Uber’s scandals, blunders and PR disasters: the full list

The business has actually had a relatively nonstop string of errors, from its questionable CEO to doubtful methods and unwanted sexual advances claims

Uber has actually been rocked by a stable stream of scandals and unfavorable promotion in the last few years, consisting of discoveries of doubtful spy programs, a high-stakes innovation suit, claims of unwanted sexual advances and discrimination and awkward leakages about executive conduct.

The PR catastrophes culminated in CEO Travis Kalanick taking an indefinite leave of lack today and pledges of strong reform that mostly disregarded the ride-hailing business strained relationship with chauffeurs.

Here is a timeline of a few of the most substantial debates.

Boob-er reaction, February 2014

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick dealt with reaction for a sexist joke about his increasing desirability, informing an Esquire press reporter: We call that Boob-er.

Targeting the rival, August 2014

Uber dealt with allegations that it scheduled countless phony flights from its rival Lyft in an effort to cut into its services and revenues. Uber employers likewise supposedly spammed Lyft motorists in an effort to hire them far from the competitor.

The God View scandal, November 2014

Uber executive Emil Michael recommended digging up dirt on reporters and spreading out individual details of a female press reporter who was vital of the business. He later on said sorry . It was likewise exposed that Uber has a so-called God View innovation that permits the business to track users places, raising personal privacy issues. One supervisor had accessed the profile of a press reporter without her consent.

Spying on Beyonc, December 2016

A previous forensic private investigator for Uber affirmed that staff members frequently spied on political leaders, stars and exes, consisting of Beyonc.

Self-owning pilot failure, December 2016

Regulators in California bought Uber to eliminate self-driving lorries from the roadway after the business released a pilot without licenses. On the very first day of the program, the lorries were captured running traffic signals, and biking supporters in San Francisco likewise raised issues about the automobiles developing threats in bike lanes. The business blamed red-light concerns on human mistake, however the New York Times later declared that the business declarations were incorrect which the self-governing innovation stopped working.

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“u-underline”> Uber self-driving cars and truck drives through traffic signal in San Francisco

False marketing, January 2017

Uber was required to pay$20m to settle accusations that the business deceived individuals into owning with incorrect pledges about incomes. The Federal Trade Commission declared that a lot of Uber chauffeurs made far less than the rates Uber released online in 18 significant cities in the United States.

#DeleteUber goes viral, January 2017

A #DeleteUber project went viral after the business raised rise rates throughout a taxi demonstration at a New York airport versus Donald Trumps take a trip restriction. An overall of approximately 500,000 users supposedly erased accounts after the scandal emerged.

Trump ties, February 2017

CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from Trumps advisory council after users threatened a boycott. Kalanick stated: Joining the group was not indicated to be a recommendation of the president or his program however regrettably it has actually been misinterpreted to be precisely that.

Sexual harassment scandal, February 2017

Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler went public with claims of unwanted sexual advances and discrimination , triggering the business to work with previous United States attorney general of the United States Eric Holder to examine her claims . The story triggered prevalent dispute about sexism and misbehavior throughout Silicon Valley start-ups.

Google suit, February 2017

Waymo, the self-driving vehicle business owned by Googles moms and dad corporation Alphabet, submitted a suit versus Uber , implicating the start-up of computed theft of its innovation. The match, which might be a deadly obstacle for Ubers self-governing automobile aspirations, declared that a previous Waymo worker, Anthony Levandowski, took trade tricks for Uber. Uber later on fired the engineer .

<path d ="M4 .6″12l -.4 1.4 c -.7.2 -1.9.6 -3.6 -.7 0-1.2 -.2 -1.2 -.9 0 -.2 0 -.3.1 -.5 l2-6.7 h.7l.4-1.5 4.2 -.6 h. 2l3 12h1.6 zm -.3 -9.2 c -.9 0-1.4 -.5 -1.4 -1.3 c2.9.5 3.7 0 4.6 0 5.4 0 6.5 6 1.3 c0 1 -.8 1.5-1.7 1.5 z”/> Anthony Levandowski, head of Ubers self-driving program, was fired after a suit brought by his previous employeer Waymo. Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

Deceiving police, March 2017

The New York Times reported that Uber for many years utilized a tool called Greyball to methodically trick police in cities where the business breached regional laws. The business utilized Greyball to recognize individuals thought to be working for city companies and performing sting operations, the Times reported. The discoveries caused the launch of a federal examination .

