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.

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.

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. 

UPDATE: This February 3, 2016 post on Uber deserves an update. This week Uber announced that it lost $800 Million in its 3rd quarter. That’s correct, $800 Million in only three months. The Uber announcement tries to spin the loss as good news for Uber as ” increased by only 25% over the third quarter last year. An $800 Million quarterly loss is right up there in the same league with Trump lost money. I guess we need to remember Trump’s admonition that debt is good, and it’s ok to lose other people’s money. Uber’s announcement goes on to project continuing losses projected to be greater than $3 Billion next year, as Uber continues its plans for an apparent IPO for brain dead investors.

I am sharing this because of its particular relevance to the ongoing revelations about connections between global tax evasion shell companies and real estate markets: London, Miami, New York City, San Francisco and Vancouver.

So Trump is Uber and conversely, Uber is Trump. This comparison has been made by both supporters and opponents, so as they say, there must be some truth in it. Both Uber and Trump have based their strategies on disrupting the status quo and the establishment with politically incorrect behavior. My argument here is simply that while the disruption fostered by both Trump and Uber may appear attractive at first glance, and desirable to many, in both cases, there are much deeper ethical issues that are only now coming to the forefront.