All posts filed under: Tech

Silicon Valley’s Cynical Treatment of Asian Engineers

Silicon Valley runs on Asians. This is a well-known aspect of the tech world in general, but it’s especially apparent in elite sub-sectors. Even by 2010, Asian Americans already had become a majority (50.1 percent) of all tech workers in the Bay Area: software engineers, data engineers, programmers, systems analysts, admins, and developers. Census Bureau statistics from the same year put white tech workers at 40.1 percent. Other races made up, in total, slightly less than 10 percent. I interviewed a Facebook product manager fresh out of university. He interacts daily with teams of software engineers at Facebook, coordinating and leading projects, and getting them in line. Among the four teams of five or so software engineers he works with on a daily basis, he told me, 15 out of the 20 are Chinese. “I don’t mean Chinese-American,” he clarified. “I mean Chinese-Chinese, like from China.” These Chinese engineers largely speak Mandarin during work, making the company billions as they write code with machine-gun efficiency. Or, as he puts it: “We’re at an American social …

Surplus to Society

Workers are scarce and wages are rising. “The relationship between American businesses and their employees,” reports the New York Times, “is undergoing a profound shift: for the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand.” In the Guardian, John Harris writes that, “As consumer demand surges, hospitality businesses don’t have the staff to keep pace, and shortages are also mounting in construction, road haulage, food processing and fruit and vegetable picking.” Both papers wonder if we are entering “a new economic era.” We should be so lucky, but it’s possible—though more than rising wages will be needed to confirm it. The good part of this is that employers will be dealing with workers who have more power than before, many fortified by the reflection that, during lockdowns, they kept—and still keep—the medical systems working, the care homes and schools open, the public transport networks moving, the home deliveries arriving, and the social services serving. Britain’s labour shortages are exacerbated by the post-Brexit loss of labour from the European Union, but even that will spur …

Looking for COVID-19 ‘Miracle Drugs’? We Already Have Them. They’re Called Vaccines

Bret Weinstein, a former professor of biology at Evergreen State College, is best known for being hounded off his own campus in 2017 by a horde of social-justice zombies who themselves seemed to resemble nothing so much as a lab accident gone wrong. Having become a martyr of hyper-progressive ideological mania, Weinstein resigned, sued, won, starred in a documentary about the experience, and embarked upon a new career as a podcaster. Since then, Weinstein has become both a symbol and a voice for millions of Americans, on the Left and Right alike, who are unnerved that a handful of Silicon Valley oligopolists have acquired the power to set the boundaries of acceptable speech, if not formally, then effectively. Weinstein has become an influential public figure, with 350,000 subscribers on YouTube. Many consider his voice a credible one in life-and-death debates about the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, Weinstein has graduated from entertaining theories that might not be right but could do no harm, to theories that cannot be right and are sure to do harm. Because of …

Why Fake News Flourishes: Emitting Mere Information Is Easy, But Creating Actual Knowledge Is Hard

In America’s founding era, journalism was notoriously partisan and unreliable. Almost anyone could open a newspaper, and almost anyone did. Standards were low to nonexistent. “Editors and promoters, however much they proclaimed their loyalty to truth, more often than not were motivated by partisan political goals and commercial interests in the sensational,” writes the historian Barbara J. Shapiro. Newspapers did not scruple to publish what today we call fake news. In 1835, the New York Sun published bogus reports of life on the Moon; in 1844, it published a fake story—­by one Edgar Allan Poe—­about a transatlantic hot-air-balloon journey. Fake news was not always harmless. Benjamin Franklin complained that “tearing your private character to flitters” could be done by anyone with a printing press. Press freedom, he groused, had come to mean “the liberty of affronting, calumniating, and defaming one another.” At the Constitutional Convention, Elbridge Gerry, a prominent politician, observed bitterly that the people “are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions, by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which …

Silicon Valley’s ‘Mission Protocol’ Revolution Is Beginning to Attain Critical Mass

In December 2004, during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, I spent a night in one of the many tents that had been pitched in Kiev’s central square. There were five of us inside, and it smelled like cigarettes, black tea, and sweat. Outside, it was snowing. It seemed that everyone—protesters and riot police—had a megaphone. The voices bounced off the square’s gray facades, blending with snippets of shouting, laughter, dogs barking, a couple in a nearby tent having sex. The 25-year-old travel agent who owned the tent I was staying in had taken the bus from the city of Vinnytsia, a few hours to the southwest, with some friends. The group included a medical student and a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy. “We wanted to see history happen,” the tent owner told me. The pregnant woman interjected: “But we didn’t come until we knew it was safe—until other people would be here.” In the former Soviet Union before social media, there was a calculus to demonstrating. If you wanted to demonstrate against the regime, and …

