No law can end abortions, however severe its restrictions and however harsh its penalties. Each day almost 70,000 unsafe abortions are carried out around the world, and they are vastly more likely to happen in countries with strict laws. What such legislation does do is force some women to continue pregnancies against their wishes, while risking the lives and wellbeing of others. Women in the US have seen their ability to terminate pregnancies dismantled piece by piece. Now states are racing to outlaw or dramatically curb abortions with extreme and unconstitutional bills. The aim is to directly challenge Roe v Wade, the US supreme court ruling that established that abortion is legal before the foetus is viable outside the womb, at around 24 weeks. Last Tuesday, the governor of Georgia signed a bill essentially banning abortions after six weeks from 2020. Some described it as a sign that men who wish to control women’s bodies have no idea of how they actually work. More likely, those who pushed hardest for the change understand all too well that many women will not know they are pregnant until it is too late.
Tag Archives: Society
Earlier this month, Univision announced it was selling Gizmodo Media Group (a digital media company comprising former Gawker sites such as Gizmodo, Kotaku, Splinter, Jezebel, and The Root) as well as the Onion (including its eponymous site, The A.V. Club, Clickhole, and The Takeout) to a private equity firm, Great Hill Partners.
No further layoffs have been announced for the 233 unionized employees at the two properties. But workers and contributors are probably right to worry that some or all of the sites will see mass layoffs or closure as Green Hill seeks to strip the companies for their most profitable parts while burning the rest. This is the private equity business model, after all, and it would be naive to expect anything else.
But what if there was an alternative? Wouldn’t it be better if the workers at the Gizmodo Media Group and the Onion had the right to block the Great Hill sale and buy the company themselves, turning it into a worker-owned business, with financial and technical assistance from the government?
In July 2017, when Sean Spicer, then the White House press secretary, was discovered hiding in the bushes to dodge questions from reporters, I knew Washington politics had become truly primatological. A few weeks earlier, James Comey had intentionally worn a blue suit while standing at the back of a room with blue curtains so as to blend in. The FBI director hoped to go unnoticed and avoid a presidential hug. (The tactic failed.)
Making creative use of the environment is primate politics at its best, as is the role of body language such as sitting on a throne high above the grovelling masses, descending into their midst with an escalator or raising one’s arm so underlings can kiss your armpit (a pheromonal ritual invented by Saddam Hussein). The link between high evaluations of debate performances and the candidates’ heights is well known – taller candidates have a leg up. This advantage explains why short leaders bring along boxes to stand on during group photos.
It is the most important news humanity has ever received: the general collapse of life on Earth. The vast international assessment of the state of nature, as revealed on Monday, tells us that the living planet is in a death spiral. Yet it’s hardly surprising that it appeared on few front pages of British newspapers. Of all the varieties of media bias, the deepest is the bias against relevance. The more important the issue, the less it is discussed.
There’s a reason for this. Were we to become fully aware of our predicament, we would demand systemic change. Systemic change is highly threatening to those who own the media. So they distract us with such baubles as a royal baby and a vicious dispute between neighbours about a patio. I am often told we get the media we deserve. We do not. We get the media its billionaire owners demand.
The first Facebook message arrived when Heather Woock was packing for vacation, in August 2017. It was from a stranger claiming to be her half sibling. She assumed the message was some kind of scam; her parents had never told her she might have siblings. But the message contained one detail that spooked her. The sender mentioned a doctor, Donald Cline. Woock knew that name; her mother had gone to Cline for fertility treatments before she was born. Had this person somehow gotten her mother’s medical history?
Her mom said not to worry. So Woock, who is 33 and lives just outside Indianapolis, flew to the West Coast for her vacation. She got a couple more messages from other supposed half siblings while she was away. Their persistence was strange. But then her phone broke, and she spent the next week and a half outdoors in Seattle and Vancouver, blissfully disconnected.
It was only when she got home and replaced her phone that she saw the barrage of messages from even more half siblings. They had found her on Facebook, she realized, after searching for the username linked to her Ancestry.com account. Her husband had given her a DNA test for Christmas because she was interested in genealogy. Her heritage turned out to be exactly what she had thought—Scottish, with English, Irish, and Scandinavian mixed in—and she never bothered to click on the link that would show whether anyone on the site shared her DNA.
