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

Big Technology

Amazon delivery drivers and liberal city dwellers vote together. But for how long?

In his new book, Fulfillment, Alec MacGillis writes of an Amazon distribution center in Sparrows Point, Maryland that sits on land once occupied by a Bethlehem Steel plant. The story underscores how dramatically the U.S. economy has transformed in recent years. Instead of making things, many of our biggest companies now distribute things made elsewhere. We’ve moved from an economy of production to one of dispersion.

The shift from factory to fulfillment work is core to the American story right now. For the American worker, a factory job like one at Bethlehem Steel was dangerous, but it paid $30 to…

Ron worked in a biotechnology lab before becoming homeless six years ago. Photos by Talia Herman for OneZero

A group of ex-tech workers, gig employees, and locals priced out of the housing market are fighting for affordable housing in Silicon Valley

At the corner of East Homestead and North Wolfe Road in Cupertino, California, stands a large oak tree planted by one of the most successful companies in history — Apple. The tree is a landmark at the entrance to Apple Park, the company’s $5 billion spaceship-of-a-campus, which surrounds a circular headquarters set in an entire city block, not unlike the home button in the rectangle of an early-model iPhone. At least three or four stories tall, the oak is one of the larger specimens among the 9,000 trees planted in this 175-acre Garden of Eden. …

In our search for easy answers, we give up control.

The evidence is overwhelming: we are far more powerful than the technology that is supposedly mind-controlling us. It’s not even close.

As I’ve discussed here and in many other places, we need to give ourselves more credit. Instead of passively accepting the idea that we’re all being puppeteered by some sort of menacing tech bogeyman, we can hack back distractions.

To be clear, too much social media can be harmful. No one disputes that too much of all sorts of good things can be bad, whether it’s too much news or too much booze.

But the popular narrative that distractions…

Cash-strapped governments are turning to tech that converts cameras into automated license plate readers to penalize uninsured drivers

Photo: marcoventuriniautieri/Getty Images

In March, the president of Rekor Systems Inc., Robert Berman, told investors that 2020 was a “transformative year.” The surveillance tech company’s platform, Rekor One, which converts regular cameras into automated license plate readers (ALPR), had proven alluring to cash-strapped state governments during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oklahoma, which has seen its tax revenue plummet alongside falling oil prices, announced a statewide rollout of Rekor One in November to track uninsured motorists. …

Gamblers flock to a new kind of online casino that’s open 24 hours a day

Caption: A Crash betting game on

“I’ve kind of developed a problem,” J.J. tells me over Discord voice chat.

In his early teens, his dad won $50,000 on a scratch-off lotto ticket, dramatically improving the family’s living situation almost overnight. “That helped us not be poor,” he said. But the windfall also colored his views of gambling in ways that didn’t become evident until recently. …

Open Dialogue

Evan Selinger in conversation with Chris Gilliard

Illustration: Julia Moburg/Medium; Source: Getty Images

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…

‘At 50, you’re just getting started’

Illustration by Traceloops. Sources: @emptynestcoach, @jaigray0, @sallymisha

One morning in 2015, as 59-year-old Sally Misha Hamana waited for a department store clerk to serve her, a man — “a gentleman,” she says — lined up next to her. “I like your hair,” he told her. His throwaway comment left her speechless. She’d stopped coloring her grays a few months back, and her cropped pixie cut was 100% silver. “What does it matter what I look like?” she’d thought. “Nobody sees me anyways.”

The struggle began in her forties, when she was marketing a Texas rodeo. People began talking over her. Dismissing her ideas. Long-term colleagues sidelined her…

The Community app connects A-listers with their fans—an odd proposition in the era of Covid lockdowns

Illustration of boy sitting on his bed looking at his phone. A wall of posters featuring an American flag, celebrities, stars, and drinks are behind him.
Illustration: Isabel Seliger for OneZero

I’m at the point now where I don’t even bother reading Post Malone’s texts.

Same with Diddy. Same with Paul McCartney. When Barack Obama’s name pops up on my phone I tap to see what he has to say, but he doesn’t text that often so it’s fine.

I have never met any of these people; none of them know me. Their contacts are in my phone because of Community, a startup that celebrities, businesses, and influencers of all stripes can use to text their fans.

People who purchase a Community phone number (or “leaders,” as the company calls them)…

Open Dialogue

A conversation with the professor who just turned down a $60,000 grant from Google

The graphic text “Open Dialogue” is framed around different sketches of human faces and emotions.
Photo illustration: Save As/Medium; Sources: Getty Images

Emotion A.I., affective computing, and artificial emotional intelligence are all fields creating technology to understand, respond to, measure, and simulate human emotions. Hope runs so high for these endeavors that the projected market value for emotional A.I. is $91.67 billion by 2024. A few examples are revealing: The automotive industry sees value in algorithms determining when drivers are distracted and drowsy. Companies see value in algorithms analyzing how customer support agents talk and computationally coaching them to be better speakers. And researchers see value in children with autism using A.I.-infused …

In the late 1970s, hackers forged a social media network using the dominant audio tech of the time — the telephone

A vintage landline phone
Photo: Busà Photography/Getty Images

POV: You’re a 14-year-old kid in Atlanta. It’s 1978, and the internet hasn’t been invented yet, so you mostly get your kicks over the phone. You love to call up your local radio station, WQXI, to request your favorite oldies. This time, however, the line’s been disconnected. A prerecorded message plays in your handset instead. QXI’s AM call-in number is now 741–0790, and QXI’s FM call-in number is… Just as you’re about to hang up, you hear something weird: After the recorded message ends and just before it loops again, you hear someone else on the line. They’re yelling “Hello…

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