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Opinion Editorials

Intelligent cars and plug-in monitoring, friends or foes?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) Intelligent cars and plug in monitoring seem great. But will they start self reporting? And what about insurance?

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A game called Go

There’s a game called go. For lack of a better word, it’s perfect. All you need is a grid, and stones in two colors. You play a stone at an intersection on the grid. When you place stones of your color on all the intersections surrounding a given space, it’s your space, and your opponent can’t play there, even if they have stones there already. The goal is to surround more space than your opponent.

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It’s simple enough to teach a toddler, and so complex there are more possible games than atoms in the universe. It’s 3,000 years old, and it’s a mathematical certainty there have never been two identical games. It’s as much intuition as intellect: play styles are so indicative of personality that companies have been known to use the game in job interviews. Go is one of the masterpieces of humanity, a microcosm of the H. sapiens mind.

This May, a computer program called AlphaGo beat the best player alive. I’m not here to talk about go. I’d like to talk about your car.

Your car, but not

More specifically, I’m here to talk about the robot apocalypse as it relates to your car, because a) the robot apocalypse is my jam; b) it has a surprising amount to do with a 3,000 year old board game, and the fact that Google can beat us at it.

Modulo singularity, computers can’t do anything we don’t tell them to. The power of AI is that we’ve told them, more or less, to think.

The danger of AI is that we haven’t settled on standards of what they are and aren’t allowed to think about.

That brings us to your car, because, in real terms, it’s not your car. Even if you own it, straight cash, your insurance company has a financial stake in it. Repair companies have to make pricing decisions for it. Governments have to regulate what you do with it, because you can use it to kill people.

Every one of those tasks gets easier with AI.

One little robot in your car, doing useful things for you from setting appointments to setting the AC, and suddenly the government gets to know when you ran over those nuns, the mechanic gets to know that’s where the dents in the bodywork came from, the insurance company gets to know it was your fault.

Maybe too smart?

The benefits of AI-enabled “smart cars” are myriad. I’m genuinely, personally psyched about it. That little robot promises to be a present help with everything from GPS to streaming media.

But the plain fact is, any smart car (not *that* kind of Smart Car) is going to be collecting data for the benefit of people other than you.

As we’ve covered in the past, AI is clueless about context.

Unless it’s told otherwise, it won’t know the difference between a hard brake to save a fluffy squirrel, and a pause to twirl your mustache before barreling down with malice aforethought on the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Those pesky insurance premiums

So is the insurance company, or the dealership, or the mechanic gonna tell it otherwise? More importantly, are they gonna tell it otherwise if it isn’t specifically delineated as their job to do so? Because, at the risk of cynicism, failing to tell the AI the difference between squirrel-saving and rank villainy is a really good way to jack up insurance premiums.

Worse, albeit ethically better, what about an insurance company acting in good faith to remove the random human element from at-fault assessment, thereby ceding it to something that’s literally incapable of making subjective decisions?

Remember that game from earlier?

Which is what brings us around to go. AlphaGo was a Google project and like I said, it beat the greatest player alive at the greatest game ever made. Know how? Layers. It was built on the DeepMind framework, which consists (massive oversimplification incoming!) of a set of tasks, each programmed to do one thing, running simultaneously.

This one assesses how many moves have been made in a given area recently, providing data on which parts of the board are contested.

That one is a memory algorithm, going back through previous games and identifying similar situations. The other parses the memory data for moves mathematically compatible with the current board. And so on.

It better compute

It works. It’s brilliant. But it works because it’s incredibly fast and incredibly efficient at moving data between those processes. It can’t generate new ones. It’s still only an approximation of a human mind, a box of switches arranged in a brilliant order by brilliant people. Nuance is not an option.

As long as that’s the case, which is to say, until someone builds a computer that’s also a person, every implementation of AI will have the option of “does not compute.” Smart cars are in the immediate future, and in the short term “does not compute” is likely to mean jacked up premiums, jacked up prices, and, for the self-driving crowd, quite possibly jacked up rides. Drive carefully.

#SmartGO

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Opinion Editorials

Uber CEO regrets saying that murder is part of business

(EDITORIAL) Uber CEO calls murder a mistake. Should society support a business that seems to think death is just part of the cost of doing business?

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Uber Pickup

On February 21, 2016, I woke up early to notifications about a shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An Uber driver shot multiple individuals. Although I live in Oklahoma, the Facebook algorithms correctly deduced that this incident would be of interest to me. I have family and friends in Michigan, some in the Battle Creek area, just miles east of Kalamazoo. Later that morning, I learned that one of my friends had been killed in the incident.

Uber was criticized for the incident. Lawmakers across the country called for tougher background checks on Uber drivers. It was a PR nightmare for the company. Ultimately, it was the driver who was charged. Earlier this year, the driver pled guilty to all counts against him and was sentenced to life in prison. Uber continued operating, although then-Governor Rick Snyder did sign legislation that increased regulations for the ride-sharing industry.

