Holy moly. Elon Musk is really a human being! This in depth profile by Neil Strauss is either an incredible scoop, or a deft bit of PR by Musk himself, who certainly is a master of the public reveal. Either way, it comes off as genuine, and it paints Musk in a very soft light. Money Quote: “There is clearly something Musk wants to share, but he can’t bring himself to utter the words, at least not on the record. “It’s so terrible, you can’t believe it.” The tears run silently down his face. “I can’t remember the last time I cried.” He turns to Teller to confirm this. “You’ve never seen me cry.”
If the future is no longer predictable, is it still imaginable?
No stranger to controversy, a Tony Stark reincarnate — Elon Musk — came out with an ominous prediction recently. “Forget North Korea, AI will start World War III” read the CNN headline. Elon Musk is not alone in fearing unintended consequences of the race to develop algorithms that we may or may not be able to control. Once a new technology is introduced it can’t be uninvented — Sam Harris points out in his viral TED talk. He argues that it’ll be impossible to halt the pace of progress, even if humankind could collectively make such a decision.
The critics and cheerleaders of AI alike agree on one thing: intelligence explosion will change the world beyond recognition.
Some people work in the gig economy because they want to, others because they have to. In a study of Uber and Lyft drivers, of which there are nearly a million in the U.S. alone, researcher Alex Rosenblat found that the interests of these two groups are different — and sometimes opposed (Harvard Business Review).
Here’s how that works: Only about 20 percent of drivers are full-time or near, but they handle a large proportion of rides taken. The majority of drivers, who are casual part-timers, give Uber flexibility, and the drivers are happy to get some spare cash. But the existence of this reserve pool gives the platform owner a buffer against the demands of the more dedicated workers. If the regulars ask for higher pay or better conditions, Uber can just tap into its reserve of extra workers. As Rosenblat puts it: “The availability of part-time earners reduces pressure on employers to create more sustainable earning opportunities.”
Uber is under new pressure to treat drivers as employees. The New York State Department of Labor ruled in two separate cases in August and September that two “deactivated” Uber drivers were eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Such payments typically only go to full-on employees rather than independent contractors (The New York Times). In some ways these are narrow rulings that “do not directly affect other drivers or extend to other protections normally accorded employees,” the Times explains. But they clearly represent a major challenge to every gig-economy company’s assertion that it its workers are contractors, not staff. Uber maintains that its drivers value the flexibility its model affords them more than anything else, and that flexibility will fade if the company is forced to follow overtime regulations, minimum-wage laws, and other employment rules. Since the unemployment benefits rulings are going to keep coming in piecemeal, and they often conflict with one another, the issue may ultimately only get resolved with new state or national legislation. Lawmakers could, for instance, establish a new labor classification of “dependent contractor” halfway between employee and independent contractor. Are we ready for the Uber Regulation Act of 2017?
Is Elon Musk spreading himself, and his companies’ money, too thin? As Tesla and Solar City prepare for a mid-November vote on their proposed merger, Technology Review asks whether Musk is building a “house of gigacards.” His ambitions are unprecedented: A moderately priced new electric car from Tesla is due next year. A gigantic battery factory in Nevada is under construction. And of course there’s talk of colonizing Mars. All these projects require massive amounts of cash, and it’s not entirely clear where Musk will get the money. Where Musk sees opportunity in how much of the U.S. market for electric cars and solar installations remains untapped, others see risk. The biggest risk of all, writes Peter Burrows, “is that Musk loses credibility by taking on so many huge challenges at once.”