It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the screenshot below is the verbiage equivalent of War and Peace. It’s an image of New York Times technology reporter Yiwen Lu riding alone in a Waymo driverless taxi tapping merrily away on her wireless phone. Sitting by my lonesome in a driverless taxi, particularly one of questionable safety and reliability, is my idea of a living hell.
I feel sorry for Yiwen, who is part of the New York Times’ fellowship program providing “a unique opportunity to do great journalism.” Given that Yiwen only recently graduated from college, it seems likely that she’s never before experienced the joys of riding in a San Francisco taxi and engaging with interesting local drivers, some of whom would gladly share their experiences living in the city when it was advisable “to wear some flowers in your hair” when visiting.
Driving a taxi in San Francisco was once quite lucrative, but Uber “disrupted” the industry with a business that initially paid good fees to those willing shepherd people around in their own vehicles. Over time, Uber’s business model proved a con, with most Uber drivers around the country ultimately making considerably less than taxi drivers once did while the cost of a local trip has soared. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi understandably was blissfully unaware that the Uber price for a 2.95-mile trip in Manhattan could cost $51.69.
Khosrowshahi received more than $24 million in compensation last year for running a glorified taxi service, one that under his leadership has yet to introduce even one innovation. Uber is a textbook example of how technology facilitates the transfer of wealth to the 1%. If all goes well and self-driving cars prove reliable and safe, Khosrowshahi will reap of millions more in compensation because it will allow him to dispense all his human drivers. Khosrowshahi’s fellow obscenely overpaid CEOs are salivating that artificial intelligence will soon allow them to fire legions of employees, goosing their profits and making them look like geniuses.
I’m not an expert on technology or artificial intelligence, but I’ve learned that technology is ultimately only as good as the people who program it. Academics supposedly more knowledgeable than me warn that AI could perpetuate racism, sexism, and other societal biases.
As an example of how programing bias is baked into AI, I asked Microsoft’s Bing, which the company boasts is AI-powered, whether Pepsi is an ethical company. This was the first result of my search:
As I’ve previously argued, I regard Pepsi as a global peddler of health damaging products resulting in a variety of illnesses including diabetes, obesity, and cancer. The company has deftly woke-washed its business touting its carbon reduction and diversity goals, which the programmers of Bing believe outweighs the fundamental evilness of Pepsi’s core business.
Sam Altman, who the Wall Street Journal dubbed “the 37-year-old startup-minting guru at the forefront of the artificial intelligence boom,” is a poster boy for the misguided ideals and values of Silicon Valley’s denizens.
Here’s what WSJ reported:
(Altman’s) goal, he said, is to forge a new world order in which machines free people to pursue more creative work. In his vision, universal basic income—the concept of a cash stipend for everyone, no strings attached—helps compensate for jobs replaced by AI. Mr. Altman even thinks that humanity will love AI so much that an advanced chatbot could represent “an extension of your will.”
I’m skeptical that “humanity” will love a product that’s an extension of Altman’s will, although I’d guess that Altman and New York Times reporter Yiwen Lu would get along famously. One doesn’t have to be a sociology expert to appreciate the dangers of people being put out of work and having no purpose in life, their allocated “basic income” notwithstanding. I’ve yet to read about a mass shooting where the gunman was on track to make partner at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey. Invariably the gunmen had dead-end jobs or no jobs at all.
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna is at the forefront of CEOs salivating about how AI “digital labor solutions” helped him cull 700 “professionals doing a relatively manual type of HR-related work” down to 50.
“People working together with trusted AI will have a transformative effect on our economy and society,” Krishna wrote in this Fortune commentary last April. “AI’s use is projected to unlock nearly $16 trillion in productivity by 2030. It’s time we embrace that partnership–and prepare our workforces for everything AI has to offer.”
It’s no surprise that IBM is participating in the $235 million Series D funding round for New York–based Hugging Face, the popular library of open-source machine learning models that have been heavily responsible for AI advancements to date.
I’m no fan of IBM, a once quintessentially American company that offshored more than half its workforce to India while reportedly firing its most senior U.S. employees and flouting rules against age bias.
