That people don’t know there are human beings doing this work is, of course, by design. Facebook would rather talk about its advancements in artificial intelligence, and dangle the prospect that its reliance on human moderators will decline over time.
But given the limits of the technology, and the infinite varieties of human speech, such a day appears to be very far away. In the meantime, the call center model of content moderation is taking an ugly toll on many of its workers. As first responders on platforms with billions of users, they are performing a critical function of modern civil society, while being paid less than half as much as many others who work on the front lines. They do the work as long as they can — and when they leave, an NDA ensures that they retreat even further into the shadows.
To Facebook, it will seem as if they never worked there at all. Technically, they never did.
For more than two thousand years, the world’s great minds have argued about the essence of time. Is it finite or infinite? Does it flow like a river or is it granular, proceeding in small bits, like sand trickling through an hourglass? And what is the present? Is now an indivisible instant, a line of vapor between the past and the future? Or is it an instant that can be measured—and, if so, how long is it? And what lies between the instants? “The instant, this strange nature, is something inserted between motion and rest, and it is in no time at all,” Plato remarked in the fourth century B.C.E. “But into it and from it what is moved changes to being at rest, and what is at rest to being moved.”
Most of us are slaves to our chronological age, behaving, as the saying goes, age-appropriately. For example, young people often take steps to recover from a minor injury, whereas someone in their 80s may accept the pain that comes with the injury and be less proactive in addressing the problem. “Many people, because of societal expectations, all too often say, ‘Well, what do you expect, as you get older you fall apart,’ ” says Langer. “So, they don’t do the things to make themselves better, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
It’s this perception of one’s age, or subjective age, that interests Antonio Terracciano, a psychologist and gerontologist at Florida State University College of Medicine. Horvath’s work shows that biological age is correlated with diseases. Can one say the same thing about subjective age?
At first glance, this brightly decorated room is no different from that of any other elementary school. Shelves are filled with storybooks; on the chalkboard, a vertical line of words reads ”prudence,” ”pretzel,” ”prairie,” ”purple.” But the nervous agitation of the boys’ hands, punctuated by occasional odd flapping gestures, betrays the fact that something is off kilter. There is also a curious poster on one of the walls with a circle of human faces annotated with words like ”sad,” ”proud” and ”lonely.” When I ask Cacciabaudo about it, she explains that her students do not know how to read the basic expressions of the human face. Instead, they must learn them by rote.
Hacker philanthropy is meant to be the antidote to what Parker calls the conservative, incremental work of most charitable foundations; a timidity he says is borne of institutional self-preservation and a need to assuage philanthropists’ “deep-seated anxiety that their capital may not be accomplishing anything”.
Hackers, by contrast, are iconoclasts drawn to fix the holes in big, complex systems, and they are willing to make bold experiments and embrace failure as a learning experience. Since the world’s billionaires lists are increasingly populated by computer programmers who have built insanely large tech companies, it is only a matter of time until their hacker mentality is brought into the world of philanthropy.
A recent study in JAMAPaediatrics, a science journal, calculated that the lifetime cost of supporting an American with autism was $1.4m-2.4m. Paul Leigh of the University of California at Davis and Juan Du of Old Dominion University have added up not only the cost of care but also the opportunity costs of autism in America. They include an estimate of the output lost when autistic people are jobless or underemployed, and when their relatives cut back on working hours to look after them. They put the total at $162 billion-367 billion in 2015, the equivalent of 0.9-2% of GDP, on a par with both diabetes and strokes. By 2025 the figure could exceed $1 trillion, they predict. Confronting autism is costly, but failing to do so may cost even more.
I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as protecting criminals, nor do I have any gloating arrogance at posing for selfies with unknowing security men. But I’m in my rhythm. Everything I say to everyone must be true. As true as it is compartmentalized. The trust that El Chapo had extended to us was not to be fucked with. This will be the first interview El Chapo had ever granted outside an interrogation room, leaving me no precedent by which to measure the hazards. I’d seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike. I was highly aware of committed DEA and other law-enforcement officers and soldiers, both Mexican and American, who had lost their lives executing the policies of the War on Drugs. The families decimated, and institutions corrupted.
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Still, today, there are little boys in Sinaloa who draw play-money pesos, whose fathers and grandfathers before them harvested the only product they’d ever known to morph those play pesos into real dollars. They wonder at our outrage as we, our children, friends, neighbors, bosses, banks, brothers and sisters finance the whole damn thing. Without a paradigm shift, understanding the economics and illness of addiction, parents in Mexico and the U.S. will increasingly risk replacing that standard parting question to their teens off for a social evening – from “Where are you going tonight?” to “Where are you dying tonight?”
El Chapo? It won’t be long, I’m sure, before the Sinaloa cartel’s next shipment into the United States is the man himself.