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Big Tech’s ‘trust’ problem will soon cost lives

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Big Tech's 'trust' problem will soon cost lives

Science and medicine can do a lot to make our lives better. But for that to happen, we have to be able to trust the public authorities, companies and institutions that produce and oversee the innovations.

We’re already seeing the sad fruits of distrust in the unwillingness of many people — including health workers on both sides of the Atlantic — to take the COVID-19 vaccines. People don’t trust experts and government agencies as they once did, which means assurances of vaccine safety often fail to persuade. When health officials and other authorities manipulate the public, as they have throughout this pandemic, they lose credibility.

I was thinking about this recently in connection with a coming generation of wearable medical devices that might radically improve health and prolong lives. Back in 2005, thinking about the wrist computer that tracks my nitrogen levels when I scuba dive and about the far more sophisticated implanted pacemaker/defibrillator that lives behind my wife’s left breast, I speculated that we would soon see a round of “body-computer”-type devices.

Such devices could measure heart rate, blood chemistry, diet and exercise levels and export the data to outside devices so that the owner, or a physician, could monitor the owner’s health.

Perhaps they could take preemptive action, releasing clot-busting drugs at the onset of a heart attack or stroke, or steroids in the event of an allergy attack, providing on-the-spot first aid for many serious problems.

We are getting closer to that. Apple watches and similar devices measure many basic bodily indicators. Recently, research showed that an Apple Watch can be used to measure frailty in patients with cardiovascular disease. There are even tests of devices that can warn wearers of an impending heart ­attack hours in advance, giving them time to get to a hospital.

This is great news, and we can expect rapid progress, since it’s based on two fields, biological knowledge and electronics, that are advancing in leaps and bounds. There is only one thing that might hold it back, and that thing is . . . mistrust.

When I mentioned all of this progress to a friend recently, the response was that he trusted ­Apple a lot more in 2005 than he does now, and that went for all the other tech companies, too. It was an unhappily good point.

Back then, we thought, perhaps foolishly, that those companies worked for us. Now we have learned that all too often — and no doubt still more often than we know — they’re simply using us for their own benefit, harvesting our data, manipulating our behavior and otherwise being, well, ­untrustworthy. (Another friend joked that the way the tech companies’ politics are going, they might decide not to stop your heart ­attack if they thought you might vote the wrong way. That’s not as crazy-sounding as it might have been in 2005, I’m afraid.)

And can we trust them with our data? A really good wearable medical device would generate data about movement, respiration, heart rate and many other things. It could probably figure out when you had sex last, and maybe even make a good guess at your partner and position. It could send news of bad habits to your insurance company or to the state.

Recent history suggests that the answer to “Can we trust them with our data?” is pretty much always a resounding “No.” So how many people will be eager to jump on board with invasive technology that makes their body less the temple of their soul than a tech-company subsidiary?

Some will. Those who are old and frail enough — the “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” crowd — will welcome devices that might keep them out of assisted living for a few more years, privacy be damned.

Those who want bling, or those who just don’t think much, won’t be too troubled. But I have to think that the more-savvy early-adopter crowd will rightly think twice before adopting these gadgets. And that’s too bad.

I’d like to live in a world where I can have those gadgets, and where I can trust them. But we’re a long way from that world, and it’s getting farther away every day.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the ­InstaPundit.com blog.

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Opinion

Teachers’ unions don’t care that closed schools are a harmful inequity

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Teachers' unions don't care that closed schools are a harmful inequity

In New York City and nationally, school shutdowns without question do the most harm to minority, low-income and special-needs students. And it’s beyond outrageous that the teacher-union leaders who are behind the most egregious public-school closures pretend the opposite.

They’re making things easier on the members, knowing full well that it hurts the kids they claim to care about. How convenient, and how obscenely cynical, for the likes of Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, to say that reopening schools would harm black children.

Once again: All the science shows that schools are highly COVID-safe. Much of Europe has kept its schools open all pandemic long, at least for preteens, who almost never contract the bug and so don’t transmit it. In this country, only areas with over-powerful teachers’ unions have suffered prolonged school shutdowns. All that would have provided ample horror stories for the unions to cite if there were any danger at all.