CEO captured chewing out a motorist, March 2017

Kalanick was captured on electronic camera arguing with his own Uber motorist, who grumbled about the trouble earning a living with the business decreasing rates. The embattled CEO chewed out the motorist: Some individuals do not prefer to take duty for their own shit. … They blame whatever in their life on someone else. Best of luck! He later on released an apology and stated he meant to obtain management aid.

Escorts in Seoul, March 2017

Tech news website the Information reported that a group of senior staff members, consisting of Kalanick, checked out an escort and karaoke bar in Seoul in 2014, resulting in an HR grievance from a female marketing supervisor. Customers at the bar normally choose females to sing karaoke with prior to taking them house.

Spying on the competitor, April 2017

News dripped of a secret program that Uber internally called Hell that permitted the business to spy on its competing Lyft to discover chauffeurs working for both business and to assist guide them far from the rival.

Underpaying chauffeurs, May 2017

Uber accepted pay chauffeurs in New York City 10s of countless dollars after confessing underpaid them for more than 2 years by taking a bigger cut of fares than it was entitled. The typical payment per motorist is anticipated to be about $900.

Twenty workers fired, June 2017

Uber exposed that it had fired more than 20 workers following an examination into the unwanted sexual advances claims and workplace culture.

Questioning a rape victim, June 2017

Reports exposed that a leading Uber executive had acquired the medical records of a female who was raped by an Uber chauffeur, supposedly to cast doubt upon the victims account. The executive, Eric Alexander, was fired after reporters discovered of the event, inning accordance with tech site Recode and the New York Times. The female later on took legal action against the business for breaching her personal privacy rights and maligning her.

A vigil in Delhi kept in assistance of a female who was raped by her Uber motorist in the Indian capital. Picture: Anindito Mukherjee/REUTERS

Kalanick departs of lack, June 2017

Kalanick revealed that he would take an indefinite leave of lack as the business launched a damning report on workplace culture that advised Uber evaluation and reallocate the CEOs obligations.

Board members sexist joke, June 2017

David Bonderman resigned from Ubers board after he made a sexist joke throughout an all-staff conference about reforming the business and fighting unwanted sexual advances. The investor had actually joked that there was most likely to be more talking with another lady on the board. He stepped and asked forgiveness down hours later on.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/18/uber-travis-kalanick-scandal-pr-disaster-timeline

Google’s future is useful, creepy and everywhere: nine things learned at I/O

With Google Assistant coming to the iPhone, the company hopes to kill off Siri and wants to see inside your home as it reiterates its AI-first approach

There were whoops and cheers from developers as Google announced the incremental ways it is strengthening its grip on many aspects of peoples lives at its annual developer conference, Google I/O.

There were no jaw-dropping major product launches nor executives proclaiming their utopian vision of the future (ahem, Mark Zuckerberg). Instead there was a showcase of features, powered by artificial intelligence, designed to make people more connected and more reliant on Google.

We are focused on our core mission of organising the worlds information for everyone and approach this by applying deep computer science and technical insights to solve problems at scale, said CEO Sundar Pichai.

By combining the personal data harvested from its users with industry-leading (and human Go player beating) artificial intelligence, Google is squeezing itself into spaces in our everyday interactions it hasnt been before, filling in the gaps and oozing into new territory like a sticky glue that is becoming harder and harder to escape.

Heres what the key I/O announcements tell us about Googles future.

1. AI is Googles unique selling point

Google reiterated that the company has shifted from a mobile-first to an AI-first approach. This means using AI at the core of all of its new products, whether thats to improve image recognition in Google Assistant or for beating human players at Go.

