Why Tech Needs to Keep Fighting Trump on Travel


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When the first Trump travel ban rolled out in a flurry of airport chaos and outraged protests last month, tech companies flocked to join the swell of opposition. 127 firms signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the legal challenge to the president’s executive order that led to its demise.

But the arrival of Trump Ban 2.0 this week has evoked less of a response from tech, and so far, although 58 companies have signed on to support a challenge to the new order, Google, Apple, and Facebook are not among them (Reuters).

Maybe they think the legal case is weaker. Maybe they’re not feeling pressure from employees the way they did last time around. Maybe they just haven’t moved quickly enough to keep up with events. Or maybe they’re hoping the issue will just go away.

Alas, it won’t. The exclusionary nationalism the Trump administration keeps pushing is at fundamental odds with the ideals of tech’s young workforce and a population of entrepreneurs gathered from the four corners of the globe. The more xenophobia the Trump administration unleashes, the harder it will be for American companies to keep attracting the world’s talent.

U.S. colleges are already seeing significant declines in applications from overseas. We’re seeing a new wave of hate crimes and violence against Indian Americans, who have become a target of violence for the white-nationalist fringe.

The larger struggle here is between Enlightenment principles — reason, science, and the brotherhood of humanity — and reactionary blood-and-soil anger. That’s no run-of-the-mill partisan squabble: it’s a fight for the soul of the future that no company can sit out.

Ads Are Coming to An AI Near You

As we rush to fill the silence of our living rooms with the voices of corporate artificial intelligences like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, ready to answer our questions and fulfill our needs, here’s a cautionary note: We are also likely to get advertising in the AI mix.

The pitch for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast that some Google Home users heard as part of their “My Day” summary sure sounded like an ad (Business Insider). Google’s spokespeople insisted it wasn’t: “After providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content.” And Disney apparently didn’t pay for the placement, though Google did refer to it as a “partner” (The Verge).

It’s easy to see where this is headed: If users are going to expect free AI-driven personal assistants, companies are going to make them profitable by selling ad placements powered by incredibly precise personalization.

Should we worry? On the one hand, we survived decades of radios and TVs blaring ads into our homes. On the other, these personal assistants are going to know everything about our lives: If omniscient AIs start selling us stuff, we might all go broke.

YouTube’s Wojcicki: How to Welcome More Women

As we collectively lament the continuing failure of the tech industry to make room for women and to treat them fairly, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has a simple prescription for change: Hire more women at every level (Vanity Fair).

When CEOs make that a priority, there’s a benign ripple effect across a whole company. Female employees are more likely to feel at home, and to stick around, when they have peers to confide in, mentors to turn to, and examples to emulate.

Wojcicki seems to be trying to follow her own advice: YouTube’s gender breakdown has moved from 24 percent women to 30 percent since she assumed the CEO job in 2014. That means it still has a long way to go — but at least, unlike so many other companies, it’s moving.

In Singapore, Uber Rides Pay for Drivers’ Rentals

From the department of “the street finds its own uses for things”: Owning a car is prohibitively expensive in Singapore. So people there who can’t afford a vehicle of their own are renting one, paying for the rental by picking up some Uber customers, and then using the rest of the rental time for their own purposes (Bloomberg). Rentals in Singapore are way up even as the total vehicle count there is declining.

Uber didn’t set out to make car rental more practical than ownership in Singapore, but that’s what its service has led to. As more gig-economy platforms expand globally into different communities with different conditions than the norms a U.S.-based management might expect, we’ll only see more of this kind of unanticipated social and economic impact. That’s yet another reason why companies need to have more diverse teams: They’ll be able to see around more corners.


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