When two of the biggest trends in finance converge

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

While the wild fight over the GameStop stock in the last few weeks might seem like an amusing flash in the pan, don’t underestimate the sheer depth of feeling that has unified so many people against banks and hedge funds. Society’s grievances against Wall Street, festering since the GFC, are starting to boil over. In an interesting quirk of history, the war over GME has come at the same point that autonomous financial protocols — self-driving banks — are starting to pick up serious momentum. …

Facebook and Twitter are no angels of democracy

Photo: BBC

The sighs of relief from all around the world were almost palpable when Donald Trump’s Twitter account was permanently banned this month. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Google (among others) have all ‘cancelled’ the president from their platform, giving many of us a satisfying sense of schadenfreude. Nobody thinks Trump’s tweets were acceptable and few will be sad that he is gone from our newsfeeds. On the other hand, the deplatforming of Trump sets a dangerous new precedent for democracy, with unelected tech executives choosing to silence the voice of a sitting president.

While it is not right to describe…

A reflection on political will and the power of the state

Photo by Ev on Unsplash

One of the most remarkable and under-reported aspects of New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 is how the government eliminated homelessness during the lockdown period. Rough sleepers were offered places in motels, supported with mental health and other wrap-around services, and guaranteed access to food and welfare support. In a matter of days, New Zealand ‘solved’ homelessness for a period of time and protected some of its most vulnerable from a rampaging virus. The total cost of this outrageous policy success? $22 million dollars.

Of course, motel rooms are not a long-term solution to chronic homelessness, and the price tag for…

Welcome to your personal ‘desirability’ score

Image: Wiktor Karkocha

There is no doubt that on the whole, the economic impacts from the lockdown and pandemic will be devastating. But while most leisure activities were throttled by the lockdown, others thrived — just ask any of your friends that did Yoga With Adrienne (probably the same mates that brew their own kombucha). Another unlikely winner? Dating apps. Tinder and Bumble usage alone spiked by over 20%, with Tinder registering 3 billion swipes on 28 March alone.

However, the pandemic only accelerated a trend that was already in full force: finding love via apps. “Met online” is now the most common…

Congress has a job approval of 18%. It’s a low bar for algorithms

Salesforces’ AI Economist

The idea that the work of our elected representatives could be done better by a computer program would strike most sensible people as absurd. Managing the economy and all of its moving parts, for instance, is a herculean task for any government. Balancing the implementation of new policies with keeping a steady hand on the tiller is no easy feat, even with a legion of civil servants standing by to shower decision-makers with memos and white papers.

On the other hand, just a few years ago, the idea that a computer program (an AI) could write poetry was absurd. Now…

Why weaponised racism and lies still plague the platform

Photo: NBC

Even before Covid-19 prevented most of us from leaving our homes, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter had become society’s main public square. We gather online in Facebook and WhatsApp chats and average two and a half hours a day on social media, trawling through never-ending feeds of updates and information. This has changed political life as well as the social fabric — for instance, even civil activism like the mass support of the Black Lives Matter movement is (at least in part) conducted online.

With these technology platforms becoming increasingly central, the way in which these online spaces…

The UN says we have entered “unacceptable moral territory”

UN Secretary-General and no fan of killer robots, Antonio Guterres (Photo: Wiki)

On the otherwise celebratory occasion of the United Nation’s 75th anniversary in January this year, Antonio Guterres — the UN’s Secretary-General — gave a grim address best summarised by his description of the world as “off-track”. On Guterres’ list of existential threats were the climate crisis, geopolitical tensions and the abuse of new technologies — naming one in particular:

“Lethal autonomous weapons — machines with the power to kill on their own, without human judgment and accountability — are bringing us into unacceptable moral and political territory.”

While states might debate whether lethal autonomous weapon systems (or ‘killer robots’ in…

A perfect demonstration of why mass adoption is a while away

Photo: John Phillips/Stringer/Getty Images

On what appeared to be an otherwise regular quarantine Friday night with a few Old-Fashioneds, J.K. Rowling opened the floodgates to Crypto Twitter with a single tweet:

Rowling was quickly engulfed with the full force of Crypto Twitter — literally thousands of replies, including every significant person in the cryptocurrency space. Seemingly everyone even vaguely interested in crypto chipped in, from Elon Musk to the @Bitcoin Twitter account. The result was predictable:

It only took a few hours for Rowling to conclude that bitcoin and cryptocurrency were too confusing for her to understand. The responses were so intense…

Do not trust pundits touting a non-existent “supply reduction”

Photo: Dmitry Demidko

Bitcoin’s long-awaited halving took place earlier today, against a backdrop of genuine ecstasy among the cryptocurrency’s dedicated acolytes. There were countdowns, live-streamed video events and chants of “when moon?” It cracked the mainstream news and is regarded as the biggest event in crypto. The halving has driven seemingly every bitcoin owner on the face of the Earth into making enthused price predictions and posting them online.

All of this is categorically insane. Worse, it is built on a lie, or at least a piece of purposeful misdirection on the part of Bitcoin’s major boosters, who should know better.

There are…

Are algorithms stripping away our free will?

Warning — this article contains no spoilers for the plot of Westworld Season 3, but does discuss some of the season’s themes and setting. If you prefer to avoid all coverage before you watch a show, best to close this piece and get streaming.

Though the sci-fi blockbuster Westworld is set in 2058, it’s not easy at first to spot the difference between the futuristic cities depicted on screen and our own. Season 3 of the show portrays a society glued to their smartphones, trying to climb corporate ladders and popping pills when it all gets too much. …

Matt Bartlett

Writing about the intersection of technology and society at https://technocracy.substack.com/.

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