Must Read by @ElizKolbert: Our Automated Future

How long will it be before you, too, lose your job to a computer? This question is taken up by a number of recent books, with titles that read like variations on a theme: “The Industries of the Future,” “The Future of the Professions,” “Inventing the Future.” Although the authors of these works are employed in disparate fields—law, finance, political theory—they arrive at more or less the same conclusion. How long? Not long.

“Could another person learn to do your job by studying a detailed record of everything you’ve done in the past?” Martin Ford, a software developer, asks early on in “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” (Basic Books). “Or could someone become proficient by repeating the tasks you’ve already completed, in the way that a student might take practice tests to prepare for an exam? If so, then there’s a good chance that an algorithm may someday be able to learn to do much, or all, of your job.”

Later, Ford notes, “A computer doesn’t need to replicate the entire spectrum of your intellectual capability in order to displace you from your job; it only needs to do the specific things you are paid to do.” He cites a 2013 study by researchers at Oxford, which concluded that nearly half of all occupations in the United States are “potentially automatable,” perhaps within “a decade or two.” (“Even the work of software engineers may soon largely be computerisable,” the study observed. )

[Techies always add that last parenthetical like they say they understand piracy because “Some of my best friends are musicians….]

As recently as twenty years ago, Google didn’t exist, and as recently as thirty years ago it couldn’t have existed, since the Web didn’t exist. At the close of the third quarter of 2016, Google was valued at almost five hundred and fifty billion dollars and ranked as the world’s second-largest publicly traded company, by market capitalization. (The first was Apple.)

Google offers a vivid illustration of how new technologies create new opportunities. Two computer-science students at Stanford go looking for a research project, and the result, within two decades, is worth more than the G.D.P. of a country like Norway or Austria. But Google also illustrates how, in the age of automation, new wealth can be created without creating new jobs. Google employs about sixty thousand workers. General Motors, which has a tenth of the market capitalization, employs two hundred and fifteen thousand people. And this is G.M. post-[IBM’s] Watson. In the late nineteen-seventies, the carmaker’s workforce numbered more than eight hundred thousand.

How much technology has contributed to the widening income gap in the U.S. is a matter of debate; some economists treat it as just one factor, others treat it as the determining factor. In either case, the trend line is ominous.

Read the post in The New Yorker

Uber brings full employment for robots program to California

It’s not just Austin:  Read the post on Christian Science Monitor:  Uber tests state laws with driverless cars in San Francisco Without Safety Permits

The ride-hailing company plans to bring a “handful” of its self-driving Volvo XC90s to the Bay Area, with an Uber employee ready to take the wheel if the technology fails. But Uber will carry out public tests without a stamp of approval from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

@jonathantaplin: Forget AT&T. The Real Monopolies Are Google and Facebook.

The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner has drawn censure from both sides of the political aisle, as well as a Senate hearing that looked into the potential for the combined company to become a monopoly.

But if we are going to examine media monopolies, we should look first at Silicon Valley, not the fading phone business.

Mark Cuban, the internet entrepreneur, said at the meeting of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee last week that the truly dominant companies in media distribution these days were Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon.

“Facebook is without question in a dominant position, if not the dominant position, for content delivery,” he said.

Look at the numbers. Alphabet (the parent company of Google) and Facebook are among the 10 largest companies in the world. Alphabet alone has a market capitalization of around $550 billion. AT&T and Time Warner combined would be about $300 billion.

Read the Post on The New York Times

@foxjust: Uber Decides It’s Getting Tired of Competition

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How big was it, Travis?

In its home market, the U.S., Uber certainly is well ahead of chief rival Lyft, in fundraising as well as market share. Its advantage is especially big among business travelers, who value its presence in more cities — for them, the network effects are at least partially national. But business travelers are a small minority among those who use ride-hailing apps, and Lyft has claimed major market-share gains in a few big cities where it has concentrated its efforts recently.

Lyft has been able to do that in large part thanks to $1 billion in new cash it got this year from General Motors and other investors. It has also been part of a nascent global anti-Uber alliance with Didi, which invested $100 million in Lyft last year. With Uber and Didi’s CEOs sitting on each other’s boards, as Monday’s deal calls for, it’s hard to see Didi staying involved with that effort. Also, Uber’s stake in Didi will make it an indirect part owner of Lyft, at least for a while. It’s all very incestuous.

It also seems to bespeak a less directly competitive future.

Read the post on Bloomberg

@erikwemple: Arianna Huffington is an Uber board member: Huh?

Editors in chief of news organizations are well advised to steer clear of corporate entanglements. They generally avoid doing paid speeches for special interests, stay off of the boards and councils of companies and groups that their reporters cover. The goal is to lead coverage of all newsmakers without fear of polluting the product….

[Ariana] Huffington and [Uber CEO Travis] Kalanick co-authored a “story” on Huffington Post titled “A Wake-Up Call to End Drowsy Driving,” which outlines a collaboration of sorts among Huffington Post, Uber and Toyota. Here is a key paragraph: “Over the next month, Arianna will be carrying that message to college campuses in Denver, Las Vegas, Nashville, Chicago, the Bay Area and throughout the country. If you’re interested in a sleep tutorial, order a ride with Uber and you could win a chance to have Arianna ride along with you.”

Huffington Post journalists: Isn’t that precisely what you want your editor in chief doing?

