mfioretti: silicon valley*

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  1. The surge in homelessness has prompted at least 10 local governments along the West Coast to declare states of emergency, and cities from San Diego to Seattle are struggling to come up with immediate and long-range solutions.

    San Francisco is well-known for homeless tent encampments. But the homeless problem has now spread throughout Silicon Valley, where the disparity between the rich and everyone else is glaring.

    There is no firm estimate on the number of people who live in vehicles in Silicon Valley, but the problem is pervasive and apparent to anyone who sees RVs lining thoroughfares; not as visible are the cars tucked away at night in parking lots. Advocates for the homeless say it will only get worse unless more affordable housing is built.

    The median rent in the San Jose metro area is $3,500 a month, yet the median wage is $12 an hour in food service and $19 an hour in health care support, an amount that won’t even cover housing costs. The minimum annual salary needed to live comfortably in San Jose is $87,000, according to a study by personal finance website GoBankingRates.

    So dilapidated RVs line the eastern edge of Stanford University in Palo Alto, and officials in neighboring Mountain View have mapped out more than a dozen areas where campers tend to cluster, some of them about a mile from Google headquarters.

    On a recent evening, Benito Hernandez returned to a crammed RV in Mountain View after laying flagstones for a home in Atherton, where Zillow pegs the median value of a house at $6.5 million. He rents the RV for $1,000 a month and lives there with his pregnant wife and children.

    The family was evicted two years ago from an apartment where the rent kept going up, nearing $3,000 a month.
    https://apnews.com/9309128222ab4c4f92b0d0022e1ec133
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  2. When it comes to human beings — what motivates them, how they interact socially, to what end they organize politically — figures like Page and Zuckerberg know very little. Almost nothing, in fact. And that ignorance has enormous consequences for us all.
    http://theweek.com/articles/731764/genius-stupidity-silicon-valley
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  3. The point is not that making a world to accommodate oneself is bad, but that when one has as much power over the rest of the world as the tech sector does, over folks who don’t naturally share its worldview, then there is a risk of a strange imbalance. The tech world is predominantly male—very much so. Testosterone combined with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible—do the math, and there’s the future.

    We’ve gotten used to service personnel and staff who have no interest or participation in the businesses where they work. They have no incentive to make the products or the services better. This is a long legacy of the assembly line, standardising, franchising and other practices that increase efficiency and lower costs. It’s a small step then from a worker that doesn’t care to a robot. To consumers, it doesn’t seem like a big loss.

    Those who oversee the AI and robots will, not coincidentally, make a lot of money as this trend towards less human interaction continues and accelerates—as many of the products produced above are hugely and addictively convenient. Google, Facebook and other companies are powerful and yes, innovative, but the innovation curiously seems to have had an invisible trajectory. Our imaginations are constrained by who and what we are. We are biased in our drives, which in some ways is good, but maybe some diversity in what influences the world might be reasonable and may be beneficial to all.

    To repeat what I wrote above—humans are capricious, erratic, emotional, irrational and biased in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. I’d argue that though those might seem like liabilities, many of those attributes actually work in our favor. Many of our emotional responses have evolved over millennia, and they are based on the probability that our responses, often prodded by an emotion, will more likely than not offer the best way to deal with a situation.

    Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. Damasio concluded that though we think decision-making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.

    With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents and unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation and collaboration with others multiplies those opportunities.

    We’re a social species—we benefit from passing discoveries on, and we benefit from our tendency to cooperate to achieve what we cannot alone. In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Harari claims this is what allowed us to be so successful. He also claims that this cooperation was often facilitated by a possibility to believe in “fictions” such as nations, money, religions and legal institutions. Machines don’t believe in fictions, or not yet anyway. That’s not to say they won’t surpass us, but if machines are designed to be mainly self-interested, they may hit a roadblock. If less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.

    Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation and we are less complete as people or as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals—we as individuals are inhabitants of networks, we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.
    http://davidbyrne.com/journal/eliminating-the-human
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  4. Juicero is hilarious. But it also reflects a deeply unfunny truth about Silicon Valley, and our economy more broadly. Juicero is not, as its apologists at Vox claim, an anomaly in an otherwise innovative investment climate. On the contrary: it’s yet another example of how profoundly anti-innovation America has become. And the consequences couldn’t be more serious: the economy that produced Juicero is the same one that’s creating opioid addicts in Ohio, maiming auto workers in Alabama, and evicting families in Los Angeles.

    These phenomena might seem worlds apart, but they’re intimately connected. Innovation drives economic growth. It boosts productivity, making it possible to create more wealth with less labor. When economies don’t innovate, the result is stagnation, inequality, and the whole horizon of hopelessness that has come to define the lives of most working people today. Juicero isn’t just an entertaining bit of Silicon Valley stupidity. It’s the sign of a country committing economic suicide.

    At the root of the problem is the story we tell ourselves about innovation. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a lone genius disappears into a garage, preferably in Palo Alto, and emerges with an invention that changes the world. The engine of technological progress is the entrepreneur – the fast-moving, risk-loving, rule-breaking visionary in the mold of Steve Jobs.

    This story has been so widely repeated as to become a cliche. It’s also inaccurate. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs typically make terrible innovators. Left to its own devices, the private sector is far more likely to impede technological progress than to advance it. That’s because real innovation is very expensive to produce
    https://www.theguardian.com/technolog...tion-silicon-valley-juicero?CMP=fb_gu
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  5. Danny Crichton writes at TechCrunch that startups in Silicon Valley run on an alchemy of ignorance and amnesia and that lying is a requisite and daily part of being a founder, the grease that keeps the startup flywheel running. Most startups fail. The vast, vast majority of startup employees will never exercise their options, let alone become millionaires while doing it. But founders have little choice as they sell their company to everyone, whether investors, employees, potential employees, or clients. "Founders have to tell the lie – that everything is fine, that a feature is going to launch even though the engineer for that feature hasn't been hired yet, that payroll will run even though the VC dollars are still nowhere on the horizon," writes Crichton. "For one of the most hyper-rational populations in the world, Silicon Valley runs off a myth about startup success, of the lowly founder conquering the world."
    https://techcrunch.com/2015/07/25/startups-and-the-big-lie/#.r3fic7:bO3Q
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  6. ora che alla Casa Bianca non c'è più Barack Obama la Silicon Valley trema. Con Donald Trump si è spezzata quella catena di comando che dai quartier generali californiani dei colossi del tech arrivava direttamente nelle stanze della Commissione o del Parlamento europeo attraverso la Casa Bianca e il Dipartimento di Stato. Una vera lobby di governo capace di difendere a spada tratta gli interessi della tecnologia a stelle e strisce. Ora i giganti come Apple, Google, Facebook o Amazon tremano. Se dai tempi di Mario Monti (nella veste di commissario europeo) e Microsoft l'Europa non ha evitato di colpirli, ora che sono del tutto privi di ombrello politico temono il peggio.

    La lobby della Silicon Valley con Trump è disarmata. I grandi amministratori delegati californiani sostenevano e finanziavano i democratici. Obama (loro grande sponsor) prima, Hillary Clinton poi. Basti pensare che Erich Schmidt di Google, tra i 140 uomini più ricchi del pianeta, ha fondato una startup che in campagna elettorale collaborava direttamente con la candidata democratica. Ora le relazioni tra l'industria tech e la Casa Bianca sono ai minimi. Vuoi per l'appartenenza politica dei suoi proprietari, vuoi perché la constituency di Trump - alla quale deve l'elezione nel nome dell'America First - è la grande industria manifatturiera come quella dell'auto.

    Dunque a Bruxelles sono finiti i tempi in cui i Ceo californiani erano in contatto diretto con la Casa Bianca che poi tramite il Dipartimento di Stato faceva arrivare le direttive direttamente alla rappresentanza americana presso l'Unione europea a Bruxelles. Dove agli ordini dell'allora ambasciatore Anthony L. Gardner lavoravano mano nella mano con i lobbisti della Silicon Valley per influenzare le decisioni della Commissione e del Parlamento europeo. A Bruxelles oltretutto gli Stati Uniti non hanno ancora nominato un nuovo rappresentante presso la Ue e prima che questo avvenga passeranno diversi mesi. Così gli addetti ai lavori raccontano che quel team di esperti agguerriti nel difendere gli interessi del tech si stia sfaldando: "Oggi lavoriamo senza indicazioni da Washington - racconta uno di loro - ci limitiamo a concentrarci sull'ordinaria amministrazione ".

