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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.

Pandemic

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Open Dialogue

Evan Selinger in conversation with Chris Gilliard

This is Open Dialogue, an interview series from OneZero about technology and ethics.

During the pandemic, educational technology companies experienced a 900% increase in business once schools started shutting down campuses and restricting visitors. These companies swooped in with A.I.-infused software designed to prevent students from cheating. These proctoring algorithms can verify who is taking an exam through facial verification. They can also monitor test-takers, scrutinizing their behavior for signs of irregularities that might indicate cheating, like looking away from the screen.

Critics contend the software promotes unfairness, invasions of privacy, and unduly inflicted anxiety. The situation is so dire…


No One’s Driving

Automation and complex distribution software created a nightmare scenario we’re still unpacking

Healthcare worker wearing PPE.
Healthcare worker wearing PPE.

Welcome to No One’s Driving, a column by novelist and tech writer Tim Maughan about how to understand a world governed by systems and technologies that are spiraling out of control.

“The mask is the perfect prism with which to understand the world in 2021,” John tells me on a Zoom call from California. John is the co-founder of a mask company that manufactures its product in China, and that is not his real name; he’s asked for anonymity because he’s worried that discussing these topics would ruin his business there. “Politically, economically, culturally… it explains so much of the…


Maybe it’s time for them to move out of Silicon Valley

The year 2020 has been a tougher year than usual for almost everyone and particularly for those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to the extraordinarily high cost of living in the region, it was one of the first American hotspots for the coronavirus outbreak, and since mid-summer it has been plagued by even larger wildfires than usual. For safety operators working for automated driving companies based in the Bay Area, it’s even worse. But some companies appear to be taking better care of their employees than others.

Larger Autonomous Vehicle (AV) companies like Cruise and…


The coronavirus pandemic momentarily halved Clear’s revenue at some airports

The near-total shutdown of air travel during the coronavirus pandemic could have been an existential crisis for Clear, a company best known for ferrying travelers to the front of the airport security line.

But despite massive downturns in the number of people flying, the coronavirus pandemic only had a temporary impact on Clear’s airport business, according to revenue documents obtained by OneZero from airports around the country. And at the same time, Clear has set its eyes on expansion in other areas like health and biometric payments, as OneZero reported on Tuesday.

These documents also detail how the company treated…


‘You are your driver’s license, your credit card, your health care card, your building access card’

In March, the air travel industry ground to a halt.

The coronavirus pandemic was spreading, and both airlines and passengers were caught unprepared. Most of the world, including the United States, began turning away foreign visitors, not wanting to bring more of the virus past their borders. Some airplanes were turned around in midair and sent back to where they’d come from.

By April, airlines and airports faced a grave reality: Nobody was flying, and revenue was plummeting. Scenes of empty airports became common in the news. At Los Angeles International Airport, the second-largest in the U.S., the number of…


From here on out, security may involve a thermometer

Last week, I dropped by my recently reopened gym to restart my lapsed membership. As soon as I walked in the door, a woman pointed an infrared thermometer at my forehead.

I was instantly anxious — not because I felt sick or thought I had a fever but because it was about 100 degrees outside, and I worried about what would happen if my face was too hot.

This is a feeling we’d all better get used to: Temperature checks in public spaces may soon become as ubiquitous as bag checks at a stadium or metal detectors in the airport…


And what everyone else can learn from it

On June 18, the British government suddenly abandoned development of its contact tracing app, which was intended to tell people if they had come into close proximity with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. It worked 4% of the time.

That completely unacceptable result came from poor decisions based on hubris and a lack of technical understanding. The British government was aiming to build a “world-beating” app without the knowledge of the foundations that the technology was being built on.

From the perspective of a former Google product manager, the U.K.’s …


The more complicated and efficient a system gets, the more likely it is to collapse altogether

Human history is a long saga of people learning to harness ever-increasing amounts of energy to maintain ever more complex, ordered systems, punctuated by periodic collapses. The Romans, the Maya — when civilizations became more complex than they could maintain, with the energy and technologies they had, in the face of changing conditions.

At that point, small stresses sent overstretched social systems into a rapid downward spiral, which ended with major losses of people and social organization, as one stable complex system made a rapid nonlinear descent to a less complex one. …


The company can’t easily give away materials without conceding that its drivers are employees

A Lyft/Uber driver wearing a surgical mask and gloves pauses in his car, holding his hands together.
A Lyft/Uber driver wearing a surgical mask and gloves pauses in his car, holding his hands together.

Lyft has launched a marketplace where drivers on the front lines of the pandemic can buy personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hand sanitizer spray and face masks. The shopping hub, known as the Lyft Store, has been live since June, according to the company.

Throughout the health crisis, Lyft has been criticized by gig labor advocates for failing to support drivers with little to no safety net. The CDC strongly recommends everyone over two years old wear face masks in public settings, as Covid-19 mainly spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets. …


And that’s not a bad thing

A black and white screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The player villager looks dazed in front of a computer.
A black and white screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The player villager looks dazed in front of a computer.

On March 15, just days before Chicago would issue a shelter-in-place order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Max Plenke decided to get really into Counter-Strike.

Recognizing that he was about to spend a lot of time stuck in his apartment, Plenke, a branded content editor, realized that there was probably no better time than now for him to jump back into one of the most competitive online shooters after nearly two decades of not playing. Over the past two months, he’s logged over 200 hours.

“There’s something weirdly comforting about it,” he tells me. “I can’t think about how…

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