The ACLU Is the Latest Y Combinator Startup


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In the aftermath of President Trump’s order for a new immigration ban, the American Civil Liberties Union won a flood of online contributions — $24 million over a weekend, six times its usual annual take from online donors (Fast Company). Tech CEOs and wealthy Silicon Valley investors made impromptu offers to match individual donations, game companies put pop-up suggestions in front of players, and app-based services like Lyft pledged direct support.

Now the ACLU has to figure out how to use that windfall effectively, and it’s taking up an offer from Y Combinator to join the high-profile startup accelerator’s Winter 2017 class (TechCrunch). The ACLU has been around nearly a century, has a long history of defending individual civil rights, and operates at national scale. It’s anything but a startup. The idea is that the nonprofit will be able to network with Silicon Valley execs, thinkers, and engineers and put its war-chest to more effective use, particularly when it comes to building better technology to sustain its new momentum and connect with supporters.

Peter Thiel, Trump’s ambassador to the tech world and a backer of free-speech-stifling lawsuits against media outlets, is also affiliated with Y Combinator. Who knows? Perhaps Thiel will cross paths with ACLU reps during their time of acceleration. If so, we hope someone records the conversation — and leaks it.

California Already Had Its Revolt Against Immigrants 25 Years Ago

Today California is a Democratic-controlled, Rainbow Coalition-style haven for anti-Trump ideology. Politically and socially, it looked very different a quarter century ago, when Pete Wilson was governor and the state embraced the immigrant-bashing Prop 187.

By “lashing out at diversity before embracing it,” maybe California was just a few laps ahead of the rest of the U.S., writes Emily Badger in The New York Times. That would mean the Trump era, far from being the start of something new, represents (as Pete Leyden argued in NewCo Shift) one final spasm of xenophobic backlash before the nation comes to terms with its new demographics — as California has happily done.

Badger cites studies finding that resistance to immigration stiffens, not when the raw numbers of newcomers peak, but when demographic change speeds up and becomes most visible in communities. That’s what seems to have happened recently, as waves of immigrants have followed farming and energy jobs to rural America. The good news is that the U.S. has a solid track record of transcending these frictions in the long run. But that long run is a matter of decades, sociologist Robert Putnam tells Badger. First we have to get through the friction and the anger — and try to minimize the damage.

Are the Uber-Deleters Being Unfair?

Uber has found itself in a PR crisis since President Trump’s immigration ban came own and the ride-hailing service was viewed as having taken steps to undermine a protest at New York’s JFK airport. We keep coming back to this story because it’s a kind of test case for the viability of business neutrality in the Trump era.

In Quartz, Alison Griswold argues that Uber did nothing wrong and didn’t deserve the #deleteuber outrage. and that “the firehose of righteous liberal anger” has been mis-aimed. New York’s Brian Feldman suggests that the specific grievance against Uber may well have been overblown or unfair; but the company’s longer-term behavior patterns, like defying local regulations and gleefully wrecking incumbent businesses, made a popular backlash inevitable. It’s corporate karma, straight up.

Right or wrong, Uber, whose CEO is a Trump adviser, is now scrambling to hold onto the hearts and minds of its young, urban customer base. As Johana Bhuiyan reports in Recode, Uber users who tell the company they’re deleting their accounts because of the immigration controversy now receive a message back from the company saying that Uber shares their views and believes Trump’s ban is “unjust, wrong, and against everything we stand for as a company.”

How We Could End Up Hating Self-Driving Cars — And Their Owners

Once self-driving cars become embedded in human society, we should expect them to have unexpected consequences, because all technology does. Will self-driving cars become “social outcasts”? And will they bring out anti-social behavior in people? Rodney Brooks, the robotics guru, asks these questions in an original blog post that goes beyond much of the current dialogue on autonomous vehicles.

Brooks’s scenarios are plausible. In one, he observes that pedestrians and human drivers perform a complex dance of cues and subtle signals that changes depending on the nature of the location, sometimes from block to block. If driverless cars end up programmed for cautious deference to pedestrians (as they likely will, for obvious safety reasons), they will anger human drivers by slowing traffic, and they will arouse contempt in pedestrians and human drivers.

In Brooks’ other scenario, owners of self-driving cars will engage in antisocial choices like leaving their autonomous vehicle idling by a hydrant while they dash in for a coffee, or having their cars circle the block endlessly if they can’t find a spot. “Early on in the transition to driverless cars,” Brooks says, “the 1% will have a whole new way to alienate the rest of the society.” Humans and technology, Brooks’ speculation reminds us, form an indivisible whole. Even when the cars are driving themselves, people will still be their “users.”

If you’re as eager to join this conversation as we are to convene it, please join us at the Shift Forum this February 6–8th in San Francisco. We’ve got a very limited number of seats left, and we expect it to sell out shortly. Because the event is held under Chatham House Rule, you’ll have be present to learn from these extraordinary leaders. Non profit and founder discounts are available. We hope to see you there!

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