And remote learning, at least as regular US public schools have attempted it, is an unmitigated disaster. Most children barely interact with their teachers. The few educators who work their hearts out to actually teach are all-too-rare exceptions.

Without question, poor and minority students suffer most. Just for starters, they’re far more likely to have connectivity issues and to have started the pandemic without the devices needed for remote classes. And their parents are less likely to be in a position to fill in the gaps or even to ensure that children actually link up and pay attention.

Yet, thanks to the unions, they’re the ones most likely consigned to the “remote” tragedy. The American Enterprise Institute’s Return2Learn tracker revealed that as recently as January, one-third of white students were in fully remote districts, compared with about half of black and Hispanic students. About 47 percent of all Hispanic-American students attend school in majority-Hispanic districts where in-person learning is limited.

Plus, as Jack Elbaum noted recently in these pages, “while poor kids are locked out of in-person learning, the wealthy can place their kids in private schools that long ago reopened.” Catholic schools have opened safely, too — in the very same cities where unions have kept public schools shuttered.

The unions are increasing educational inequality all across America.

Education can be a lifeline for these children, offering skills and knowledge their parents aren’t in a position to share. Yes, New York City’s public schools, like those in all too many US cities, fall short for these children in normal times. But this is an entire year utterly lost.

So the unions resort to lies. Back in December, the Chicago Teachers Union — an AFT chapter — claimed that the push to reopen schools was “rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny.” No evidence or argument, just name-calling, even though the student body is overwhelmingly minority. The union also sued to prevent the school district from moving forward with its Jan. 11 reopening plan and threatened a strike. Mayor Lori Lightfoot had to threaten a “lockout” of teachers working remotely to get the union to bend at all. Now the target date is April 19, and the union is still resisting.

To Lightfoot’s fury, the CTU even whined that discussing “learning-loss” is a harmful way to look at students. Harmful to the CTU, actually.

San Francisco city leaders even resorted to suing the independently run school district and education board in a bid to get kids back into public-school classrooms.

Heck, even putting teachers at the head of the line for vaccinations doesn’t move the unions. New York City educators have had three months to get jabbed, yet United Federation of Teachers boss Mike Mulgrew still resists any hint of making his members go back to in-person work.

At the unions’ behest, New York state has also made all standardized testing an opt-in affair. The clear goal: Make it as hard as possible for parents to realize how far behind their kids have fallen. Yet studies show that many young children have suffered grievously — and that doesn’t even consider the mental-health impacts, witnessed in rising teen-suicide rates.

At this point, it’s only teachers’ unions and politicians subservient to them that deny the obvious.

For decades, these unions have demanded ever-higher pay and ever-more perks in the name of better serving the children, with endless talk about social justice. But teachers’ unions this last year have proved that the kids come last; science and social justice are irrelevant.

They’re nothing but a pack of selfish pigs, mouthing pieties they refuse to live by. They care about nothing but their own most selfish interests.

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Opinion

Letters to the Editor — April 10, 2021

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Letters to the Editor — April 10, 2021

The Issue: The Post’s suggestions on how the city can recover from the pandemic and residents moving away.

Conspicuous in its absence from The Post’s advice to heal Gotham is the issue of people working from home (“How new leader can heal Goth­am,” Editorial, April 8).

For good or bad, the pandemic caused the flight of commuters from the city. The trickle-down economy that once flowed from the Midtown office workforce has paused, and there’s little evidence of a comeback.

If this exodus is not addressed, the entire economy of New York and other cities will be turned upside down, not unlike what e-commerce has done to the retail sector.

Richard J. Carhidi
Manhattan

The enforcement issues delegated to the NYPD is one of several items highlighted in The Post April 8 editorial.

No doubt, ineffective governing at all levels has resulted in legislation and guidelines that negatively affect the personal performance of NYPD officers and have contributed to the debacle.

Reduced membership, funding and the imposition of restrictive guidelines have affected job performance.

The City Council’s vindictive attitude is evident in its elimination of qualified immunity for the NYPD.

John Gargiulo
Whitestone

The fix for New York City doesn’t begin with more police, better schools or lower taxes, although that’s all needed — it begins with an electorate that realizes those whom they elect will determine what changes happen.