2. Google wants to see as well as hear your surroundings

Google
Lens is Googles answer to Facebooks augmented reality Camera Effects platform. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Lens is Googles answer to Facebooks augmented reality Camera Effects platform. It comprises a set of vision-based computing capabilities, combined into Google Assistant and the Photos app, that works to understand what youre looking at. So you can point the camera at a flower and it will identify the species or automatically connect to a wifi network by showing the camera the log-in details printed on the sticker on the router. You can also hold your camera up to a restaurant in the street and see reviews.

3. Google Assistant is getting smarter

Googles equivalent of Siri, Google Assistant, is embedded in Android devices including smartphones, watches and Google Home. Googles Scott Huffman noted that Assistant would become even more conversational over the coming months, allowing you accomplish tasks with a quick chat.

In addition to having voice recognition, Google Assistant, drawing on Lens, can now take in, understand and have conversations about what you see. For example, if you are in Japan but dont read Japanese, you can hold the Assistant up to a sign advertising some street food and it will read and translate the text. You can then ask what does it look like? and Google will know that the it refers to the name of the food written on the sign and it will pull up pictures of the dish.

It comes so naturally to humans, and now Google is getting really good at conversations too, said Huffman.

4. Google Home is getting creepier (and more useful)

The voice-activated smart speaker Google Home will offer proactive assistance rather than waiting for you to say OK, Google to wake it up. For example, it might notify you if you have to leave your house earlier than expected because traffic is particularly heavy. Perhaps the company will start proactively advertising to customers in the future?

Less creepy is the option to make hands-free calls from the Google Home speaker. You simply ask it to dial any landline or mobile number in the US or Canada and it will do so for free. The device can also now recognize up to six different voices in a household and adapt to personal preferences accordingly.

Hands-free
Hands-free calls are coming to the Google Home speaker. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

5. Google wants to replace Siri on iPhones

A key theme throughout the keynote was creating a seamless experience across devices, even if that device isnt in Googles Android ecosystem. This means that Google Assistant is now available on the iPhone.

Assistant is widely considered much smarter than Siri, thanks to the fact that Google harvests a lot more personal data than privacy-conscious Apple. This means that frustrated Siri users wanting to translate a sentence into another language, play a movie on their Chromecast-enabled TV or order takeout using voice commands will now be able to do so.

6. Its trying to keep YouTube creators happy

Ever since Google added stricter controls for advertisers on YouTube after it was discovered ads were being placed alongside hate speech or terrorist videos, some vloggers have complained about making less money.

YouTube relies on these internet celebrities to post regular videos and live streams as they attract huge audiences to the platform. That might explain why the company has launched the super chat, announced in January. Audience members can pay to have their comment featured prominently during a live stream and in turn donate money to the YouTuber or their chosen cause. The feature was enabled during a popular live stream of a New York-based giraffe giving birth in February, allowing the zoo to make tens of thousands of dollars.

YouTube
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

7. It wants to take a slice of recruitment advertising

Google for Jobs is a new search function that, by disintermediating the many job listings middlemen, makes it easier for people to find employment (and harder for those listing sites to make money).

We want to better connect employers and job seekers through Google for Jobs, said Pichai.

The company has worked with partners including LinkedIn, Monster, and Career Builder to aggregate search in one place similar to what its done with its airline-search tool, Google Flights. The company uses machine learning to understand and group together roles for which employers and employees use different words, for example store clerk and retail manager.

Pichai positioned the launch as an effort to boost American employment, but its sure to help get Google already taking, along with Facebook, the lions share of online advertising revenue a bigger slice of the pie.

8. It needs to attract the next billion or two

During the I/O keynote, Pichai stated that seven of Googles products had more than a billion monthly users: Google search, Android, Chrome, Maps, YouTube, Google Play and Gmail. However, if its to continue to grow, it needs to attract the so-called next billion users, typically users in lower-income countries just starting to come online through mobile devices. Thats why Google has developed Android Go, a pared-down version of the mobile operating system for entry-level devices that uses less data and loads apps more quickly, even when the signal is poor.

