Making AI explainable. Designing for non-human users. Does medical AI really beat doctors? How economies commit suicide. "Hyphbot" and the next big breach. Equality on GDP. Sexism on Slack. Tencent vs. Facebook. China & world.
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DEPT OF THE NEAR FUTURE
Perhaps the most ambitious of the dozen different projects are those that seek to bolt new explanatory capabilities onto existing deep neural networks. Imagine giving your pet dog the power of speech, so that it might finally explain what’s so interesting about squirrels. Or, as Trevor Darrell, a lead investigator on one of those teams, sums it up, “The solution to explainable A.I. is more A.I.”
(Also Do medical AI systems really beat doctors? Luke Oakden-Rayner cautions against the breathless optimism of new AI systems in this moderately technical blog post.)
Today, most tech products are designed to optimize for attention, which requires elevating the individual user above all else. Human-centered design has been great at streamlining users’ everyday activities, like navigating a city (Google Maps), socializing (Snap, Facebook), and shopping (Amazon). It hasn’t been great at understanding how users interact with, and are influenced by, larger political, economic, cultural, and technological systems–sometimes to disastrous effect. Design’s next big paradigm will have to account for these systems.
📚 Should we become specialists or polymaths? How to succeed as a generalized specialist. Really wonderful essay by Shane Parrish. I believe the pendulum is swinging away from the hyper-specialist toward people who can be more generalist. Sure, specialism is important. So many domains, those of both the scientist and the literary intellectual are highly technical, but in a time of rapid change and a wide distribution of possible future paths being interdisciplinary is going to matter. Call them T-shaped leaders or foxes or generalized specialists, as Shane says “if you can’t adapt, changes become threats instead of opportunities.”
🎯 Anne-Marie Slaughter on the platform economy which is taking shape significantly in emerging market economies, like Nigeria, Vietnam, and Indonesia, with their youthful workforces:
First, people layer multiple work streams and derive income from more than one source. Second, platform economies are emerging rapidly and build on traditional networks. Finally, these work patterns often go hand in hand with dramatic income inequality.
🤖 The new robot workforce:
_An important force behind adoption is the falling cost of robotics systems. At the same time, breakthroughs in robotics technology are combining with the increasing level of electronic communication between equipment and computers in factories, sometimes called the industrial internet of things.
Another factor helping the growth of robots is a shift in some industries from producing a small variety of goods in large batches, to a greater mix of products in smaller batches_
🥀 Umair Haque: How economies commit suicide, starring Britain and the United States. (See also this sobering interview with British celebrity economics commentator, Robert Peston, on universal basic income and whether Britain is really finished.)
💸 The largest fake ad scheme was uncovered. “Hyphbot” tricked advertisers with fake sites and bot traffic, generating at least $500k a day at its height. Security experts warn that the worst is yet to come, as “we’ve built the most perfect online surveillance system ever contemplated — for bad guys”:
To put this threat in context, you have to understand that consumers—or in other words, all of us—face two separate but interlocking issues.
First, more companies than ever are gathering more data than ever about us. Efforts to limit the scale of this for-profit surveillance has been fought and, in the U.S. at least, largely lost. Culturally, we seem to have accepted that, in aggregate, every single thing we do that can be recorded will be.
The second issue is that breaches of the companies that hold data are becoming more apparent, if not more frequent. This is in part because the damage—as in the Ashley Madison hack—is more visible and direct than in the past, giving a new urgency to a privacy debate that has until recently been moribund.
DEPT OF EQUALITY
Raising gender equality could add 6% to GDP in the advanced economies over the course of one to two decades, says a recent report from Citi, a bank. This is significantly greater than the results some structural reforms would yield, including Trump’s fiscal stimulus, infrastructure investments, and two-year sustainable growth of OECD countries.
However, as the WEF Gender Gap report shows, we seem to be further away from equality goals in 2017 than we were last year. It will now take another 100 years to close the gender gap.
On average, the 144 countries covered in the Report have closed 96% of the gap in health outcomes between women and men, unchanged since last year, and more than 95% of the gap in educational attainment, a slight decrease compared to last year. However, the gaps between women and men on economic participation and political empowerment remain wide: only 58% of the economic participation gap has been closed—a second consecutive year of reversed progress and the lowest value measured by the Index since 2008—and about 23% of the political gap, unchanged since last year against a long-term trend of slow but steady improvement.
Unless there is genuine awareness and dedication to closing inequality in the workplace on all levels of an organisation (including the office design, on which I wrote about a year ago), even the mechanisms in place to tackle it have infinitesimal effects. Obligatory sexual harassment training, for example,
increased knowledge about laws pertaining to sexual harassment but had no significant positive effects on behavior. Men who participated in the training were less likely to view coercion of a subordinate as sexual harassment, less willing to report harassment and more inclined to blame the victim than were women or men who had not gone through the training.
Supporting founders and business models that nurture equality & participation at the core of the business ought to be a sine qua non.
Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev argue persuasively in Harvard Business Review that:
companies see significant declines in African American, Latina, and Asian American women in both management and non-management roles after establishing grievance procedures for harassment.
...So, that brings us back to moving more women into management and core jobs being the best way to reduce harassment […] CEOs must take a strong public stand against workplace harassment [… ] After all, culture is shaped by behavior at the top. As long as men dominate in management, it’ll be up to them to make those changes.
