So you’ve heard that our Federal Trade Commission (or FTC) has sued Amazon for monopolistic practices. You already know Amazon’s a monopoly if you’ve ever uttered the phrase “just get it on Amazon,” but our FTC’s complaint is a bit more complex. I’ll try to summarize: Amazon leverages its Prime service to trap small businesses into using its platform exclusively, and because they have nowhere else to go, Amazon can charge them whatever onerous fees they like, fees that now amount to half of Amazon’s revenue. There’s even more to it than that, but note well that it’s not necessarily about customers like us, but rather the customers who use Amazon to help sell their wares. I’m old enough to remember when it seemed like you could cut out all those pesky middlemen like publishers and advertisers and just reach out and find people on the internet. I was naive, of course – not solely because I didn’t fully grasp that there’d be new middlemen like Amazon, but that’s the only reason that’ll help you make this world a better place.
Billy Periggo at Time describes “What the Luddites Can Teach Us About Artificial Intelligence.” Reminding us that the Luddites weren’t anti-machine but anti-exploitation, Mr. Periggo – drawing heavily on Brian Merchant’s new book Blood in the Machine – explains how big corporations will use AI to make films that are plainly inferior to what today’s artists make, just as factory owners in the early Industrial Revolution made goods that were plainly inferior to what the day’s artisans could make. The factory owners ultimately muscled those artisans out of the market despite the Luddites’ best efforts, but it looks like the writers’ union has protected themselves from a similar outcome – for now. In any case, “if new technologies erode wages and increase wealth inequality, it’s a result of a political choice by the owners of that technology, not a result of the inevitable and unstoppable march of progress.”