Krishna’s 2022 compensation was $16.5 million.
Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone series that aired from 1959 to 1964, envisioned the likes of Krishna and his ilk. In an episode featuring Richard Deacon, who played the humorless Mel Cooley on the Dick Van Dyke Show, Serling imagined a world where bosses would take great pleasure replacing humans with computers. The show’s message is more relevant today than when it aired on May 15, more than a half century ago. Here’s a snippet of the show, which was way ahead of its time:
The Unabashed Shamelessness of Marc Andreessen
When it comes to calling out Silicon Valley shamelessness, billionaire Marc Andreesen unquestionably ranks in the top tier of hypocrites.
In a 2020 essay, he decried San Francisco’s “crazy skyrocketing housing prices” and called for more housing construction in that city and elsewhere. “We should have gleaming skyscrapers and spectacular living environments in all our best cities at levels way beyond what we have now; where are they?” Andreessen bellowed.
Andreessen was among the Atherton residents in Silicon Valley who opposed a multi-housing project. As reported by the New York Times, Andreessen and his wife Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, a scion of the real estate developer John Arrillaga, warned in a letter that more than one residence on a single acre of land “will MASSIVELY decrease our home values, the quality of life of ourselves and our neighbors and IMMENSELY increase the noise pollution and traffic.” The couple signed the letter with their address and an apparent reference to four properties they own on Atherton’s Tuscaloosa Avenue.
In Atherton, one of the richest communities in America, land costs $8 million an acre. The units in the housing development Andreessen so vigorously opposed was slated to fetch about $4 million per unit.
What’s Andreessen up to these days? He is among the Silicon Valley billionaires the New York Times reported is looking to develop a utopian community in Solano County, about 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. That’s a sufficient distance from the homelessness and crime plaguing San Francisco, which Andreessen and his fellow Silicon Valley billionaires clearly view as someone else’s problem.
One can only imagine what housing in Andreessen’s dream community will go for.
As I’d expect, Andreessen is a huge promoter of AI, saying the technology will ultimately “save the world.” Exactly the position I’d expect from a billionaire whose firm no doubt has extensive AI investments and expects to profit mightily from its altruism saving humankind.
Elon Musk’s Disdain for Homeless People
When I became bi-coastal around 2015 and dividing my time between New York and San Francisco, Frisco was in the early stages of being overrun by tech geeks. A favorite pastime of the hoodie crowd was to publicly rail against homeless people, whose squalor and despair diminished the enjoyment of pricey free trade organic coffee and artisan baked goods. Tech’s open disdain for the downtrodden didn’t sit well with longtime San Francisco locals, who traditionally had compassion for the less fortunate and didn’t mind their taxes being used in attempts to help them.
Eventually, the techies realized their public rants against the homeless were turning the public against them, so they kept their disregard for the homeless to themselves.
Elon Musk, whose self control is as dubious as his Tesla’s autopilot technology, has let it be known that he not only has a disregard for the homeless, he believes that those who seek to help or protect them are “snakes.” In a post on his X social media site, Musk called for a boycott of Latham & Watkins, a giant law firm representing a homeless coalition, likely pro bono. The housing coalition successfully argued for a preliminary injunction in December that restricted the city from enforcing laws against lodging on the street.
“They (the pro bono lawyers) want war? Let’s give it to them. We cannot let these snakes win or San Francisco will end up like Detroit,” Musk posted on his X site.
There are perhaps some good arguments to boycott Latham & Watkins, including its controversial efforts in its defense of Hunter Biden. But advocating a boycott of the law firm because it chooses to represent people on the bottom economic rungs of society makes clear that Musk isn’t lacking empathy, he absolutely has none.
Homeless advocates say that the city’s displacement of homeless people makes it harder for them to escape homelessness and the injunction doesn’t affect San Francisco’s ability to conduct outreach or enforce other laws.
As reported by the San Francisco Standard, the city has 3,096 shelter beds that are capped between 90% and 95% occupancy to make room for emergency admissions from hospitals and jails. There were 462 people on a waiting list for shelter as of Monday morning.