Future Tense Newsletter: “Alexa, Cast My Ballot for Me.”

An Amazon echo with two I Voted stickers
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Amazon.

Greetings, Future Tensers,

It turns out, Amazon’s Alexa has more functions than just playing “Despacito” for a well-timed burn. Just last week, the company updated the voice-enabled link to the internet so it would answer certain key questions related to the 2018 midterm elections too. For the first time, users in the U.S. could get details in response to questions like “Alexa, where is my polling station?” or “Alexa, who’s ahead in the Georgia governor’s race?” and other key information regarding candidates, ballot measures, race results, and vote casting. But, as Rachel Withers writes, using our voice-enabled virtual assistants in this way brings up a concerning question: “Do we really want more untested tech involved in ‘informing’ people about elections?”

Elsewhere on Future Tense, we’ve been covering other tech stories related to the midterm elections. Mia Armstrong wrote about how weather conditions downed some vote-tabulating devices. April Glaser explained how to tell if an election text message is a scam, and explained how a misleading video purporting to show a voting machine switching votes not only contributed to the spread of misinformation but also enabled voter suppression. She and Will Oremus also hosted not one, but two election-related episodes of the If Then podcast in the past week: one about tech’s role in Brazil’s consequential presidential election, and another about social media disinformation ahead of Tuesday’s vote and what could go wrong with voting machines on Election Day

Other things we read between trying to creep on our friends’ voting history:

This girl is on fire: Mia Armstrong reports on how electric scooters have now joined the long line of consumer products that have had issues with battery fires.

The bro code: Joy Lisi Rankin takes us into the history of a pioneering computing program at Dartmouth in the 1960s—and documents how it gave rise to the macho tech culture we see in today’s Silicon Valley.

Time’s up in tech: Walkouts at Google over harassment and discrimination are serving as a wake-up call to firms in Silicon Valley that the Time’s Up movement has come for them too. April Glaser explains how employee activism is stirring up collective action across the industry.

Freedom 404: Jennifer Kang explains how the repeal of net neutrality, the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, and the rise of fake news have contributed to the decrease of internet freedom in the United States.

No-fly zone: Faine Greenwood argues why that viral drone footage of a mother bear and its cub should never have been filmed.

Building a wall: Although President Trump may call it “beautiful,” the barbed wire fencing he loves at the border has a long, troubling, uniquely American history, as Rebecca Onion explains.

Money please: Aaron Mak describes how more than a dozen verified Twitter accounts—including two belonging to members of Congress—were hacked as part of a ploy to steal bitcoin from unsuspecting users.

To information overload,

Anthony Nguyen

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.