    D'altra parte i rapporti tra Washington e Bruxelles dall'elezione di Trump sono ai minimi: basti pensare che il 25 maggio il presidente Usa sarà nella capitale europea per un vertice della Nato ma ad oggi non è prevista una bilaterale tra il tycoon newyorkese e il presidente della Commissione, Jean-Claude Juncker, che pure dietro le quinte si è dato da fare per organizzare l'incontro. Il che certo non aiuta le aziende americane che con la Commissione hanno a che fare ogni giorno.
    http://www.repubblica.it/economia/201...imasta_orfana_di_obama-164654121/?rss
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-05-05)
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  7. For a long time I told the same basic joke about Silicon Valley, just updating as some new walled garden network replicated long-existing technology in a format better able to attract VC cash and, presumably, get them ad dollars.

    2002, Friendster: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
    2003, Photobucket: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
    2003, Myspace: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
    2004, Flickr: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
    2004, Facebook: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
    2005, YouTube: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
    2006, Twitter: At last, a way to post text on the internet!
    2010, Instagram: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
    2013, Vine: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
    2013, YikYak: At last, a way to post text on the internet!

    You get the idea. An industry that never stops lauding itself for its creativity and innovation has built its own success mythology by endlessly repackaging the same banal functions that have existed for about as long as the Web.
    https://medium.com/@freddiedeboer/the...silicon-valley-horseshit-95cc5a85e8a4
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  8. At the end of the twentieth century, the long predicted convergence of the media, computing and telecommunications into hypermedia is finally happening. 2 » Once again, capitalism’s relentless drive to diversify and intensify the creative powers of human labour is on the verge of qualitatively transforming the way in which we work, play and live together. By integrating different technologies around common protocols, something is being created which is more than the sum of its parts. When the ability to produce and receive unlimited amounts of information in any form is combined with the reach of the global telephone networks, existing forms of work and leisure can be fundamentally transformed. New industries will be born and current stock market favourites will swept away. At such moments of profound social change, anyone who can offer a simple explanation of what is happening will be listened to with great interest. At this crucial juncture, a loose alliance of writers, hackers, capitalists and artists from the West Coast of the USA have succeeded in defining a heterogeneous orthodoxy for the coming information age: the Californian Ideology.

    This new faith has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley. Promoted in magazines, books, TV programmes, websites, newsgroups and Net conferences, the Californian Ideology promiscuously combines the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies. This amalgamation of opposites has been achieved through a profound faith in the emancipatory potential of the new information technologies. In the digital utopia, everybody will be both hip and rich. Not surprisingly, this optimistic vision of the future has been enthusiastically embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, innovative capitalists, social activists, trendy academics, futurist bureaucrats and opportunistic politicians across the USA. As usual, Europeans have not been slow in copying the latest fad from America. While a recent EU Commission report recommends following the Californian free market model for building the information superhighway, cutting-edge artists and academics eagerly imitate the post human philosophers of the West Coast’s Extropian cult. 3 » With no obvious rivals, the triumph of the Californian Ideology appears to be complete.

    The widespread appeal of these West Coast ideologues isn’t simply the result of their infectious optimism. Above all, they are passionate advocates of what appears to be an impeccably libertarian form of politics – they want information technologies to be used to create a new ‘Jeffersonian democracy’ where all individuals will be able to express themselves freely within cyberspace. 4 » However, by championing this seemingly admirable ideal, these techno-boosters are at the same time reproducing some of the most atavistic features of American society, especially those derived from the bitter legacy of slavery. Their utopian vision of California depends upon a wilful blindness towards the other – much less positive – features of life on the West Coast: racism, poverty and environmental degradation. 5 » Ironically, in the not too distant past, the intellectuals and artists of the Bay Area were passionately concerned about these issues.
    http://www.imaginaryfutures.net/2007/04/17/the-californian-ideology-2
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  9. Trump's actions on Wednesday are a farce, and anybody not willing to say so publicly is hypocritical, because I guarantee if this were an Obama or a Clinton meeting, this would be pointed out in spades.

