Car repossession: Big Data +AI tools are not value-neutral

Does recent technology inherently favor capitalists over workers?

There is a lot of concern about AI potentially causing massive unemployment. The question of whether “this time will be different” is still open. But another insidious effect is gaining speed: putting tools in the hands of large companies that make it more expensive and more oppressive to run into financial trouble. In essence,  harder to live on the edges of “The System.”

  •  Cars with even one late payment can be spotted, and repossessed, faster. “Business has more than doubled since 2014….”  This is during a period of ostensible economic growth.
  • “Even with the rising deployment of remote engine cutoffs and GPS locators in cars, repo agencies remain dominant. … Agents are finding repos they never would have a few years ago.”
  • “So much of America is just a heartbeat away from a repossession — even good people, decent people who aren’t deadbeats,” said Patrick Altes, a veteran agent in Daytona Beach, Fla. “It seems like a different environment than it’s ever been.”
  • “The company’s goal is to capture every plate in Ohio and use that information to reveal patterns. A plate shot outside an apartment at 5 a.m. tells you that’s probably where the driver spends the night, no matter their listed home address. So when a repo order comes in for a car, the agent already knows where to look.”
  • Source: The surprising return of the repo man – The Washington Post

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Hollywood as a model for academic research

Academia has a problem: the value, necessity, and practices of collaboration are increasing, but the system of giving credit is inadequate. In most fields, there are only 4 levels of credit:

  • None at all
  • “Our thanks to Jill for sharing her data.” (a note of thanks)
  • First Authorship (This is ambiguous: it may be alphabetical.)
  • Listed as another author

In contrast to this paucity, modern empirical paper writing has many roles. Here are a dozen roles. Not all of them are important on a single paper, but each of them is important in some papers.

  • Intellectual leadership.
    • Source of the original idea
  • Doing the writing
    • Writing various parts, e.g. literature review
    • Doing the grunt work on the stat analysis. (Writing and running the R code)
    • Doing the grunt work of finalizing for publication. (Much easier than it used to be!)
    • Dealing with revisions, exchanges with editors, etc.
  • Source of the data.
    • Funder of the data
  • Raised the funding;
    • Runs the lab where the authors are employed
    • Source of the money: usually an agency or foundation, but sometimes the contracting author is listed as a coauthor.

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Irrational tax cuts won’t raise long term economic growth

I recently received the following on a Dave Farber’s “Interesting People” list, a collection of techies with interest in Internet policy issues. Why discuss it now, since the tax bill has been passed? It is important for all to realize how much the Republicans in Washington no longer believe in basing their decisions on  reality  (“facts”). It is very hard to believe this, but the evidence is now overwhelming, and the consequences will continue to be grave. I wrote the following quick response.
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It seems completely reasonable and even desirable to take actions such as lowering corp taxes,  lowering taxes on productivity and reducing regulation to get the economy growing at the 3-4%  range.

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Fraudulent academic journals are growing

Gina Kolata in the NY Times has been running a good series of articles on fraudulent academic publishing. The basic business model is an unholy alliance between academics looking to enhance their resumes, and quick-buck internet sites. Initially, I thought these sites were enticing naive academics. But many academics are apparently willing participants, suggesting that it’s  easy to fool many promotion and award committees.

All but one academic in 10 who won a School of Business and Economics award had published papers in these journals. One had 10 such articles.

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Explaining  Negative Electricity Prices 

When my colleagues and I developed the theory of real time electricity prices back in the dark ages (1982), we were amused to see that our equations allowed for the optimal price to be negative. Power companies would pay consumers to use more electricity! At the time, we thought it was a paradoxical case that was unlikely in practice, except possibly in the middle of the night in systems with lots of nuclear units.

Fast forward 30 years, and negative prices are a regular occurrence in real systems, including in Texas and California. And now they are even happing in the middle of the day. But there is still a puzzle: why don’t generators stop generating the moment the price goes negative?

Several blog posts from Berkeley’s great Energy Institute, and my response to one of them, show that real power systems can have a lot of unanticipated phenomena. Take together, these probably explain these apparently strange behaviors.

Source: Is Solar Really the Reason for Negative Electricity Prices? – Energy Institute Blog.   and from Catherine Wolfram, Is the Duck Sinking?
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Photovoltaics in Mission Bay neighborhood = 30% wasted

TL;DR In Southern California should put PV on houses and buildings that are far from the coast, because coastal areas are cloudy much of the summer. But the actual pattern is the opposite. I estimate a 30% magnitude of loss. Even my employer, UCSD, has engaged in this foolishness in order to appear trendy.

The bumpiness of this graph shows the effects of coastal weather in August.

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Very good news: “Exhaustion doctrine” strongly supported by Supreme Court

SC overturns Lexmark’s patent win on used printer cartridges. Since the 17th century, restricting resale has been “against Trade and Traffique.”

Source: Supreme Court overturns Lexmark’s patent win on used printer cartridges | Ars Technica

Summary: once a product is sold, the original patent holder can’t control how it is subsequently used.

Not the only seller.

Today’s ruling is a win for many tech companies, with companies like Vizio, Dell, Intel, LG Electronics, HTC, and Western Digital all taking the side of Impression Products. [the winner] …The companies on Lexmark’s side, no surprise, were heavy licensers of patents, including tech giants like Qualcomm, IBM, Nokia, and Dolby. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical groups also supported Lexmark. Those lineups largely mirror industry divisions over Congressional debates around reforming patent laws, with the pro-Impression companies favoring user-friendly changes to patent laws, and the pro-Lexmark companies wanting more changes that favor patent owners.

I often gripe about the Supreme Court’s seeming “go with the big $” jurisprudence. But in this case, there was plenty of corporate power on both sides. And the 7-1 verdict means it was not a close call.