to how you might seek out a good car mechanic.

Another issue is that if you service your phone with a third-party battery and later take your device in to Apple for repair, the company could refuse to service your phone. So if you go the third-party route, chances are you will have to stick with third-party repair shops through the end of your phone’s life.

There’s a less risky route here. On Apple’s support webpage, you can look up third-party repair shops that are authorized by Apple as service providers. These are fixers who have been trained by Apple and carry original parts. But the list is short.

If you find a good local fixer, there are plenty of benefits to sticking with one long term. For one, third-party shops tend to have shorter waits. Mr. Fullerton said his shop could typically get an iPhone battery replacement done in about 30 minutes. The process involves opening the device, cleaning away the old waterproofing adhesive, replacing the battery and applying a new waterproofing adhesive.

For another, local repair shops make their prices competitive with the manufacturer’s. In the case of batteries, many shops are discounting their battery replacements to match Apple’s $29 pricing.

“We’re probably losing money on it with the cost of a half-hour time from a technician,” Mr. Fullerton said. “But it’s like a loss leader in any other industry. If you’re Best Buy and you get them to buy one item at cost, maybe you can teach them something about your business.”

Finding a good repair shop can feel daunting, but if you ask around, your peers will probably have recommendations. For a sample, here’s a list of highly recommended repair shops in the United States that I compiled from talking to repair experts I trust:

■ In Chicago: uBreakiFix Chicago

■ In San Francisco: MacRepair

■ In New York: Simple Mac

■ In Boston: Mega Mobile Boston

■ In Washington: Computer Geeks

■ In Austin, Tex.: Austin Mac Repair

Fix It Yourself

You can always replace an iPhone battery by yourself. The pros: You can choose the best components for repairs and minimize costs. The cons: Learning repairs can be time consuming, and if you mess up, you have no one to blame but yourself. And again, Apple stores could refuse to service your phone if it sees you have repaired it with third-party parts.

A good place to start for D.I.Y. repairs is iFixit, a company that provides instruction manuals and components for repairing devices. It is offering discounts on battery replacement kits for older iPhones, which cost $17 to $29. Each kit includes a new battery and the tools for disassembling iPhones.

Installing a phone battery can be intimidating. Replacing an iPhone 7 battery, for example, requires eight tools and 28 steps. Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, said some customers also opted to buy a battery from iFixit and then take it to a local repair shop for installation.

Carry a Battery Pack

If you don’t feel confident hiring a third-party fixer or installing your own battery, you can always wait for Apple to replace your battery. But since that could take weeks or months, don’t suffer with a sapped phone battery in the meantime.

A better temporary solution is to invest in a battery pack that you can carry around until replacement batteries arrive at an Apple store. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products, has tested hundreds of battery packs to recommend a few. My favorite is the Anker PowerCore 20100, which can charge a smartphone every day for a week.

Ms. Schipper, the Seattle resident, is considering buying a battery pack. In the meantime, she is constantly plugging her iPhone into a power outlet because her battery lasts only two hours a day.

Yet she has resisted what she thinks Apple wants: for her to buy a new phone.

“I was tempted to just chuck this phone and suck it up and spend $1,000-plus and get the iPhone X,” she said. “I said, ‘No, darn it, I have a budget I’m saving up.’ I’m not going to let Apple push me around.”

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On the Runway: Melania Trump and the Case of the White Pantsuit

It’s possible she just liked the color, and what it symbolizes about new beginnings (also, of course, purity, but that takes us back to the idea something else might be going on). It’s possible she had no idea that Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Christian Dior, made waves in her first collection with a best-selling T-shirt announcing “we should all be feminists.”

It’s possible.

But given that clothes became a symbolic dividing line during this State of the Union like seemingly never before — the members of the Congressional Black Caucus also expressed their point of view through their attire, with some wearing kente cloth and black outfits in reference to, and repudiation of, the president’s denigrating comment about Africa and Haiti this month — it’s hard to believe that the potential (and, indeed, probable) interpretations of her choice escaped the first lady.