I say this out of disclosure. This Uber tragedy affected me in a way that may cloud my opinion. I believe that Uber should be regulated more than it is. But recent events have made me question why society supports Uber and what I believe is a toxic culture.

How does Uber keep managing their corporate profile?

Uber seems to weather their PR crises fairly well. They’ve been criticized for inadequate background checks. Sexual harassment allegations at corporate headquarters shook up the management team. Uber has suffered data breaches. In 2018, the organization settled with the FTC for $148 million. Still, the company enjoys a market share of transportation services.

In 2018, Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia took over at Uber as its new CEO, replacing the CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. It was reported that Kalanick “led the company astray” from its moral center. Khosrowshahi said at the time, “In the end, the CEO of the company has to take responsibility.”

Just days ago, during an interview, Khosrowshahi said that “the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a ‘mistake.’” It was a political murder. Khosrowshahi compared the assassination to a self-driving accident with an Uber vehicle that killed a pedestrian. It didn’t take long for Khosrowshahi to issue a retraction, saying that he “said something in the moment (he doesn’t) believe.”

Is Uber’s culture toxic?

Khosrowshahi says that his comment shouldn’t mark him as a person. He thinks that what he said was a “learning moment.” When a CEO misspeaks in an interview that isn’t just local, but international, maybe we should pay attention. According to him, murder isn’t a big deal. I wonder if he would say that if it was his father who died, or his friend who was killed by a driver.

When my friend died in the Kalamazoo shooting, I had to seriously think about how I viewed Uber. My friend wasn’t even using Uber at the time. She was getting into her own car at a local restaurant with some friends of hers. I recognize that Uber wasn’t responsible for the driver going on a shooting spree, but I have to wonder if it was Uber’s culture that led to a lack of response at the time.

Uber’s new CEO seems removed from how its services affect individuals and communities as its previous CEO did. When a company thinks that murder is a “mistake,” maybe it’s time to rethink about supporting a service that doesn’t seem to think about people, its employees, its drivers and its riders.

It may be more convenient than a cab, but it’s time to look at Uber’s real impact on society. I hear Uber saying that innocent deaths are just the cost of business. Is that the basis for a billion-dollar corporation?

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Opinion Editorials

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

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funny females promoted less often

Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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Opinion Editorials

To the unsung entrepreneurial heroes – we believe in you

(EDITORIAL) To the unseen entrepreneur we see you and we know that you work your tails off to do good things in your community even if it never means going IPO.

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restaurant entrepreneurs

I recently frequented one of my favorite new restaurants to find it permanently closed after less than a year. This locally sourced brunch place had pinpointed all of the farms that supplied their food on a map of California that hung like gallery art in the center of their restaurant.

They made sandwiches at their shop with donated food for the homeless and wrote inspirational notes to tuck inside their brown bag lunches. Their food was not only nutritious but delicious, and they seemed to always have patrons when we went, not too many that there was a line out the door, but enough that they always seemed busy.

I wish that we had spent more time there, more money, told more of our friends or left glowing yelp reviews, but we are only two people, two people who took a delicious restaurant for granted because we thought how could this fail?

I’m sure that’s what the owners believed too when they started out.

They probably thought they’d make great food that people want to eat in a location newly dubbed Silicon Beach – amid shiny live/work complexes, surrounded by startups and young people.

They ventured that they could morally source nutritious food, give back to the community, and be excellent.

Part of me imagines that they did so well as a restaurant that they shut their doors just to expand, or open in a better location, or take a much needed break. But they probably failed, like so many businesses do, and I want to take a moment to say thanks.

Not just to the restaurant that served the best breakfast tater tots that I have ever had the pleasure of eating, but to every entrepreneur who embarks on a journey that tries to make the world better.

I’m not just talking about the tech entrepreneurs, though we need you too.

I’m mostly talking about the unseen baker that wakes up at 3am every morning just to bring a handful of baked goods to their city. Or about the small store owner that stocks chotchkies and cookbooks and beautiful things all of which I wish I could buy. I’m talking about the start up plumber who shows up to your house on a Sunday afternoon and fixes your toilet because you’re at your wits end.

You are the unsung entrepreneurs, the heroes that we hurriedly thank on our way out the door.

You are the folks who had a dream and risked everything to bring us delicious food, adorable chotchkies, and functional plumbing.

A mentor of mine once told me that to be successful you must jump in the water, swim as fast as you can, and slowly increase the speed.

To those of you out there swimming as fast as you can – we’re behind you, and we appreciate you.

This is your headline, one you don’t often get — keep doing what you’re doing, we believe in you, and your hard work does not go unnoticed.

And if you decide after everything you’ve been through that it’s time to hang a permanently closed sign on your front door, there are people out there, lots of them maybe, who will mourn the loss of your mini quiches, your adorable iPhone cases, or even the best breakfast tater tots in the world.

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