Android Go will be embedded in the latest version of Googles mobile operating system, Android O, which is more battery efficient and features better protections against viruses and malware in downloaded apps a notorious problem for Android devices compared with iPhones.

Pichai
Pichai stated that seven of Googles products had more than a billion monthly users. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

9. Its realistic about VR and AR

Theres a bucketload of hype around virtual reality and augmented reality, but Googles approach felt more measured, focusing on the immediate, practical applications (perhaps a symptom of being burned by the now defunct Google Glass prototype, launched with great fanfare and an army of tech evangelists).

The company already has an entry level VR headset that uses a smartphone as the screen, but it teased a couple of more advanced standalone DayDream headsets, made in collaboration with HTC and Lenovo. The details were scarce but Google emphasised that unlike with Oculus or HTC Vive headsets, DayDream headset users wouldnt need expensive computers to power them or rigs of external cameras to detect the persons position.

With augmented reality, Google described a visual positioning system similar to GPS but with accuracy to the level of centimetres. It works by using the camera to identify objects visually within a space, for example a large store. This means youd be able to hold up your camera (or wear a pair of smart glasses) and be guided to a specific product on a shelf. This extends Googles mission to organize the worlds information in the physical domain.

Imagine what it could mean to people with impaired vision, said Clay Bavor, vice-president of virtual reality, who suggested that Google-powered camera phones (or other wearable devices) could act as a blind persons eyes.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/18/google-assistant-iphone-ai-future-things-we-learned-at-io

Uber Fires More Than 20 Employees in Harassment Probe

The housecleaning at Uber Technologies Inc. is just getting under way.

Uber fired more than 20 people after a company-wide investigation into harassment claims and hired at least two high-profile senior executives whose job will be to set strategy and rethink branding.

Law firm Perkins Coie LLP led the investigation, reviewing 215 human-resources claims; while it took no action in 100 instances, it’s still probing 57 others. There’s also a separate investigation commissioned by Uber that’s being led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. That group shared detailed findings with a subcommittee of Uber’s board of directors, but a summary isn’t expected to be made public until next week, a person familiar with the matter said. Uber also plans to take action on some of the report’s findings next week, the person said.

“They’re showing that they’re going to take some concrete steps to address the matter,” said Evan Rawley, a professor at Columbia University’s business school. “This issue is going to keep being at the forefront until the investigation is completed.”

For more on diversity in Silicon Valley, check out the podcast:

Uber is awash in investigations after former engineering employee Susan Fowler published a blog post alleging that she was sexually harassed and that the case was mishandled by human resources and senior management. Uber’s woes don’t end there. It’s also suffered a flurry of departures by senior executives, including heads of finance, growth, engineering and policy and communications. Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick — who himself has made a series of public relations blunders, including being caught on video arguing with an Uber driver — has conceded he needs leadership help and hired a search firm to find a chief operating officer.

Bobbie Wilson, an attorney at Perkins Coie, gave Uber’s more than 12,000 employees an assessment of the firm’s investigation on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the issue. Some of the people fired were senior executives, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters. The company didn’t name the employees who were let go.

Aside from those fired, 31 employees are in counseling or training, while seven received written warnings from the company, an Uber spokesman said. The issues deal with harassment, discrimination, retaliation and other HR matters.

Kalanick has taken other steps to clean up Uber’s image. He asked for the resignation of Amit Singhal, his new head of software engineering, after the company learned of a sexual harassment claim at his former employer, Google. Singhal, who left in late February, denied the allegation.

In the wake of complaints and the leadership void, Uber hired two women as senior executives — former Apple Inc. executive Bozoma Saint John as chief brand officer and Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei as senior vice present for leadership and strategy.

