For a technologist, I’m awfully skeptical about technology, particularly when it’s from Silicon Valley. Every breathless press release I read about a startup just makes me wonder, “what’s the catch?” Consequently, I went into this week’s readings with doubt in my head, especially when the social good of a technology seems like an afterthought. This seemed to be the case for both the Uber and drone technology pieces: Uber started off, they admit, to “roll around San Francisco like ballers”, and drones are marketed for people already served by couriers. We’re envisioning the future of transportation when many places don’t have the present of transportation– and then retrofitting it into those places.

In fairness, these technologies do have benefits in these places, though I’m skeptical that these locations wouldn’t be better served with traditional modes of transportation. Delivering vaccines is one thing, but what is the potential cost and social benefit of developing a road system in Lesotho compared to building a drone system? What’s the potential benefit of developing durable public transport versus Uber?

Honestly, the thing that surprised me most about the readings was how uncritical they could be. The Uber piece mentions the objections to Uber, but only on a surface level. It’s also unthoughtful about its impact on women– is it seriously praising a company known for sexist ads (“who said women don’t know how to drive?”) and for failing to respond to sexual assault issues? The piece mentions criticism of taxi drivers, but dances around the central issue: is it harmful to be supporting a global business versus globalization, and should we question the corporatization of transportation? Also, has the writer even taken an UberPOOL? Don’t they realize that everyone hates it? The best case scenario for an UberPOOL is to get one without other people.

Our other readings included a piece on a crowd sourced aerial assessment platform, and how that compared to professional evaluations, and I found little to object to that. I did feel like it minimized how their volunteers were still professionals in related professions, such that I was not completely trusting of the results. I don’t know if a true novice would be as good at using the platform than people already experienced with GIS. The last one was on training and designing protocols for diagnoses in underserved communities, which really just made me wonder– are community health workers compensated for their work? Or are they strictly volunteer positions?

Here are my questions for the panel:

  1. UberPOOL rides are more difficult for drivers– they have to contend with multiple pickups and dropoffs, and nonsensical recommended routes. How does Uber properly compensate drivers for UberPOOL?
  2. Does Verifly insure the payloads and what drones carry?
  3. How is the value of more durable transportation networks measured?
  4. How do you get feedback and let local populations advocate their needs?
  5. (sub) What are the most interesting changes have you had to make to localize a product versus the global implementation?

The questions are mostly Uber oriented.