Especially because during her husband’s address last year, Mrs. Trump came under fire very quickly for her choice of what was seen as a let-them-eat-cake black sequined Michael Kors suit, so she must know how much what she wears to this particular event matters. Especially because she has proved, over the last few months, perfectly cognizant of the way dress can be used as an implicit form of messaging, wearing red Dior for her trip to France for Bastille Day, and Dolce & Gabbana to the G-7 in Sicily.

And especially given the almost elated reception that greeted her decision to wear a bright pink pussy bow blouse for an appearance during the campaign after her husband’s previous public sexual shaming, the “Access Hollywood” tape in which he made vulgar remarks about women. If she has paid any attention at all to public reaction (or if her team has), she cannot be ignorant of the fact that when she seems to use clothing as a subversive tool to suggest what she presumably cannot say, it provokes a groundswell of support.

Though it was unclear at the time whether Mrs. Trump really understood the implications of that blouse choice, wearing a white suit to the State of the Union indicates that, indeed, she did. That when it comes to what she wears and what she means by it, she chooses her moments. Sometimes, such as at the Easter egg roll, it’s just about a pretty dress. But other times, as this time, her fashion is accessorized with a pointed subtext.

At the very least, it’s dangled as a tease to those who would like to think it could mean more.

But taken together with the wardrobe choices of the Democrats and the Republicans, the first lady’s white suit was the final piece of what appeared to be an unprecedentedly politicized use of dress during a State of the Union. Indeed, Ivanka Trump, in understated plaid Oscar de la Renta, was one of the rare people in the room who didn’t seem to be using her clothes to communicate anything other than taking a back seat. The audience was theoretically supposed to be silent — the president was talking — but their clothes spoke for them. And they did it at a time when millions of viewers across the country were watching, and could read the message in the material. Why wait for the official rebuttals? They can start white now.

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Complaint Accuses Contractor of Underpayment at Medicare Call Centers

“We value our people and the work that they perform,” he said. “Similar to other federal contractors, the company is subject to routine compliance reviews by the Department of Labor. As with any notice received, we will engage with the relevant parties, including our employees and the Department of Labor.”

The complaint follows a move, authorized by congressional Republicans and signed by President Trump, to overturn an Obama-era executive order meant to crack down on wage theft by contractors. The practice of misclassifying workers on federal contracts remains illegal. “I think this is a real test of whether the law will be enforced under the Trump administration,” said Guerino J. Calemine III, the general counsel for the union.

Federal guidelines stipulate how much contractors like General Dynamics must pay workers in various job classifications, depending on where they live. That means that, to receive a raise in their workplace, employees in the company’s call centers must either move into a more demanding, higher-paid job — which typically requires additional training — or hope that the government increases the pay rates for everyone.

The complaint says that General Dynamics underpaid workers by slotting them into positions that required duties associated with higher-paying jobs.

Agents in the call center “do jobs that require them to select from hundreds of scripts and procedures, adapt these materials to suit caller needs, and use specialized terminology and other subject-matter knowledge gleaned from their training and experience as front-line workers for the Medicare and Federal Marketplace programs,” the complaint says. The union says that those tasks fit the description of positions that correspond to a wage of $11.41 or $12.80 an hour, but that the company classified most of its workers in a position that pays $9.05 an hour.

Two workers at General Dynamics call centers say they have long worried that the company was not paying them sufficiently for the work they were asked to do. Adrian Powe, 26, who works in the Hattiesburg center, said he had completed three company skills trainings, but that none of them had resulted in a wage above $10 an hour.

“I was baffled at the fact that there was no raise” after the trainings, he said. “I knew something wasn’t right.”

Kathleen Flick, 62, works in the Louisiana center that is the subject of a continuing investigation by the Labor Department. She said she believed that based on the work she does, she should be paid an additional dollar or two an hour above her current wage of $13.38.

“It makes me feel horrible,” she said. “Stealing from the working poor, which I am, is low. Really low. I can’t afford to run my air conditioning in the summer.”

The complaint asks the Labor Department to “investigate urgently these allegations,” to require the company to properly classify its workers and to force it to pay back wages to any employees who are found to have been misclassified.

