The Critical Need to Integrate The Humanities With Deep Technology

After watching “The Great Hack” on Netflix I am appalled by the absence of any moral compass at Cambridge Analytica, which transformed Big Data into a political weapon. Other disturbing examples are Uber’s former corporate culture and Facebook’s collusion with CA in abusing our privacy. These cases are prima facie evidence of the crucial need and the opportunity to integrate the Humanities and ethics with deep technology development. I began my career as a Humanities graduate at Intel Corporation working closely with Ivy League MBA’s and senior engineers. We shared our knowledge and learned together to enable the company to excel. The best companies are those grounded in an appreciation of human values, companies that seek out Humanities graduates with a passion for technology to balance out their teams.

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At its inception, Uber touted itself as a shining example of the “sharing economy” described by Jeremy Rifkin, in this now famous book, The Third Industrial Revolution. As time has passed the reality has been radically at odds with a sharing economy.  Among the many issues that have emerged has been the legacy of Uber’s ugly corporate culture, secret apps used to confound regulators, and to intimidate journalists, a Justice Department investigation of illegal practices, including 200 Uber employees conspiring together to attack Lyft’s operations. The proverbial chickens have come home to roost, as municipalities around the world have begun to regain control of transportation policy within their jurisdictions, and the inflated valuations of these unicorns begin to deflate.

In an extraordinary revelation today by Ronan Farrow, son of Woody Allen and the writer for The New Yorker who broke this story, it was revealed that Harvey Weinstein hired a female Israeli ex-Mossad agent via a private firm, Black Cube, and who used false identities and secret recording devices to intimidate Rose MacGowan and other female accusers of Harvey Weinstein.  Mr. Farrow appeared tonight on PBS Newshour in an interview by Judy Woodruff to detail his investigative findings. This has also now been reported by the Washington Post and other journals. 

Amid another leak of documents revealing large-scale international tax avoidance, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said Monday that tax avoidance was fast becoming a thing of the past. “When we’re talking about the ‘Panama Papers’ or ‘Paradise Papers’we’re talking about a legacy that is fast disappearing,” Angel Gurria said. Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London, Gurria said governments were working hard to stop tax avoidance and evasion.

This week’s new offshore tax haven treasure trove from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), known as the Paradise Papers, has offered further evidence why KPMG Canada chose the Isle of Man for its Canadian tax evasion scheme. The ICIJ also released the now infamous Panama Papers in 2016. Both the UK Inland Revenue and the Canada Revenue Agency are investigating these new revelations.  With so many offshore tax haven and tax evasion schemes afoot, it is difficult to keep track of them all, but it is not difficult to see the impact on the 99% of us who don’t have access to offshore tax havens. 

The genius of Steve Jobs lies in his hippie period and with his time at Reed College, the pre-eminent Liberal Arts college in North America. To his understanding of technology, Jobs brought an immersion in popular culture. In his 20s, he dated Joan Baez; Ella Fitzgerald sang at his 30th birthday party. His worldview was shaped by the ’60s counterculture in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he had grown up, the adopted son of a Silicon Valley machinist. When he graduated from high school in Cupertino in 1972, he said, “the very strong scent of the 1960s was still there. After dropping out of Reed College, a stronghold of liberal thought in Portland, Ore., in 1972, Mr. Jobs led a countercultural lifestyle himself. He told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand.

For over a  year now I have blogged here about the red flags flying about Travis Kalanick and Uber. Many investigative articles have been published over this time, in the New York Times and other publications, which have raised disturbing questions about Uber, Kalanick and some members of his team. The Board of Directors has finally taken action but it feels like its a day late and a dollar short.  Why did it take so long?  I have bluntly used the epithet that “Uber is Trump,” but now on reflection, it is more apt to describe Uber as Enron the sequel, and “deja vu all over again.” Remember the audio of two Enron electricity traders laughing about “screwing grandma?” That is Uber. 

Perhaps the premiere of Season 4 of “Silicon Valley” twigged me to share this post. but despite the title, the HBO series only connection may be the now viral “mean jerk time algorithm.” The real “Silicon Valley jerk” has been around for decades, buried with all the other dirty laundry. Uber’s Travis Kalanick has only brought it front and center at this moment. It is something of a conundrum as some of the jerks are also the most successful. We all now know about the “bad” Steve Jobs. Oracle for years had a very bad reputation that came directly from Larry Ellison himself. Microsoft was long known as a “sweatshop” with a highly negative culture led by Steve Ballmer. Even venture capitalists themselves have caught the disease as evidenced by Reid Hoffman and the late Tom Perkins of KPCB. The best assessment I have heard is that these aggressive unrestrained corporate cultures destroy their own goals. Or better yet, the saying that “culture trumps strategy.”

Despite all of the revelations of the sources and methods of the Vancouver housing bubble over the last two years, the situation remains largely unresolved. Ditto in Toronto. The foreign buyers’ tax has had only a limited effect and has problems. Fueled by dark foreign money housed in anonymous offshore shell companies like those disclosed in the Panama Papers, the money is managed by local financial manipulators at the behest of unidentifiable persons overseas. The foreign buyers continue to enjoy the weakest enforcement jurisdiction in Canada