Society & Technology

The column on language by Johnson’s at the Economist reports that Google announced that its word processor Google Docs will start to nudge users to use more inclusive language:

On May 18th the company announced that it was going further in its promotion of inclusive language. Google Docs, its popular free word­processing software, would soon be nudging people away from potentially sexist language, such as the generic use of “chairman”. Instead it will offer gender­ neutral suggestions including “chairperson”.

In a brilliant article at MIT Technology Review, Tate Ryan-Mosley gives an overview of the history and challenges of face and beauty filters that are popular on social media apps and platforms:

The face filters that have become commonplace across social media are perhaps the most widespread use of augmented reality. Researchers don’t yet understand the impact that sustained use of augmented reality may have, but they do know there are real risks—and with face filters, young girls are the ones taking that risk. They are subjects in an experiment that will show how the technology changes the way we form our identities, represent ourselves, and relate to others. And it’s all happening without much oversight.

He also mentions an interesting bit of history of face filter technology that originated in Japan:

These real-time video filters are a recent advance, but beauty filters more broadly are an extension of the decades-old selfie phenomenon. The movement is rooted in Japanese “kawaii” culture, which obsesses over (typically girly) cuteness, and it developed when purikura—photo booths that allowed customers to decorate self-portraits—became staples in Japanese video arcades in the mid-1990s. In May of 1999, Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera released the first mobile phone with a front-facing camera, and selfies started to break out to the mainstream.

Bruce Schneier wrote a great opinion article on aspects of thrust in blockchain technologies and “the idea that blockchains can somehow eliminate the need for trust persists”.

What blockchain does is shift some of the trust in people and institutions to trust in technology. You need to trust the cryptography, the protocols, the software, the computers and the network. And you need to trust them absolutely, because they’re often single points of failure.

Read his full article on Wired.

Two interesting articles from Wired dealing with current sociotechnical controversies:

Investigative journalists from ProPublica did research on a company called Arise Virtual Solutions and its abhorrent practices. This company allows large American businesses to outsource their customer service:

Arise not only creates separation between its corporate clients and individual agents, it also allows those companies to quickly add or subtract workers. In March, Instacart needed all kinds of agents. By May, those jobs had largely disappeared. “I was there for a week. We’re disposable,” one Florida agent dropped from Instacart assignments told ProPublica.

Read their article here. For these piece ProPublice partnered with NPR’s Planet Money, who produced a podcast on the same topic.

In an article at The New York Times, Victoria Turk writes about “How the Coronavirus Is Changing Digital Etiquette”:

The pandemic has caused the way we communicate to evolve, and our relationship with technology is being pushed into new territory. Although states are slowly reopening, much of our professional and personal lives will continue to be lived almost entirely online for the foreseeable future. Digital etiquette rules remain more important now than ever.

The following video is a fascinating collection of prognoses by journalist Rex Malik on the impact of new computer technology on society.

I quite enjoyed this series from Gizmodo where reported Kashmir Hill tries to not use any of the five big tech companies. It’s especially revealing and perhaps lesser known how important they are on infrastructure of the internet. For example, Amazon hosts a large amount of websites, making it almost impossible to avoid Amazon completely.