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The Shift: Kodak’s Dubious Cryptocurrency Gamble

Here’s a photo of Kodak’s magic money making machine. pic.twitter.com/wjWeJqMUBF

There is no way your magical Kodak miner will make the same $375 every month, unless Bitcoin mining difficulty stays the same. It is currently increasing at around 15% a month, so mining output should drop around 15% a month, too. Good luck to everyone who bought this deal! pic.twitter.com/0xA2HNtHFc

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Secrets or Knowledge? Uber-Waymo Trial Tests Silicon Valley Culture

“Figuring out what’s on one side of the line and what’s on other side is incredibly complicated,” she said.

What Waymo is arguing

TRADE SECRETS. Waymo has accused Uber of colluding with Anthony Levandowski — an early engineer on Google’s self-driving car team who left the company in January 2016 — to steal information about the project. Waymo’s legal argument relies on a less-traveled area of intellectual property law: trade secrets.

Unlike publicly filed patents, trade secrets are, well, secret. They are defined as valuable information that is not generally known and is protected by the company from getting out, like the recipe for Coca-Cola. But because trade secrets can be hard to define, they raise questions about the line between an employee’s skill or knowledge versus intellectual property belonging to an employer.

R&D. Waymo, which started under the Google banner before being spun off as a separate entity, spent years and more than $1 billion on research and development of driverless cars. The technology was so new when Waymo entered the field in 2009 that it had to devise everything from the ground up, including what sensors to use, how to move sensor data into software and how to test it all.

It was a long and tedious process requiring much experimentation to see what worked and what didn’t. Some of those lessons are still considered valuable and closely guarded secrets at Waymo — secrets the company says Uber would have to tap into to meet the ambitious financial targets it has set for Mr. Levandowski.

LIDAR. Waymo has said Uber misappropriated eight of its trade secrets, most of them having to do with lidar — an abbreviation for “light detection and ranging” — devices that measure distances using lasers. Such sensors are critical in the operation of autonomous vehicles. One of the eight secrets was a so-called “negative trade secret” — a term for a valuable lesson about what does and doesn’t work that was learned through time-consuming trial and error.

What Uber is arguing

TRADE SECRETS. Uber says that what Waymo claims are trade secrets actually aren’t. Uber is expected to argue it developed all of its autonomous vehicle technology and know-how independently and that the information Waymo claims are trade secrets are generally known or ascertainable by Uber’s own experts.

It is a position that is fitting with the start-up spirit of Silicon Valley, where engineers move freely from company to company, taking what they know with them. A free flow of ideas and personnel can open the door to claims of theft or copying, but technologists often look down on companies that resort to legal action to kneecap a competitor.

CHANGING JOBS. In a pretrial proceeding with lawyers for Uber and Waymo, Judge William Alsup, who will preside over the trial in federal court, pressed them on how to protect the rights of engineers to advance their careers elsewhere if their former employers designate “everything in the universe” as a trade secret. He cited a hypothetical example of an engineer who learned the best way of doing something through trial and error.

When that engineer moves to another company and is assigned that same task, will that person need to “reinvent the wheel” and go through all the experiments again to make sure they are not using a former employer’s trade secrets? “Is an engineer really supposed to get a frontal lobotomy before they go to the next job? I think the answer has to be no,” Judge Alsup said.

KEEPING SECRETS. Uber’s lawyers are expected to argue that even if the knowledge amounted to trade secrets, it was not misappropriated, because — among other reasons — Waymo didn’t do enough to keep its secrets secret. Besides, Uber can point out that it didn’t benefit from any potential trade secrets because autonomous vehicles are still in development.

Uber will do its best to distance itself from Mr. Levandowski, who was in charge of the ride-hailing company’s autonomous vehicle team when he was fired in May 2017 for refusing to cooperate with its legal defense. Uber has said it repeatedly told Mr. Levandowski not to bring along any Google intellectual property after it bought Ottomotto, the company he started after leaving Google. Uber insists any computer files that Mr. Levandowski may have possessed from his time at Google never reached its computer servers.

Anthony Levandowski: A bender of rules?

