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This company delivers packages faster than Amazon, but workers pay the price

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This company delivers packages faster than Amazon, but workers pay the price


Jang’s death exemplified how exploitative this arrangement can be. As a day laborer who applied for shifts every night via Coupunch, he had been anxious about his precarious employment status. But he had hoped to stay in the company’s good graces and apply for permanent employment, his mother, Park Mi-sook, told me. In the months leading up to his death, he had worked the 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, in addition to frequent overtime, for up to 59 hours over seven consecutive days, earning minimum wage (the equivalent of about $7.60 per hour). “He would be completely wiped out after the end of each deadline,” Park said. 

In 2019, as Coupang ramped up its overnight delivery service that offered a 7 a.m. delivery guarantee for orders made the previous evening, the number of deadlines during a typical night shift in the Daegu warehouse increased from around three to seven, according to one worker. Meeting them took a physical toll: Athletic and sturdily built, Jang had lost around 30 pounds since starting at Coupang in June 2019, Park said. She added that the rapid weight loss caused him to develop wrinkles on his face.

In February, the government of South Korea officially attributed Jang’s death to overwork. The final report into his death noted that Jang’s body bore the signs of severe muscular breakdown. Coupang issued an apology and promised to improve working conditions, such as expanding employee medical checkups.

In its emailed statement, a Coupang spokesperson pointed to the fact that Jang’s death was the only one to be officially ruled work-related in the company’s history. And it said its recent investments into warehouse automation “increases efficiency and decreases workload for our workers.”

Worldwide worries

All of this should sound familiar to those who follow Amazon, where the company’s drivers and fulfillment center workers have reported almost the exact same problems that are just now emerging at Coupang. Amazon too has faced criticism for a punishing pace of work that leads to high rates of injury, the use of algorithms to surveil and fire workers, oppressive productivity requirements that treat workers like robots, and a business model that seems to depend on disposable labor. 

In the United States, discontent around these conditions fueled a historic unionization drive at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama earlier this year. Union organizer Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), talked about the “unbearable” pace in the company’s warehouses and explained: “This is really about the future of work. People are managed by an algorithm. They’re disciplined by an app on their phone. And they’re fired by text message. People have had enough.” In response, Amazon, which has a long history of union-busting activities including surveilling and intimidating workers, launched a large-scale anti-union blitz while denying allegations that its delivery drivers were forced to urinate in bottles. Amazon has since walked back its denial of these reports, but ultimately won the Bessemer vote. 

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How do I know if egg freezing is for me?

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How do I know if egg freezing is for me?


The tool is currently being trialed in a group of research volunteers and is not yet widely available. But I’m hoping it represents a move toward more transparency and openness about the real costs and benefits of egg freezing. Yes, it is a remarkable technology that can help people become parents. But it might not be the best option for everyone.

Read more from Tech Review’s archive

Anna Louie Sussman had her eggs frozen in Italy and Spain because services in New York were too expensive. Luckily, there are specialized couriers ready to take frozen sex cells on international journeys, she wrote.

Michele Harrison was 41 when she froze 21 of her eggs. By the time she wanted to use them, two years later, only one was viable. Although she did have a baby, her case demonstrates that egg freezing is no guarantee of parenthood, wrote Bonnie Rochman.

What happens if someone dies with eggs in storage? Frozen eggs and sperm can still be used to create new life, but it’s tricky to work out who can make the decision, as I wrote in a previous edition of The Checkup.

Meanwhile, the race is on to create lab-made eggs and sperm. These cells, which might be made from a person’s blood or skin cells, could potentially solve a lot of fertility problems—should they ever prove safe, as I wrote in a feature for last year’s magazine issue on gender.

Researchers are also working on ways to mature eggs from transgender men in the lab, which could allow them to store and use their eggs without having to pause gender-affirming medical care or go through other potentially distressing procedures, as I wrote last year.

From around the web

The World Health Organization is set to decide whether covid still represents a “public health emergency of international concern.” It will probably decide to keep this status, because of the current outbreak in China. (STAT)  

Researchers want to study the brains, genes, and other biological features of incarcerated people to find ways to stop them from reoffending. Others warn that this approach is based on shoddy science and racist ideas. (Undark)

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A watermark for chatbots can expose text written by an AI

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs


For example, since OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT was launched in November, students have already started cheating by using it to write essays for them. News website CNET has used ChatGPT to write articles, only to have to issue corrections amid accusations of plagiarism. Building the watermarking approach into such systems before they’re released could help address such problems. 

In studies, these watermarks have already been used to identify AI-generated text with near certainty. Researchers at the University of Maryland, for example, were able to spot text created by Meta’s open-source language model, OPT-6.7B, using a detection algorithm they built. The work is described in a paper that’s yet to be peer-reviewed, and the code will be available for free around February 15. 

AI language models work by predicting and generating one word at a time. After each word, the watermarking algorithm randomly divides the language model’s vocabulary into words on a “greenlist” and a “redlist” and then prompts the model to choose words on the greenlist. 

The more greenlisted words in a passage, the more likely it is that the text was generated by a machine. Text written by a person tends to contain a more random mix of words. For example, for the word “beautiful,” the watermarking algorithm could classify the word “flower” as green and “orchid” as red. The AI model with the watermarking algorithm would be more likely to use the word “flower” than “orchid,” explains Tom Goldstein, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, who was involved in the research. 

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs


That’s why the team behind a new decision-making tool hope it will help to clear up some of the misconceptions around the procedure—and give would-be parents a much-needed insight into its real costs, benefits, and potential pitfalls. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk held a surprise meeting with US political leaders 
Allegedly in the interest of ensuring Twitter is “fair to both parties.” (Insider $)
+ Kanye West’s presidential campaign advisors have been booted off Twitter. (Rolling Stone $)
+ Twitter’s trust and safety head is Musk’s biggest champion. (Bloomberg $) 

2 We’re treating covid like flu now
Annual covid shots are the next logical step. (The Atlantic $)

3 The worst thing about Sam Bankman-Fried’s spell in jail? 
Being cut off from the internet. (Forbes $)
+ Most crypto criminals use just five exchanges. (Wired $)
+ Collapsed crypto firmFTX has objected to a new investigation request. (Reuters)

4 Israel’s tech sector is rising up against its government
Tech workers fear its hardline policies will harm startups. (FT $)

5 It’s possible to power the world solely using renewable energy
At least, according to Stanford academic Mark Jacobson. (The Guardian)
+ Tech bros love the environment these days. (Slate $)
+ How new versions of solar, wind, and batteries could help the grid. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Generative AI is wildly expensive to run 
And that’s why promising startups like OpenAI need to hitch their wagons to the likes of Microsoft. (Bloomberg $)
+ How Microsoft benefits from the ChatGPT hype. (Vox)
+ BuzzFeed is planning to make quizzes supercharged by OpenAI. (WSJ $) 
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

7 It’s hard not to blame self-driving cars for accidents
Even when it’s not technically their fault. (WSJ $)

8 What it’s like to swap Google for TikTok
It’s great for food suggestions and hacks, but hopeless for anything work-related. (Wired $)
+ The platform really wants to stay operational in the US. (Vox)
+ TikTok is mired in an eyelash controversy. (Rolling Stone $)

9 CRISPR gene editing kits are available to buy online
But there’s no guarantee these experiments will actually work. (Motherboard)
+ Next up for CRISPR: Gene editing for the masses? (MIT Technology Review)

10 Tech workers are livestreaming their layoffs
It’s a candid window into how these notoriously secretive companies treat their staff. (The Information $)

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