Only Elites Escape the Algorithm

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In this episode, we welcome Nick Weaver back for a special appearance thanks to the time-shifting powers of podcast software. He does a sack dance over cryptocurrency, flagging both China’s ban on cryptocurrency transactions and the U.S. Treasury’s sanctioning of the SUEX crypto exchange.

Maury Shenk then explains the plans that the Biden administration and the EU have for Big Tech and the rest of us. Hint: it involves more content moderation in support of, er, democracy.

Adam Candeub gives us a tour of the Wall Street Journal’s deeply reported series on Facebook’s difficulties managing the social consequences of, well, the internet, a responsibility that the press is determined to impose on the company. Among the quasi-scandals turned up by the Journal is the “secret elite” of users protected from Facebook’s clunky and clueless content moderation algorithms. But really, in today’s world, true power is all about escaping the algorithms otherwise imposed on us by various authorities. Every one of us aspires to join that elite. And perhaps we all can, if Ohio’s Attorney General and its latest Senate candidate get their way, with a lawsuit to turn Google into a common carrier. (If that happens, we’ll credit Adam, who wrote an amicus brief in support.)

And what’s an elite without its hands on the levers of industry? China’s embrace of national champions on the world stage has forced a rethinking in the West of industrial policy. Hence, the auto industry’s commercial problem (they want cheap, plentiful, and antiquated chips for their cars) is suddenly a matter for White House meetings, and hints that the government might have its own supply allocation plans and powers.

In fact, regulating the private sector is so in vogue, as long as it’s a tech-ish part of the private sector, that California barely made news when it imposed a new and almost undefinable regulatory obligation on warehouse companies like Amazon.  The law, requiring notice and imposing vague limits on production quotas, is at bottom, I argue, an attempt to put workers back on top of the algorithm – by demanding that it explain itself.

Maury next takes us to the heart of algorithmic power and our unease with it, explaining that Google now admits that it has no idea how to make AI less toxic.

In quick hits:

  • The Washington whispers about Zoom’s ties to China have grown louder, as the US government announces a national security review of Zoom’s proposed acquisition of Five9 for $15 billion.
  • Contrary to my understanding, at least one former intel operative who went to work for the United Arab Emirates in Project Raven landed very much on his feet – as CTO at ExpressVPN, though company employees are now expressing unhappiness about his history.
  • And podcast regular Dmitri Alperovitch has an op-ed in the New York Times that (no surprise!) urges much tougher tactics in the fight against ransomware gangs.

Download the 376th Episode (mp3)

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