Virtual reality and the new art of telling stories; the bot hordes arrive; bitcoin’s past and future; online advertising changes our self-perception; building successful platform businesses; the oil industry hid climate change for 50 years; the dangers of global inequality; dumb rich kids of Instagram; LSD, octopuses & more.
Dept of the near future
🤑 When bitcoin grows up: 11,015 beautiful words on bitcoin, and the past and future of money by John Lanchester in the LRD. MUST READ.
😒 Our exposure to targeted advertising changes our self-perceptions. People “evaluated themselves as more sophisticated after receiving an ad [for a luxury watch] that they thought was individually targeted to them.” FASCINATING
💡 Networks and leadership. Great essay by Esko Kilpi on post-internet leadership: “How can more people participate in ways that bring about development and change over time?” THROUGH PROVOKING
☀️ “Segment, Socialize, and Skill-ify”: how to create value on network platforms.
🔥☠️ The oil industry knew about climate change risks nearly 50 years ago. **INCENDIARY **Also March was the hottest month on record. (Separately, peer reviewed paper says fossil fuels could be phased out in a decade.)
🔮 An EXCELLENT introduction to story-telling in the virtual reality age.
Dept of AI & bots
You can’t have escaped the bot-news frenzy of the past few weeks. Bots are hot. The syzygy driving it is as follows:
App store distribution is too expensive; humans are getting used to natural interfaces & chat; our attention is dispersed, and we live in messenger interfaces; AI systems bring bots closer to humanity and further from inanity, especially in narrow domains; micro-service based architectures make integrations easier.
So we can see a value architecture emerging. Distribution (owned, or rented from Facebook, Kik, Skype, etc) | Translation layer (where the intelligence lies, owned or rented from Msg.Ai, Wit.Ai, etc) | Interface layer to your systems (with your business logic) | Training tools (your own or rented from Crowdflower, etc) | Analytics and monitoring.
The big players will attempt to encapsulate all of these areas, and probably give the tools away for free if they can. By using their NLP layer or image classifier you will train them better and better, building them a data/inference-model moat. It’s probably too tempting (from a time-to-market standpoint) & too easy (from a time-to-quality perspective) to avoid having your distributor, e.g. Microsoft or Facebook, do the whole lot for you.
If you go down this road, then remember the general rule of network platforms, and for recent history the treatment of paid likes by Facebook, or the fate of many an ISV on the Dos or early Windows platforms. There are many reasons to follow the new KISS. (Keep it Separate, Stupid).
If you are building a bot-based service, a bot intelligence layer, a bot development toolkit or have a better-than-human bot working in a domain, I’d love to know. Just hit reply (and change the subject line!)
Smarter thoughts on bots more generally & AI this week:
⚙ EV reader Alan McNichol: “We don’t know how to build conversational software yet.”
EV subscriber Christian Hernandez on the Bot Week that was.
“Telling robots how and when – and why – to disobey is far easier said than done” In order to obey an order, robots need to know how to disobey it. How do you teach them? (See also: how we need to establish codes of behaviour for bots. This touches on one of the issues I realised using X.AI’s Amy: are anthropomorphic interfaces reasonable when one participant doesn’t realise they are just dealing with code not a human with agency?)
There was a UN Meeting on autonomous weapons last week. “We can’t escape killer robots”. That ship has sailed, argues Peter Singer, but we should keep humans accountable. (A different view from another attendee: the Campaign to Stop the Killer Robots.)
Super blog post by Alex Champnard on the NeuralDoodle software (turn your doodle’s into old masters)
How Xiaomi is putting AI everywhere, including in shoes.
Dept of wealth & inequality
💡 Branko Milanovic’s new work onGlobal Inequality is astounding, according to Martin Wolf. Takeaway: lower inequality than ever global but growing disparities in richer countries. The rich get richer and richer yet “very high inequality eventually becomes unsustainable”. We’ve touched on these ideas before in EV, see EV #11 (“Rich people will become immortal god-like cyborgs.”)
🍾 Rich kids are dobbing in their dodgy dealing parents. These junior braggarts’ Instagram flauntations are helping tax authorities & litigators.
EV reader, Prof Diane Coyle, on why economic policy continues to overlook women:“There is no good rationale for continuing to ignore other important components of economic well-being, including women’s unpaid work.”
American charity, GiveDirectly, is launching a ten-year trial of basic income in Kenya.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
👫 Online dating & the death of the mixed-attractiveness couple. Yet another ‘bid:offer spread’ eliminated by a 'more efficient market’.
Aartist successfully identifies 70% of random people on the subway using a free to use face recognition app that trawls social networks. (Translated from Russian.)
End of the PC era? PC shipments dropped nearly 10% in Q1.
Apple recovered a ton of gold from broken iPhone’s last year.
A paralysed man can now control his own limbs, courtesy of neuroelectronics.
🐙 Is an octopus conscious? Important questions about nonhuman consciousness.
Some humans excel at this quantum-computing video game.
🇨🇦 Justin Trudeau, Canada’s yoga loving, panda hugging leader, explains quantum computing.
Have a great week!