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“What Have We Done?”: Silicon Valley Engineers Fear They've Created a Monster | Vanity Fair
Yet even as we roundly condemned the tech world’s treatment of a vulnerable new class of worker, we knew the stakes were much higher: high enough to alter the future of work itself, to the detriment of all but a select few. “Most people,” I said, interrupting the hubbub, “don’t even see the problem unless they’re on the inside.” Everyone nodded. The risk, we agreed, is that the gig economy will become the only economy, swallowing up entire groups of employees who hold full-time jobs, and that it will, eventually, displace us all. The bigger risk, however, is that the only people who understand the looming threat are the ones enabling it.
gigEconomy  Uber  Instacart  work  labour  exploitation  employment  algorithms  SiliconValley  artificialIntelligence 
4 days ago by petej
Now is the Time for Worker Power in the Tech Industry | Novara Media
For many tech workers, the idea of joining a trade union seems ridiculous – unions are often thought of as a relic of an older time, irrelevant to the meritocracy that is the tech industry.
The class composition of the industry.

Why is this? If we take a structural approach to the tech industry, we see that the workforce is effectively bifurcated in such a way as to contain potential challenges from below. Those with high leverage over production – say, senior software engineers who know how the systems work – are paid exceedingly well, often partly in stock, and given lavish perks. This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where a frothy startup investment environment forces tech companies of all sizes to offer lavish benefits in order to compete for ‘talent’. Correspondingly, workers with the most leverage over production are convinced they are not actually workers, and that their interests align with their company instead of their class. This amounts to a strategic isolation of the few employees with the most power to disrupt production, who are then showered with material benefits to dissuade them from ever exercising that power.
technology  work  labour  employment  class  tradeUnions  activism  informationTechnology  SiliconValley  power 
5 weeks ago by petej
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear
There’s a saying, popularized by Fredric Jameson, that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley capitalists don’t want to think about capitalism ending. What’s unexpected is that the way they envision the world ending is through a form of unchecked capitalism, disguised as a superintelligent AI. They have unconsciously created a devil in their own image, a boogeyman whose excesses are precisely their own.

Which brings us back to the importance of insight. Sometimes insight arises spontaneously, but many times it doesn’t. People often get carried away in pursuit of some goal, and they may not realize it until it’s pointed out to them, either by their friends and family or by their therapists. Listening to wake-up calls of this sort is considered a sign of mental health.

We need for the machines to wake up, not in the sense of computers becoming self-aware, but in the sense of corporations recognizing the consequences of their behavior. Just as a superintelligent AI ought to realize that covering the planet in strawberry fields isn’t actually in its or anyone else’s best interests, companies in Silicon Valley need to realize that increasing market share isn’t a good reason to ignore all other considerations. Individuals often reevaluate their priorities after experiencing a personal wake-up call. What we need is for companies to do the same — not to abandon capitalism completely, just to rethink the way they practice it. We need them to behave better than the AIs they fear and demonstrate a capacity for insight.
SiliconValley  technology  artificialIntelligence  culture  capitalism  hubris  regulation  libertarianism 
december 2017 by petej
Coders of the world, unite: can Silicon Valley workers curb the power of Big Tech? | News | The Guardian
The name Tech Workers Coalition contains two provocations. The first is to recognise that what engineers do is work. Many aspects of life in Silicon Valley, from casual dress codes to horizontal management structures, are designed to discourage white-collar employees from seeing themselves as workers. Tech campuses offer the conveniences, and atmosphere, of a privileged childhood: cafeterias and cleaning services and gym classes; candy dispensers and dinosaur sculptures and even indoor jungle gyms. These perks encourage employees to spend more and more of their time at work, or even to erase the boundaries between life and work altogether. They also encourage people to think of themselves as potential founders or venture capitalists investing in their futures, rather than workers performing tasks in order to draw a wage.

