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Bleeding Edge Roundup

DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Smile, you’re in the FBI face-recognition database
By David Kravets
ArsTechnica

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has access to as many as 411.9 million images as part of its face-recognition database. The bulk of those images are photographs of people who have committed no crime, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report says the bureau's Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation Services Unit contains not only 30 million mug shots, but also has access to driver license photos from 16 states, the State Department's visa and passport database, and the biometric database maintained by the Defense Department.

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The amazing artificial intelligence we were promised is coming, finally
By Vivek Wadhwa
The Washington Post

We have been hearing predictions for decades of a takeover of the world by artificial intelligence. In 1957, Herbert A. Simon predicted that within 10 years a digital computer would be the world’s chess champion.  That didn’t happen until 1996.  And despite Marvin Minsky’s 1970 prediction that “in from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being,” we still consider that a feat of science fiction. The pioneers of artificial intelligence were surely off on the timing, but they weren’t wrong; AI is coming.  It is going to be in our TV sets and driving our cars; it will be our friend and personal assistant; it will take the role of our doctor. There have been more advances in AI over the past three years than there were in the previous three decades.

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Letting Autopilot Off the Hook: Why do we blame humans when automation fails?
By Madeleine Clare Elish
Slate

While most discussions around autonomous cars are set in the world of hypothetical thought experiments, we might get the best perspective on the future implications of self-driving cars by examining the past. Histories of proto-autonomous systems, like cruise control and autopilot, can foreshadow the ways in which an initially disruptive technology gets incorporated into the social fabric of society.

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SUSTAINABILITY & ENVIRONMENT

Self-driving tractors and data science: we visit a modern farm
By Jonathan Gitlin
ArsTechnica

Despite misperceptions to the contrary, farming in the 21st century is a high-tech endeavor. We're not just talking about genetically modified crops or biotech-derived pesticides though; farm vehicles like tractors and combines are now networked to the cloud and in many cases are even capable of driving themselves.

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Antarctic carbon dioxide reaches highest levels in 4 million years
By Jason Thomas
Christian Science Monitor

Antarctica recently witnessed an event that last took place four million years ago: Carbon dioxide levels broke through the barrier of 400 parts per million (ppm). In fact, the frozen continent is a laggard in this respect. The announcement Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave the date of this milestone as May 23. But the global annual mean concentration of carbon dioxide already surpassed 400 ppm last year, the first time that has happened in human history. While the number 400 does not hold any inherent significance, it has become something of a symbol as more of the world becomes convinced of the need to stop the ballooning levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

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LABOR, TRADE, & ECONOMY

How Brexit Could Send Shockwaves Through the US Economy
Independent

Britain's departure from the European Union could send shock waves across the global economy and threaten more than a trillion dollars in investment and trade with the United States.

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A Severely Dragging Economy: The Next President Needs to Rebalance the Economy in Favor of the Many
By Mortimer Zuckerman
US News

We are at a curious inflection point in the history of this great nation. We still bear the scars of the Great Recession. The nation's job machine appears to be spluttering. Millions have lost wealth. And we are entering an election that will be more bitterly fought than any in memory now that terrorism has come again to disrupt normal discourse and challenge our way of life and the durability of our values. At the same time, we are on the cusp of a dazzling if challenging transformation of our daily lives. To make a figurative comparison, we are in the position of the several million Americans who fled west from the dust bowl and prolonged depression in the 1930s, their farms foreclosed by the banks. They could not see what California might become just as we are only beginning to see what might emerge from the innovative disruptions of a decade or two. Our already struggling job market is set to be up-ended because of technology.

