Andrew Yang will not forestall the robot apocalypse from the Oval Office, but he may get to do it from New York City Hall. In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, the former entrepreneur's quirky campaign found a surprisingly robust audience, attracted by Yang's warnings about automation and his promise to mail every American a "freedom dividend" (or, at least, by his math jokes and laid-back, open collar). In the end, the Yang Gang only got their guy as far as the New Hampshire primary. But thanks in part to the name recognition and national network of donors he accrued during that race, Yang is actually leading the polls this year's contest to be the Democratic candidate for New York City mayor. On Friday, Henry Grabar and Jordan Weissmann, two of Slate's native New Yorkers, convened to debate whether this is a good thing. Their debate has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The main antagonist of the past season of Star Trek: Discovery was Osyraa, played by the great Janet Kidder, an Orion woman and leader of the Emerald Chain, a crime syndicate intent on dominating the galaxy and crushing the Federation. For most viewers not steeped in Trek lore, Osyraa was just a great green villain who seemed ready to spar with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her crew, but the history of the Orion race is a murky one that Trek's writers have been trying to reckon with for decades. In the early years of Star Trek, the Orions were standard-issue exotics. During Trek's first iteration, in 1966, Captain Kirk has just an encounter with an Orion woman, the sex slave of a former Starfleet officer, a character who didn't have much going for her beyond being scantily clad and green. In the 1970s animated series, Kirk and Co. fought off a ship of male Orion pirates attempting to steal a bunch of space fuel and medicine.
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In December, the University of Texas at Austin's computer science department announced that it would stop using a machine-learning system to evaluate applicants for its Ph.D. program due to concerns that encoded bias may exacerbate existing inequities in the program and in the field in general. This move toward more inclusive admissions practices is a rare (and welcome) exception to a worrying trend in education: Colleges, standardized test providers, consulting companies, and other educational service providers are increasingly adopting predatory, discriminatory, and outright exclusionary student data practices. Student data has long been used as a college recruiting and admissions tool. In 1972, College Board, the company that owns the PSAT, the SAT, and the AP Exams, created its Student Search Service and began licensing student names and data profiles to colleges (hence the college catalogs that fill the mail boxes of high school students who have taken the exams). Today, College Board licenses millions of student data profiles every year for 47 cents per examinee.
In a recent New Yorker article about the Capitol siege, Ronan Farrow described how investigators used a bevy of online data and facial recognition technology to confirm the identity of Larry Rendall Brock Jr., an Air Force Academy graduate and combat veteran from Texas. Brock was photographed inside the Capitol carrying zip ties, presumably to be used to restrain someone. Brock was arrested Sunday and charged with two counts.) Even as they stormed the Capitol, many rioters stopped to pose for photos and give excited interviews on livestream. Each photo uploaded, message posted, and stream shared created a torrent of data for police, researchers, activists, and journalists to archive and analyze.
"Tesla With Autopilot Hits Cop Car--Driver Admits He Was Watching a Movie." The headline from August was riveting--and easy for readers to dismiss as something that could never happen to them. While an unfortunate few can turn anything you hand them into an implement of disaster, most of us possess the common sense to not do anything so reckless while driving new automation-equipped cars. At least, we think we do. But shrug off that headline at your own peril.
When the present is scary, the future can be virtually unthinkable. But it's at times of great change and uncertainty--and 2020 surely qualifies--that it is most important to try to look ahead, to think about how decisions made right now can reverberate. This year, Future Tense Fiction--a partnership of Future Tense and Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination--published 12 stories that take very different looks at the years to come. In the case of Max Barry's "It Came From Cruden Farm," that future is very near--it's set on Inauguration Day 2021, when a new president learns that the U.S. government has custody of an alien, and it's complicated. Other futures are more distant; as part of our package of three stories on artificial intelligence and governance, "The State Machine," by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, follows a graduate student trying to learn about the very earliest days of his country being run by A.I. Tobias S. Buckell's "Scar Tissue," Holli Mintzer's "Legal Salvage," and Karl Schroeder's "The Suicide of Our Troubles" all grapple, in very different ways, with legal rights for nonhumans.
There were two major console launches--the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X--as well as big titles like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the Final Fantasy VII remake, and Cyberpunk 2077 (we said big, not good!). Slate staffers recently convened to discuss what they played to pass the time in lockdown, what games surprised and disappointed them, and how many hours they honestly spent in Animal Crossing. Karen Han: I don't think it's out of line for me to say that this was the biggest year for games in recent memory, not just because of new console launches but because I feel like, thanks to the pandemic, we had a lot more time on our hands to be playing games. Is that fair to say, at least for this group? Daniel Schroeder: I think you're spot on. Before this year I never had chunks of time big enough to descend into and obsess over a new game like I like to. This year I was able to sort of keep up!
Cyberpunk 2077 looked for years like it would be an instant classic. A neo-noir role-playing game with laser-sharp graphics and a gritty dystopian setting, Cyberpunk debuted its first trailer in 2013 and quickly became one of the most anticipated video games ever. Polygon called it "visceral, claustrophobic and beautiful." Players couldn't wait to tailor their characters with cybernetic enhancements, join factions to fight evil megacorporations, and explore Night City, the game's vast, mysterious setting. Last week, Cyberpunk 2077 finally came out. But players found it riddled with disruptive, often catastrophic glitches.
On Dec. 11, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Joseph Epstein claiming that Jill Biden's use of the title "Dr." feels "fraudulent, even comic," and referring to her as "kiddo." The tone of the piece is all too familiar to women, especially Black and brown women, across academia, who know what it feels like to be constantly questioned about their expertise from peers and strangers alike. The article led to an uproar, with academics across disciplines calling out its sexism and snobbery. Responses in the Atlantic, the New York Times, Forbes, and elsewhere argued that Biden should ignore Epstein's advice to "consider stowing" her degree and stick to her honorific. Academia is no stranger to overt and subtle sexism, which can manifest through student evaluations or even how women academics are introduced during speaking engagements.