For all the philosophical arguments about trade secrets and the role they may play in Silicon Valley’s labor mobility, this case might boil down to the actions of Mr. Levandowski. His willingness to bend the rules seems extreme even by Silicon Valley’s standards.

Waymo claims — and Uber does not dispute – that Mr. Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files before leaving Google and receiving a $120 million bonus from his former employer. At the time, he was already meeting regularly with Uber and Travis Kalanick, the company’s then-chief executive, and had not officially founded his own firm, Ottomotto. Mr. Levandowski is not a defendant in the suit.

In a deposition in July, Larry Page, chief executive of Alphabet, the parent company of Google and Waymo, was asked about the decision to pay Mr. Levandowski a massive bonus. Mr. Page acknowledged that Mr. Levandowski had played “a significant role” in the history of the project, but was a headache for management by the time he left.

When Uber announced the acquisition of Ottomotto for a reported $680 million, Mr. Levandowski had already been consulting with Uber for months. Even during his nine-month stint with the ride-hailing company, Mr. Levandowski demonstrated a willingness to push the envelope when he defied state regulators and forged ahead with autonomous vehicle testing on the streets of San Francisco.

When called to testify, Mr. Levandowski is expected to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. He hasn’t cooperated with Uber’s lawyers, and Judge Alsup has referred Mr. Levandowski to the federal prosecutors for possible theft of trade secrets. While it’s not clear whether the Department of Justice is investigating his actions, federal investigators confirmed that it was looking into Uber’s business practices.

After he was fired, Mr. Levandowski announced that he would start a religion worshiping a Godhead based on artificial intelligence.

“Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it,” reads the passage on the website for “Way of the Future,” the religion founded by Mr. Levandowski.

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The East Germans of the 21st Century

One of Murray’s points is that “the feasibility of the American project has historically been based on industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity.” It is a blunt fact of life that, these days, immigrants show more of these virtues than the native-born. It’s not genetic. The process of immigration demands and nurtures these virtues.

Over all, America is suffering from a loss of dynamism. New business formation is down. Interstate mobility is down. Americans switch jobs less frequently and more Americans go through the day without ever leaving the house.

But these trends are largely within the native population. Immigrants provide the antidote. They start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Roughly 70 percent of immigrants express confidence in the American dream, compared with only 50 percent of the native-born.

Immigrants have much more traditional views on family structure than the native-born and much lower rates of out-of-wedlock births. They commit much less crime than the native-born. Roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males between 18 and 39 wind up incarcerated compared with 3.3 percent of the native-born.

What about the rise of social distrust? Restrictionists often cite a 2007 Robert Putnam study finding that more diversity leads to less trust. But Putnam tells me they are distorting his research. He found that diversity’s benefits outweigh its disadvantages, that trust declines over the short term as places grow more diverse, but that over the long term Americans find new ways to boost social solidarity.

What about assimilation? Restrictionists argue that the melting pot is broken. But the definitive survey of the literature from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine finds this is not true. Most descendants of immigrants stop identifying with their ancestral homelands and simply think of themselves as white. In the 2010 census, 53 percent of Latinos identified as white, as did a similar percentage of Asian-Americans with mixed parentage.

In 1945 Germany was divided. One part went capitalist and the other went communist. After a half-century it was perfectly clear that capitalism was a more successful system than communism.

Over the past few decades America has, willy-nilly, conducted a similar experiment. About 500 counties, mostly in metro areas, have embraced diversity — attracting immigrants and supporting candidates who favor immigration. About 2,600 counties, mostly in rural areas, have not attracted immigrants, and they tend to elect candidates who oppose immigration and diversity.

The results are just as clear as in the German case. Between 2014 and 2016 the counties that embrace diversity accounted for 72 percent of the nation’s increased economic output and two-thirds of the new jobs. The approximately 85 percent of counties that support restrictionists like Donald Trump accounted for a measly 28 percent of the growth.

Republicans’ problem is that since George W. Bush left town they’ve become the East Germans of the 21st century. They have embraced a cultural model that produces low growth and low dynamism. No wonder they want to erect a wall.

