Robots Don’t Deserve Workers’ Rights—Yet

The economic weather has been clearing. In the United States, unemployment stands at a little more than 4 percent; at long last, wages are growing faster than productivity. Investors expect the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in order to fight the inflation that accompanies full employment. There are even labor shortages in key industries, such as manufacturing, construction, and trucking, according to the Fed. Workers feel new confidence. In December, 2.2 percent quit their jobs, the highest rate since 2001. All over the industrialized world, there is good news: Many workers now expect to keep their jobs or find better ones.

But the good news arrives at a moment of general anxiety about the future of work. Smart people fret that artificial intelligence and robots are rapidly eliminating jobs. According to one estimate published by BCG and the World Economic Forum last month, 1.4 million [...]  read more

Is Now The Right Time to Try and End Measles?

During 2017, hundreds of thousands of people spent their working hours, and weeks and months of volunteer time, on an elusive goal: trying to snuff a handful of stubborn diseases out of existence.

Some of those diseases—like polio, Guinea worm, and river blindness—currently cause only a handful of cases. That public health workers have been chasing them for decades, spending billions of dollars in the process, elevates the effort to quixotic. But there’s a hidden motivation to their work. Every year they work to vanquish these infections, they’re training for a much bigger campaign to come: wiping out measles, one of the most infectious viruses on the planet.

Defeating measles has long been a cherished dream in global health. Just in 2016, according to the World Health Organization, the disease infected more than 20 million people and killed almost 90,000 children. But no one is even sure when such a campaign might begin. Opposing camps within public health argue either that the time is now, to piggyback on top of current campaigns, or after polio is gone, because we can only fund and focus on one global disease at a time. [...]  read more

Why America Needs A Nationalized 5G Network

A hundred years ago, it was hard to imagine that domestic electricity could be good for anything beyond powering a few light bulbs in the front hall. That is, until refrigerators, washer-dryers, air-conditioners, and other high-capacity uses for electrical connections became popular and widely available.

Today, fiberoptic connections present a similar conundrum. A giant middle class of consumers and producers will eventually be supported by the new businesses and new ways of thriving that very high-capacity networking will make possible. This infrastructure would be a boon everywhere, especially in remote locations, where it will enable things like advanced health care, high-quality, low-cost education, constantly modulated energy use, and the ability to work where you live.


p class=”paywall”>The problem is that policymakers in the US see high-capacity communications as luxury goods, to be provided only where there is both demand and a high-margin business case. As a result, [...]  read more

Snapchat, Wickr, Confide: How Ephemeral Messaging Threatens History

If you have something personal or private to communicate, you know where to turn. If you’re at work, it might be Slack. If you’re dating, it could be Tinder. For friends, maybe WhatsApp, or Messenger, or Snapchat, or any of a hundred other messaging apps. But it’s less likely—and growing even less likely every year—that you’ll be using email. Indeed, if you’re Indian or Chinese, there’s a good chance you don’t use email at all.

Just a decade ago, email’s technical and social protocols seemed permanent and universal; now, like countless technological institutions before them, their once-assured dominance has been replaced by an unstable messaging universe with none of the permanence and searchability of the email archives of old. Most of it is mobile-only, which prevents its contents from living on PC hard drives for years. What’s more, a growing subset of Snapchat-inspired messaging apps is deliberately ephemeral, with communications self-destructing after 24 hours [...]  read more

How Germany Became the World’s Safest Social Media State

In mid-November 2016, a couple of lurching swastikas with the words “Go Trump” appeared, spray-painted in white, in a playground where my children go for swings and basketball. My kids attend a Hebrew day school, and my son sometimes wears a yarmulke, so I got to talking to other parents at the school. The conversation turned to Europe 80 years ago, where many of their forebears had survived and not survived the Holocaust. One whose family left Germany told me that a clear signal had convinced his family to get out. “The curfews they could handle. But when the Nazis came to take the family dog, my dad’s family fled Berlin. That was it.”

My family didn’t leave after the playground graffiti. Neither did the other families at our school. After all, unlike in Nazi Germany, our neighborhood streets, after the swastikas were scrubbed, seem in general like a sanctuary from brownshirts.

Physical space, in states red and blue, where we behold each other and our children [...]  read more

The Limits of Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning

Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google, has said that AI “is more profound than … electricity or fire.” Andrew Ng, who founded Google Brain and now invests in AI startups, wrote that “If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future.”

Their enthusiasm is pardonable. There have been remarkable advances in AI, after decades of frustration. Today we can tell a voice-activated personal assistant like Alexa to “Play the band Television,” or count on Facebook to tag our photographs; Google Translate is often almost as accurate as a human translator. Over the last half decade, billions of dollars in research funding and venture capital have flowed towards AI; it is the hottest course in computer science programs at MIT and Stanford. In Silicon Valley, newly minted AI specialists command half a million dollars in salary and stock.

But there are many things that [...]  read more