Interrogating Jane

Jane Austen, beloved English novelist of the Regency period, is now embroiled in the custody wars over the history and legacy of the British Empire. The Daily Telegraph has reported that the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, is planning an “historical interrogation” of the Austen family’s connections to slavery and colonialism. Museum director Lizzie Dunford pointed out that the Austens consumed tea, sugar, and cotton, all of which were the products of Empire. One of the potential new exhibits is entitled “Black Lives Matter to Jane Austen.” Unsurprisingly, some Austen fans rejected this idea as decisively as Lizzie Bennet turning down a marriage proposal. During an interview about the row on TalkRadio, Welsh comedian Abi Roberts spoke for many appalled Austen fans when she declared that the museum’s curators had “gone completely bonkers.” “My father was a life-long lover of tea,” wrote one reader in a representative letter to the Telegraph‘s editor. “In addition, he spent four years in Burma and India, albeit as a private in the army … can anyone advise …

Who Is the Real Threat to Autonomy and Flourishing Online?

Is the web out to get us, or is it a force for autonomy and flourishing? Is it another instrument for the governing elite to channel the masses for political or business purposes? Is it a means for our baser nature to entrench everlasting fake news stories, political narratives, and even whole ideologies? In her 2019 book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff details what she regards as the dangers of losing our freedom, dignity, and democratic control to business by being “conditioned,” “tuned,” “nudged,” and otherwise shaped in unconscious ways to serve Big Tech and its business associates. Echoing many of her fears, the popular Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma portrays algorithmic tracking of our behaviour by Facebook and Google as a Frankenstein’s monster. The documentary has the endorsement of the historian Yuval Noah Harari, best known for his Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He argues that the web has become a tool to further reinforce the survival of fake news, to which he thinks humans already have a strong proclivity. Who …

Can Governments Stop Bitcoin?

Since its creation more than 12 years ago, Bitcoin is undefeated. Its price has leaped from $5 to $50 to $500 to $5,000 to now past $50,000. The number of global users has eclipsed 100 million. The system’s network security, number of developers, and new applications are at all-time highs. Dozens of companies including Tesla and Square have started to add Bitcoin to their corporate treasuries. This worldwide success doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried to stop Bitcoin. The digital money project has in fact survived a variety of attacks which in some cases threatened its existence. There are two main vectors: network attacks on the software and hardware infrastructure, and legal attacks on Bitcoin users. Before we explore them and consider why they failed, let’s start at the beginning. In January 2009, a mysterious coder going by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto launched Bitcoin, an open-source financial network with big ambitions: to replace central banking with a decentralized, peer-to-peer system with no rulers. It would use a programmable, highly-fungible token that could be spent …

Big Tech and Regulation—A Response to the Quillette Editors

Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter. And Facebook, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, Snap, Stripe, Discord, and—most crushingly of all—Pinterest. This was swiftly followed by a swathe of account purges across various platforms, ostensibly on the grounds that terms of service had been violated. Bizarrely, conservatives reacted to this development by lamenting the lack of arbitrary government intervention in private enterprise, while their liberal opponents celebrated corporate squashing of individual expression. If you don’t like it, build your own app. Arguably more important, if less sensational, has been the coordinated nuking of the efforts of those Trump fans who did, in fact, build their own app. Google and Apple banned conservative social media aspirant Parler from their app stores, effectively throttling its only viable distribution channels. Amazon then went a step further and revoked Parler’s right to host its site on its web service, AWS. For good measure, authentication service Okta and internet-to-telecoms interface platform Twilio withdrew their infrastructure too. If you don’t like it, build your own internet. The fallout has been intense and …

The Future Is Already Here

There are not many ways to cause a stir in the classroom as an engineering professor, but one of them is surely to stand in front of a room full of bright-eyed, up-and-coming engineering students and inform them that “innovation, as we popularly understood it, is essentially dead.” Nevertheless, that is what I’ve taken to doing each year. Yes, I always put qualifiers on that statement (which you can perhaps catch a whiff of in the statement itself). I have been delivering “the talk” to students for several years now, outlining exactly what I mean by it, and encouraging them to push back and generate rebuttals. I always frame it as a challenge, rather than as a pronouncement from up on the stage. I am usually unmoved by the returns. It begins like this—I will ask students what inventions have been discovered in their 20-odd-year lifetimes that they feel have fundamentally changed how humans live. They get some space to think, but inevitably offer up their smartphones, at which point I nod, having begrudgingly accepted …