Progressives say Republicans oppose immigration because of bigotry. But it’s not that simple. It’s more accurate to say restrictionists are stuck in a mono-cultural system that undermines their own values: industry, faithfulness and self-discipline. Of course they react with defensive animosity to the immigrants who out-hustle and out-build them. You’d react negatively, too, if confronted with people who are better versions of what you wish you were yourself.

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The New Health Care: The Connection Between Retiring Early and Living Longer

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The New Health Care

Research shows a link, but it isn’t retirement itself that leads to a longer life, but what you do in retirement.

Image

CreditStefano Colferai

You may not need another reason to retire early, but I’ll give you one anyway: It could lengthen your life.

That’s the thrust from various research in recent years, and also from a 2017 study in the journal Health Economics.

In that study, Hans Bloemen, Stefan Hochguertel and Jochem Zweerink — all economists from the Netherlands — looked at what happened when, in 2005, some Dutch civil servants could temporarily qualify for early retirement.

Only those at least 55 years old and with at least 10 years of continuous service with contributions to the public sector pension fund were eligible. Men responding to the early retirement offer were 2.6 percentage points less likely to die over the next five years than those who did not retire early. (Too few women met the early retirement eligibility criteria to be included in the study.)

The Dutch study echoes those from other countries. An analysis in the United States found about seven years of retirement can be as good for health as reducing the chance of getting a serious disease (like diabetes or heart conditions) by 20 percent. Positive health effects of retirement have also been found by studies using data from Israel, England, Germany and other European countries.

That retirement promotes health and prolongs life isn’t obvious. After all, work provides income and, for some, health insurance — both helpful for maintenance of well-being. It also can provide purpose and camaraderie. Evidence is mounting that loneliness and social isolation are linked to illness, cognitive decline and death. One study of American retirees found them less likely to be lonely or depressed.

Some work involves physical activity, which can help keep bodies healthy, too. One study found that those accustomed to getting exercise through physically strenuous jobs — like construction or landscaping — are more likely to become obese upon retirement than those who don’t have such jobs.

But for many people, work can be stressful, take time away from exercise, and promote bad habits like excessive alcohol consumption. The Dutch study found that half of the mortality reduction associated with retirement is attributable to cardiovascular and digestive system diseases. Obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as reduced exercise and stress, can all contribute to these. If you drive to work, that’s another life-threatening risk.

Teasing out the causal effect of retirement on health isn’t straightforward. After all, some people retire precisely because they are in declining health. Without careful analysis, you might conclude that retirement causes poor health and an earlier death.

Indeed, some studies find retirement associated with worse health and reduced longevity. One found that retirement raises the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Another found higher risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. But another such study found that poor health outcomes were more pronounced among retirees who were unmarried, reduced their physical activity, and had less social interaction. In other words, it isn’t retirement itself that affects health, but what you do in retirement.

Keeping active and developing healthy habits are good ideas. Physical activity is associated with prevention of disease and reduced mortality in older people. Lack of time, perhaps due to work, is a chief reason many adults don’t exercise. Retirees are more likely to exercise, and those who do are better off for it. One study found retirees get more sleep and spend more time doing household work and gardening — both of which are more active than a desk job. Another study found that better health in retirement may be because of the reduced likelihood of smoking.

The age for full Social Security retirement benefits has been on a schedule, increasing gradually from 65 to 67 (67 for those born in 1960 and later). Those working longer as a result are in worse health than earlier cohorts. To retire, they’d have to rely more on their own savings.

But according to a recent national survey by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, many Americans don’t have the resources to retire. About 20 percent of Americans over 44 years old have no retirement savings. Half of Americans are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement. If you want to retire, whether for health benefits or otherwise, you’ll have to start preparing when you’re still young.

Austin Frakt is director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System; associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health; and adjunct associate professor with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He blogs at The Incidental Economist, and you can follow him on Twitter.@afrakt

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The New Health Care: The Connection Between Retiring Early and Living Longer

Advertisement

The New Health Care

Research shows a link, but it isn’t retirement itself that leads to a longer life, but what you do in retirement.

Image

CreditStefano Colferai

You may not need another reason to retire early, but I’ll give you one anyway: It could lengthen your life.

