The importance of belonging. How big a threat is Facebook to society? Technopanics and shifting social norms. Autonomous vehicles heat up. Replacing work with video games. Tackling the Silicon Valley boys club.
Hope this sparks great conversations!
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Dept of the near future
👻 Simon Kuper: Forget about Trump, tech will shape our futures. YEP
🔥 Aral Balkan: “We didn’t lose control of our data. It was stolen by Silicon Valley.” GOOD READ
☠️ Is Facebook a structural threat to a free society? PROVOCATIVE
💡 David Goodhart: Why I left my Liberal London tribe. It is time to face “the reality of flesh-and-blood humans with group attachments and the need to be valued and to belong.” EXCELLENT essay with a UK/Brexit-angle but relevant for readers in other countries.
Dept of culture, media and technopanic
Technology affects culture. It’s all too easy to see social media and new forms of interaction as insidious threats to our social-cultural norms. The new is often the source of technopanic.
In many cases, one may want to be sanguine about how the social & cultural effects of a new technology (particularly a new medium or distribution mechanism) are going to emerge. Effects are often complex, contradictory and play out differently in different segments.
🎮 Ryan Avent has a rather wonderful essay: Are young Americans dropping out of the labour market to play video games?
📱 Matt Ritchel in NY Times: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones?
Germany suggests fines of up to €50m for social networks that don’t stop fake news.
Is Facebook membership a prerequisite to modern existence? Many new services can only be accessed via a Facebook ID and, increasingly, the ‘social credit’ that implies.
(Longish counterpoint: as governments & banks finally allow for programmatic access to verified identities, firms can turn to them to digitally verify a customer’s ID. Pity the finance & government sectors were so lackadaisical about offering such services for much of the past decade. Good that they have now woken up.
In the longer term, might one of the many efforts to provide decentralised, self-sovereign ID built on the cryptographically-robust distributed infrastructure of the blockchain finally take off? Natalie Smolenski’s overview of self-sovereign ID is excellent.)
As the late Douglas Adams observed:
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
The BBC has a rather wonderful interactive-thingy reviewing some of the greatest technopanics in history (including the panic about writing, printed books and fluoridation of water.)
Dept of AI and autonomous vehicles
Leaked data show that Uber’s self-driving cars need human intervention every 1.3 miles and can travel about 7 miles without intervention that might have caused discomfort for a passenger.
The rate of improvement is pretty significant at between 15 to 22% per week. Assuming those rates held for even six months, that would drop the rate of interventions to once every 50 miles and once every 1,200 miles.
They rate of improvement won’t hold that steady, of course, but it does show the power of the exponential compounding effect of the fast learning-loop in well-designed AI systems. It also raises an ‘uncanny valley’ in bridging from Level 3 to Level 5 autonomy. Is a car that requires human intervention ever 500 to 1,000 miles safer than one that requires that intervention every mile? A driver who can enjoy 4-6 weeks of travel before needing to grab the steering wheel may become complacent.
Intel acquires Mobileye for $15bn to boot-strap its AV efforts. (Mazda is worth about $8.7bn.)
Excellent overview on how the auto supply chain is changing as the sector moves to industrialise autonomous vehicles.
Ben Medlock: True AI will need “algorithms [with] some kind of long-term, embodied relationship with their environment.”
AI is ripe for fascist abuse, warns Kate Crawford.
Dept of pay-it-forward
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Small morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
🏈 Profile of Robert Mercer and how he exploited America’s populist insurgency.
Susan Wojcicki: How to break up the Silicon Valley’s boy’s club.
💸 QR code theft and digital pickpockets in China.
🔥 February was the 4th warmest month on record, despite coming after a cooling La Nina.
Depression, anxiety and PTSD. The psychological impact of climate change.
Genetics and educational attainment. (Academic paper, worth scanning.)
Could whole-body vibration be as effective as exercise in controlling obesity?
Thanks for all the recommendations on the microbiome. I now have some reading for my Easter holiday.