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Category: Government

Avoid many employment discrimination pitfalls with a new interview anonymization system! Tell your HR department about it today.

The issue:

When selecting an individual for a job, an unavoidable aspect of the process is the physical appearance of the candidate.

A job candidate might be unfairly penalized because of preconceptions about their age / sex / race / etc. Not only is this unfair to the candidate, but the overall situation also opens a company up to employment discrimination lawsuits even if they are not illegally discriminating.

Proposal:

To help avoid even the most subtle biases in the evaluation of a job candidate, the HR department should issue a full face-covering mask to all on-site interviewees (Figures 1 and 2).

1c-masks-plus-hair

Fig. 1: When interviewing job candidates who are wearing these masks, we don’t have to worry about certain types of illegal discrimination occurring, since the candidate retains most of their anonymity. These masks could be cheaply obtained from a halloween store (perhaps using the “Friday the 13th”-style of hockey goalie masks as a good baseline mask).

If there are multiple job candidates in a single day, the HR department could stock a number of distinct masks, so as to distinguish each candidate. “The red mask one” versus “the really unsettling purple-mask one,” for example.

1b-masks-no-hair

Fig. 2: It is possible that the mask should also cover hair, since hair color, texture, and style also “leaks” information that could theoretically lead to bias in the interviewer.

Since the masks are different styles without the colors, it may also be preferable to have the masks be entirely black-and-white (Figure 3), to avoid any cultural connotations with specific colors.

If you think this is ridiculous and would never happen, consider that a double-digit percentage of male candidates in the early-2000s Western world would prefer not to wear a pink mask (see also the dialog surrounding the “Mr. Pink” codename in the movie Reservoir Dogs), and other countries may have their own color-associated biases.

1a-masks-black-and-white

Fig. 3: With these de-colorized masks, we don’t have to worry about culture-specific color associations.

Even with a mask, a person’s voice still provides substantial information about them, so these masks could also contain built-in voice modulators that would make all job candidates sound like Jigsaw from the Saw series.

Conclusion:

This is somewhat similar to the previous “anonymous government officials” idea (which has, surprisingly, still not been implemented!) but is more generally applicable.

PROS: Helps job applicants get a more fair evaluation, shields a company from accusations about certain types of illegal discrimination.

CONS: None! This is a perfect and practical idea.

 

 

Improve the safety of high-altitude mountaineering with this new permitting mechanism—never fear overcrowding on Everest again!

Background:

Certain mountains require that climbers obtain a permit before embarking.

Sometimes these can be expensive, but rarely is any mountaineering competency required. Everest permits, which are issued by the government of Nepal, cost approximately $10,000 (Wikipedia link).

The issue:

If too many people are crowded onto a narrow high-altitude route, disaster can result from increased amount of time that climbers spend in the inhospitable low-temperature and low-oxygen environment.

Proposal:

Instead of just giving out Everest permits to anyone who can pay the fee, why not make a climber show their dedication by first requiring that they summit a less deadly mountain?

Specifically, the climber must obtain a physical “summit eligibility token” from the summit of an easier peak, as shown in Figure 1.

This token—plus the standard entry fee—would then be required for climbing a more difficult mountain.

 

2-mountains

Fig. 1: Left: the leftmost mountain is not too difficult, and can be climbed without a permit. On the top of that mountain is a token that will permit the climber to attempt the mountain shown in the middle of the diagram, and so on.

In order to make things slightly more interesting, the token is not just a simple card or coin, but is an extremely heavy metal ingot (Figure 2).

The climber would have to show their mountaineering prowess by somehow lugging this heavy ingot all the way back down the mountain.

1-tokens

Fig. 2: The more advanced tokens are also heavier; in this case, the “Everest eligibility” token is a 20 kilogram (44 lb.) copper ingot. Restocking these ingots would be easy: they could simply be airdropped from a plane or helicopter, since the exact placement of the ingots is not crucial, as long as they are in the general vicinity of the peak.

Conclusion:

The Everest gatekeepers should adopt this idea, and should immediately start designing some interesting eligibility ingots (and figuring out which mountains they should go on).

PROS: Sets a lower bound on the amount of unqualified-ness of a prospective mountain climber, which may reduce the number of mountaineering fatalities.

CONS: May also reduce overall revenue obtained from permit issuance.

