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Comment Free speech is overrated (Score 0, Flamebait) 62

It's always interesting to contrast European and American views on the limits of speech. The Germans have very strict regulations on what you can say for obvious reasons given the abuse of free speech in that country's mid-twentieth century history. They recognize that sometimes one man's rights conflict with another's. Which was more important, Hitler's right to speak or the right-to-life for a million Jews?

In America speech is a lot more free but this also brings with it the danger of propagating hate speech. Organizations like the NRA, KKK and Westboro Baptist Church are examples of people who abuse that freedom and help to sow hatred which puts the lives of others in danger.

Thankfully FB is a private entity and hence not bound by the First Amendment. It's good to see Zuck finally waking up to his responsibilities and snapping out of the libertarian dream-world where nothing bad happens when people get to say what they like. Hate speech and lies have real world consequences, and it's okay to take a stand for truth.

Comment Sure, Uber is evil. (Score 2) 265

It's an anti-social company that's a horrible place to work. Everybody knows that by now.

What nobody can know for sure is why an individual takes his life, or what circumstances would have to be different.

Take Google, which in several recent lists is the best company in America to work for. Google has just shy of 60,000 employees. Given the US suicide rate of 46/100,000, if Google were largely reflective of that you'd expect 28 suicides/year among Google employees. Of course (a) not all Google employees are Americans and (b) Google employees are economically better off than most people in their societies, so you'd expect there to be a lower rate of suicide. But it's safe to assume a dozen Google employees a year take their lives.

And if you look at them as individuals, you'd inevitably suspect work stress was involved, and if you'd look you'd probably find it -- because it's a chicken-or-egg thing. Suicide is a catastrophic loss of coping ability; when you head that way you will find trouble everywhere you turn.

When something like this happens to an individual, everyone feels the need to know why -- even strangers. But that's the one thing you can never know for certain. Now if suicide rates were high for Uber, then statistically you could determine to what degree you should be certain that Uber is a killing its employees with a bad work environment (or perhaps selecting at-risk employees).

I think its inevitable and understandable that this man's family blames Uber. And it's very likely that this will be yet another PR debacle for the company. But the skeptic in me says we just can't know whether Uber has any responsibility for the result.

Comment Re:Yes but (Score 5, Interesting) 703

Thought experiment. Let's suppose you're a CIVIL engineer -- the type of engineer the regulations are intended to target. You're on vacation in Oregon, and you notice a serious structural fault in a bridge which means that it is in imminent danger of collapse.

Under this interpretation of the term "practice engineering" you wouldn't be able to tell anyone because you're not licensed to practice engineering in Oregon. In fact anyone who found an obvious fault -- say, a crack in the bridge -- would be forbidden to warn people not to use it until it had been looked at.

Which is ridiculous. Having and expressing an opinion, even a professionally informed opinion, isn't "practicing engineering". Practicing engineering means getting paid -- possibly in some form other than money. At the very least it means performing the kind of services for which engineers are normally paid.

A law which prevented people from expressing opinions wouldn't pass constitutional muster unless it was "narrowly tailored to serve a compelling public interest" -- that's the phrase the constitutional lawyers use when talking about laws regulating constitutionally protected activities. In this case the public interest is safety, which would be served by a law which prevented unqualified people from falsely convincing people that a structure was safe. But there is no compelling interest in preventing an engineer from warning the public about something he thinks is dangerous or even improper.

So if the law means what they claim it to mean, it's very likely unconstitutional.

Comment Re:AI killing industry (Score 1) 120

Except in a real movie, you wouldn't just take the audio stream straight from the algorithm; you'd have some kind of highly skilled specialist tweaking it to get the exact effect the director wanted.

A combination of art and science will eventually be able to produce completely convincing audio forgeries, very likely long before science alone will be able to.

Comment Re:where does all this money come from? (Score 3, Interesting) 510

i'd be mad as hell if i lived in one of these places and was subsidizing experiements to give people money without them contributing in any way

The liberal in me wants to react very strongly to this, but I did spend four years as a student in an English city called Salford. That place was infested with vast numbers of people who lived out their lives on the dole, many of them with no family tradition of work going back a few generations. They were generally troublemakers who got their kicks from attacking students (physically and verbally) on a regular basis. Crime levels were very high. One good thing is that there wasn't much gun crime since guns are so rare and hard to get in England, but instances of burglary, auto theft, shoplifting and anti-social behavior was just off the charts.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of these experiments, but I'm not optimistic about them.

Comment Unemployment (Score 5, Insightful) 510

Automation has been going on since the industrial revolution, yet new jobs seem to keep on being created. My current job didn't really exist twenty years ago.

People keep predicting the obsolescence of humans but unemployment these days in most rich world economies is not that high. That said, it would be good if we had better ways of measuring employment beyond the binary employed/unemployed states. If someone's not claiming unemployment benefit and working then it's assumed that they're doing okay, but they might be working three minimum wage jobs and barely getting by. That should be as worrying to policy-makers as someone not working at all. Then we might be in a better position to see if we're at the point where we need a universal basic income.

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