🔮 AI as distributed innovation; Facebook’s fake news admission; tech sexism; neoliberal overreach; drug discovery; online trolls & Minitel++ #121

🔮 AI as distributed innovation; Facebook’s fake news admission; tech sexism; neoliberal overreach; drug discovery; online trolls & Minitel++ #121

Was neoliberal over-reach inevitable? How London’s battle between Uber and black cabs is a reflection of three post-industrial tensions. How automation will take hold in different industries. What NASA can tell us about driverless cars.

So much in here. Settle in with a coffee. And have great conversations! ☕

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💥 AI is “fully distributed innovation” that has come around at just the right time to flourish, argues Robbie Allen.

🗞️ Facebook finally acknowledges election manipulation. (See also: How fake news tricked a Trump supporter into accidentally shooting himself; and also this handy guide to how the Facebook newsfeed ranks content.)

🚕 Uber vs. Black Cabs: how the battle on London’s streets is a microcosm of the culture wars, the challenges of automation and the rise of dominant platform business models. STELLAR

🔱  Was neoliberal overreach inevitable? A remarkable essay by Simon Wren-Lewis, professor of economic policy at Oxford. (Also, data shows that the bottom 90% of Americans have seen anaemic income growth since 1980. And if you didn’t read last week’s piece on Kansas’ extreme neoliberal experiment, I recommend you do.)

✊ Cheryl Yeoh  describes her assault by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. (See also, what is it like to be a woman in the VR industry: “I love VR for its potential, but these fucking man-babies are ruining it.")

💊 Drug discovery, top-down vs. bottom-up:

The bottom-up approach did yield great dividends - most notably in the field of HIV protease inhibitor drugs against AIDS... [T]his contribution from the pharmaceutical industry is one of the greatest public services that capitalism has performed for humanity. [...] The bad news is that the paradigm fell short of the wild expectations that we had from it. Significantly short in fact.


When automatons explode. McAfee and Brynjolfsson’s excellent overview of how automation may take hold in various industries and why.

Reality check for IBM’s AI ambitions.

📑 Amazing project by the EFF to catalogue AI progress across multiple domains. (This will become a reference work.)

Move over, human. A Microsoft AI has achieved the highest possible score in Ms. Pac Man.

❤️ Detecting heart arrhythmias using deep learning more accurately than a cardiologist.

Detecting viable embryos more accurately than a human embryologist. These embryology and cardiology tools are likely a great example of ‘augmented intelligence’ which will improve the quality and productivity of the trained human professionals, leading to better outcomes for patients.

💭 Making deep learning models more explainable. An accessible discussion of different approaches.

As a counterpoint to the above, Google’s Peter Norvig on what we really want when we ask for “explainable AI”.


What can NASA teach us about self-driving cars? They are one organisation which has thought very hard about the challenges of automation in flight situations. What they’ve learned? Humans get distracted when monitoring automated systems within about 15 minutes. And it may even be the case that a

potentially dangerous contradiction is baked into the demand for self-driving cars themselves. “No one is going to buy a partially-automated car [like Tesla’s Model S] just so they can monitor the automation."

It is a sobering view of the challenges ahead of self-driving cars and a MUST READ.

Nevertheless, self-driving car businesses are making regulatory and commercial progress.

Tesla had a hiccup in its Q2 sales, down on Q1 and flat YonY. Personal anecdote is that Model S and Model X are gaining in popularity, at least in North West London where I live. And their owners are, almost without exception, telling their friends how happy they are with them. (Elon Musk has shared pics of the first production Model 3.)

Volvo to phase out petrol engines by 2020. They will still make hybrids, no doubt less a choice about which powertrain they are betting in and more to do with their capability and capacity.

🇫🇷 France aims to end sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. A laudable aim which they will far exceed. The economic and user advantages of non-ICE vehicles, either EVs or fuel-cell, will be startlingly obvious within a decade. There will be virtually no demand for ICE powered cars by 2040, except as curious and expensive luxuries (like owning a horse today).

Amazon is building a business unit to sell cars online.

Chinese private equity firm eyeing to buy 20% of world’s largest lithium producer, as its government promotes electric vehicles.


😈 Online trolls tend to show higher levels of trait psychopathy and sadism but are well aware of other people’s emotions.

New techniques have identified four different biotypes of depression, each activating different networks across the brain. May herald intriguing new treatments. FASCINATING

Rural Cameroonian 4-year-olds aced the iconic "marshmallow test":

Their success seemed to be tied to the traditional, strict, hierarchical culture in which they’d been raised. The results challenge Western assumptions about what constitutes an ideal parenting style.

Physical attractiveness may be a marker of health.

🇵🇰 Pakistan issues its first transgender passport.

What do Google trends tell us about American sexual proclivities?

Having a smartphone near you makes you dumber (even if it is in your bag).


#️ How do numberless languages shape their cultures and societies?

Two-thirds of all US households subscribe to Amazon Prime. MIND-BLOWING

🎮  Men don’t work when video games get too good.

On the commercial real estate glut in Silicon Valley.

☀️ Renewable energy will represent 75% of the $10.2trn invested in power capacity until 2040 and more in BNEF’s essential annual outlook.

Details on Tesla’s grid-scale battery in South Australia (to be installed within 100-days of sign-off!)

The history of Minitel: a Web before the Web.

Steve Jobs is why Macs never had an Intel Inside logo.

🖼️  The story behind the most famous desktop background.

One of the world’s worst telecommunications laws could get you in jail for angry comments on Facebook.

🏩  Inside Pakistan’s (risky) sex toy industry.

As the sharing economy takes over China, offerings extend to luxury clothing. (Related to Kevin Kelly's thoughts on the end of ownership.)

🐝 Understanding bee’s eyes could help improve sensors for robots and drones.

Private Mohammed Kahn, a Muslim soldier who fought for the Union side in the American Civil War.

The largest salt flat in the world viewed from the space; this is also one of the largest deposits of lithium, estimated at around 9 tonnes.


My Uber account was compromised. Fascinating experience.

I received an SMS asking me to confirm changes to my account. I was on the tarmac of an airport at the time. My name had been changed to “Georgi Azhar”, my phone number to a Russian number and the email to a Yahoo account. I had just about enough time to delete my payment methods before I was locked out of the account.

I had a few minutes to file a support request to Uber before wheels up. By the time I had landed, “Georgi” had taken two Mercedes around St Petersburg, one around Moscow. There was an aborted journey in Sydney. Uber had reset my account within the hour and refunded me.

It occurred that I must take a few precautions:

  1. I’ll use disposable pre-pay debit cards (as offered by Starling, Monzo or Revolut in the UK) for Uber in future.
  2. I’ll switch to a disposable email address, rather than my “primary” address. (This can obviously be routed to my primary.)
  3. I’ll continue to use a password manager to generate undescribable passwords and work back through old accounts and ensure they are protected.

I’ve no real idea whether any of these steps will secure me. But we’ll ask a couple of crypto experts to help us craft a guide for keeping safe. Let me know if you want to contribute.

Stay safe online!



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