Saint John rose to prominence last year at Apple’s annual developer conference, where she introduced a revised version of the company’s music streaming service designed to make it easier to use. She told Business Insider that her role at Uber will be to burnish the company’s brand and make it more like Apple’s. “It’s grown so quickly in such a short amount of time — and leadership and others have been so focused on growing the business — that this very moment is about changing the image of Uber and crafting what that brand story is,” Saint John told the website. “That hasn’t been done yet.” Saint John will be Uber’s highest ranking black executive.

Saint John joined Apple in April 2014 as head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Beats Music. She previously worked as the head of music and entertainment marketing for PepsiCo Inc.

For her part, Frei told Recode that her “goal is to make this a world-class company that can be proud of itself in the end, rather than embarrassed.” Frei is the author of the book “Uncommon Service: How to Win By Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business,” and plans to commute from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to San Francisco.

 

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-06/uber-said-to-fire-more-than-20-employees-in-harassment-probe

Move fast, Zuckerberg, or hate will kill Facebook | John Naughton

With 1.3 million brand-new posts every minute, its difficult for the business mediators to filter out all the nasty things

M ove quickly and break things, was the admonition that Facebooks creator Mark Zuckerberg initially released to his designers. Its a common hackers mantra: while the functions and tools they established for his platform may not be best, speed was the crucial goal, even if there were some errors en route.

In 2016, we started to understand that a person of the important things that may get broken in Mr Zuckerbergs mission for speed is democracy. Facebook turned into one of the preferred platforms for sharing phony news and was the tool of option for micro-targeting citizens with customised political messages. It likewise ended up being a live broadcasting medium for those taking part in bullying, rape, causing severe physical damage and, in one case, murder .

One method of considering the web is that it holds up a mirror to humanity. All human life exists and much of exactly what we see assessed it is banal (Lolcats, for instance), safe, lovely, informing and life-enhancing. Some of exactly what we see is terrible: it is violent, racist, despiteful, spiteful, vicious, misogynistic and even worse.

There have to do with 3.4 bn users of the web worldwide. Facebook has now almost 2bn users, which concerns around 58% of all individuals worldwide who utilize the network. It was inescapable for that reason that it too would end up being a mirror for humanity which individuals would utilize it not simply for excellent functions, however likewise for bad. Therefore they have.

Zuckerberg and co were sluggish to understand that they had an issue. When it lastly dawned on them their preliminary reactions were robotically inefficient, and. The very first line of defence was that Facebook is simply a channel, a channel, an enabler of totally free speech and neighborhood structure therefore has no editorial obligation for exactly what individuals post on it. The next method was to move duty (and work) on to Facebook users: if anybody found objectionable material, then all they needed to do was flag it and the business would handle it.

But that didnt work either, so the next action was a statement that Facebook was dealing with a technological repair for the issue: AI programs would discover the objectionable things and snuff it out. This, nevertheless, ends up being beyond the abilities of any existing AI, so the business has actually now turned to using a little army (3,000) of human screens who will take a look at all the nasty things and choose exactly what to do with it.

In a incredible scoop , the Guardian has actually gotten copies of the standards these censors will use. They produce sobering reading. Mediators have just about 10 seconds to make a choice. Should something like somebody shoot Trump be erased? (Yes, due to the fact that hes a president.) Exactly what about to snap a bitchs neck, make sure to use all your pressure to the middle of her throat? (Apparently thats OK, since its not a reliable hazard.) Lets batter fat kids is likewise OKAY, it appears. Videos of violent deaths, while marked as troubling, do not constantly need to be erased due to the fact that they can assist develop awareness of problems such as mental disorder . And so on.

As one goes into these training handbooks, slide-decks and standards, the inevitable idea is that this method looks destined stop working for 2 factors. One is the large scale of the issue: 1.3 m brand-new posts every minute, 4,000 brand-new pictures submitted every 2nd and God understands the number of video. The 2nd factor is that Facebooks success depends upon this user engagement, so extreme steps that may rein it in will weaken its service design. Even if just a portion of the resulting material is inappropriate, dealing with it is a sisyphean job method beyond the capability of 3,000 individuals. (The Chinese federal government utilizes 10s of thousands to monitor its social networks.) Hes on track to be kept in mind as Canute 2.0 if Zuckerberg continues down this course.

