Logical fantasies

From Tim Hwang and Madeleine Clare Elish’s “The Mirage of the Marketplace,” in Slate:

When you open the Uber app as a rider, you see a map of your local pickup area, with little sedans around that appear to be drivers available for a request. While you might assume these reflect an accurate picture of market supply, the way drivers are configured in Uber’s marketplace can be misleading. According to Rosenblat and Stark, the presence of those virtual cars on the passenger’s screen does not necessarily reflect an accurate number of drivers who are physically present or their precise locations. Instead, these phantom cars are part of a “visual effect” that Uber uses to emphasize the proximity of drivers to passengers. Not surprisingly, the visual effect shows cars nearby, even when they might not actually exist. Demand, in this case, sees a simulated picture of supply. Whether you are a driver or a rider, the algorithm operating behind the curtain at Uber shows a through-the-looking-glass version of supply and demand.

From Edward Moore Geist’s “Is Artificial Intelligence Really an Existential Threat to Humanity?,” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

For all its entertainment value as a philosophical exercise, Bostrom’s concept of superintelligence is mostly a distraction from the very real ethical and policy challenges posed by ongoing advances in artificial intelligence. Although it has failed so far to realize the dream of intelligent machines, artificial intelligence has been one of the greatest intellectual adventures of the last 60 years. In their quest to understand minds by trying to build them, artificial intelligence researchers have learned a tremendous amount about what intelligence is not.

From John Gray’s “The Friedrich Hayek I Knew, and What He Got Right — and Wrong,” in the New Statesman:

Hayek liked to ridicule the idea that institutions could be designed on the basis of abstract models – a view he criticised as embodying a philosophy of “constructivist rationalism”. Yet his scheme for an ultra-liberal constitution was a prototypical version of the philosophy he had attacked.

It may have been a half-conscious awareness of the limitations of this rationalistic philosophy that fuelled his evolutionary speculations. Underpinning his defence of the free market was a belief in what he called “spontaneous order in society” – the idea that, if only human beings were not subject to oppressive governments, they would evolve in ways that allowed them to live together in peace and freedom. This was not a view held by Hayek’s friend and LSE colleague Karl Popper, who gently demolished it when I talked with him, or by the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott, also a colleague at the LSE, who dismissed it – accurately – as “rubbish”. A type of unplanned order may well emerge in society but there is no reason why it should respect liberal values. There is nothing particularly liberal about the Mafia.

From Moira Weigel’s “Fitted,” in The New Inquiry:

FitBit tells us back a story of our lives that has become highly abstract. The difference between the springtime run that you take with two friends and the half hour of jumping jacks that you do in the bathroom after not managing to throw up all of a chicken burger will not register. In this life, steps are steps.