an array of CCTV cameras, 5 rows 7 columns of cameras, with the 6th column the cameras being white and the rest being black.

Surveillance in the end times

I used to be the person that was excited, overjoyed even, at the idea of a technology company announcing a new device at a fancy event. I envisioned somehow getting a job at one of those companies, working to connect new people to others.

Now, I'm just incredibly concerned.

What the - absolute - fuck are we doing to our society?

We're normalizing a future where neighbors turn to algorithm-driven apps to spread disinformation and spew racist tirades instead of getting to know the people next door.

We're creating an ever-growing sense of fear of others with technology such as Citizen, which is using cash rewards to convince people to hunt down others accused of crimes - with few little checks and balances. Seriously. The company is basically just trying to privatize police services - probably because of our capitalist society needing ever-increasing industries to sink their teeth into and people's lives to ruin (or make better, if you're a billionaire). Other areas are already trying it with fire services.

Government(?) Surveillance

For a moment, let's also talk about government surveillance. Has anyone been able to see definitive proof and evidence that more surveillance means a safer society? A more fair society? A more equitable society? A better society? Or just safer in the eyes of people that seek to maintain the status quo?

I'm particularly frustrated that the news that someone in the Saskatchewan Government signed themselves up for Clearview AI - a ethically-horrendous piece of technology that allows users to point their device's camera at a person, and then scraps the entirety of the internet to figure out who that person is with remarkable success - didn't get much attention. I have a lot of personal feelings on this topic, but this NY Times article does a lot of explaining.

The Saskatchewan Government's response?

Clearview AI has never been purchased as a software solution by the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General or the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety. After review, we have identified standalone instances where ministry staff did use a trial version of this software. The Crown has not used Clearview AI to support a prosecution. Given the concerns around the use of this technology, ministry staff have been instructed not to use Clearview AI’s software at this time. We also understand that Clearview AI’s software is not currently available for use in Canada.” —Margherita Vittorelli, spokesperson"
- Police In At Least 24 Countries Have Used Clearview AI. Find Out Which Ones Here. (Ryan Mac, Caroline Haskins, Antonio Pequeño IV)

Let's get this straight - a random individual - or many individuals - signed up for a privacy-busting application, which has been wholeheartedly revoked by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, and used it for... who knows what? They could have used it, at a bar, to identify the name and information of an individual they wanted to ask out. That's... yeah, I don't have enough words for that.

Envisioning a Future of Corporate Surveillance

We're welcoming powerful corporations in to our homes without any second thought.

We use their platforms to get in touch with other people, without the understanding that the people at the company (and in some cases, contractors) have full access to our messages.

We've created corporate surveillance networks, such as that of Amazon's Ring Neighbors, which is using it's internet-connected doorbells famous of the same brand (Ring) to create a neighborhood-wide network of cameras, that provide police with almost instantaneous access to review ring feeds. Amazon has partnered with hundreds of police departments across the United States to create this network and allow for easy submission of legal documentation to gain access to videos. Wait no, that last article was from a few years ago. It's now up to over 2000 police and fire departments that have partnerships or close relationships with Amazon. Insert the usual, "who do the police protect?" thoughts of your own here - I'll probably have to write out my thoughts on that later.

Speaking of Amazon, just today (September 28, 2021) they announced their newest home devices, adding to their lineup of smart speakers and displays, camera-enabled doorbells and security systems. For the record, I'm okay with smart speakers (even if they have their own issues), but you should be aware that you can - or anyone with access to your Google/Amazon account - see the entire history of what you've said to your smart speakers.

Back to what Amazon announced, which includes a FLYING CAMERA to check on "suspicious activity" and a ROBOT that follows people around the house to get to know patterns, watch what you're doing, and again, check on "suspicious activity".

I'm sorry, I'm just getting major Minority Report vibes from this shit. Like can we just pause and think about the societal consequences from this never-ending surveillance? Side note, Jon Fasman's We See It All is a fantastically terrifying read on this topic.

The Future

Let's just pause and think in the hypothetical here. Let's say, that Amazon continues it's push into home technology and surveillance. Sometime in the future (hypothetical), Amazon is partnering with home-builders to offer fully outfitted technology-driven houses; Internet-enabled door locks, Ring doorbells & cameras, in-house surveillance drones and robots. Plus, guess what - Alexa is in more vehicles; your personal vehicle (if you have one, for whatever reason), and your work vehicle. All linked to your Amazon account! Great. Now let's say, Amazon, in it's desire to please shareholders, is the lender for young people to get a taste of home ownership in this area (because, where else are we going to be able to buy homes?).

You're paying your mortgage to Amazon. Amazon has the keys to your house. Amazon watches your house (and you). You supply your house with things almost exclusively from Amazon (I mean, why wouldn't you - surely it will be easy with the Amazon tablet on your wall). Oh, and don't forget, your heating and cooling is controlled with an Amazon thermostat! Great.

Your life is Amazon. Everything you do, for the most part, will be through Amazon. You might be thinking to yourself, "Well, come on, not everything!" Need I remind you, Amazon's AWS runs about a third of the internet. Yes. Yes. *evil Jeff Bezos voice* YESSSS.

So that's it, all is good!

Well, what happens if Amazon notices, that in your connected bank accounts (or Amazon bank accounts, who knows), that you're going to be short on funds for this month's mortgage? Ah, don't worry. Amazon will just turn down your heating in the house automatically (and forcibly) to save you the $10 extra you need to make your mortgage payment.

Lose your (Amazon?) job? Can't afford the house payment for the month? No worries, Amazon will watch over your stuff. Oh, and while they are at it, they lock you out of your house. You have some possessions in there, but don't worry - Amazon knows what you have (with their in-house cameras!) and will ship those off to a Distribution Center to make sure they can hit their quarterly business goals.