This is Facebooks issue, however its likewise ours, due to the fact that a lot public discourse now takes place on that platform. And a contaminated public sphere is really bad for democracy. What weve gained from the Guardians scoop is that Facebooks baroque, unfeasible, advertisement hoc content-moderation system is unsuited for function. , if we found that the output of an ice-cream factory consisted of a however little small quantifiable of quantifiable however little close amount in an instant.. Message to Zuckerberg: move rapidly and repair things. Otherwise.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/28/hate-speech-facebook-zuckerberg-content-moderators

‘Pretty ridiculous’: thousands of names stolen to attack net neutrality rules

Letter states almost half a million discuss FCC site might have been spam, established by net neutralitys opponents to promote deregulation

Last Tuesday, Joel Mullaney, a software application engineer from Watertwin, Massachusetts, was searching Reddit when he identified a thread about individuals whose names and postal addresses had actually been wrongly utilized to publish discuss a federal government site assaulting Obama-era open web policy.

Mullaney, 43, popped his address into the search bar on the Federal Communications Commissions site and discovered his name connected to a remark that began: The unmatched regulative power the Obama administration troubled the web is smothering development, blocking and harming the american economy task production.

It was quite absurd, stated Mullaney. Thats basically the precise reverse of exactly what I believe.

On Thursday, Mullaney included his name to a letter sent out by 14 of the 10s of thousands, if not numerous thousands, of individuals to have actually left comparable frequently similar discuss the FCCs site as the regulator relocates to unwind the stringent guidelines managing the web generated under Obama.

Ajit Pai, Donald Trumps recently selected head of the FCC, has actually stated he wishes to take a weed-whacker to the 2015 guidelines that control web gain access to in a way just like the policy of other energies like water or electrical energy.

After a huge project led by web activists and backed by Obama, the FCC consented to manage web service companies (ISPs) under title II of the telecoms act. The judgment indicates that simply as everybody gets the very same electrical power, ISPs can not develop tiered systems of gain access to and sluggish, or throttle, an online service or use a high-speed lane to corporations able to pay more.

Critics charge that such lanes would permit ISPs to choose losers and winners online, favour their own services and possibly hurt complimentary speech. Pai and the cable television business argue the net neutrality guidelines which have actually been unsuccessfully challenged in court suppress business development and financial investment.

Now the 2 sides are at loggerheads once again. The FCC has actually gotten over 2.7 m talk about bring back web flexibility up until now, and its systems crashed after comic John Oliver berated the carry on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight.

Mullaneys letter, collaborated by web activists Fight for the Future, determines that as numerous as 450,000 of the discuss FCCs site might be spam developed by opponents of net neutrality.

Whoever lags this took our addresses and names, exposed our personal details in a public docket without our consent, and utilized our identities to submit a political declaration we did not sign on to, the letter checks out. The letter likewise cautions that numerous countless other Americans might have been preyed on too, they compose.

Mullaney, whose expected remark is still on the FCCs website, stated he was humiliated to be related to the remark and stressed it may delay prospective companies. It looks bad for me; its not exactly what individuals in my market think at all, he stated.

Asked about exactly what, if anything, the FCC means to do with all this spam, a representative directed the Guardian to remarks from Pais latest interview: I motivate broad involvement in this rule-making as in any FCC rule-making, and exactly what matters most are the quality of the remarks, not the amount, stated Pai.

We will make our choice based upon thats remain in the record and on the appropriate law that exists and clearly phony remarks such as the ones sent recently by the Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Superman are not going to significantly affect our considerations on this concern.