Evade pesky zoning laws with this one new scheme that lets you (maybe) turn a commercial building into a personal residence!

Background:

In order to support technological progress, many people are willing to endure great hardships.

The issue:

For example, most Americans are willing to drive for 30–60 minutes every day on their commute, just so that they can help create a market for new types of transportation [*].

One might imagine that a person in the hour-long-commute situation would just move closer to their job, but local zoning restrictions (Figure 1) often make this impossible.

[*] For example, the car, the diesel car, the hybrid car, the electric car, the “ride-sharing” car (actually just a taxi connected to a phone app), and the elusive and currently-hypothetical “self-driving” car.

1-zoning.png

Fig. 1: In the city map above, red areas are commercially zoned, and purple ares are residentially zoned. There is often a long travel distance to get between zones. (Real zoning is presumably more complex than “residential” vs “commercial,” but 95% of the author’s knowledge here comes from SimCity, so give me a break, man.)

Proposal:

Here are two proposed ways to help people live closer to their jobs:

  • Start a new “night watchman training” business with extremely comfortable suspiciously-apartment-sized rooms, and charge people a rent-sized amount of money for on-the-job training / courses for students. (If the students somehow fail to stay awake, they can just keep paying for the course as long as they want.)
  • Start a “sleep study clinic” (Figure 2). Normally, this is a legitimate business that diagnoses sleep apnea and other issues. Our modified version would be similar, but cheaper to set up, since it would not require any expensive medical equipment: in fact, the only piece of equipment supplied is a 5-dollar stopwatch (included with the apartment). When a resident is about to go to sleep, they can start the stopwatch, and when they wake up, they will have a vague idea of how long they were asleep. Naturally, this would be a paid service (costing about the same as the prevailing rent in the local neighborhood).

 

2-sleep-study-inc.png

Fig. 2: By converting this building from a traditional office to a “sleep study clinic,” it will be completely non-suspicious to see a bunch of rooms that look like furnished apartments, occupied by residents who stay there overnight.

Conclusion:

This is a plan that some developer should definitely try, just to see what happens.

PROS: Might help people rethink their established notions of what a “normal” commute should be.

CONS: Some overzealous “spirit of the law, not the letter of the law” lawyers and city council members would definitely put an end to a scheme like this. Also you might go to prison and/or owe somebody a bunch of money in fines.

Does your city / state / country have an ICON, or just a flag? Vex vexillologists with this proposal to create ICONIC EMBLEMS to represent your favorite regional administrative division! This is the U.S. State Flag edition.

Background:

Every US state has a flag. But only a few states have an icon—something immediately recognizable (and ideally, easily drawn and memorable).

For an example of icons, we can look at Japan’s provinces (or “prefectures”), nearly all of which are represented by a distinctive single-color icon (Figure 1).

flags-japan.png

Fig. 1: Japanese provinces have iconic minimalist symbols associated with them. Compare these to the selection of American state flags in Figure 2.

2-flags-us-detailed.png

Fig. 2: Most state flags were not selected with visual clarity in mind. Additionally, many state flags look identical on a flagpole when there is no wind.

3-flags-us-iconic.png

Fig. 3: Some flags are visually distinctive, but these are the exception. (In reading order: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.)

Proposal:

The proposal is as follows:

  • Every state will get a supplementary icon, that can be easily rendered in a quick pen sketch (Figure 4).
  • When possible, the flag and emblem should be similar, to make them easier to remember.
  • A flag and an icon have different requirements. Some guidelines:
    • A flag should be visually distinctive even when on a draped piece of cloth. For example, the American flag (🇺🇸) is easily identified even when there is no wind.
    • A flag can make use of multiple colors (although there is such a thing as “too many” colors).
    • An icon should minimize or eliminate reliance on specific colors.
    • An icon should have relatively few fine details. It should be distinctive even at a very small size.
4-flags-graffiti-sketches-1.png

Fig. 4: Some sketches of icons that could represent specific states. Three of these are based on elements from real state flags: Tennessee (top left), New Mexico (left middle), and South Carolina (palm tree + crescent moon, top right). The top right one would probably need to be modified in some way to distinguish it from the flags of Turkey (🇹🇷), Tunisia (🇹🇳), Pakistan (🇵🇰), and others.