    I looked at a seating map published by Quartz and noticed 25 people in attendance. This is a group of our most senior technology leaders and our new government-elect.

    BI Graphics_Trump's Table Skye Gould/Business Insider

    Twenty-five people. Four of them — FOUR — are the president-elect's children. That is 16% of everybody in the room, or put differently, if I include Trump, the meeting consists of 20% family members. This is the definition of nepotism that we would condemn from the least democratic nations in the world.

    Trump has not legally separated himself from his businesses, and to the extent that he has made statements, it has been that his children will run his business for him — his children who are sitting in the effing room with him while he meets the top technology leaders in the country. If that’s not a kleptocracy, I don’t know what is.

    Let me point out what else is ridiculous.

    Trump has been tweeting negative comments about Boeing and Lockheed Martin and taking all too literally the colloquialism of the "bully pulpit" in a way that directly affects individual stocks and companies. Because we know nothing about Trump's economic interests, we of course can't know whether this is market manipulation for personal benefit.

    But think about this: If we live in a society in which the president of the US publicly bullies companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Carrier, you can imagine what's coming for our sector when they try to stand up to Trump's autocratic tendencies.

    That's when we'll truly know how our industry will respond to autocracy. For now, they've just taken a seat at the 80% of the table not occupied by Donald Trump's family.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-tech-meeting-ridiculous-2016-12?IR=T
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2016-12-15)
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  10. Already a fourth of the adults actually employed in the US are paid wages lower than would lift them above the official poverty line – and so a fifth of American children live in poverty. Almost half of employed adults in this country are eligible for food stamps (most of those who are eligible don’t apply). The market in labour has broken down, along with most others.

    Those jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession just aren’t coming back, regardless of what the unemployment rate tells you – the net gain in jobs since 2000 still stands at zero – and if they do return from the dead, they’ll be zombies, those contingent, part-time or minimum-wage jobs where the bosses shuffle your shift from week to week: welcome to Wal-Mart, where food stamps are a benefit.

    And don’t tell me that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour solves the problem. No one can doubt the moral significance of the movement. But at this rate of pay, you pass the official poverty line only after working 29 hours a week. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. Working a 40-hour week, you would have to make $10 an hour to reach the official poverty line. What, exactly, is the point of earning a paycheck that isn’t a living wage, except to prove that you have a work ethic?

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    But, wait, isn’t our present dilemma just a passing phase of the business cycle? What about the job market of the future? Haven’t the doomsayers, those damn Malthusians, always been proved wrong by rising productivity, new fields of enterprise, new economic opportunities? Well, yeah – until now, these times. The measurable trends of the past half-century, and the plausible projections for the next half-century, are just too empirically grounded to dismiss as dismal science or ideological hokum. They look like the data on climate change – you can deny them if you like, but you’ll sound like a moron when you do.

    For example, the Oxford economists who study employment trends tell us that almost half of existing jobs, including those involving ‘non-routine cognitive tasks’ – you know, like thinking – are at risk of death by computerisation within 20 years.

    So this Great Recession of ours – don’t kid yourself, it ain’t over – is a moral crisis as well as an economic catastrophe. You might even say it’s a spiritual impasse, because it makes us ask what social scaffolding other than work will permit the construction of character – or whether character itself is something we must aspire to. But that is why it’s also an intellectual opportunity: it forces us to imagine a world in which the job no longer builds our character, determines our incomes or dominates our daily lives.

    What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income?

    In short, it lets us say: enough already. Fuck work.

    Certainly this crisis makes us ask: what comes after work? What would you do without your job as the external discipline that organises your waking life – as the social imperative that gets you up and on your way to the factory, the office, the store, the warehouse, the restaurant, wherever you work and, no matter how much you hate it, keeps you coming back? What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income?

