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Bray talks to journalist Alex Kantrowitz about how Amazon treats workers, regulation, and more

Tim Bray
Tim Bray

OneZero is partnering with Big Technology, a newsletter and podcast by Alex Kantrowitz, to bring readers exclusive access to interviews with notable figures in and around the tech industry.

This week, Kantrowitz sits down with Tim Bray, an ex-VP for Amazon and distinguished engineer who quit after the company fired employees who spoke up about working conditions in its warehouses. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To subscribe to the podcast and hear the interview for yourself, you can check it out on iTunes, Spotify, and Overcast.

In May, Amazon VP and distinguished engineer Tim Bray said…

While the state’s new laws on bots and deepfakes have their flaws, they represent a vital first step to curbing dangerous new technology

Co-authored by Madeline Lamo

There are real risks to regulating artificial intelligence. A.I. is everywhere, making it difficult to identify distinct characteristics that would require different treatment in the eyes of the law. Its outputs often implicate free speech. But one state has nonetheless rushed in. California, through a series of recent legislative efforts, has demonstrated its willingness to take on the challenge of regulating certain specific applications of A.I. These efforts have been perilous and imperfect. But the alternative — forgoing the opportunity to channel a transformative technology of our time — could be worse.

We have written before…

Tech companies are as powerful as nations; they need to start acting with the same level of responsibility

Although regulation is not a topic anyone wants to talk about, there comes a point at which it becomes necessary. This is true of all industries, but especially true of the tech industry, which, despite its size, is still maturing. Consider, for example, that there are more than 2.1 billion people on Facebook; more than 2 billion people using Google’s Android operating system — in addition to more than 1 billion using Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Search, and Play, individually; and more than 310 million people with Amazon Prime accounts.

Compare these numbers to historical empires, and you’ll see there…

Worldwide, regulators are dealing with ‘the battle of our time’

On September 10, 2015, a small crowd gathered outside a refugee reception center in Berlin. In front of a pink-brick building, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, leaned into a huddle of media microphones and began to talk about an historic refugee policy that would welcome nearly one million asylum seekers in that year alone.

Anas Modamani was not the only refugee to take a selfie with Merkel that day, but his was the only photo to become a target for trolls on social media. The image of Merkel smiling in her pale blue blazer, and Modamani posing in a khaki jacket…

Fines go only so far, but something bigger is taking shape

The Wild West era may be drawing to a close for tech corporations like Facebook and Google. New scrutiny from regulators abroad — and some closer to home — is resulting in fines that portend more substantial changes on the horizon. Soon, your data may rest a bit more squarely in your control.

Last month, Google became one of the first U.S. companies to be punished under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, a sweeping consumer privacy and data protection law. The French regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), fined Google $57 million for breaching the law’s…


Beyond the reach of U.S. law, doctors are changing the way babies are made

It’s 10:30 p.m. in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Dr. Valery Zukin is at the hospital with a patient who needs emergency surgery. The patient is 31 weeks pregnant and has intestinal obstruction — a rare complication that’s potentially fatal in pregnant women. Zukin says the situation is under control, but he’s exhausted, and the stakes are high.

Earlier that day, Zukin had been at a fertility conference in Barcelona, where his groundbreaking fertility treatments made him and his colleagues the stars of the show. Now he’s sitting in a pale-yellow room at the Leleka Maternity Hospital, where he is CEO. …

Facebook, Google, and Amazon are under unprecedented regulatory scrutiny. But investors don’t seem to care — yet.

You might think the world’s largest internet companies would be running scared.

The Federal Trade Commission last week fined Facebook a record $5 billion for privacy violations, while the Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to fine it at least another $100 million. Google faces an FTC fine of its own. States are enacting new privacy laws, and federal legislation is in the works. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on tech and antitrust, on the same day the Senate held a hearing on alleged bias in Google search results.

There’s more to come. The…

Erik Learned-Miller helped create one of the most important face datasets in the world. Now he wants to regulate his creation.

Erik Learned-Miller is one reason we talk about facial recognition at all.

In 2007, years before the current A.I. boom made “deep learning” and “neural networks” common phrases in Silicon Valley, Learned-Miller and three colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst released a dataset of faces titled Labelled Faces in the Wild.

To you or me, Labelled Faces in the Wild just looks like folders of unremarkable images. You can download them and look for yourself. There’s a picture of Alec Baldwin pointing at someone off camera. There’s Halle Berry smiling at the Oscars. There’s boxer Joe Gatti, gloves raised…

The executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project lays out a strategy to regulate tech companies like Facebook

It’s just the “cost of doing business.” I first heard that phrase as we mulled over my client’s plea deal. Evidently, when you run a multinational company, you pay a lot of bills that would give the rest of us sticker shock. One of them was a multibillion-dollar fine for price-fixing.

I was just a few months out of Harvard Law, working at one of the top law firms in New York, and I felt like I was staring through the looking glass. I had naively assumed that these record penalties would stun my clients, but I was wrong. …

Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple are facing increasing government scrutiny over competitive practices. They’ll fight back, but there is precedent to take action.

In 1998, the U.S. Justice Department and attorneys general from 21 states brought an antitrust monopolization lawsuit against Microsoft. At that time, Microsoft controlled how most consumers and businesses worked on their desktop computers. Its Windows operating system provided the connection between all sorts of software and the central processing units of our PCs, and its Office software was critical for the majority of office workers.

The core of the complaint against Microsoft was that it used practices that deliberately strangled an upstart competitor called Netscape, then in its infancy. Netscape’s new “browser” software allowed desktop PC users to access…

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