That’s the thrust from various research in recent years, and also from a 2017 study in the journal Health Economics.

In that study, Hans Bloemen, Stefan Hochguertel and Jochem Zweerink — all economists from the Netherlands — looked at what happened when, in 2005, some Dutch civil servants could temporarily qualify for early retirement.

Only those at least 55 years old and with at least 10 years of continuous service with contributions to the public sector pension fund were eligible. Men responding to the early retirement offer were 2.6 percentage points less likely to die over the next five years than those who did not retire early. (Too few women met the early retirement eligibility criteria to be included in the study.)

The Dutch study echoes those from other countries. An analysis in the United States found about seven years of retirement can be as good for health as reducing the chance of getting a serious disease (like diabetes or heart conditions) by 20 percent. Positive health effects of retirement have also been found by studies using data from Israel, England, Germany and other European countries.

That retirement promotes health and prolongs life isn’t obvious. After all, work provides income and, for some, health insurance — both helpful for maintenance of well-being. It also can provide purpose and camaraderie. Evidence is mounting that loneliness and social isolation are linked to illness, cognitive decline and death. One study of American retirees found them less likely to be lonely or depressed.

Some work involves physical activity, which can help keep bodies healthy, too. One study found that those accustomed to getting exercise through physically strenuous jobs — like construction or landscaping — are more likely to become obese upon retirement than those who don’t have such jobs.

But for many people, work can be stressful, take time away from exercise, and promote bad habits like excessive alcohol consumption. The Dutch study found that half of the mortality reduction associated with retirement is attributable to cardiovascular and digestive system diseases. Obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as reduced exercise and stress, can all contribute to these. If you drive to work, that’s another life-threatening risk.

Teasing out the causal effect of retirement on health isn’t straightforward. After all, some people retire precisely because they are in declining health. Without careful analysis, you might conclude that retirement causes poor health and an earlier death.

Indeed, some studies find retirement associated with worse health and reduced longevity. One found that retirement raises the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Another found higher risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. But another such study found that poor health outcomes were more pronounced among retirees who were unmarried, reduced their physical activity, and had less social interaction. In other words, it isn’t retirement itself that affects health, but what you do in retirement.

Keeping active and developing healthy habits are good ideas. Physical activity is associated with prevention of disease and reduced mortality in older people. Lack of time, perhaps due to work, is a chief reason many adults don’t exercise. Retirees are more likely to exercise, and those who do are better off for it. One study found retirees get more sleep and spend more time doing household work and gardening — both of which are more active than a desk job. Another study found that better health in retirement may be because of the reduced likelihood of smoking.

The age for full Social Security retirement benefits has been on a schedule, increasing gradually from 65 to 67 (67 for those born in 1960 and later). Those working longer as a result are in worse health than earlier cohorts. To retire, they’d have to rely more on their own savings.

But according to a recent national survey by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, many Americans don’t have the resources to retire. About 20 percent of Americans over 44 years old have no retirement savings. Half of Americans are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement. If you want to retire, whether for health benefits or otherwise, you’ll have to start preparing when you’re still young.

Austin Frakt is director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System; associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health; and adjunct associate professor with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He blogs at The Incidental Economist, and you can follow him on Twitter.@afrakt

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The ‘Killer Robots’ Are Us

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At a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva in November, a group of experts gathered to discuss the military, legal and ethical dimensions of emerging weapons technologies. Among the views voiced at the convention was a call for a ban on what are now being called “lethal autonomous weapons systems.”

A 2012 Department of Defense directive defines an autonomous weapon system as one that, “once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator. This includes human-supervised autonomous weapon systems that are designed to allow human operators to override operation of the weapon system, but can select and engage targets without further human input after activation.”

In a sense, autonomous weapons are not new. Land mines, for instance, “select” and engage their own targets once a human has activated them. The Israeli Harpy, a loitering anti-radar missile, deploys without a specifically designated target, flies a search pattern, identifies as an enemy radar and then divebombs and destroys it. But land mines and weapons like the Harpy are not the kinds of autonomous weapons that those lobbying for a ban are specifically concerned about. They are instead concerned about weapons systems of greater technical sophistication that would be used to target humans.

