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Situational awareness: Bellingcat, the U.K.-based investigative group, says it has identified the second Russian operative who poisoned Russian double agent Sergei Skripal. It says he is Alexander Mishkin, who, like the first operative Bellingcat identified, is with Russian military intelligence.
Okay, let's start with ...
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Last week, we described the long-term crisis for democracy. But advanced Western economies face another pressure point — artificial intelligence, which is proving to be a new advantage to autocratic government.
The bottom line: Tyrants thrive on centralized power. The sudden ability to monitor and assess subjects 24/7 is a boon for top-down power — and a blow to the more chaotic and dispersed bottom.
Examples include China's chillingly precise surveillance apparatus and "social credit system," by which the government monitors its citizens and assigns them a "score" according to their behavior.
The big picture: Until now, the challenge to the post-World War II Western system has appeared to flow from mainly three public trends — a rejection of immigration, globalization and establishment leaders. These have led to a tribal mentality, in which nations and groupings within them are championing their own, and demonizing those viewed as outsiders. But these are just the threats from within.
"These tools make it easier for authorities to track what is going on, influence the flow of information, and marginalize dissident voices," Darrell West, director of the center for technology innovation at the Brookings Institution, tells Axios. "At the same time ... it is easier through social media to find extreme voices and to exploit societal divisions, and harder to bring people together in a common purpose."
AI is one of the most disputed technologies of the age, and not everyone agrees on its impact on politics. Nicholas Wright, a neuroscientist who works on technology, said AI does not clearly favor either democracy or autocracy.
In August, a NY drivers' rally for regulation of ride-hailing cars. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty
A seventh suicide this year among New York's professional drivers puts new pressure on the city to help resolve a financial crisis in the industry.
In a ceremony yesterday, fellow drivers and others remembered Fausta Luna, an Uber driver who jumped in front of a subway train and died on Sept. 26. Luna was deeply in debt, write the NY Post's Danielle Furfaro and Amanda Woods.
The big picture: Uber is the most visible face of the new "gig economy," the rise of freelance work with often irregular pay and no benefits. Given forecasts of the continued expansion of gig work, numerous experts have raised the issue of regulating it as a public policy priority, for instance by requiring portable benefits.
Uber has favored portable benefits but fought caps on the number of drivers.
An Amazon distribution center in Germany. Photo: Uli Deck/Getty
With the limitless selection and convenience that e-commerce offers consumers, online retailers are selling more and more goods. But they are also taking a lot back.
What's going on: Some of the biggest e-commerce businesses report staggering sales numbers — but huge pieces of that revenue often get erased in refunds to customers and shipping costs for returns, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.
By the numbers:
Between the lines: Companies have taken steps to limit money lost from ceaseless returns.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Hailing Uber in London. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty
We previously reported that the gig economy has not been living up to some of its grand promises, and that ride-hailing drivers are making 53% less now than in 2014.
Between the lines: Another danger of the gig model is income instability, with workers raking in $1,000 one week and a mere $100 the next, Erica reports.
What's going on: An Irish startup called Trezeo, which has caught the attention of London VCs and MIT academics, thinks it can provide security for those gig workers by collecting all their money and paying it back out to them in steady paychecks.