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Tech Won’t Solve Poverty If We Can’t Even Bring Ourselves to Look At It

Virginia Eubanks, author of Automating Inequality: How High Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, argues that technological solutions to poverty are inherently flawed because they view poverty as a social inevitability, rather than the result of deliberate, purposeful economic policy decisions — “something to be managed rather than eradicated.”

Like other technologists who have argued against technology’s supposed impartiality, Eubanks is absolutely right.

However, Eubanks also asserts that technology is being increasingly applied to complex social problems out of a misguided attempt to tackle homelessness more efficiently. Subjective matters of need are reduced to algorithmic equations. By removing the difficult, emotional, inefficient aspects of administering social services, we can help more people, more effectively — a classic example of Silicon Valley’s productivity gospel, at least in theory.

While greater efficiency is undoubtedly one goal of an increasingly algorithmic approach to social welfare, I’d argue that technology is being used to deal with poverty for another reason — so we literally don’t have to look at it.

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America Needs Single-Payer Healthcare, Not More Therapist Scheduling Apps

Lyra Health, the digital health company currently headed by former Facebook CFO David Ebersman, recently closed a $45 million series B round of funding including investments from Tenaya Capital, Glynn Capital Partners, Crown Ventures, and Casdin Capital.

“Three years ago, Lyra set out to help people navigate a cumbersome, fragmented, and opaque mental health system and we’re proud of the impact we are making with our employer partners. With this new funding, we look forward to creating technology-enabled experiences to deliver better, faster, and more personalized care.” — David Ebersman

According to Lyra Health’s website, the company is “transforming behavioral health from start to finish.”

If only that were true.

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Don’t Piss Down My Back and Tell Me It’s Raining

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal (which, like a cancerous tumor, has now metastasized and spread to Twitter), there’s been a good deal of conversation online about user data — who owns it, where and when it can be sold, and how it should be protected.

Alongside the quiet chorus of voices calling for greater consumer data protection laws in the United States (like those enshrined in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect later this month), there have been calls for revenue-sharing schemes to allow users of social media sites to share in the profits from the sale of their private data. If we’re the product being sold, proponents argue, then we should be entitled to a cut of the proceeds of the sale or use of our data.

This all sounds just dandy, but as Engadget’s Edgar Alvarez notes in his post on the topic of data royalties, such proposals are almost hilarious in their unlikelihood.

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The Cost of Conscientious Consumerism

I avoid Amazon because, as a retailer and a company, it’s no better than Walmart — it just has a slightly better public image.

Many Walmart employees have no choice but to rely on food stamps and other vital public assistance programs because Walmart pays its workers so little. Amazon warehouse workers are forced to urinate into plastic bottles because it takes longer to walk to the bathroom than they have time in their breaks. Walmart takes retaliatory action against employees who take sick days. Some Amazon warehouse workers have little choice but to live in tents in the woods because they don’t earn enough to commute to Amazon’s warehouses.

Being forced to shop on Amazon makes me feel really shitty. Not quite shitty enough to shop elsewhere, of course — and that’s part of the problem.

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Tire Fire of the Vanities

With millions of blog posts published every day, it’s statistically inevitable that most of them will be bad. Some, however, are remarkable precisely because of just how truly bad they are. Case in point, this self-indulgent garbage published by WIRED earlier this week.

Beneath the arrogant, self-aggrandizing tone, the flowery language, and the half-baked freshman philosophizing, Martínez’s main point seems to be that poor, beleaguered billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has been treated very unfairly by those big meanies in the mainstream media — specifically, in its coverage of the recent congressional hearings into the Cambridge Analytica scandal that has engulfed Zuckerberg’s company.

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How Can a Morally Bankrupt Nation Be a Leader in Ethical AI?

Yesterday, The Verge reported that the British government is eager to position itself as a leader in the artificial intelligence space.

Great Britain might be the world’s third-largest investor in AI technologies, but it cannot even match the level of investment we’re currently seeing in countries such as China and the United States, let alone outspend those countries. So what can Britain do to secure its place at the table?

Become a leader in the ethical applications of AI, apparently.

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Facebook Isn’t Mandatory

Despite the apparent success of the #deletefacebook hashtag, deleting Facebook isn’t easy, and not everybody can do it. I need Facebook for work. I can’t keep in touch with distant family and friends any other way. My business gets most of its leads from Facebook.

Except none of this is true. Giving up Facebook is hard, but it’s not impossible — and it sure as hell isn’t mandatory.

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