As a military ethicist and Iraq war veteran, I, too, worry deeply about the dangers of autonomous weapons, and I am glad that many bright and motivated people are working on this issue. But there are some important problems that so far have been overlooked. Specifically, I worry that the language being used at the highest levels of this debate promotes a conception of autonomous weapons that conflates potential abuses of the technology with features of the technology itself and possesses the danger of absolving programmers and military implementers of moral responsibility where such responsibility is needed most.

This is no small matter. The terms in which we frame this debate are crucial: If we fail to understand the problem correctly, and fail to set the appropriate terms and boundaries of the debate from the beginning, we risk searching in the fundamentally wrong places for killer robots and the means to mitigate their pernicious expression.

An open letter, signed last year by 116 founders of robotics and artificial intelligence companies calling for a United Nations ban on killer robots states, “Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

Echoing their sentiments, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots website calls for a pre-emptive ban on the development, production and use of lethal autonomous weapons. They state, “We are concerned about weapons that operate on their own without meaningful human control. The campaign seeks to prohibit taking the human ‘out-of-the-loop’ with respect to targeting and attack decisions on the battlefield.”

The language used here suggests three troubling assumptions; first, that the actual thing to be banned is easily discernible; second, that meaningful human control can be taken “out-of-the loop”; and last, that the goods to be achieved by banning such weapons would make for an overall better world.

None of these assumptions are obvious. Taken together, they risk placing moral responsibility onto sophisticated tools rather than on the shoulders of human decision makers. They likewise hold the danger of removing a set of capacities that could be used in defense of justifiable and worthy ends.

Let’s begin with a basic fact. The capacities of autonomous weapons are designed by humans, programmers whose intentions are written into the system software. Let us remember, though, that the essence of computation needn’t be restricted to a silicon substrate or to any metaphysically privileged medium.

Imagine that rather than having a programmer’s intentions written into a robot’s silicon substrate, we instead have a group of people physically carrying out the identical set of decisions and procedures. Given such a case, the decision-procedure being realized by the group of people would be functionally identical to the decision-procedure being realized on silicon. Supposing such a case, we might then ask, would an army realizing an institutional plan that was functionally identical to the algorithms of a killer robot be any less morally problematic? Would we want to then ban that particular army arrangement as well? If so, how?

The main point here is to emphasize the serious problem policymakers would face in isolating just what exactly it is that should be banned. Furthermore, such considerations highlight the fact that the deep moral issues raised by autonomous weapons are the very same ones raised by conventional warfare.

When we start to look at killer robots this way, we see that they are the mechanical realizations of much larger sets of institutional intentions, involving the plans of designers and the decisions of people who follow such plans, individuals who accept certain jobs, develop certain software and put such software to military use.

Indeed, there is the problem of determining who exactly within such a causal chain is morally responsible for potential harm and to what degree. However, the problem of determining where specifically within a given causal chain to assign moral responsibility to individual members is a problem endemic to any collective action whatsoever, from the Challenger disaster, to the BP oil spill, to global poverty.

The current language in the killer robot debate suggests that those weapons are capable of acting without meaningful human control, and that their creation and use is somehow distinct from other sorts of collective actions. It also suggests that potential harm arising from that creation and use may be morally unattributable to those who create and use them. This is not the sort of moral detachment we should foster in our technology and military communities, especially in relation to what is perhaps the gravest and most consequential of all human activities: war.

One common response to this view is that A.I. experts are particularly worried about learning machines, and that something about the complexity of these systems gives rise to emergent properties that are metaphysically irreducible to the sum of their parts. This would suggest that the robots possess an agency, and should then be subject to moral accountability, with the accompanying rights and interests. I am skeptical of this.

If killer robots are truly, as I argue, expressions of complex institutional arrangements of humans, and thus proxies for our own collective intentionality, then programmers, implementers and military decision makers alike need to rigorously examine their own relationships to these institutions, and the consequences of their engagement with them.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” Accordingly, the “off switch” to mitigate the unjust harm that killer robots may cause is in each one of us, at every moment and in every decision, big and small. This has always been the case.

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