The thermometer showed a 103.5-degree fever, and her 10-year-old’s asthma was flaring up. Mary Bolender, who lives in Las Vegas, needed to get her daughter to an emergency room, but her 2005 Chrysler van would not start.
The cause was not a mechanical problem — it was her lender.
Ms. Bolender was three days behind on her monthly car payment. Her lender, C.A.G. Acceptance of Mesa, Ariz., remotely activated a device in her car’s dashboard that prevented her car from starting. Before she could get back on the road, she had to pay more than $389, money she did not have that morning in March.
“I felt absolutely helpless,” said Ms. Bolender, a single mother who stopped working to care for her daughter. It was not the only time this happened: Her car was shut down that March, once in April and again in June.
This new technology is bringing auto loans — and Wall Street’s version of Big Brother — into the lives of people with credit scores battered by the financial downturn.
- But I've lately undergone a crisis of confidence: I find it hard to hit the road without consulting my phone. And while I'd like to think the recommended route (from Google, Waze, Hopstop, etc.) is just one influence among many—that I have other preferences their algorithms can't perceive—I'm not too proud to confess that I trust the computer more than I trust myself. The habits, hubris, and quirky predilections that once manipulated my movements are being replaced by the judgments of artificial intelligence.
- In this I'm not alone. The rise in mobile navigation technology has, in just a few years, transformed the way we get around cities. In 2011, 35 percent of Americans had smartphones; by 2013, that had grown to 61 percent. Three-quarters of those people now use their phones for directions and location-based services. One in five Americans used the Google Maps app in June; one in eight used Apple Maps. Tens of millions more rely on car-based modules hitched to the satellites of the Global Positioning System.
- That is dumbfounding progress. The full precision of GPS was made public only 15 years ago, and as recently as the early 2000s, GPS was considered a tool of "sailors, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts." Today, nearly every mobile app employs it. Radio traffic reports feel as antiquated as floppy disks.
News is now not just outside newspapers, it is outside newsrooms. It is impossible for humans to filter efficiently the vast numbers of images, videos, tweets and updates created and shared by humans, bots and devices. By 2020, according to consultants Gartner, there will be 20bn devices connected to the internet, and they will all have something to say for themselves. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and what’s next are and will continue to be making editorial decisions on our behalf. Costolo taking his first editorial stance is significant because he was public and unapologetic about removing material that he felt did cultural and economic damage to Twitter. The Facebook algorithm, and other sorting processes, are both more opaque and less accountable. The decline of the newspaper, and the subsequent closure or shrinking of newsrooms, not only leaves news unbound, it also removes the culture of editorial filtering. Centuries of human debate over cultural values, expressed in everything from intrusive splashes to grandiose editorials, are disappearing to be replaced by a black box.
Accountability is not part of Silicon Valley’s culture. But surely as news moves beyond paper and publisher, it must become so. For a decade or more, news organisations have been obeisant to the power of corporate technology, nodding and genuflecting at the latest improbably impressive magic. But their editorial processes have something to offer technologists too.
Transparency and accountability have to accompany the vast, important role our key information providers now play in society. It is understandable why platforms such as Facebook strenuously resist being labelled as “publishers”, but it is no longer realistic. It takes very little narrative imagination to grasp the ethical complexities ahead; every policeman wearing a camera, every terror cell with a Twitter feed, every face in a crowd rendered recognisable.