The second idea is that white-collar professionals are not the only tech workers. According to the advocacy group Silicon Valley Rising, for every engineer who gets hired, three to four more lower-wage jobs get created. Large tech campuses separate their white-collar workers from the blue-collar workers who cook and serve their food, clean their floors and stand guard outside their doors; the latter are usually brought in by independent contractors. But they are all part of the same industry.
SiliconValley  CalifornianIdeology  technoUtopianism  privatisation  politics  misinformation  platforms  fakeNews  manipulation  regulation  TrumpDonald  DemocraticParty  TheLeft  TechLeft  work  labour  TWC  developers  programming  CeglowskiMaciej  TechSolidarity 
november 2017 by petej
Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend - The New York Times
Growth becomes the overriding motivation — something treasured for its own sake, not for anything it brings to the world. Facebook and Google can point to a greater utility that comes from being the central repository of all people, all information, but such market dominance has obvious drawbacks, and not just the lack of competition. As we’ve seen, the extreme concentration of wealth and power is a threat to our democracy by making some people and companies unaccountable.

In addition to their power, tech companies have a tool that other powerful industries don’t: the generally benign feelings of the public. To oppose Silicon Valley can appear to be opposing progress, even if progress has been defined as online monopolies; propaganda that distorts elections; driverless cars and trucks that threaten to erase the jobs of millions of people; the Uberization of work life, where each of us must fend for ourselves in a pitiless market.

As is becoming obvious, these companies do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. We need greater regulation, even if it impedes the introduction of new services. If we can’t stop their proposals — if we can’t say that driverless cars may not be a worthy goal, to give just one example — then are we in control of our society? We need to break up these online monopolies because if a few people make the decisions about how we communicate, shop, learn the news, again, do we control our own society?
SiliconValley  Google  Facebook  personalData  monopolies  power  accountability  control  ethics  regulation 
october 2017 by petej
Facebook’s war on free will | Technology | The Guardian
The engineering mindset has little patience for the fetishisation of words and images, for the mystique of art, for moral complexity or emotional expression. It views humans as data, components of systems, abstractions. That’s why Facebook has so few qualms about performing rampant experiments on its users. The whole effort is to make human beings predictable – to anticipate their behaviour, which makes them easier to manipulate. With this sort of cold-blooded thinking, so divorced from the contingency and mystery of human life, it’s easy to see how long-standing values begin to seem like an annoyance – why a concept such as privacy would carry so little weight in the engineer’s calculus, why the inefficiencies of publishing and journalism seem so imminently disruptable.

Facebook would never put it this way, but algorithms are meant to erode free will, to relieve humans of the burden of choosing, to nudge them in the right direction. Algorithms fuel a sense of omnipotence, the condescending belief that our behaviour can be altered, without our even being aware of the hand guiding us, in a superior direction. That’s always been a danger of the engineering mindset, as it moves beyond its roots in building inanimate stuff and begins to design a more perfect social world. We are the screws and rivets in the grand design.
Facebook  algorithms  artificialIntelligence  surveillance  control  nudge  ZuckerbergMark  hacking  openness  transparency  behaviour  identity  digitalIdentity  multiplicity  engineering  politics  USA  SiliconValley  manipulation  power  dctagged  dc:creator=FoerFranklin 
september 2017 by petej
Disrupt the Citizen | Online Only | n+1
What Plouffe and the ride-sharing companies understand is that, under capitalism, when markets are pitted against the state, the figure of the consumer can be invoked against the figure of the citizen. Consumption has in fact come to replace our original ideas of citizenship. As the sociologist Wolfgang Streeck has argued in his exceptional 2012 essay, “Citizens as Customers,” the government encouragement of consumer choice in the 1960s and ’70s “radiated” into the public sphere, making government seem shabby in comparison with the endlessly attractive world of consumer society. Political goods began to get judged by the same standards as commodities, and were often found wanting.
The result is that, in Streeck’s prediction, the “middle classes, who command enough purchasing power to rely on commercial rather than political means to get what they want, will lose interest in the complexities of collective preference-setting and decision-making, and find the sacrifices of individual utility required by participation in traditional politics no longer worthwhile.” The affluent find themselves bored by goods formerly subject to collective provision, such as public transportation, ceasing to pay for them, while thereby supporting private options. Consumer choice then stands in for political choice. When Ohio governor John Kasich proposed last year that he would “Uber-ize” the state’s government, he was appealing to this sense that politics should more closely resemble the latest trends in consumption.
Uber  KalanickTravis  narcissism  sharingEconomy  gigEconomy  culture  sexism  harassment  SiliconValley  exploitation  debt  PlouffeDavid  capitalism  consumerism  politics  commodification  Moda  housing  automation  driverlessCars  publicTransport  regulation  dctagged  dc:creator=SavalNikil 
july 2017 by petej
Notes From An Emergency
How is it that some dopey kid in Palo Alto gets to decide the political future of the European Union based on what they learned at big data boot camp? Did we lose a war?

