Sunday, February 8, 2015

In which people discuss things I don't understand

Is it important? People think so. The market thinks so. So I guess it is.

It's at least interesting.

  • Replacing Middle Management with APIs
    What’s bizarre here is that these lines of code directly control real humans. The Uber API dispatches a human to drive from point A to point B. And the 99designs Tasks API dispatches a human to convert an image into a vector logo (black, white and color). Humans are on the verge of becoming literal cogs in a machine, completely anonymized behind an API. And the companies that control those APIs have strong incentives to drive down the cost of executing those API methods.

    In the long run there’s always something for people to work on and improve, but the introduction of this software layer makes we worry about mid-term employment 5-20 years out. Drivers are opting into a dichotomous workforce: the worker bees below the software layer have no opportunity for on-the-job training that advances their career, and compassionate social connections don’t pierce the software layer either. The skills they develop in driving are not an investment in their future. Once you introduce the software layer between “management” (Uber’s full-time employees building the app and computer systems) and the human workers below the software layer (Uber’s drivers, Instacart’s delivery people), there’s no obvious path upwards. In fact, there’s a massive gap and no systems in place to bridge it.

  • Uber Wants to Replace Its Drivers With Robots. So Much for That “New Economy” It Was Building.
    As Danny Vinik pointed out at the New Republic when Uber’s study initially came out, the evidence that contract jobs lead to unstable employment situations with poor benefits is, so far, weak. It’s also unclear how much longer Uber will be able to legally sustain its contractor-dependent model. Late last week, a federal judge said that Uber’s drivers might have to be treated as employees instead of independent contractors, which would change a lot. But even taking all that uncertainty into account, you know what’s a quick way to undermine your claims about building a new and sustainable work model? Announcing two weeks later that you are building a research facility to develop the technologies that will eventually render all of the people employed in that new work model obsolete.
  • Uber Drivers Love Uber, Says Uber Survey. Here's Why You Should Believe It.
    Seventy eight percent of respondents said they are either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with Uber, and 69 percent say their opinion of the company has improved since when they started. Seventy one percent said that Uber boosts their income, compared to just 11 percent who said it worsened it. By a 74-5 margin, drivers say that Uber has made their lives better by giving them more flexibility with their schedule. It's unlikely the study's potential biases account for such enthusiastic results.
  • Uber and Lyft Drivers May Have Employee Status, Judge Says
    “The idea that Uber is simply a software platform, I don’t find that a very persuasive argument,” U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said in court Friday.
  • South Korea rejects Uber registration proposal, vows to shut firm down
    "Transporting customers with private or rented cars and accepting compensation is clearly illegal. The company is ignoring local laws by stating its intention to continue such operations," the ministry said in a statement.
  • Disrupt and dismay: why Cape Town’s metered taxi operators are uber-upset
    Transport in Cape Town, especially when it comes to the taxi industries, has always been a sensitive issue. It’s a fragmented industry with tensions climaxing in events such as the minibus taxi violence in 2013 — a different sector but a stark reminder of how intense things can get in the transport space.
  • After handing over license plate info, Uber re-opens its NYC bases
    Uber initially cited trade secrets for not wanting to give up its data. It may not have wanted local governments to being able to send their taxis to popular Uber areas at peak times, for example. But as evidenced by the blog post on giving data to Boston and other cities, the company had a change of heart, realizing that it could offer data to cities as an olive branch and potentially ease Uber’s local regulatory conflicts as a result.
  • Crib Sheet: Saturn's Children
    A society that runs on robot slaves who are, nevertheless, intelligent by virtue of having a human neural connectome for a brain, is a slave society: deeply unhealthy if not totally diseased. I decided to shove the slider all the way over towards terminally diseased (I am not a fan of slavery).
  • Meditations on Moloch
    The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.

    Bostrom makes an offhanded reference of the possibility of a dictatorless dystopia, one that every single citizen including the leadership hates but which nevertheless endures unconquered. It’s easy enough to imagine such a state.

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