There is also no icon that represents the United States (although USA works as an easily-written shorthand). Figures 6 and 7 investigate some elements that could be incorporated into a flag-inspired icon.

 

5-air-force.jpg

Fig. 5: Although it is not a national icon, this existing U.S. Air Force insignia manages to elegantly incorporate the elements of the national flag.

 

Fig. 6: If someone only had 5 seconds to draw an American flag, they’d probably some up with something similar to these graffiti-like icons on the left. Isolating the iconic elements of the American flag leaves us with a number of possible emblems in varying levels of detail (right). The bottom-right one also indicates how the Chinese / Japanese character for “above” coincidentally appears in the negative space: this might be useful in a U.S.A.-and-China-centered science fiction future like the one in Firefly.

Examples:

Below (Figure 7) is a column of state flags (left) and some potential icons (right). The color is arbitrary—it can be omitted or changed to any other color (as in the Japanese example in Figure 1).

 

 

7-flags-us-plus-icons.png

Fig. 7: Left column: state flags. Right column: corresponding easy-to-draw icons for each state. Some of these have a very shaky rationale, and are not based on the existing flags. For example:  Illinois: rivers converging, also it’s the “Y” from the font “Malayayam Bold.” Florida: the shape of Florida, if it were exactly three pixels. Michigan: the bordering lakes. Louisiana: the Mississippi river delta. Vermont / New Hampshire: the icons fit together, like the states. See below for Washington State.

Conclusion:

You should come up with some icon suggestions of your own, and propose them to your state government. They love sponsoring things like state birds, state flowers, and state songs, so why not a state emblem? California even has a state lichen and state dinosaur!

PROS: Would provide the option for people to promote their state with an easily-recognized emblem.

CONS: Could increase intra-state rivalry if people become attached to their own state’s amazing icon.

 

washington-crossing-the-delaware.jpg

P.S. The hypothetical icon for Washington State is an abstract representation of Washington crossing the Delaware. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that never stopped icon designers before!

 

brainstormed-weird-icons-small.png

P.P.S. Run out of icon ideas? Just draw a bunch of weird stuff on a sheet of paper and see if anything sticks. Try to avoid accidentally repurposing fascist iconography!

Uber and Lyft may have diminished the taxi medallion system, but the “medallion” idea can still be applied in other places! One weird local government tip.

Background:

Taxis in many cities operate under what is called a “medallion system” (Figure 1), whereby the supply of taxis is limited by a fixed quantity of tokens (“medallions”) that are issued in controlled quantities by the city.

taxi-medallion

Fig 1: An actual “taxi medallion” is apparently nothing like this.

Proposal:

For some reason, almost nothing else is regulated in this manner. But there are other services that are conceptually similar and could have their own “medallion” systems.

For example:

delivery-driving

Fig 2: Food delivery (e.g., pizza, Chinese food). Like a taxi, the driver operates a passenger automobile on public roads for commercial purposes.  A “delivery driving wedge” could be required in order for a business, such as a pizza restaurant, to deliver food.

dog-hypercube

Fig 3: Dog walkers make use of the public sidewalks and roads, and must abide by requirements that other pedestrians are not subject to (“pick up dog poop, do not allow the dog to bite anyone”). This “dog hypercube” would ensure that there was not an over-abundance of dogs on the sidewalks at any given time.

 

internet-cube

Fig 3: The medallion system could be applied to other activities with commercial potential.

  • Bicycles: Like a taxi, a bicycle consumes space on the public roads. Licensing of bicycles to a small number (see Figure 3, right side) would guarantee the availability of bike rack spots.
  • Internet usage could be prohibited without an “Internet cube” medallion (see Figure 3, left side). This could increase the available bandwidth for other purposes and could bring clients back to businesses like video rental companies and paper map retailers.

PROS: Opens up a new source of income: purchase a medallion, and then rent it out!

CONS: It may be difficult for City Hall employees to estimate the exact quantity of medallions to issue.

 

 

 

One trick of common courtesy that would give you a new sense of satisfaction from paying your taxes!

Background:

It’s always polite to write a thank-you note when you get a gift. Especially if it’s a large sum of money!

For example, a thank-you note from a child might look like this: “Dear Grandma, thanks for the money for my birthday. I used it to buy a bicycle. Here’s a picture… (etc).”

