Welcome back to this week’s installment of the all-new What Just Happened?!, a semi-comical weekly digest of the most important news from across the Internet, UK, US and the World from Will Marshall, and Alistair Simmonds-Yoo. Look out for us every weekend, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Internet

Mechanical Turk, where the Turk is the Pope

Who’s afraid of the Catholic Church? Many people (especially this guy, I’ll take my zombie-Jesus-flesh-and-blood to go, thanks). Perhaps also many inanimate objects? Who knows. How about animate objects? Presumably. 

Since the Vatican is kicking off a Roboethics working group (within the 25 year old Pontifical Academy For Life) I’m sure robots everywhere are asking themselves if they’re making adequately virtuous decisions; and generally worrying about how they’ll avoid hell. 

In any case I’m sure the robot manufacturers don’t want to send their prides and joys off to the Vatican for unknown tinkering. It seems as though the fundamental philosophical questions of agency and responsibility will soon be treated through the lens of an unexpected question: can a robot be molested?

(Here’s Stephen Fry telling Catholics what’s up).

Too Clear a View

Vice done a journalism?! Surely not, there must be some confusion?

This expose of Clearview AI, a facial-data collecting company which creepily describes itself as “an after-the-fact research tool”, examines the sources of data for a FOI request submitted by the journalist. It reveals their (and hence law-enforcement agencies’) abilities to track your appearance over many years using obscure sources of data online.

Clearview is disturbingly insecure, as recent hacks have revealed: Gizmodo was able to find a version of the company’s app on a public Amazon server, whilst another hack last week accessed their customer database.

Perhaps even creepier are these stories compiled by NYT suggesting Clearview has given free run of its technology to investors, friends and others, who have allegedly been using it as a parlor trick at parties since 2018.

The UK

Not a Priti Shade on You

We mentioned Home Secretary Priti Patel’s unsavoury appetite for harsh immigration restrictions a couple of weeks ago, but she’s barely been out of the news since as more information keeps emerging about her unsavoury approach to those who work for her. After a very public war of words, the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office (her most senior Civil Servant) resigned and immediately launched a legal case for unfair dismissal.

Claims of bullying and a toxic workplace culture seem to stalk Patel, with stories emerging from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for International Development where she was previously minister. One case from the DWP resulted in a £25,000 payout to an employee who overdosed on prescription medicine following alleged bullying.

Johnson is sticking to her like a dirty, old sticking plaster throughout, but is facing questions about allegations that he knew of Patel’s behaviour as early as 2017. The Home Secretary is unquestioningly loyal to the PM and more than happy to push his right-wing ideology, so she is a tool Johnson is unwilling to lose.

Patel is no stranger to controversial behaviour in government, having been ousted from her cabinet role at DfID in 2017 after it emerged she had held unauthorised meetings with Israeli leadership.

Have a read of this article exploring how British Indians came to be so well represented in the Conservative cabinet, and the *problematic* (read islamophobic) electioneering tactics courting Indian voters by labelling Labour as ‘anti-Hindu, pro-muslim’.

The US

Failsafe 

A class action lawsuit was brought against Apple in the U.S. over claims of “planned obsolescence”. A Northern Californian district court has ordered Apple to pay a settlement to the tune of $310 million (and up to $500 million). 

“US owners of iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus, and SE devices are all entitled to a payment of $25 each.” 

For those (most) of us who don’t like lawyers and their information-racketeering, Class Actions are a type of lawsuit in which one of the parties is actually a group, to be represented by one of its members. The U.S. is pretty big on them in comparison to most other countries. It’s intriguing that those who brought the case forward, the ‘named plaintiffs’, will receive $1,500 in compensation.

It’s a tricky one… On the one hand those who bothered to mount the legal challenge should be rewarded for their efforts. On the other hand, I’m not sure other Apple device owners agreed to be represented collectively… had they done, they would probably want a fair share. It’s like a pyramid where Apple is at the top and all the money is flowing upwards, propelled by the frantic breath of literal slave labourers and the flow is only stemmed slightly by a physical barrier of salivating legal professionals and middle-class people with too much time on their hands. Also there is a toxic sludge running down the pyramid.

Also, the law-bags involved are being compensated to the tune of ~$94.5 million for the two year legal battle required for Apple to acknowledge they’ve been deliberately screwing everyone. 

The French successfully decided to fine Apple 25 million euros over similar charges, specifically claiming that customers did not understand that software updates would slow their device down. Implying that if the customers were aware of this ridiculous use of precious finite resources would be acceptable otherwise?

The World

On a Highway to Nowhere

Yes, it’s from way back in 2019, but we didn’t exist then, so let us off: check out this 1m stretch of motorway a Romanian entrepreneur built in protest at his government’s woeful lack of infrastructure spending.

If a tree falls in the forest, does it have Coronavirus?

An unexpected statistic shed a lot of light on things for me recently – Italy is the second oldest country in the world. Not in the sense of ‘the city state of Florence was a proto-state which gives the nation of Italy historical prestige second only to Mesopotamia’; rather in the, comparatively mundane, sense that more of their population is over 65 then anywhere else in the world except Japan. 

23% of Italians are 65 or over, making Italy a particularly dangerous place with regards to the Coronavirus since the fatality rate is significantly higher for the elderly or otherwise infirm. 

Old folk’s homes are in serious need of protection, as is evidenced by the 10 of the U.S.’s 12 deaths all involved the same nursing home near Seattle. The American’s really ought start testing but regardless of how prudent that would be, it’s obviously primarily a socialist evil and would involve grappling with something much easier to ignore, so… 

Seriously though the U.S. is dropping the ball on this like Obama dropped bombs. In the time the U.S. has tested 2,000 people the UK has tested ~20,000, that’s a factor of 10 more for a country ~⅕ the population.

The platonic form of the ideal environment for the propagation of the novel coronavirus would have animals from all over the world eating and pooping in close proximity of one another in a dirty confined space for a long time… so after a long standing food-market (featuring bizarre wild animals) a cruise ship is probably the Coronaviruses second favourite place on Earth. 

After the Japanese quarantine of thousands of people went so well (if by well we mean completely terribly: 700 infections and 6 deaths), the Californian’s are deciding to repeat the experiment – beginning by keeping the ship at bargepole’s distance and helicoptering in test-kits… hopefully not ending with many deaths. Nobody wants to die on a cruise ship… it’s just a convenient way to go (hence the literal floating morgues). 

Also, Starbucks bans reusable cups to help mitigate viral proliferation… I always knew reusable cups would be our downfall. It’s what got the Romans, sturdy reusable lead cups. Right?


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, get in touch with the authors Will Marshall and Alistair Simmonds on Twitter and let us know what you did and didn’t like.

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