Silicon Valley brings us the worst of two economic systems: the inefficiency of a command economy coupled with the remorselessness of laissez-faire liberalism.
nationalism  TrumpDonald  Europe  USA  SiliconValley  Facebook  Google  Amazon  Microsoft  Apple  monopolies  surveillance  personalData  security  authoritarianism  regulation  globalisation  tradeUnions  resistance  accountability 
may 2017 by petej
Hey, Computer Scientists! Stop Hating on the Humanities | WIRED
It’s possible that listening to non-computer scientists will slow the Silicon Valley machine: Diverse worldviews can produce argument. But slowing down in places where reasonable people can disagree is a good thing. In an era where even elections are won and lost on digital battlefields, tech companies need to move less fast and break fewer things.
SiliconValley  computerScience  algorithms  bigData  humanities  disruption  ethics  change  technology 
april 2017 by petej
The new status symbol: it’s not what you spend – it’s how hard you work | Technology | The Guardian
Technology has made it possible for everyone to see everything as an opportunity for productivity. You can measure your sleep, sex and steps with a Fitbit, your attractiveness with Tinder, your wittiness with Twitter, your popularity with Facebook. You can transform your personality into a dashboard of data streams that can be monitored, analyzed and optimized with the precision of an industrial process. You can turn your life into a factory – and not just metaphorically. In producing yourself, you produce economic value for others. The hours you spend on these platforms may be unwaged, but they generate real revenue for the companies that own them.

This is the genius of conspicuous production. It not only promotes a culture of overwork, it makes our dwindling amount of leisure time economically productive. There is no escape: either we’re working for the company or we’re working on ourselves, but we’re always working. “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours of what we will” was the anthem of the workers who first demanded the eight-hour-day more than a century ago. Those distinctions don’t make sense any more. Even our sleep is factored into our productivity score – the entrepreneur of the self never gets to clock out.

Today, the old slogan of the labor movement sounds like utopian science fiction. Imagine a society that claimed so little of our labor. Imagine a world where the poor didn’t have to work so hard to exist, and the rich didn’t have to work so hard to appear worthy of their wealth, because rich and poor didn’t exist.
work  overwork  labour  image  privilege  elites  performance  status  identity  culture  SiliconValley  productivity  power  inequality  fitness  health  quantifiedSelf 
april 2017 by petej
Driverless Ed-Tech: The History of the Future of Automation in Education
We hear it all the time. To be fair, of course, we have heard it, with varying frequency and urgency, for about 100 years now. “Robots are coming for your job.” And this time – this time – it’s for real.
I want to suggest – and not just because there are flaws with Uber’s autonomous vehicles (and there was just a crash of a test vehicle in Arizona last Friday) – that this is not entirely a technological proclamation. Robots don’t do anything they’re not programmed to do. They don’t have autonomy or agency or aspirations. Robots don’t just roll into the human resources department on their own accord, ready to outperform others. Robots don’t apply for jobs. Robots don’t “come for jobs.” Rather, business owners opt to automate rather than employ people. In other words, this refrain that “robots are coming for your job” is not so much a reflection of some tremendous breakthrough (or potential breakthrough) in automation, let alone artificial intelligence. Rather, it’s a proclamation about profits and politics. It’s a proclamation about labor and capital.
technology  automation  education  edtech  ThrunSebastian  SiliconValley  Uber  UAV  driverlessCars  autonomousVehicles  robots  jobs  employment  capitalism  politics  regulation  deregulation  disruption  libertarianism  RandAyn  individualism  cars  driving  publicTransport  personalisation  control  precarity  surveillance  algorithms  dctagged  dc:creator=WattersAudrey 
april 2017 by petej
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