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


In OneZero. More on Medium.

How playing a violent video game brought me peace

If you’d rather listen to this essay, you can do so here:

This may sound strange, but I enjoy the idea of playing video games more than actually playing them. It’s been this way since the beginning, when I saw a coin-operated Ms. Pac-Man in the arcade of my youth. Shiny bright pixels, multicolored ghosts, wakka wakka wakka — I placed many quarters on the lip of the machine’s marquee, claiming my turn at the red joystick.

I really sucked at this game.

Except, when it was my turn, I was terrible. The maximum I could ever clear was three boards, and that was after…

Pattern Matching

The company’s campaign to encourage vaccination is fighting against the dynamics of its own platform.

Promotional art showing the Covid-19 Information Center on Facebook.

In the most idealistic view of Facebook’s mission, this is the sort of moment it was built for.

With Covid-19 killing thousands of people every day, humanity is in a race to vaccinate enough of the global population to curb the pandemic — ideally before it evolves in ways that make it even harder to contain. One obstacle, of course, is vaccine availability. But another is “vaccine hesitancy:” people afraid or unwilling to get vaccinated when they have the chance.

Facebook has built a network of nearly 3 billion people across its platforms, and has the ability to influence the…

Just by walking by it and briefly glancing at the screen, I likely gave the Temp Tablet all it needed to recognize me

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

In late February, I went to an office building in San Ramon, California. I used to work there, before the pandemic, and needed to pick up some mail. Due to a standing Covid-19 public health order in the Bay Area, the building’s management had implemented mandatory mask and temperature checks at the entrance, so I expected to be scanned and evaluated.

I didn’t expect that the scan would be performed by a machine—or that consenting to a scan might enter me into a facial recognition database, which could later be used to monitor my health status and track my every…

‘Vaccine hunters are the result of short supply, disorganization, inadequate sign-up systems, dire circumstances, and crowded hospitals’

A UCHealth pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination event in the parking lot of Coors Field on February 20, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

In a Facebook group called Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters, a member recently shared a flyer announcing that a local shelter for people experiencing homelessness would be hosting Covid-19 vaccinations on February 11 — no appointment necessary. “Please be mindful that this clinic is intended for unsheltered people in Hennepin County,” noted the flyer, which was conspicuously addressed to individuals “living on the street.”

Later, in a separate post, another Facebook member said they’d managed to get vaccinated at the shelter. They were not homeless, as the flyer intended, but arrived late in the day and received a leftover dose from vaccination…

The changes come months after the start of the vaccine rollout in the U.S.

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook announced in a blog post on Monday that it intends to start removing vaccine misinformation from groups and pages, expanding its focus on “debunked claims” about the Covid-19 vaccine.

“We’re running the largest worldwide campaign to promote authoritative information about COVID-19 vaccines,” wrote Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, adding that “following consultations with leading health organizations, including the WHO, we’re expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about COVID-19 and vaccines.”

“Today’s change was a response to a ruling from Facebook’s Oversight Board,” the New York Times reported. In an issuance…

A failure at Stanford teaches us the limits of medical algorithms

Close-up of Moderna vaccine. Photo: William Campbell/Getty Images

This story was co-authored by Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, CEO of Parity, an enterprise algorithmic audit platform company.

“The algorithm did it” has become a popular defense for powerful entities who turn to math to make complex moral choices. It’s an excuse that recalls a time when the public was content to understand computer code as somehow objective. But the past few years have demonstrated conclusively that technology is not neutral and instead reflects the values of those who design it, and it is fraught with all the usual shortcomings and oversights that humans suffer in our daily lives.

Right before…

An interview with Dr. Petra Molnar, who spent 2020 investigating the use of drones, facial recognition, and lidar on refugees

Greek refugee camps are among the largest in Europe, and they are overpopulated, with scarce access to water, food, and basic necessities, and under constant surveillance. Photo: Manolis Lagoutaris/AFP/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic unleashed a new era in surveillance technology, and arguably no group has felt this more acutely than refugees. Even before the pandemic, refugees were subjected to contact tracing, drone and LIDAR tracking, and facial recognition en masse. Since the pandemic, it’s only gotten worse. For a microcosm of how bad the pandemic has been for refugees — both in terms of civil liberties and suffering under the virus — look no further than Greece.

Greek refugee camps are among the largest in Europe, and they are overpopulated, with scarce access to water, food, and basic necessities, and…

Government-mandated drone surveillance and location tracking apps could be here to stay

Photo illustration sources (Getty Images): Borislav; boonchai wedmakawand; Andrew Brookes; Peter Steuart; Dimitri Otis

In early December, after finding 16 people had illegally crossed the border from Myanmar to Thailand and evaded the mandatory quarantine period, the Thai government said it would start patrolling the border with new surveillance equipment like drones and ultraviolet cameras.

In 2020, this kind of surveillance, justified by the coronavirus pandemic, has gone mainstream. Since March, more than 30 countries have instituted data gathering or surveillance measures questioned by privacy advocates, as OneZero tracked earlier in the year. …

A boom in contact tracing devices could herald a new era of worker surveillance

Photo illustration sources: PwC; Iv__design/Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Before April, Radiant RFID, a 16-year-old tech company based in Austin, was mainly in the business of tracking equipment around the workplace. Radiant’s tags, which can use Bluetooth or GPS, can be stuck to anything valuable, like a crash cart in a hospital or a specialty tool in an auto manufacturing plant. Then, the object’s location can be constantly tracked through Radiant’s website or app.

But the coronavirus pandemic has pushed the company to stand up an entirely new business: tracking worker interactions.

Radiant now sells a stripped-down Samsung smartwatch as a social distance monitoring tool. When an employee wears…

From simple location-tracking apps to buttons that measure biometrics, college campuses have amped up surveillance in response to Covid-19

Illustration: AJ Dungo

Vassar College student E.L. received a notification on his phone this month with a gentle reminder to turn on his device’s location tracking. The junior, who asked that only his initials be used, is one of the 2,120 students who returned to Vassar’s campus for in-person instruction this fall semester. The message, which came from the school’s official app, referred to PathCheck GPS+, a contact-tracing app created at MIT that is now being piloted at colleges around the country.

“If you download the PathCheck app (iOs/Android), make sure to fully enable location services when it asks, or make the change…


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