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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

A big problem with police body-cameras: Police body-camera policies

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

A new study involving more than 2,000 police officers from eight departments in the United States and the United Kingdom produced some surprising results: Assaults on police officers who wore body cameras went up, while police use-of-force incidents remained unchanged.

That flies in the face of all other studies I’ve seen so far, which have shown body cameras to reduce the incidence of both.

But there’s a catch.

The researchers set out a protocol for officers allocated cameras during the trials: record all stages of every police-public interaction, and issue a warning of filming at the outset. However, many officers preferred to use their discretion, activating cameras depending on the situation.

Researchers found that during shifts with cameras in which officers stuck closer to the protocol, police use-of-force fell by 37% over camera-free shifts. During shifts in which officers tended to use their discretion, police use-of-force actually rose 71% over camera-free shifts.

“The combination of the camera plus the early warning creates awareness that the encounter is being filmed, modifying the behaviour of all involved,” said [principal] investigator Barak Ariel from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology.

“If an officer decides to announce mid-interaction they are beginning to film, for example, that could provoke a reaction that results in use-of-force,” Ariel said. “Our data suggests this could be what is driving the results.”

Letting the officers choose when to turn on the cameras would also seem to defeat the goals of transparency and accountability. Telling them when to use the cameras but then failing to hold them accountable when they fail to follow those procedures isn’t all that different from having no procedures at all.

The takeaway from this study is

Continue reading.

I think we often think of technology as a solution in itself, and think of policies as mere red tape, but policies can determine whether the technology is a help or a hindrance.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2016 at 7:27 am

Another way a functional Congress would come in handy: Scientists say nuclear fuel pools around the country pose safety and health risks

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Read to see how we seem to be waiting to see what happens when the fuse burns up.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2016 at 12:24 pm

Detailed report on a different (and very promising) approach to virtual reality

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In Wired Kevin Kelly has an interesting, lengthy, and detailed account of the coming next step in virtual reality:

The is something special happening in a generic office park in an uninspiring suburb near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Inside, amid the low gray cubicles, clustered desks, and empty swivel chairs, an impossible 8-inch robot drone from an alien planet hovers chest-high in front of a row of potted plants. It is steampunk-cute, minutely detailed. I can walk around it and examine it from any angle. I can squat to look at its ornate underside. Bending closer, I bring my face to within inches of it to inspect its tiny pipes and protruding armatures. I can see polishing swirls where the metallic surface was “milled.” When I raise a hand, it approaches and extends a glowing appendage to touch my fingertip. I reach out and move it around. I step back across the room to view it from afar. All the while it hums and slowly rotates above a desk. It looks as real as the lamps and computer monitors around it. It’s not. I’m seeing all this through a synthetic-reality headset. Intellectually, I know this drone is an elaborate simulation, but as far as my eyes are concerned it’s really there, in that ordinary office. It is a virtual object, but there is no evidence of pixels or digital artifacts in its three-dimensional fullness. If I reposition my head just so, I can get the virtual drone to line up in front of a bright office lamp and perceive that it is faintly transparent, but that hint does not impede the strong sense of it being present. This, of course, is one of the great promises of artificial reality—either you get teleported to magical places or magical things get teleported to you. And in this prototype headset, created by the much speculated about, ultrasecretive company called Magic Leap, this alien drone certainly does seem to be transported to this office in Florida—and its reality is stronger than I thought possible.

I saw other things with these magical goggles. I saw human-sized robots walk through the actual walls of the room. I could shoot them with power blasts from a prop gun I really held in my hands. I watched miniature humans wrestle each other on a real tabletop, almost like aStar Wars holographic chess game. These tiny people were obviously not real, despite their photographic realism, but they were really present—in a way that didn’t seem to reside in my eyes alone; I almost felt their presence.

Virtual reality overlaid on the real world in this manner is called mixed reality, or MR. (The goggles are semitransparent, allowing you to see your actual surroundings.) It is more difficult to achieve than the classic fully immersive virtual reality, or VR, where all you see are synthetic images, and in many ways MR is the more powerful of the two technologies.

Magic Leap is not the only company creating mixed-reality technology, but right now the quality of its virtual visions exceeds all others. Because of this lead, money is pouring into this Florida office park. Google was one of the first to invest. Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and others followed. In the past year, executives from most major media and tech companies have made the pilgrimage to Magic Leap’s office park to experience for themselves its futuristic synthetic reality. At the beginning of this year, the company completed what may be the largest C-round of financing in history: $793.5 million. To date, investors have funneled $1.4 billion into it.

That astounding sum is especially noteworthy because Magic Leap has not released a beta version of its product, not even to developers. Aside from potential investors and advisers, few people have been allowed to see the gear in action, and the combination of funding and mystery has fueled rampant curiosity. But to really understand what’s happening at Magic Leap, you need to also understand the tidal wave surging through the entire tech industry. All the major players—Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung—have whole groups dedicated to artificial reality, and they’re hiring more engineers daily. Facebook alone has over 400 people working on VR. Then there are some 230 other companies, such as Meta, the Void, Atheer, Lytro, and 8i, working furiously on hardware and content for this new platform. To fully appreciate Magic Leap’s gravitational pull, you really must see this emerging industry—every virtual-reality and mixed-reality headset, every VR camera technique, all the novel VR applications, beta-version VR games, every prototype VR social world.

