Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for April 13, 2020

in STEMGeekslast year (edited)

A Steem essay argues that the coronavirus pandemic is providing leverage for tech companies to gain in power and influence; Zoom sued by shareholder over concerns of inadequate disclosures in the areas of security and privacy; Harvard research finds that during the pandemic shutdown, small businesses are in worse shape than previously known; AI is helping researchers to understand data from the oceans; New research reports productivity-gains of 13% to 22% from working at home


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  1. Steem @rt-international: After Covid-19 tech giants will have even more control over what you see & what you think - Subtitle: Silicon Valley’s algorithms are controlling your cognitive map, and Congress is letting it happen. Covid-19 is providing the perfect cover to bolster that control — just in time for the 2020 election. - This essay acknowledges that there is little in the way of hard proof, but that Silicon Valley seems to be engaged in a project of deciding which information people see, with a goal of protecting their own wealth and political influence. In particular, it claims that moderation and shadow bans are consistently biased in favor of a particular viewpoint. Further, it argues that the problem extends beyond censorship and into tracking, suggesting that Google has been complicit in a culture of "pay to play" with Washington insiders, and the company's co-founder, Eric Schmidt, worked with China on the country's Chinese Social Credit System. Why does this matter? The article makes two points: (i)
    Covid-19 is the perfect diversion. While Congress busily passes more trillion-dollar bailouts for billionaires, big-tech stealthily ensures future generations become digital addicts who blindly accept and embrace, like sheep, the emergence of digital tyranny. Today’s college students stumble around like zombies in a trance, eyes glued to their mobile phones, afraid to “miss out” on real-time Instagram updates or TikTok’s latest memes. The development of 5G may result in a silent WWIII that ensures a quick demise of a zombified Western society without a single shot ever being fired.
    and (ii)
    Well, Google, Facebook and Silicon Valley have had four years to perfect a system that ensures their candidate will win and Trump will lose. Eric Schmidt has learned from his 2016 mistakes and has been vocally opposed to everything Trump. Schmidt is not the only one who wants Trump gone, so does 98 percent of Silicon Valley, which will ensure 2020 will be different.
    (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @rt-international.)

  2. Zoom sued by shareholder accusing it of covering up its security flaws - According to a report in Bloomberg, shareholder Michael Drieu is suing Zoom over concerns about undisclosed security vulnerabilities. In particular, the suit claims that the company misrepresented its privacy standards and failed to disclose that its calls lacked end-to-end encryption. The suit comes at a time when Zoom usage has skyrocketed as a result of government lockdowns that followed the novel coronavirus pandemic. Along with the increase in usage, however, the application has also suffered from reports of privacy and security issues, and its use has been banned by a number of school districts and other organizations.

  3. Small Businesses Are Worse Off Than We Thought - Harvard's Christopher Stanton, Zoe Cullen and Michael Luca worked with Alex Bartik, Marianne Bertrand, and Alignable, an online business networking platform to survey 6,000 small business owners. The results were concerning. On average, the team found that firms who had less than $10,000 in monthly bills only have enough cash on hand to cover one month of expenses. Here's more detail from the article:
    If the COVID-19 crisis lasts four months, 65 percent of small retailers say there’s a good chance they’ll be forced to close permanently by the end of the year. Among restaurants and bars, 70 percent expect to go out of business if social-distancing orders last into July.

  4. AI Helping Scientists Understand an Ocean's Worth of Data - This is another article in the NY Times Artificial Intelligence Special Report. The article opens by describing efforts from NOAA's Ann Allen, in partnership with Google, to search through 180,000 hours of humpback whale recording and find the places that contain recordings of singing by humpback whales. The task was accomplished during a period of about 9 months by using Google's expertise with interpreting YouTube data and 10 hours of annotated data to train a neural network to recognize the whale songs. Allen now uses the same model in her ongoing research. Google has also used similar models to help Canada's Department of Fish and Oceans to monitor populations of endangered Southern Resident Orca, which has been reduced to about 70. The article goes on to describe ongoing efforts to count whales from space, using satellite data, and an effort to deter illegal fishing by tracking and publicizing the location of sea-vessels around the world. Other uses of AI in the oceans include efforts to fight pollution and to keep track of zoooplankton.

  5. DOES WORKING FROM HOME WORK? EVIDENCE FROM A CHINESE EXPERIMENT* - In a case study, researchers initially found that home-working leads to a performance increase of 13%, with 9% coming from longer shifts and fewer breaks, and another 4% coming from an increase in call volume. Additionally, the paper disclosed that home-workers reported higher job satisfaction and lower attrition (by half). A drawback, however, is that performance-based promotions were reduced among home workers. After seeing these results, the company expanded its WFH program throughout the business, and saw an 50% adoption rate. Under the expanded program, productivity gains increased from 13% to 22%. -h/t Daniel Lemire

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