Proposal:

The various benefits of a stable government are generally abstract and far-removed from the taxpayer.

But the pain of paying a huge chunk of money is obvious and immediate!

Governments across the world might benefit from sending a “thank you” note to each taxpayer, indicating what the money was used for!

(Some charities already do this, sending personalized thank-you notes in return for donations.)

Here is a mockup of what it would look like for the U.S. Government:

traffic-cone

Fig 1: A taxpayer who didn’t make a lot of money during the year might get a letter that looked like this.

Fig 2: A taxpayer who made a larger sum of money might get a more interesting thank-you note. The wizard hat was probably grossly overpriced, however.

octo

Fig 3: Sometimes, your tax dollars wouldn’t actually be enough to pay for the entirety of a specific purchase. In this case, the fraction purchased would be indicated, and the picture would be partially grayed-out to match. For example, this person’s tax revenue was used to partially buy an octopus, but their contribution alone was only sufficient to pay for five of the octopus’s eight legs. What strange and secret purpose did the government need an octopus, anyway? Well, the answer is  ████ ████ ██, ████ ██ █████ ██ ██████████ and also  ████ ██ ████ ███ ████ ██████ ████ ██ ████ ███ ██ ██ █ ██ ██████████ .

Conclusion:

This is a great idea! The many readers of this post who work at the IRS should lobby to have it implemented immediately.

PROS: Increases both accountability to the taxpayer of tax revenue and the personal connection of citizens to their representative government.

CONS: ████████ █ █████ ██ ███ █ █████ ! ████

blank

Supplementary Figure A: A blank “taxpayer thank-you note.”

unknown-tax

Supplementary Figure B: Original “taxpayer thank-you note” mockup.

Five underrated facts about dystopian totalitarian surveillance regimes! You’ll never believe fact #2!

Background:

The optimal tradeoff between privacy and security is a topic that is endlessly debated.

In the past, omnipresent surveillance was not feasible—but technology is now at the point where implementation of a 1984-esque surveillance state is actually possible.

On the one hand, it would be theoretically convenient to have immediate response to crimes and/or injuries, and perhaps take action to prevent some crimes before they even occur.

On the other hand, you might be sent to a faraway gulag because you opposed the interests of a politically-connected individual.

Proposal:

The problem here, of course, is the human element (see Figure 1).

monitor-computer-guy

Fig. 1: This guy (right) can monitor every aspect of your life on the video screens (left). This works fine until you become successful and he blackmails you!

But if an all-seeing computer system (like Skynet in the Terminator series) were in charge of things, we could could theoretically know that the surveillance system could not be misused, and would only be used for the programmed-in purposes (e.g., catching kidnappers and insane murderers).

Humans would write the rules for the system, but the raw data would (somehow) be inaccessible except to the analysis computer (Fig. 2).

Some example rules that might be applied:

  • If a car was used in a felony, check traffic cameras for its license plate number.
  • If a person has purchased explosive-manufacture-related chemicals, check their records for unusual activity and potentially flag them for further investigation by actual humans.
  • If a person declared no taxable income, but drives around in an 80,000 dollar car, check them for tax fraud.

Since these rules could be set by the legislature, they could be transparent and subject to review by the voters.

One downside: many countries operate on implicit rules like:

  • If a person supports an opposing political party, make sure to harass and imprison them.
  • If a person is a member of a disfavored ethnic or religious group, make sure to hold them to the strictest letter of the law.
  • Otherwise, don’t enforce any rules at all.

These informal enforcement rules might be less likely to survive if they had to be explicitly coded up and put on the official registry of surveillance rules. Or perhaps they would remain, and just be enforced with horrific robotic precision!

robot-wheel

Fig 2: This robot is totally trustworthy with your personal data, and has no ulterior motives or desires of its own (unlike a human).

seeing-eye

Fig 3: This unblinking “panopticon” eye will be a useful symbol to let you know you are in a safe and trustworthy robot-surveilled region! Stick one of these in your bedroom and bathroom to remind you that a robot is watching you at all times.

Conclusion:

When you lobby for omnipresent surveillance, make sure to imagine the predicable scenario where some irrationally angry neighbor or ambitious business rival now has a recording of every stupid thing you (and your friends/family) have ever done!

PROS: Would probably reduce many types of crime.

CONS: Terminator and/or 1984.