All posts filed under: Tech

Silicon Valley and the ABCs of Diversity

When discussing diversity, the loudest voices are the ones which treat diversity as intrinsically valuable. Diversity is viewed as something of which more is always better, an idea flying in the face of our intuitions and best practice. And when it comes to diversity among people, diversity of skills and knowledge is often conflated with demographic diversity. We can watch these debates unfold live at Alphabet Inc. subsidiaries like Google and YouTube, as Google faces a lawsuit and YouTube stands accused of severe discrimination against White and Asian males. First, let’s run through a thought experiment just to get the principles down: You’re in an alien museum, on an alien world. You can only save 100 items. You do not know anything about the items, or the world, except what you might be able to infer by looking at them. How do you determine what to take? You’re in a museum on Earth, in a country that’s very foreign to you. You can only save 100 items. You do not know anything about the items, …

Would You Opt for Immortality?

Before the 7.6 billion people alive today, demographers estimate that about 100 billion people lived and died. This is the reality of the human condition. Memento mori, as medieval Christians reflected—Remember that you have to die. What if it didn’t have to be this way? There are, in fact, organisms whose bodies steadily and reliably replace cells with healthier cells, and whose tissues and organs self-repair and maintain their vigor. They’re called children. And there are cells in adults that divide indefinitely. They’re called cancer. What if there were a way to genetically re-engineer and chemically reprogram our cells to divide indefinitely like they do in children, and to continue this process throughout adulthood without becoming cancerous? Could we become immortal? “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” Woody Allen once said, “I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” There are today well-funded groups of scientists who believe we can do just that. If …

Blockchain and Sex

Blockchain is often described as a solution in need of a problem. Despite being eight years old few people transact in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Outside of its success as a speculative investment, cryptocurrency has seen little adoption and has become more akin to investing in gold than a trading currency. Yet this may soon change as an Australian start-up company is developing a cryptocurrency tailored for the needs of the adult industry. Australian startup company “intimate” has created a cryptocurrency to meet the specific needs of the adult industry. Recently, I interviewed Leah Callon-Butler intimate’s co-founder who said: Crypto is still an infantile technology and it will be some time before we realise the equivalent Web 2.0 of blockchain. Given our team’s deep expertise in both crypto and adult – and the rampant institutional bias and social exclusion that exists within the sex industry – we knew that this would be the perfect use case as a proof of concept for a decentralised solution. Many people do not realise that the problems in the …

Lawsuit Exposes Internet Giant’s Internal Culture of Intolerance

James Damore, the former Google engineer who was fired last summer after authoring a document questioning the company’s diversity policies, has filed a lawsuit against the company. In a 161-page complaint, he does far more than challenge his firing and accuses Google of systemic discrimination against and harassment of white and male employees, as well as of violating a California state law that prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of an employee’s political persuasion. He has joined together with another engineer by the name of David Gudeman who was also fired after he expressed politically incorrect views. Together, the two of them are requesting that their case be treated as a class action on behalf of all employees who have faced similar treatment at the hands of the Internet giant. The charges that they make are broad and far-reaching, but they are not asking that their claims be taken on faith alone. More than half of the complaint is taken up by an 87-page-long exhibit consisting of screenshots from internal systems used by Google …

The Empathy Gap in Tech: Interview with a Software Engineer

Last year I was working on an article about the tech industry when I decided to interview a software engineer who writes for Quillette under the pseudonym “Gideon Scopes”. Gideon had mentioned to me in passing that he had Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild variant of autism spectrum disorder) and I wanted to find out more about the industry from the point of view of someone who is not neurotypical. I first asked him when it was that he knew he wanted to work in technology. He told me that he first knew it when he was five. His family got their first home computer and he was transfixed. Later, he would come across a brief introduction to the BASIC programming language in a book and proceed to teach himself his first programming language. He was only seven. As a child he taught himself programming out of books, mostly alone at home. He told me that his family were not particularly supportive of his hobby. His mother was not happy to see him focus so intently on one …

