Our civilization has entered the digital age. The technological realm has become pervasive, and we can hardly escape it in our daily interactions. But can we trust those steering the ship? As each day brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception, we need to be more aware than ever. With today’s hasty technological development, few people stop to examine how these changes will affect our privacy, liberty, or our ability to control our own lives. Each week, Liberty Nation’s You’re Never Alone will catch you up on the facts you need to know.
This week, one presidential hopeful presents a plan to regulate Silicon Valley and robots the next trend in medicine – is bedside manner an outdated concept?
2020 Dems Facing Down the Tech Giants?
People across the political spectrum have started to show discomfort at the enormous influence that Silicon Valley mega corporations have over the public – with that control getting ever more concentrated as companies like Google acquire subsidiaries to bring under their umbrellas. One Democrat 2020 presidential candidate has a plan to deal with this problem, although, given her recent powwow with a DNA test, it’s doubtful that she will ever sit in the Oval Office. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has proposed to use antitrust laws to break up internet corporations. She tweeted:
“Facebook, Amazon, and Google have vast power over our economy and democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition and tilted the playing field in their favor. Time to break up these companies so they don’t have so much power over everyone else.”
Warren’s plan would involve dividing companies into two categories: those which provide an online marketplace or exchange, called “platform utilities,” and those which sell goods or services. A platform would not be allowed to sell its own products within its marketplace. For example, Amazon would be able to provide a space for others to sell goods, but would no longer be allowed to undercut other sellers by offering cheaper, Amazon-branded products on its site. Google would not be permitted to operate both as a search engine and sell advertising.
The plan would also prohibit platforms from selling user data to third parties.
“I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules … We need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.”
Warren particularly criticized methods used to limit competition, including mergers such as the Facebook purchase of WhatsApp and Instagram and Amazon’s ownership of Zappos and Whole Foods. She also points out that sites have the power to crush smaller vendors; for example, Google engineering algorithms to limit the exposure of smaller search engines or online advertisers.
Given that companies like Google and Facebook fund their “free” services by selling advertising and data, it’s not clear how they could survive the splitting up of these functions into separate entities without changing their core business model and charging users for currently free services like a search engine.
Taking Humanity Out of Medicine
From big business to personal tragedy, one family recently felt the sting of today’s increasingly impersonal world.
At a San Francisco hospital, 97-seven-year-old Ernesto Quintana was recently informed via robot that his lung condition was terminal. The device rolled into the hospital room and a doctor on the screen remotely informed the family of the situation. Mr. Quintana’s daughter was unsurprisingly dismayed by the message delivery. She said:
“If you’re coming to tell us normal news, that’s fine, but if you’re coming to tell us there’s no lung left and we want to put you on a morphine drip until you die, it should be done by a human being and not a machine.”
Mr. Quintana passed away two days after the encounter. Senior vice president of the Kaiser Permanente medical center, Michelle Gaskill-Hames, defended the hospital, saying that the “tele-visit” had not been the only point of contact. “The evening video tele-visit was a follow-up to earlier physician visits,” she said. “It did not replace previous conversations with patient and family members and was not used in the delivery of the initial diagnosis.”
Yet it was not the “initial diagnosis” that caused the family of Mr. Quintana such distress. Gaskill-Hames acknowledges that this particular situation was unusual and that hospital officials “regret falling short” of what patients should expect. Nevertheless, the mere existence of such technology indicates that patients can expect to see a lot less of their medical carers in the future.
The Japanese government is even looking at bringing in robots to act as carers for elderly patients, with researchers suggesting the machines could help to alleviate loneliness and generate positive social interactions with the patients, as well as providing for basic living needs. But humans are social animals – can a robot really provide the connection we all crave?
Today’s edition of You’re Never Alone prompts us to consider the way we interact with those around us. It has oft been noted that social media both brings people closer together and sends them further apart; we can communicate with people across the globe sometimes to huge benefit, but at the same time our encounters are shallower and less personal.
As Elizabeth Warren notes, shopping at Amazon and its subsidiary companies helps to crush the small, local businesses that once supported countless families across the nation. Supermarkets have introduced self-check out machines and Amazon is even trialing cashier-free shops – will there come a time when it is simply unnecessary to interact with another human to go about our daily business? It is a paradox of our highly networked world – as we link up digitally, the human bond is lost. So much so that even a dying man is not afforded the privilege of a face-to-face conversation.
“I just want someone to talk to and a little of that human touch,” sang Bruce Springsteen in the 1990s, but as human contact becomes more remote, are we missing out on the personal connection? A host of scientific studies have shown that social contact is essential for our mental and physical health. It is easy to choose the most convenient option, but when next choosing where to shop, or by what means to get in touch with a friend or relative, why not consider an option that would allow you to get up close and personal with a fellow homo sapien?
That’s all for this week from You’re Not Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.