Pai stated numerous remarks had actually been sent under his own name. Obviously, this is not brand-new: phony remarks were submitted in the 2014-15 case under names like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Stalin, simply among others. This time around, I believe the bottom line is I prompt everybody whos thinking about this concern to take part in the procedure in a sincere and sincere method, which is, I believe, the very best method to make sure your voice is heard, he stated.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/26/fcc-net-neutrality-open-internet

Why Silicon Valley wants to thwart the grim reaper | John Naughton

Dean Charlton’s #FTHM Amazing Photography Competition is still open for entries

Googles billion-dollar belief that it can crack the DNA code to immortality reveals a dangerous mindset

In this world, wrote Benjamin Franklin, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. This proposition doesnt cut much ice in Silicon Valley, where they take a poor view of paying taxes. Whats interesting is that they are also coming to the view that perhaps death is optional too, at least for the very rich.

You think I jest? Well, meet Bill Maris, the founder and former CEO of Google Ventures, the investment arm of Alphabet, Googles owners. Three years ago, Maris decided to create a company that will solve death. He pitched the idea to Googles co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and, according to a lovely piece by Tad Friend in the New Yorker, Brin, who has a gene variant that predisposes him to Parkinsons disease, loved the idea and Page declared that Google should do it.

Thus was born Calico, which is short for the California Life Company, in 2013. It started with a billion dollars in the bank and is extremely secretive. All thats known, Friend writes, is that its tracking 1,000 mice from birth to death to try to determine biomarkers of ageing biochemical substances whose levels predict morbidity; that it has a colony of naked mole rats, which live for 30 years and are amazingly ugly; and that it has invested in drugs that may prove helpful with diabetes and Alzheimers.

Calico is a typical product of the reality distortion field that is Silicon Valley. Its a salutary illustration of how sudden and unimaginable wealth can warp minds. There are people in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Cupertino who truly believe they are living in the Florence of Renaissance 2.0. Their religion is what Neil Postman called Technopoly and their prevailing mindset is what the technology critic Evgeny Morozov describes as solutionism, the belief that all problems have technological solutions.

It turns out that death is now perceived as just such a problem. Friend quotes a hedge-fund manager waxing lyrical on this. I have the idea, he burbles, that ageing is plastic, that its encoded. If something is encoded, you can crack the code. If you can crack the code, you can hack the code! Cue loud applause from the elite audience gathered in a Californian drawing room to discuss the secrets of longevity.

Thats not to say that longevity isnt important or relevant. In most societies, people are living longer and thats now giving rise to acute social, psychological and economic stress. Just ask anyone who works in the NHS. Dementia and Parkinsons disease are laying waste to an increasing number of human minds, while heart disease, cancer and diabetes are making our bodies progressively enfeebled. We live longer but our closing years can be miserable, lonely and largely pointless.

So its worth pouring resources into understanding and eventually curing these diseases. But the point of that is not to abolish death but to make the natural process of ageing more tolerable towards the end. And thats what the majority of scientists and doctors are trying to achieve. They want us to have healthier lives and compressed morbidity, which is a polite term for a quick and painless death at the end.

The Silicon Valley crowd want something else, though: they seek to make death optional. And they think it can be done. After all, as some wag put it decades ago: Death is natures way of telling you youre fired. Once we have mated and brought up some children, evolution regards us as disposable, past our sell-by date. So it has arranged that somewhere in our DNA are genes that will progressively trigger ageing processes, eventually causing our bodies to fail. To computer people, DNA is just code and code can always be hacked. So all we have to do is find the offending genes, edit them using Crispr and bingo! immortality beckons.

You have to marvel at the one-dimensionality of minds that can think like this. Apart from anything else, death is what gives meaning to life. Its also the process that ensures human vitality: young people arrive with ideas that their elders never had and death makes room for them to grow, thrive and die in their turn. Thats why elite US universities, which do not have a retirement age for tenured professors, are increasingly desperate to find ways to incentivise them to quit.

