Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant For Code


Lulu Hoeller | Flickr

Who will watch the algorithms? Companies today often hand decisions off to code, because code can move faster, incorporate more data, and scale better than humans. That’s great, and algorithms are frequently where innovative new players find their edge. They’re the secret sauce — and they’re typically kept secret, because the more they’re documented, the more easy it is for them to be gamed. But secret algorithms are also an open invitation to discrimination and inequity (Pacific Standard). The more we use them in fields like banking, criminal justice, or hiring and human resources, the more important it becomes to hold them accountable — to open them up so individual users can understand why they were refused that loan or job. Ever combed through the errors in your own credit report? Then you know how meaningful such auditing of algorithms and their data can be.

Apps alone don’t make cities smart. The race to wire up cities with real-time data feedback loops promises to make urban life more efficient and manageable on many levels, from transport to utilities to human services. But we should be careful not to turn this application of Internet-of-things tech into a fetish or an ideology (Boston Globe). Boston’s alliance with Waze has helped residents cope with their region’s choked roads. And it’s little wonder that cash-strapped cities might be exploring ditching municipal bus systems for Lyft and Uber (Bloomberg). But a city’s stakeholders can’t delegate tough political choices to an app. If they do, they risk roping off information that should be publicly shared, driving up the price of housing, and promoting inequality.

WeWork courts big business. WeWork, the NewCo that brought shared work spaces with tech-friendly amenities and microbrew taps to downtowns across the country, is trying to attract customers from the BigCo world (The Wall Street Journal). Large companies with lots of startup clients — like Silicon Valley Bank — are finding it useful to set up shop in WeWork’s spaces: Meetings are convenient, and recruiting can benefit. It may be hard to imagine any Fortune 500 enterprise moving its whole operation into a WeWork pod. But 10 percent of firms on that list already rent some space from WeWork, the company says.

Secrets of their early success. The #firstsevenjobs social media meme opens a colorful window onto the changing shape of entry-level work (The Atlantic). These little snapshots of the path to gainful employment, provided by celebrities and everyday people alike on Twitter and Facebook, also reveal that most paths from just-out-of-school to dream job are a lot more circuitous than straight. At this early stage of most careers, “do what you love” is rarely an option, and chance plays a big role. Another data point: For the newest job-market cohort, old-standby summer jobs are evaporating (Bloomberg) — whether in babysitting, fast food or paper routes (going fast, that one).

Immigrants don’t take jobs — jobs draw immigrants. You might not know it from today’s heated campaign-trail rhetoric, but the historical data shows that immigration doesn’t reduce the number of jobs available to the rest of the U.S. population (Quartz). It doesn’t cut wages, either. When the economy’s cooking, and demand for jobs is high, people immigrate to fill those positions. Also in the data adjustment department: When Donald Trump complains about “record” levels of immigration, he’s not taking into account the overall rise in U.S. population. (That’s how he wound up with a “record” primary vote count, too — given the population increase, it would be shocking for the winner to not break the record.)

Also in NewCo Shift: Jonathan Stray on how to do good with tech, better: Tech startups aren’t well adapted to taking on big systems, so you “need someone on the team who really, really understands how to work within that system as it stands today.” You need to put your mission ahead of your profit margin. And you ought to meet the people you’re trying to help.

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