PAC donations from Ted Cruz’s podcast pals raise ethical questions

Happy Tuesday! Here’s your Tuesday Tech Drop, the past week’s top stories from the intersection of tech and politics.

Sen. Cruz’s curious podcast deal

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says he isn’t being paid to host his podcast on iHeartMedia three days a week. Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle recently noted a total of $630,850 in payments from the media platform to a super PAC supporting Cruz’s campaign. The arrangement is raising ethical questions about whether the donations cross a line. According to Texas Monthly, “a Cruz representative decried new complaints as ‘lazy attacks during an election year.'”

For the record, iHeartMedia is owned by Clear Channel, which is no stranger to right-wing media figures: It’s the same company that platformed commentator Rush Limbaugh. A spokesperson for the company told Forbes that Cruz isn’t paid, “but the company sells the advertising inventory for the podcast and the revenue the super PAC reported is ‘associated with those advertising sales.'”

Read more at the San Antonio Current.

RFK Jr.’s tech obsession

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is being widely criticized over a CNN interview in which he claimed President Joe Biden is a greater threat to democracy than Donald Trump, due to the Biden administration’s support for online content moderation efforts meant to stem the spread of hate speech and disinformation.

Kennedy, who’s made a good living spreading conspiracy theories about vaccine safety, is running an independent presidential campaign that has the potential to play spoiler in the contest and help Trump win this fall.

In his interview, Kennedy acknowledged that Trump tried to undermine the 2020 election results. But he also pushed lies popular among conservatives, alleging the Biden administration has engaged in censorship online. Then Kennedy argued that this is more dangerous than Trump literally trying to end democracy as we know it. His comments speak to a point I’ve been screaming from the mountaintops as Kennedy has sought to make inroads with nonwhite voters: He is no ally — just a rich, privileged white dude who apparently thinks curbs on his ability to spread bigotry and misinformation are of greater importance than (to pick just one thing) nonwhite voting rights.

Read more at The Washington Post.

President Biden’s AI order

President Joe Biden has ordered every federal agency in the U.S. to appoint chief artificial intelligence officers who have “significant experience in AI.” The plan is part of an effort to ensure every agency is equipped to mitigate the risks of artificial intelligence, and it’s a reminder that virtually every agency and its operations stand to be affected by AI (if it hasn’t already happened), including the IRS, HUD and others.

Read more at Ars Technica

Team Biden wants to woo Haley voters

In its attempt to pick up votes wherever it can for this fall’s presidential election, the Biden campaign is homing in on people who cast primary ballots for Nikki Haley in the Republican nominating contests. Axios reported last week on an ad geared toward Haley voters that’s set to run in ZIP codes where Haley performed well in the primaries. Data is likely to play an important role in this year’s election as candidates look to craft specific messages to appeal to voters’ regional, racial, gender or age demographics. 

Read more at Axios

NYC’s futuristic failures

New York City’s rapid rollout of artificial intelligence tools has hit yet another snag. Local outlet The City dropped a report on an AI-powered chatbot Mayor Eric Adams’ administration deployed to help answer New Yorkers’ questions about legal and other policy matters in the city. According to the report, the chatbot has been spitting out bad information, including false claims about tenant’s rights and laws regarding tips. A spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation told The City “that the city has been clear the chatbot is a pilot program and will improve.”

Read more at The City. 

SBF flirted with a Tucker appearance

Before FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried was sentenced to 25 years in prison for fraud, prosecutors in his case submitted a document outlining a list he had compiled of ideas to rebuild his reputation after the scandal erupted in 2022. One of those ideas was apparently to appear on former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show, come out as a Republican and denounce the “woke mob.” The document includes a line describing these options as “probably bad ideas that aren’t vetted,” but the revelation offers a window into the thinking of rich elites and how attacks on so-called wokeness can be useful tools to engender goodwill from right-wingers.

Read more at Business Insider. 

AI weapons warrant concern

Fourteen activist groups, led by the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, have co-signed a letter calling on the U.S. military to confirm that it will not develop or deploy autonomous weapons that rely on artificial intelligence. The groups want assurances that a drone development program known as the “Replicator” initiative won’t be used to create new AI-powered weaponry. It’s a worthy goal — and a necessary one. And yet I’m extremely dubious that the military would make any such guarantee. 

But the groups offer a dire warning: “Ambiguity about the Replicator program essentially ensures a catastrophic arms race over autonomous weapons. That’s a race in which all of humanity is the loser.”

Read more at Public Citizen

X makes a play for porn

Elon Musk’s hate-filled social media platform, X, is stripping back on content moderation and opening the door to pornography and other NSFW content. TechCrunch reports that Musk’s platform is announcing new updates that will permit users to share NSFW content in communities (essentially smaller groups on the platform) without their posts’ being filtered out.

Read more at TechCrunch 

AI’s environmental impact

That global race to develop artificial intelligence tools stands to do immense damage to the environment. Vox has released a report forecasting the potential for uber-fast computers, which require tremendous amounts of energy to process data for AI tools, to worsen climate change unless authorities take steps to lessen AI’s environmental impacts. 

Read more at Vox.

Ja’han Jones

Ja’han Jones is The ReidOut Blog writer. He’s a futurist and multimedia producer focused on culture and politics. His previous projects include “Black Hair Defined” and the “Black Obituary Project.”

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