Given that Silicon Valley billionaires are smart, they must know all this. So could it be that what underpins this strange new obsession with ensuring immortality is something more straightforward? Could it be that they all became wealthy at such a young age? So they have these unimaginable riches and have suddenly realised that they dont have an infinite time to enjoy them. Ones heart bleeds for the poor lambs. Not.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/09/silicon-valley-wants-to-cheat-grim-reaper-google

The real secret of Chinese internet censorship? Distraction | John Naughton

The core purpose of the 50c army used by China to control social media is to distract people and talk up the regime, not to argue and edit comments

If you ever want to annoy western policymakers or politicians, then here is a surefire way to do it. Tell them that the only government in the world that really understands the internet is the Chinese communist regime. And if you want to add a killer punch, add the assertion that almost everything we think we know about Chinese management of the net is either banal (all that stuff about the great firewall, paranoia about keywords such as Falun Gong, democracy, etc) or just plain wrong. Having thus lit the fuse, retreat to a safe distance and enjoy the ensuing outburst of righteous indignation.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is not an apologia for the Chinese regime, which is as nasty and illiberal as they come. But its best to have a realistic view of ones adversaries. Chinas leaders have invented a new way of running society. Its been christened networked authoritarianism by Rebecca MacKinnon, a noted scholar of these things. President Xi Jinping and his colleagues are followers of Boris Johnson in at least one respect: they believe that it is possible to have ones cake and eat it too.

They want to modernise and energise China so that it can fulfil its destiny as a world power. For that, they need it to transform their country into a hyper-networked society. But on the other hand, they do not want democracy, with all its attendant nuisances such as human rights, governments bound by the rule of law, transparency, accountability and the like, and they fear that the internet may give citizens ideas above their station. So they are determined to have the net, but also to manage it effectively. And this they are doing with impressive success.

Most of what we know about how this networked authoritarianism works comes from a smallish group of scholars. The brightest star in this specialised firmament is Gary King, who is director of the institute for quantitative social science at Harvard. Two years ago, he and his colleagues published a groundbreaking study, published in the journal Science, which for the first time revealed how Chinese social media is censored by the government.

The study showed that, contrary to western conventional wisdom, Chinese social media is as raucous and chaotic as it is everywhere else, so the Daily Mails idea of a country full of timid, faceless people with only banal opinions is baloney.

The study also revealed, though, that these outlets are ruthlessly but astutely censored: what gets taken down, apart from the usual suspects such as Falun Gong, pornography, democracy etc, are any posts that could conceivably stimulate collective action, even when the posts are favourable towards the government. You can say more or less what you like in China, in other words, as long as nothing you say might have the effect of getting people out on to the streets.

An obvious implication of this research was that the Chinese regime, conscious of the difficulty of running a huge country without the feedback loops provided by democracy, is using the internet to provide that feedback. It enables it to keep a finger on the pulse of the society, as it were. If there is major public concern about the corruption of local officials in some godforsaken province, for example, then monitoring social media provides the centre with one kind of early-warning system.

There was, however, one aspect of Chinese internet management that Kings study did not touch, namely the widespread belief that, in addition to passive monitoring and censorship, the regime also employed legions of part-time bloggers and social media users (maybe as many as 2 million) to post stuff on the net that was favourable to the government or refuted its critics. This was the 50c army (these people are supposedly paid 50 cents or yuan equivalent per post). Now, in a new paper (forthcoming in the American Political Science Review), King and his colleagues have turned their searchlight on this phenomenon.

Once again, their research upends conventional wisdom. The 50c army does exist, they find, but its not a part-time operation and its more ingenious than most people thought. King and co estimate that the Chinese government fabricates and posts about 448m social media comments a year. But they also show that the underlying strategy is to avoid arguing with critics of the party and the government and to not even discuss controversial issues. They further argue that the goal of this massive secretive operation is, instead, to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist party or other symbols of the regime.

Sounds familiar? If you wanted a hashtag for the strategy, then #MCGA would do nicely. It stands for Make China Great Again. If Trump eventually falls out with Putin, he might find some kindred spirits in Beijing.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/22/chinese-internet-censorship-uses-distraction