Our love of social media makes it easy for us to be spied on—so could we just use it less? An investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union
reveals that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram supplied police in Ferguson and Baltimore with data that was used to track minorities. The companies packaged up and provided data from public posts to a company called Geofeedia, which analyzes digital content to provide surveillance information to law enforcement agencies. The companies have now cut off, or at least modified, their supply of data
—but it’s a reminder of how we all, perhaps unwittingly, enable a surveillance society. Spying as a result of digitizing our lives isn’t a new phenomenon
, but it's getting worse because we’re all so keen to connect. Much of the data is public, too, so simply banning police access won't work. Tristan Harris, an ex-Googler, has an idea
, borne out of a desire to be less beholden to the smartphone, that could ease the problem by encouraging us to step back from Facebook et al. He wants to introduce new criteria, standards, and even a Hippocratic oath for software designers to stop apps from being so addictive. If we can wean ourselves off social media even a little, its power for spying could, perhaps, be commensurately diminished.
Putting the E in Transport Policy
The future of the motor car may be electric, but ensuring that’s the case will still require tough policy decisions. A new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Company
reaffirms what MIT Technology Review has said in the past
: by 2030, electric vehicles will be a dominant mode of transport. But while a cursory look around the Paris Motor Show
and recent proclamations by BMW
may suggest that such a future is inevitable, the new report warns that governments "may want to anticipate these new mobility models by crafting regulations consistent with consumer-friendly technological developments." Europe is already setting a strong example. A new draft EU directive, expected to be enacted 2019, will demand that every new or refurbished house in Europe will have to have an electric vehicle charging point
. And Germany’s federal council, the Bundesrat, has passed a resolution to ban the internal combustion engine by 2030
. Other countries and cities will have to follow suit.
Dumb and Dumber?
Automation makes our lives easier, but it also robs us of abilities that are useful and lucrative. In an interesting essay investigating how our reliance on automation is diminishing skills
, Tim Harford describes a three-pronged attack from the robots and software that are taking over human responsibilities. "Automatic systems accommodate incompetence by being easy to operate and by automatically correcting mistakes … erode skills by removing the need for practice … [and] tend to fail either in unusual situations or in ways that produce unusual situations, requiring a particularly skilful response," he writes. That might be fine if the device is a coffee maker, but it’s more problematic in an airplane or car. The British government’s Science and Technology Committee announced yesterday that it’s concerned about the social impact of AI
, too. Its view on skill erosion, though, is more forward-looking: it thinks that we must ensure that human beings develop new skills so that they can continue to be productive in a post-AI world. Ideally, of course, we’d maintain safety-critical abilities whilst also finding new skills.