WTF Weekly for August 20, 2019

Fall approaches, and so does the annual release of a new version of iOS. This year it’s iOS 13 and iPadOS 13. Although the betas have been incredibly rough this year, as of developer beta 7, released this past week, I think they’re finally stable enough for most people.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an iPad, you’ll love iPadOS. It took Apple long enough, but they’ve finally managed to arrive at a vision of their software that makes the iPad truly a productivity workhorse (not to mention just plain fun to use).

Enough of my Apple operating system summer report, let’s get on to the week or so that was.

Twitter is blocked in China, but its state news agency is buying promoted tweets to portray Hong Kong protestors as violent

I don’t know what’s going to happen between Hong Kong and China ultimately, but it’s fascinating watching.

I believe that the Chinese campaign to smear the protesters is effective. The company I work for has a plant in China, and one Chinese coworker over here in the U.S. for a few weeks griped to me angrily last week that Hong Kong and Taiwan should just get over it and allow themselves to be fully subsumed by the People’s Republic of China.

Personally, I’m no nationalist, and I think if people want their own country separate from the giant to the north (in the case of Hong Kong) or west (in the case of Taiwan), they should be allowed to. I’m sure in the minds of Chinese mainlanders, wanting independence is ridiculous and insulting, but it’s really hard to make a case for forced patriotism.

China itself is an ongoing study in industrial progress combined with a rapidly expanding authoritarianism. It’s a country that will continue to increasingly impact global political dynamics, for better or worse (and probably both).

AI Algorithms Need FDA-Style Drug Trials

We don’t just let people toss mind and body altering drugs on the market without testing, so why should we do the same with society altering software algorithms? This is the argument presented by Olaf J. Groth, Mark J. Nitzberg, and Stuart J. Russell in Wired’s Opinion column.

Despite the fact that three men with middle initials J seems like something only an AI could come up with, this article calls for regulation of Artificial Intelligence, so I guess perhaps these are real human beings postulating caution here.

To be sure, social media in particular has unleashed algorithms bent on exploiting human behavior for financial gain with quite destructive results, if the past few years have been any indication. This is bad enough in and of itself, but as AI entrenches itself in all parts of our lives going forward, careful testing and study of effects on society seems even more important.

I don’t know if I’m optimistic that the human race will recognize the severity of the danger that AI and ML in general pose to us, particularly because most people working in those fields do not encompass a diverse enough subset of the human race, but I’m glad at least some people are thinking about this issue and trying to bring it to more widespread attention.

Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say

Capitalism loves it some maximized returns, but it looks like a lot of corporation CEOs are at least seeing the need to publicly profess that ultimate profits aren’t the only thing that matters in business.

I’ve long argued that no company can live quarter to quarter and manage a decent strategy. Tech companies, for example, generally have a pipeline at least a couple years long, and an understanding of where technology is going and the will to put a plan in place and stick with it is important for their success. Bowing at the altar of Wall Street is anathema to successful strategy.

That’s not the reason for the sudden chorus of socially conscious disclaimers emanating from the mouths of chief executives, but it’s part of the reality any decent CEO should consider if this is truly a moment of business priority reconsideration.

As noted in the article, if CEOs are truly suddenly becoming more caring, self-aware human beings, they could start showing it by raising salaries for employees, particularly low wage workers, and by narrowing the gap between their own pay and that of everyone else in the company.

Capitalism has a history of maximizing profit at the expense of worker and customer well-being, and that’s probably not going to change any time soon. If by some crazy miracle a genuine reflection of what it means to be a corporation in modern society is underway, however, it’s about damn time.

And finally, from the “what could possibly go wrong” bucket:

Japan Approves Experiments Splicing Human Dna With Animal Embryos

Organ donation is a troublesome necessity that has several issues. People have to die for organ transplants to take place, for one thing, and this is not only a sad thing but also results in waiting lists for important organs. Basically, someone is guaranteed to die if enough people need a liver.

Using animals to harvest organs suitable for human transplant seems like a solution though, right? Right??

Or maybe it seems creepy and fraught with unexpected consequences, but maybe that’s just my opinion.

All I know is the tendency of humans to do something just because it’s possible cuts both ways. Sometimes it saves the patient, and sometimes it kills them and everyone else.

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