And we’re so sure that Ariana and Trav jotted down that “story” together?  Anyone betting against a HuffPo staffer ghosting it?

Read the whole sordid story on Washington Post.

@thatswattsup: Student Perspective On Uber’s Prop 1 Loss

Insightful perspective on Uber and Lyft’s Prop 1 failure by University of Texas business student Andrew Watts:

Given that Uber and Lyft are such recognizable as companies, have loyal users, and spent so much money on campaigning, how could they possibly have lost by almost 12% in this election?

You can break it down into two major points:

They spent too much money on advertising & their campaign was inauthentic and Their target demographic of voters simply do not vote

We would add:  The election was held during finals week at UT.  It’s called an academic calendar, look it up sometime.

Read the post on Medium.

@johntory: What About Über Don’t You Understand?

Uber Yardsigns

Aside from what Google investment company Über did to the people of Austin–Toronto Mayor John Toryseems to have gotten that message loud and clear.  This is the real purpose of Silicon Valley bullying and a good example of the “sharing economy”.

After months of protests and turmoil, Torontonians have a legal, regulated UberX travel option for getting around the city.

New rules approved by city council in a marathon Tuesday meeting will further revolutionize Toronto travel by allowing taxis to start using Uber-style “surge” peak-time pricing on fares booked via a Smartphone app.

Some councillors are warning, however, that the road to legalizing ride-hailing services, which use smartphone apps to connect passengers to non-professional drivers using their own vehicles, has made roadkill out of cabbies’ livelihoods and passenger safety.

Mayor John Tory convinced council to vote 27-15 in favour of the new rules.

Read more at the Toronto Star.

It’s hard to believe that Mayor Tory got the memo about Über’s true goals of replacing those sharing economy jobs–especially ÜberX–with robots.  That sounds incredible, and you probably dismiss it, but take a minute and consider the evidence.

According to the Wall Street Journal page 1, General Motors and Lyft plan on having driverless taxis on the road pronto:

General Motors Co. and Lyft Inc. within a year will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads, a move central to the companies’ joint efforts to challenge Silicon Valley giants in the battle to reshape the auto industry.

Über CEO Travis Kalanick lets us in on the Über strategy, as reported by the Verge:

Über will eventually replace the people who drive its cars with cars that drive themselves, CEO Travis Kalanick said today at the Code Conference. A day after Google unveiled the prototype for its own driverless vehicle, Kalanick was visibly excited at the prospect of developing a fleet of driverless vehicles, which he said would make car ownership rare. [And which Uber would presumably buy from Google or a vendor like Ford or Volvo using Google’s technology.]

“The reason Über could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car [meaning the driver],” Kalanick said. “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Über anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”

Not only are Uber and Lyft planning on laying off all their drivers, according to Reuters, Google, Ford, Volvo, Über, Lyft formed an alliance to lobby for federalization of driverless car regulations.  The alliance hired an Obama Administration revolving door lobbyist, one David L. Strickland, to lead the federalization of their driverless car effort.  (Volvo is owned by owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.)

Strickland joins the coalition from the high roller Washington, DC lobby shop Venable where he’s worked since 2014 after leaving the post of –where else–Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the Obama Administration.

We don’t know the exact rules in Canada about employees versus independent contractors, but here’s an important article from Inc. that explains the connection between Über’s refusal to conduct proper background checks and their desire to keep drivers in the easily fireable category (…”the other dude in the car”…):

The San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorneys have accused Uber of failing to uncover serious crimes on the records of some drivers allowed to operate in the two cities. The attorneys said they discovered 25 drivers in the two cities whose criminal records had gone undetected, and at least some records included felonies. Notably, one of the drivers whose criminal record went undetected was a convicted murderer who spent 26 years behind bars.

The discovery would appear to put pressure on Uber to adopt a more thorough background check process in order to stay in consumers’ good graces. But there’s more at stake here: If the company does adopt more rigorous background checks, which could include fingerprinting, drivers seeking classification as employees could try to use the move as evidence they are indeed employees and not private contractors, says one labor attorney.

And don’t forget–some Über drivers will tell you that Uber lies about what they pay their drivers (read an Über driver’s analysis on Medium):

Be careful when you hear Uber state that drivers are making $40/hr.. or even $20/hr. The way that they tally that number is misleading.

[I]n reality, the driver is making $28.80/hour after Uber’s cut and $7.20/hour after operating costs. (60 minutes divided by 15 (12 min trip + 3 min dead time) multiplied by $1.80 net pay per trip after costs = $7.20/hour) [especially during surge pricing]

And here is a great Facebook comment from an Austinite about Über’s robot taxi plans:

Why does iRobot pop in my head whenever I see “driverless car?” Don’t forgot to thank all the Uber/lyft drivers for giving them more data for their automated cars too. They can all pat themselves on the back when they get fired. How much are they going to charge for this driverless car? I’d pay 50¢, but knowing Uber they’d surge price at 2am anyway, charge $50 to your credit card. Oh, and who’s going to clean up the vomit?

F Uber

Ask your music business about what it’s like to deal with Silicon Valley companies and their rampage against working people.  They know all about it.  Or you could ask Leslie Church, the former Google executive who is now chief of staff at, of all places, Canada’s Heritage Ministry.

So there go your sharing economy jobs–fire the drivers, attack automobile workers and Canada’s energy industry.  Good thinking, Mayor Tory.  Share your Über future.