Like I did—over the past five months.

Then you will understand just how fundamental virtual reality technology will be, and why businesses like Magic Leap have an opportunity to become some of the largest companies ever created.

Even if you’ve never tried virtual reality, you probably possess a vivid expectation of what it will be like. It’s the Matrix, a reality of such convincing verisimilitude that you can’t tell if it’s fake. It will be the Metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s rollicking 1992 novel, Snow Crash, an urban reality so enticing that some people never leave it. It will be the Oasis in the 2011 best-selling story Ready Player One, a vast planet-scale virtual reality that is the center of school and work. VR has been so fully imagined for so long, in fact, that it seems overdue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2016 at 9:39 am

Move 37 vs. Move 78: A commentary on Go-playing AI

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Very interesting article by Cade Metz in Wired.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2016 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Games, Go, Technology

For those who have read Day of the Triffids

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Books, Technology

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the new gilded age

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James Fallows in this post points out a speech by Elizabeth Warren that is (as he says) “actually worth reading.”

“Actually” in that it was neither just a bleat/complaint about the injustices of the new tech economy nor a simple assurance that technology and innovation will solve all the problems they create. (Ie, that the long-term arc of creative destruction will always bend toward greater creativity.)

Instead Warren addressed the question I said was on my mind, at the end of my March issue article. That was the Second Gilded Age question: if the dislocations, the inequalities, the injustices, but also the possibilities of this era of high-speed technical change parallel those of 125 years ago, is there any hope or guidance to be drawn from the responses of the Progressive era through the New Deal?

Since it’s actually worth reading, actually read it. Here it is. It begins:

Thank you, Ann Marie, for that kind introduction. And thank you to the New America foundation for inviting me to come and speak today about the so-called “gig” economy.

Across the country, new companies are using the Internet to transform the way Americans work, shop, socialize, vacation, look for love, talk to the doctor, get around, and track down a 10-foot feather boa—which was my latest Amazon search. These innovations have improved our lives in countless ways, reducing inefficiencies and leveraging network effects to help grow our economy. This is real growth. For example, increasing broadband penetration boosts GDP and increasing 3G connections increases mobile data use, which, in turn, increases GDP.i

The most famous example is the rise of ride-sharing platforms in our cities. The taxicab industry was riddled with monopolies, rents, and inefficiencies. Cities limited the number of taxi licenses and charged drivers steep fees for taxi medallions.ii They required drivers to pay additional fees to pick up passengers at airports.iii They micromanaged the paint jobs for individual cars and even outlawed price competition.iv Uber and Lyft, two ride sharing platforms that came onto the scene about 5 years ago, radically altered this model, enabling anyone with a smartphone and a car to deliver rides.v They also enabled customers to find a ride any time of day, with the touch of a button. The result was more rides, cheaper rides, and shorter wait

The ridesharing story illustrates the promise of these new businesses—and the dangers. Uber and Lyft fought against local taxicab rules that kept prices high and limited access to services. vii But as the dispute in Austin, Texas, has demonstrated, the companies fought just as vigorously against local rules designed to create a level playing field between themselves and their taxi competitors, and they have also resisted rules designed to promote rider safety and driver accountability.viii While their businesses provide workers with great flexibility, companies like Lyft and Uber have often resisted the efforts of those same workers to access a greater share of the wealth generated from their work. Their business model is, in part, dependent on extremely low wages for drivers.ix

It’s exciting—and very hip—to talk about Uber and Lyft and Taskrabbit, but the promise and risks of these companies isn’t new. For centuries, technological advances have helped create new wealth and have increased GDP. But it is policy – rules and regulations – that will determine whether workers have a meaningful opportunity to share in that new wealth.

A century ago, the industrial revolution radically altered the American economy. Millions moved from farms to factories. These sweeping changes in our economy generated enormous wealth.

They also wreaked havoc on workers and their families. Workplaces were monstrously unsafe. Wages were paltry and hours were grueling.x

America’s response wasn’t to abandon the technological innovations and improvements of the industrial revolution. We didn’t send everyone back to their farms. No. Instead, we came together, and through our government we changed public policies to adapt to a changing economy – to keep the good and get rid of much of the bad.

The list of new laws and regulations was long: A minimum wage.xi Workplace safety.xii Workers compensation. xiii Child labor laws.xiv The 40-hour workweek. xv Social Security.xvi The right to unionize.xvii

But each of these changes made a profound difference. They put guardrails around the ability of giant corporations to exploit workers to generate additional profits at any cost. They helped make sure that part of the increased wealth generated by innovation would be used to build a strong middle class.xviii

The changes weren’t all focused on workers. Antitrust laws and newly-created public utilities addressed the new technological revolution’s tendency toward concentration and monopoly and kept our markets competitive.xix Rules to prevent cheating and fraud were added to make sure bad actors in the marketplace couldn’t get a leg up on folks who played by the rules. xx

These changes didn’t happen overnight. There were big fights – over decades – to establish that balance. But once in place, these policies underwrote the widely shared growth and prosperity of the 20th Century. xxi From 1935-1980, the 90% — everyone outside the top 10% — got 70% of all income growth. As the economy grew and became more productive, so too did the average worker’s wages.xxii Instead of all the wealth going to a handful of giant companies, factory owners, and investors—the robber barons of the early 20th Century—the growth created by our manufacturing economy supported the growth of a strong, prosperous middle class. That distribution happened because of a newly-emerging basic bargain for workers.