Hundreds of human reviewers across the globe, from Romania to Venezuela, listen to audio clips recorded from Amazon Echo speakers, usually without owners’ knowledge, Bloomberg reported last week. We knew Alexa was listening; now we know someone else is, too.
This global review team fine-tunes the Amazon Echo’s software by listening to clips of users asking Alexa questions or issuing commands, and then verifying whether Alexa responded appropriately. The team also annotates specific words the device struggles with when it’s addressed in different accents.
According to Amazon, users can opt out of the service, but they seem to be enrolled automatically. Amazon says these recordings are anonymized, with any identifying information removed, and that each of these recorded exchanges came only after users engaged with the device by uttering the “wake word.” But in the examples in Bloomberg’s report—a woman overheard singing in the shower, a child screaming for help—the users seem unaware of the device.
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the global building industry will have poured more than 19,000 bathtubs of concrete. By the time you are halfway through this article, the volume would fill the Albert Hall and spill out into Hyde Park. In a day it would be almost the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In a single year, there is enough to patio over every hill, dale, nook and cranny in England.
After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.
The material is the foundation of modern development, putting roofs over the heads of billions, fortifying our defences against natural disaster and providing a structure for healthcare, education, transport, energy and industry.
Concrete is how we try to tame nature. Our slabs protect us from the elements. They keep the rain from our heads, the cold from our bones and the mud from our feet. But they also entomb vast tracts of fertile soil, constipate rivers, choke habitats and – acting as a rock-hard second skin – desensitise us from what is happening outside our urban fortresses.
Our blue and green world is becoming greyer by the second. By one calculation, we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. Unlike the natural world, however, it does not actually grow. Instead, its chief quality is to harden and then degrade, extremely slowly.
School students across the UK (and the world) went on strike on February 15, leaving their lessons to protest the lack of effective action on climate change. Coordinated school strikes may be a novel tactic, but mass environmental activism isn’t. So will things be any more successful this time around?
The first big global wave of ecological concern began in the late 1960s and involved fears of overpopulation, air and water pollution and the extinction of species. It peaked with the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which kicked off international environmental politics.
You’re probably most familiar with recognition systems, like Facebook’s photo-tagging recommender and Apple’s FaceID, which can identify specific individuals. Detection systems, on the other hand, determine whether a face is present at all; and analysis systems try to identify aspects like gender and race. All of these systems are now being used for a variety of purposes, from hiring and retail to security and surveillance.
Many people believe that such systems are both highly accurate and impartial. The logic goes that airport security staff can get tired and police can misjudge suspects, but a well-trained AI system should be able to consistently identify or categorize any image of a face.
The 18th of March 2018, was the day tech insiders had been dreading. That night, a new moon added almost no light to a poorly lit four-lane road in Tempe, Arizona, as a specially adapted Uber Volvo XC90 detected an object ahead. Part of the modern gold rush to develop self-driving vehicles, the SUV had been driving autonomously, with no input from its human backup driver, for 19 minutes. An array of radar and light-emitting lidar sensors allowed onboard algorithms to calculate that, given their host vehicle’s steady speed of 43mph, the object was six seconds away – assuming it remained stationary. But objects in roads seldom remain stationary, so more algorithms crawled a database of recognizable mechanical and biological entities, searching for a fit from which this one’s likely behavior could be inferred.
At first the computer drew a blank; seconds later, it decided it was dealing with another car, expecting it to drive away and require no special action. Only at the last second was a clear identification found – a woman with a bike, shopping bags hanging confusingly from handlebars, doubtless assuming the Volvo would route around her as any ordinary vehicle would. Barred from taking evasive action on its own, the computer abruptly handed control back to its human master, but the master wasn’t paying attention. Elaine Herzberg, aged 49, was struck and killed, leaving more reflective members of the tech community with two uncomfortable questions: was this algorithmic tragedy inevitable? And how used to such incidents would we, should we, be prepared to get?