Voters can’t continue to elect and re-elect Democrats, like Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and those who dominate the state Legislature.

It’s like going go to a “Dr. Feel Good” who tells you to eat two Twinkies every day, instead of going to a medical specialist who tells you that you need to make changes in your lifestyle to live longer.

The public listens to the lies of the Democrats because they’re a tasty Twinkie, but The Post knows better.

John Brindisi
Manhattan

If the mayor of New York, or a candidate for mayor, wants to save the city from decline and darkness, he or she has to focus on and commit to just one thing: fighting crime — crime on the streets immediately, and eventually crime behind closed doors (meaning corruption) as well.

I am not being cute or simplistic. All those other things — education, housing, transportation, more — are important and not easy to fix, but people from all walks of life will come forward to address them if the mayor will commit to fighting crime.

It will not be easy to fix overnight, but it will be simple and achievable in a surprisingly brief period of time. But you’ve got to want it.

Brian Burke
Branford, Conn.

The Post article covered the main points on what’s needed to turn around this great city.

I would add that communities must be involved with policing their neighborhoods, and the teachers union needs more accountability, among other things. Yet these are just a couple of fine points.

But The Post hit the nail on head with its comments on the “crazy progressives.” They are the real culprits for most if not all the madness going on right now. They are but a small faction dictating to the masses.

I think most people will agree with The Post’s assessment: Time to flush them out with the dirty water.

B. Tonuzi
Wanaque, NJ

I couldn’t agree more with your solutions to heal Gotham, especially addressing the issue of the homeless, which includes not allowing public sleeping and living.

In Central Park this week, I saw a homeless woman go into the flowerbed bushes to do her business. The people sitting on benches to enjoy the beautiful spring flowers were treated to the smell and a hunk of nasty, used toilet paper blowing away.

It is too bad if they don’t want to go to a shelter to sleep. It’s often a mental illness and drug or alcohol problems.

And pulling all NYCThrive funding is a great idea.

Carol Meltzer
Manhattan

Want to weigh in on today’s stories? Send your thoughts (along with your full name and city of residence) to [email protected]. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, accuracy and style.

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Opinion

De Blasio must order NYC teachers back to school

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De Blasio must order NYC teachers back to school

It’s past time for Mayor Bill de Blasio to reopen all public schools, full time, shut down hybrid learning and end remote instruction. Period.  

Instead, all he’s done is give parents one last chance to opt-in to in-person classes —because that’s the most United Federation of Teachers chief Mike Mulgrew will agree to.

But why is de Blasio still kowtowing to Mulgrew, when the union boss regularly insults him in public? Just this week, he said all the problems with reopening are de Blasio’s fault, and even got mayoral wannabe Andrew Yang to endorse that lie.

The union plainly has no use left for the lame-duck mayor, except as a convenient scapegoat. He dumped huge pay hikes on its members in exchange for . . . nothing, even awarding “retroactive” raises. When COVID hit, he caved to almost all of the union’s demands, such that the great majority of its members are still teaching from homes while earning full pay, tenure credits and priority for the lifesaving vaccine.

They’re also more immune from accountability than ever, with most grading standards suspended so parents have no idea what their kids might have failed to learn.

Teachers have had three months to get jabbed. With a few rare exceptions, they have no excuse for not going back. What’s the point of mayoral control if de Blasio can’t find the guts to order vaccinated teachers back into classrooms without Mulgrew’s signoff?

Even the mayor’s change in the “two-case” rule is pathetic. The rule of two positive tests shutting down entire buildings (and thus often multiple schools) was nuts, but he’s simply upped it to four positives in a week (albeit with a supposedly tougher “tied to the school” addendum) closing things down for up to 10 school days.

It’s a concession to Mulgrew that has no rational basis. School grounds aren’t transmission hotspots here or anywhere in the world.  

Mulgrew (like Randi Weingarten, the president of his national union) isn’t really worried about safety; he just doesn’t want his members to have to trek back to their workplace this semester.

De Blasio may think he needs the UFT’s support if he wants to, for instance, run for governor. But you know who he needs more? The votes of parents who are fed up with this intransigence. It’s your last months in office, Mr. Mayor — stand up to the UFT and stand up for New Yorkers.

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