A hundred years ago, nobody grappling with the rapid changes in technology and work seriously entertained the idea of banning manufacturing advances. And today, nobody seriously entertains the idea of pulling the plug on the Internet. Massive technological change is a gift – a byproduct of human ingenuity that creates extraordinary opportunities to improve the lives of billions. But history shows that to harness those opportunities to create and sustain a strong middle class, policy also matters. To fully realize the potential of this new economy, laws must be adapted to make sure that the basic bargain for workers remains intact, and that workers have the chance to share in the growth they help produce.

The challenge today is doubly difficult. At the same time that we need to adapt to new work relationships of a gig economy, the basic bargain of the old work relationships has become badly frayed. Over the past three decades, workers have been under merciless attack. For decades, big – 3 – business has tried to squeeze more profits out of workers by ducking and dodging regulations and by taking advantage of loopholes in employment policy, by skirting enforcement efforts, and even by flagrantly violating the law.xxiii Giant corporations have deployed armies of lobbyists and lawyers to freeze, limit, or dismantle as many worker protections as they could. The result is that for decades, the guardrails that once served to build a robust middle class no longer offered the same kind of protection.

More and more of today’s jobs have sharply limited protections and benefits.xxiv. Long before anyone ever wrote an article about the “gig economy,” corporations had discovered the higher profits they could wring out of an on-demand workforce made up of independent contractors.xxv Labor law makes a sharp distinction between employees and 1099 independent contractors, and many employers figured out how to exploit that distinction. xxvi They hired people who do the work once done by people characterized as employees, but then re-characterized them as independent contractors or as somebody else’s employees.xxvii The result was that these workers lost their benefits, lost the stability of guaranteed work, and lost the ability to form a union and bargain collectively.xxviii

But the employee-1099 divide is not the only way the basic work bargain is fraying. Employees, particularly low-wage employees, face challenges that are not unlike challenges facing gig workers and independent contractors. They too have lost both benefits and the stability of a guaranteed work schedule and a steady income. As employers have moved to just-in-time staffing, more hourly workers are trapped in part-time jobs or stripped-down full-time jobs.xxix An increasing number of workers are in sub-contracting or franchise arrangements where their employment conditions are controlled by firms they can’t bargain with or hold accountable for meeting basic wage or safety obligations. They may not even know the name of their actual

At the same time that the bargain with workers has become increasingly one-sided for millions of independent contractors and hourly employees, yet another part of the basic economic bargain has also begun to fray. The safety net—unemployment insurance, workers comp, Social Security—hasn’t been updated to fill in the holes that employers have created. Temporary workers, contract workers, seasonal workers, permatemps, and part-time workers rarely have access to these benefits, which means that the workers who most need that safety net are least likely to have it.

The gig economy didn’t invent any of these problems. In fact, the gig economy has become a stopgap for some workers who can’t make ends meet in a weak labor market. The much-touted virtues of flexibility, independence, and creativity offered by gig work might be true for some workers under some conditions, but for many, the gig economy is simply the next step in a losing effort to build some economic security in a world where all the benefits are floating to the top 10%.

The problems facing gig workers are much like the problems facing millions of other workers. An outdated employee benefits model makes it all but impossible for temporary workers, contract workers, part-time workers and workers in industries like retail or construction who switch jobs frequently to build any economic security.

Just as this country did a hundred years ago, it’s time to rethink the basic bargain between workers and companies. As greater wealth is generated by new technology, how can we ensure that the workers who support this economy can share in that wealth?

I believe we start with one simple principle: . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing and think about it. Her conclusion:

. . . My message today is straightforward: Workers deserve a level playing field and some basic protections, no matter who they work for, where they work, or how the law classifies them. They deserve a strong safety net, dependable benefits, and the chance to bargain over their working conditions—that’s the basic deal. And that’s the deal that is necessary to restore a strong and sustainable American middle class.

Most workers aren’t asking for the moon. They want to be able to take care of their families, buy a home, send their kids to college, and save a little money for retirement. They want some security, and they want to know their kids will have a chance to do better than they did. That’s the promise of America, but that promise won’t come true unless we make some real changes.

Workers have a right to expect our government to work for them, to set the basic rules of the game. If this country is to have a strong middle class, then we need the policies that will make that possible. That’s how shared prosperity has been built in the past, and that is our way forward now.

Change won’t be easy. But we don’t get what we don’t fight for. I believe America’s workers are worth fighting for.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 10:21 am

Your augmented reality future

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From this article by Jason Koebler in Motherboard:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 8:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology


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