Privacy, Facebook, surveillance, net neutrality, gender issues, climate change, hacking: The list of opinion topics that most attracted attention from WIRED readers in 2017 doubles as a list of Things That Gave Us Angst This Year. Here are the dozen most-read Opinion pieces of 2017.
The Federal Communications Commission’s vote to kill net neutrality provisions drew derision from all corners of WIRED, including our opinion section, which ran several op-eds on the topic. In December Ryan Singel, a former WIRED editor who’s now a media and strategy fellow at the Center for Internet and Society, argued that ending the open internet will have profound effects on the re-election efforts of Congressional Republicans in 2018.
In August, shortly after Google engineer James Damore posted a diatribe about gender differences on an internal company message board, UC San Diego physics professor Alison Coil explained why male scientists devalue research that identifies gender bias in the field. Academics should believe the research showing discrimination, but, Coil asserted, “What this extensive literature shows is, in fact, scientists are people, subject to the same cultural norms and beliefs as the rest of society.”
Last January, as California was saturated with rain and snow, the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick, a hydroclimatologist, explained why a wet year didn’t mean the golden state’s drought was over. Nearly a year later, as the state has been incinerated by historically terrible wildfires, it’s all too clear that Gleick was right.
What should government do when a company fails to protect the personal data of 143 million people? Give it the corporate version of the death penalty, argued Ron Fein, the legal director of Free Speech for People. Fein’s October essay explained that in Georgia—Equifax’s home state—authorities can file suit to dissolve a corporation if it has abused the authority conveyed upon it by the state.
Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian media analyst, wrote that the rise of social media is reducing humans’ curiosity, as people strive for Likes rather than the pursuit of knowledge. Social media, Derakhshan argued, “engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciously performing.”
In February Benjamin Sanderson, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, warned that a top candidate to be Donald Trump’s science advisor, William Happer, was a climate change enthusiast. Ultimately, Happer didn’t get the job, but the position is still vacant.
Not every question can be answered with code, Emma Pierson, a physics PhD candidate at Stanford, wrote in April. When ethical questions arise in, say, artificial intelligence applications, sound knowledge of other fields—literature, sociology, or ethics, for example—will help uncover solutions that algorithms alone cannot.
February’s match-up between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons ended with a killer comeback for the Patriots. Jeff Ma, the leader of the MIT blackjack team that inspired the book Bringing Down the House, explained that the Falcons lost because the team didn’t follow basic probability rules commonly employed at a blackjack table.
Given the tremendous amount of attention given to Donald Trump’s tax returns, it’s almost inconceivable that they haven’t already been hacked, wrote John Powers, who runs a New York-based investigative firm, in November.
In November Antonio García Martínez, who was the first ads targeting product manager on Facebook’s ads team, wrote that Facebook isn’t eavesdropping on its users through their smartphones’ microphones. That’s in part because the social network tracks users so many other ways, it doesn’t need to snoop.
Writer and technologist Jason Tashea explained how algorithms pervade our everyday lives, from our credit scores to the route Waze suggests we take to the airport. Tashea argued that applying algorithms in criminal cases, with no clear oversight or transparency, could result in overly punitive sentences.
As WIRED editors have explained at length, devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home series listen to our conversations, eagerly awaiting a “wake” word to command them to turn on some Miriam Makeba or calculate how many tablespoons are in a cup (16). But, as civil attorney Gerald Sauer explained in a February piece, smart home devices’ microphones can also effectively collect evidence that can be used against their owners in court.