Or maybe, with their in-vehicle systems, Amazon starts to charge you each time you make a driving error? Gives that data right to your insurance company (if it's not Amazon).

In Conclusion...

...if I see an Amazon Robot in your house, I'm going to gently (forcibly) nudge (kick) it towards (down) the stairs.


Business Schools: It is (beyond) time to talk seriously about climate.

Let’s start with some numbers — all business comes down to numbers. Earlier this month (October 2020), Calel, R., Chapman, S.C., Stainforth, D.A. et al. published a piece in Nature Communications titled Temperature variability implies greater economic damages from climate change. I’ll skip most of the article — you can read it here — but the message is this: ignoring climate change will cost the financial system trillions. $426 Trillion USD or more to be precise. As the journalist and author David Wallace-Wells put it on Twitter, that’s about twice the wealth in the world.

It’s not the environment versus the economy. It cannot be.

We are not talking about saving the bees here — we are talking about saving future generations of the human population. We are killing ourselves and ignoring that fact through uncontrolled consumerism. The planet? The planet will be fine. The planet will survive without us. Should we, as humans, pack it in? Not a chance.

Enough is enough. Corporations are almost solely responsible for climate change. 100 corporations have been responsible for >70% of greenhouse gases (GHGs), those nasty little molecules that are making our planet’s temperature rise much faster than any time period previously. It’s a scientific fact, illustrated by this scary graph, which is based off a study published in Nature (Neukom, R., Steiger, N., Gómez-Navarro, J.J. et al., 2019):

Graph that shows the speed at which global warming is taking place, increasing exponentially in the past few decades.This graph shows warming and cooling rates over the last 2,000 years. (University of Bern)

Wait — no. The leaders of those corporations are almost solely responsible for climate change. As business schools, you are supposed to be training the leaders of tomorrow. Based on anecdotal experience, you are doing nothing. Maybe it is because a lot of your funding comes from those corporations that are polluting (CBC, CFAP). Maybe it is because you do not know how to teach climate. Maybe it is because you think you are already doing enough – you are not.

Over this past few weeks, I have sat through various presentations, namely in a Business Strategy class, where climate is relegated to being a part of the last ‘E’ in the PESTEL analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal — some institutions use the PESTELE form, which includes an extra ‘E’ for ethical. That should be standard.). It says something to students that not only is it a small portion of a small analysis, it is one of the last elements of that. But frankly, I don’t care whether it’s the first ‘E’ or the second. Climate needs to be a part of every single class. In the past few weeks, no strategy groups have thought deeply about the impact their organization of choice has had on, or could have on climate change. This is a 400-level, ‘fourth’ year class — we need to do better — all of us. Faculty, students, and administrators. (And to my peers — your presentations have been fantastic. It is not your fault that the system you are in has woefully unprepared you to analyze said challenges. My group’s presentation barely touches on climate — my thoughts extend much further than this class-but feel free to question me about it next week, I’m prepared!)

Let’s try some (crude) examples:

Introduction to Business: How is climate change impacting businesses on a macro level?

Market(ing) Analysis: How are the populations of certain regions of the world going to change as individuals flee climate-torn areas? (Note: Climate Refugees are not only from the global south. They could, as this NY Times piece illustrates, be right in your backyard.)

Financial Markets: How do/are regulators accounting for environmental impacts? Is there a risk associated with investing in a company because of stranded assets, exposure to markets that will become non-existent, etc.? (Note: Climate Change Poses ‘Systemic Threat’ to the Economy, Big Investors Warn)

Operations/Supply Chain/Product Development: How can we look at our products to not only make them more sustainable in terms of inputs, but how we get them to our end customer? (Note: I’m a supply chain/international business student in Canada. It took me having to study abroad in Sweden to have any lecturers mention climate change in a supply chain logistics class).

Human Resources: How can we recruit people from war-torn, climate impacted areas? How do we deal with climate stress and mental well-being in our organization? How can we retain young people that are concerned about our climate impact, as touched on in this Guardian piece, and alluded to in this HBR article?

Better yet — mandate a class on it! Teach the science. Help students understand what to look for, and how to lead. Show students how globalization and free trade agreements have led to increased (and cheaper) consumerism, but also a greater exploitation of resources.

Life is changing fast these days — almost too fast it seems. Business schools always seem to advertise that they are leading the cusp of change, yet fail to educate the future leaders on tomorrow on what is arguably the biggest challenge in the world.

And look, I cannot say that I am not without faults either — I have definitely contributed my fair share to climate change, whether through the products I have bought, the services I have used (flights), or decisions I have made. Heck, I did a school-sanctioned internship that conflicted with my values at an oil company (*ahem, ENERGY company*). But we need to all, collectively, aim to be better. No matter the side of the aisle, the discipline, culture, religions — every single one of us can be better leaders, taught by our educational institutions.

Enough talking about how to make the most money. Let’s talk about how we can keep humankind alive for the next centuries, and how we can make it better for those that are already suffering. At the same time, let us change our teaching systems and curricula with the urgency that this climate crises requires. No single person, whether natural or corporate, is immune from the impacts of climate change.

The ‘future leaders’ that you are so concerned with educating are the ones that are (hopefully) going to be at the helm of corporations during a time of immense change, and it is your responsibility to prepare all of us for it, not just the select few who are privileged enough to have the resources to do it independently.

Not enough convincing? Why not look at this Business Because piece, or this AACSB piece which is fantastic. Hey, @Edwards School of Business, are we not AACSB accredited? We should take their advice.

Maybe it’s because I read a lot. Maybe it’s because I understand proactive policies (teaching) and reactive responses (policing) based on my family member’s occupations. Maybe it’s just because I think we can all be better, and that we should aspire to do so through education.