    And what would society and civilisation be like if we didn’t have to ‘earn’ a living – if leisure was not our choice but our lot? Would we hang out at the local Starbucks, laptops open? Or volunteer to teach children in less-developed places, such as Mississippi? Or smoke weed and watch reality TV all day?

    I’m not proposing a fancy thought experiment here. By now these are practical questions because there aren’t enough jobs. So it’s time we asked even more practical questions. How do you make a living without a job – can you receive income without working for it? Is it possible, to begin with and then, the hard part, is it ethical? If you were raised to believe that work is the index of your value to society – as most of us were – would it feel like cheating to get something for nothing?

    We already have some provisional answers because we’re all on the dole, more or less. The fastest growing component of household income since 1959 has been ‘transfer payments’ from government. By the turn of the 21st century, 20 per cent of all household income came from this source – from what is otherwise known as welfare or ‘entitlements’.

    you will say – along with every economist from Dean Baker to Greg Mankiw, Left to Right – that raising taxes on corporate income is a disincentive to investment and thus job creation. Or that it will drive corporations overseas, where taxes are lower.

    But in fact raising taxes on corporate income can’t have these effects.

    Let’s work backward. Corporations have been ‘multinational’ for quite some time. In the 1970s and ’80s, before Ronald Reagan’s signature tax cuts took effect, approximately 60 per cent of manufactured imported goods were produced offshore, overseas, by US companies. That percentage has risen since then, but not by much.

    Chinese workers aren’t the problem – the homeless, aimless idiocy of corporate accounting is. That is why the Citizens United decision of 2010 applying freedom of speech regulations to campaign spending is hilarious. Money isn’t speech, any more than noise is. The Supreme Court has conjured a living being, a new person, from the remains of the common law, creating a real world more frightening than its cinematic equivalent: say, Frankenstein, Blade Runner or, more recently, Transformers.

    But the bottom line is this. Most jobs aren’t created by private, corporate investment, so raising taxes on corporate income won’t affect employment.

    When we place our faith in hard work, we’re wishing for the creation of character; but we’re also hoping, or expecting, that the labour market will allocate incomes fairly and rationally. And there’s the rub, they do go together. Character can be created on the job only when we can see that there’s an intelligible, justifiable relation between past effort, learned skills and present reward.

    Securing ‘full employment’ has become a bipartisan goal at the very moment it has become both impossible and unnecessary. Sort of like securing slavery in the 1850s or segregation in the 1950s.

    Why?

    Because work means everything to us inhabitants of modern market societies – regardless of whether it still produces solid character and allocates incomes rationally, and quite apart from the need to make a living. It’s been the medium of most of our thinking about the good life since Plato correlated craftsmanship and the possibility of ideas as such. It’s been our way of defying death, by making and repairing the durable things, the significant things we know will last beyond our allotted time on earth because they teach us, as we make or repair them, that the world beyond us – the world before and after us – has its own reality principles.

    Think about the scope of this idea. Work has been a way of demonstrating differences between males and females, for example by merging the meanings of fatherhood and ‘breadwinner’, and then, more recently, prying them apart. Since the 17th century, masculinity and femininity have been defined – not necessarily achieved – by their places in a moral economy, as working men who got paid wages for their production of value on the job, or as working women who got paid nothing for their production and maintenance of families. Of course, these definitions are now changing, as the meaning of ‘family’ changes, along with profound and parallel changes in the labour market – the entry of women is just one of those – and in attitudes toward sexuality.

    When work disappears, the genders produced by the labour market are blurred. When socially necessary labour declines, what we once called women’s work – education, healthcare, service – becomes our basic industry, not a ‘tertiary’ dimension of the measurable economy. The labour of love, caring for one another and learning how to be our brother’s keeper – socially beneficial labour – becomes not merely possible but eminently necessary, and not just within families, where affection is routinely available. No, I mean out there, in the wide, wide world.
    https://aeon.co/essays/what-if-jobs-are-not-the-solution-but-the-problem
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