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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

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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Opinion Editorials

‘Follow your passion and the money will follow’ is bulls**t advice

(EDITORIAL) Following your passion can create success, though it may not be financial. So should you really just “do what you love” and hope for the best?

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If you asked anyone who knows me, they would tell you that I’m a strong advocate for people following their passion. However, when I encourage people to pursue their dreams, this comes with a big asterisk.

I recently heard someone use a phrase along the lines of, “if you do what you love, the money will follow.” Um… no.

While it’s great that you’ve found something you’re passionate about, that’s only a trillionth of the battle. You need to be willing to work your ass off and be willing to sacrifice everything in order to make that enthusiasm into a success.

Most people that have started their own business will tell you that it took a while into the process to begin paying themselves. Again, if it truly is your passion, this is all worth it in the end. But if you like food and shelter, it might not be.

Say, for example, your passion is acting and your goal in life is to become a famous movie star. Now, you can’t pull a Tobias Funke and simply say, “I’m an actor” and then expect everything to miraculously fall into place.

Like any other passion, you need to invest in yourself. You’ll need to get headshots, take acting classes, and find a flexible day job that allows you to go on auditions. Cutting corners on any of this in order to expedite the process or save a few bucks will end up hurting you in the long run.

For the sake of this article, let’s define “passion” as loving something so much you couldn’t imagine doing anything else… you would even do it for free. And, as there is no correlation between having passion for something and money, you just might.

While doing what you love is admirable, be aware that it may take an incredibly long time to see results in the form of numbers. Because of this, it’s wise to always have a back up plan to support yourself financially and pursue passion with a strong business plan in tact.

It is never wrong to want to follow your passion. I personally think that everyone should give it at least something of a shot during the course of their career so that you never ask “what if?” But following passion because you read a cliche statement can lead to major financial and emotional losses, so put on your business hat before blindly chasing dreams.

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Opinion Editorials

Tech CEO tweet ruins years of a young designer’s hard work

(EDITORIAL) With a tweet here and there, thoughtless questions have potentially bullied a young Asian woman in tech out of her career.

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It’s hard enough for women, particularly women of color, to make it in the world of tech, without rude jerks questioning if you literally exist.

Sadly, that’s what happened to Naomi Wu, also known as “SexyCyborg,” a 23-year old cyberpunk superstar from Shenzhen, China who has amassed a huge following for her 3D printing experiments and other techie pursuits. Wu has 140,000 followers and millions of views for her YouTube channel, where she shows off her experiments and provides educational tutorials.

Unfortunately, some rude dudes from America can’t seem to imagine that a young Asian woman is capable of the feats that Wu has accomplished.

Dale Dougherty, CEO of the DIY magazine Maker (and an official schmuck), has cyberbullied Wu so badly that it is said to have damaged her career. He tweeted, “I am questioning who she really is. Naomi is a persona, not a real person. She is several or many people.”

This despite the fact that Wu says that she has actually spoken to Dougherty, and that he knows she is real. “For Westerners who don’t understand the important of reputation in China it seems like a very minor thing,” says Wu, “it is everything here and there’s no repairing this.”

Wu has even lost a sponsorship deal from a 3D printer company over the accusations that she isn’t who she says she is.

Dougherty eventually apologized, but Wu says that “the damage had been done” at that point, and that Dougherty knew the accusations would be “devastating” to her “reputation and professional prospects.”

Wu says that the attack is motivated by white male entitlement to tech spaces.

She says that she can’t imagine Dougherty attacking “a white lady from San Francisco.” Wu has been an advocate for diversity in tech and maker spaces. “I kept pushing for more inclusion – not just me, other underrepresented people,” she says. “They didn’t like being pushed. This is payback.”

We stand behind Wu as she continues to push the edge in tech spaces, and say shame on you to bullies who won’t make space for women and racial minorities. Sorry you’re not as cool as SexyCyborg, but that’s on you and you need to get over it.

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