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Why Young Americans are Giving up on Capitalism?
By Sarah Kendzior
Foreign Policy

Is it any wonder over half of 18- to 29-year-olds in America say they do not support capitalism? According to an April 2016 Harvard University poll, support for capitalism is at a historic low. 51 percent of Americans in this age cohort reject it, while 42 percent support it. 33 percent say they support socialism. The Harvard poll echoes a 2012 Pew survey, in which 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had a positive view of capitalism, and 47 percent a negative one. While older generations had a slightly more positive take on capitalism — topping out at 52 percent for the oldest cohort, citizens over 65 — youth had a markedly different take on socialism. 49 percent viewed it positively, compared to just 13 percent of those 65 or older. Does this mean that the youth of America are getting ready to hand over private property to the state and round up the kulaks?

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GLOBAL CONFLICT & DEVELOPMENT

3D-Printed Weather Stations Will Bring Zambia the Latest Forecast
By Linda Poon
CityLab

For a farmer in rural Zambia, knowing when it will rain and when the region is expected to get hit with an extended drought is crucial. The weather forecast helps decide, for example, how many crops to grow and what kind—maize, a Zambian staple that requires plenty of water, or beans, a more resilient crop that can withstand erratic weather. Yet reliable weather forecasts are hard to come by in developing countries, in part because weather stations are few and far between. So for the past three years, researchers at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research have been looking for a cheaper, functional alternatives—and they’ve turned to 3D-printing technology. With funding from USAID, the team recently installed five 3D-printed weather stations in Zambia, and are pilot-testing the machines with Zambia’s meteorological department.

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Europe's and UK's global impact on development for all would be weakened by Brexit
By Johannes Trimmel
Devex

On June 23 U.K. citizens will vote on whether to stay or leave the European Union. While there is a lot of talk on potential impact for Europe and the U.K. for either decision, relatively little debate takes place on what Brexit would mean for Europe’s and U.K.’s role globally. The vote comes at a time when governments around the world have just agreed to the ambitious 2030 agenda for sustainable development. No doubt, the U.K. leaving the European Union would undermine Europe’s ability to take an ambitious role in tackling current and future global challenges, and successfully contributing to fight poverty, injustice and inequality — both in Europe and globally.

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The Policy Desert
By Henry Porter
OpenDemocracy

As the UNHCR reports this week that over 10,000 migrants have been killed crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe since 2014, it is clear that we are only at the start of the problem for Europe. While war, the spread of Islamism and the collapse of states such as Libya are rightly blamed as the key factors behind the mass movement of people from North Africa and the Mediterranean, aid agencies now accept that some of these young men are on the road because of the discrete and mostly unreported results of climate change.

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AMERICAN COMMUNITIES

Welcome to Jail Inc: how private companies make money off US prisons
By Rupert Neate
The Guardian

Getting locked up is unlikely to be good for your health but it’s big business for the booming private industry supplying doctors and nurses to jails and prisons. Some 2.2 million adults were incarcerated in 2013 in US federal and state prisons and county jails, according to the bureau of justice statistics. States spend about $8bn a year on healthcare to try to keep prisoners alive. In an effort to cut costs, more state prisons and county jails are adding healthcare to the growing list of services that are outsourced to for-profit companies.

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How sexism holds back the economy
By Jim Tankersley
The Washington Post

The United States still makes it too hard for women and African-Americans to contribute as much as they could to the economy, a fact that has suppressed wages and slowed growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession. According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released Thursday afternoon, there are several impediments that are "compromising the economy’s ability to direct skills toward the activities where they are most highly valued.” These factors "still tilt the playing field against some groups—such as women, African-Americans, and those with criminal records." The repost also flags the growing share of the working-age population now collecting disability insurance, which it says "presents barriers to participating" in the job market, for women and men alike.

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The War on Stupid People
By David H. Freedman
The Atlantic

As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along. Today, however, even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the “nonsmart.” Rather than looking for ways to give the less intelligent a break, the successful and influential seem more determined than ever to freeze them out.

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Make America Afraid Again! What the Right Doesn't Understand About Violent Extremism

Make America Afraid Again! What the Right Doesn't Understand About Violent Extremism

FUTURE LEFT PODCAST EP.7:  Open Access Revolution?

FUTURE LEFT PODCAST EP.7: Open Access Revolution?