With a New Futures Market, Bitcoin is Going Mainstream

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange will soon begin trading Bitcoin derivatives (futures contracts), signalling the cryptocurrency is now a mainstream asset class. Bitcoin has had limited use in the mainstream economy in part because the volatility of its price. The value of the currency might go up or down significantly between the time a deal is struck and delivery. The introduction of Bitcoin futures contracts will allow investors to manage this risk, and make it safer to hold and trade in Bitcoin. This will make the cryptocurrency more accessible to individuals and businesses, and encourage developers to build more products and services on top of the technology. Futures and other derivatives are contracts between two parties to fix the price of an underlying asset (currencies, shares, commodities etc.) over a period of time or for a future transaction. The buyer of these contracts commits to purchase the underlying asset at a set price and at a certain date, and the seller commits to sell. There are two main uses for these contracts. First, to reduce price …

Why Liberals Are Turning Against the Internet

Following the news of late might lead one to conclude that Mark Zuckerberg is America’s Public Enemy Number One, and that the World Wide Web is destroying the foundations of the country’s democratic system. “Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend,” cried a recent headline in The New York Times. Perhaps surprisingly, the long article below called for federal regulation of the destructive and arrogant information high-tech companies now being blamed for the election of President Donald Trump and much else besides. Having spent years telling its readership that Zuckerberg was a revolutionary innovator and boy genius, The New York Times has had second thoughts. If you believe that the most pressing danger facing the American Republic is sitting in the White House, the author explained, then think again. Apparently, it’s hidden in Silicon Valley. So, let us go back to the early days of the 21st century, when celebrating the promise of the Internet was just another way of asserting your commitment to liberal principles, democratic ideals, human rights, and political and cultural freedom. Innumerable opinion pieces were penned, studies …

Universal Basic Income and the Threat of Tyranny

Much praise has been heaped on the idea of a universal basic income in recent years. Experiments have begun in many countries, some mainstream politicians are starting to advocate it, and if we listen to many thinkers, especially among the Internet and tech crowds, it seems like our inevitable future. This is quite understandable, as the idea attempts to solve a real problem: with the advance of technology, fewer and fewer people are required to produce the amount of wealth required to sustain more and more people. Rather than invent more and more artificial jobs and scarcities, why not just accept the reality of this changing world, where not all people are needed for working, and instead release them to pursue their hobbies, studies, or charity? There has been criticism of the idea, but so far the debate tends to focus on two issues: the economic reasoning behind a universal basic income, and the ethics of allowing a majority of non-workers to live off the fruits of the labour of a small minority. What is …

The Future of Artificial Intelligence: Two Experts Disagree

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to revolutionise our lives, drive our cars, diagnose our health problems, and lead us into a new future where thinking machines do things that we’re yet to imagine. Or does it? Not everyone agrees. Even billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who admits he has access to some of the most cutting-edge AI, said recently that without some regulation “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization”. So what is the future of AI? Michael Milford and Peter Stratton are both heavily involved in AI research and they have different views on how it will impact on our lives in the future. How widespread is artificial intelligence today? Michael: Answering this question depends on what you consider to be “artificial intelligence”. Basic machine learning algorithms underpin many technologies that we interact with in our everyday lives – voice recognition, face recognition – but are application-specific and can only do one very specific defined task (and not always well). More capable AI – what we might consider as being somewhat smart …

Denying Encryption To Terrorists Is A Fantasy

The script for responding to Western terror attacks is now so predictable that they might as well publish a schedule in the TV listings. First we get the platitudes: “praying for” the affected city, liking Facebook statuses, and projecting flags onto buildings. Next there is the denial stage, where the commentariat implore us not to make assumptions about the attacker’s motives, because for all we know this was actually the work of Buddhist monks or the National Farmers’ Union. Then comes the hand-wringing over the potential racist backlash at the hands of the unstable, knuckle-dragging public, whose desire for an anti-Muslim pogrom can only be kept in check by loudly proclaiming that Islamic terrorists are not Real Muslims. Finally, once the emotion has died down, politicians can get on with doing what they do best — demanding more control over the internet. After Khalid Masood murdered four people in London last month, Home Secretary Amber Rudd wasted no time in laying the blame at the feet of WhatsApp, insisting that secure messaging apps must not …