Microaggressions and mansplaining, some of the regularities that women deal with in the workplace, are there for everyone to see in your company’s Slack, observes Leah Fessler:
_I noticed that some people seemed untroubled by any such self-doubt—the ones who posted blunt statements, or dropped in links with no context. They responded to others’ statements with sharp critiques, “no,” or radio silence. This behavior—standoffish at best, boorish at worst—conveyed power.
Many of these people, I noticed, were men.
Age, experience, and hierarchical position undoubtedly influence digital behavior. Does gender influence our office’s electronic communications? When I began asking my colleagues, nearly every woman said yes. Overwhelmingly, men said no._
Stacy-Marie Ishmael is on point with her comment. This is "just one of the many reasons why every org or company with a Slack installation also has a locked women-only channel.”
- Interesting detail on Japan’s bamboo ceiling. Japan is a curious case. Number one for health indicators for women, but right at the tail end for female economic participation and opportunity.
- #Womanspreading calls on women to regain their space.
- Ketamine injections affect mice only when administered by male researchers.
DEPT OF CHINA GOING GLOBAL
Of the ten largest companies by market cap, two are Chinese. And one of them, Tencent, is now worth more than Facebook, becoming the world’s most valuable social network.
Investors are betting that Tencent can lean on its billion-plus users and hit games like Honour of Kings to evolve into an advertising and entertainment titan along the lines of a Google or Facebook.
The Chinese enterprise application market lacks a dominant player, argues Li Yuan. This could be the next billion dollar market. China’s businesses and government software spend is a fraction of their US counterparts. As labour costs rise and AI & cloud computing create better value propositions, this spend will increase. (Good review.)
Mobile payment users exceed 520 million. Chinese companies have long battled the persistent sentiment that they lack the know-how and cultural acuity to break into foreign markets. This is changing, and mobile payments play a role. As affluent Chinese tourists spend billions of dollars overseas, US and European merchants are getting a hang of WeChat Pay and Alipay. It’s arrived in London and the Munich Airport.
Camden is the first place in the UK to accept WeChat Pay at the point of sale. It's a small experiment, but one that could prove fruitful as Christmas draws near. [...] That's not to say WeChat Pay will soon rival Google or Apple's platforms in the UK. But it could be a worthy rival for the Alibaba-owned Alipay, which recently launched a fresh marketing campaign on the London Underground.
🚨 Chinese ridesharing giant DiDi is also leveraging local partnerships to enter foreign markets. CEO and founder, Cheng Wei, talks in this excellent interview about business models, AI and ethics in a way that you don’t see many large-company CEOs talk.
Few events in history had as much an impact as the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution. So, it is no wonder that both eras witnessed a spate of innovations and start-ups. Right now, there is nothing as influential as the Internet. Artificial intelligence is dominating the second round of the Internet Revolution, and in the future we might see more advancements in life sciences and space technology.
Chinese face recognition unicorn, SenseTime, plans an R&D centre in the US next year.
- China to more than triple the number of surveillance cameras by 2020.
- The Chinese bike-share graveyard (amazing pic).
- A Chinese robot passed a medical licensing exam.
- A robot and drone patrol inspect high-voltage transformer in Chongqing.
SHORT MORSELS TO APPEAR SMART AT DINNER PARTIES
Seedcamp, Europe’s top early-stage incubator, released the pitch deck for its successful £41m fundraise. (It’s pretty rare to see these in the wild, so enjoy it.)
Blackrock plans to launch a range of actively-managed robo ETFs.
😐 Previous ‘evidence’ of water of Mars now identified as sand and dust movement.
🎣 IoT-connected deep-sea fisheries are being tested in Norway.
German parents urged to destroy kids’ smartwatches over privacy concerns.
The sugar industry covered up evidence of damaging health effects 50 years ago.
How decades of less than optimal decisions broke GE.
👁️ Two DARPA-funded projects are testing brain implants that alter neural activity hoping to treat mood disorders.
The sea level threat to cities depends on where the ice melts, not just how fast.
EV reader Bastiaan Terhorst's growing team at WeTransfer is looking for excellent people for a few positions—apply or forward to your friends and (ex)-colleagues who are looking for a job in a beautiful, bike-loving city.
- Experienced product owners, full-time, Amsterdam
- Android engineer, full-time, Amsterdam
- Experienced Agile coaches, full-time, Amsterdam
*Community Careers is a paid space within the newsletter, reserved for long-term readers.
Ok. I know that I didn't put in anything about the net neutrality or the Uber breach. I figured your feeds would have been all over it. And sometimes, one's shoulders slump wearily as we tread over the same ground. Again.
The FCC decision hasn't been popular amongst many constituencies, nor is it here. SPs oughtn't be gatekeepers, rather they should be utilities providing a utility service well (and making utility, not monopoly rents). They can't, in general, be depended on for real consumer innovation. (By the way, that isn't impossible, I've witnessed a number of telcos successfully engage with consumer level innovation.) But the best consumer innovations have generally occurred at the application, not transport level. As it is the FCC's consultation about net neutrality was swamped by bot traffic, of which you can read here. And to get a flavour of life without net neutrality, take a look at ISP packages in New Zealand.
Nor did we talk about Uber's data breach and subsequent concealment. This reminds me of Milton Friedman's hard-hearted op-ed in the New York Times in 1970 where he extolled businesses to singularly pursue profits as their sole "social responsibility". He also caveated that it needed to be conducted "within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."
That lens could also be applied to whatever behaviour Ajit Pai of the FCC hopes he is going to foster after ending net neutrality.
Elsewhere, we're approaching the holiday season in many parts of the world.
🎄 Every Christmas I attend a fantastic jazz-meets-urban carol concert. It's organised by my sister-in-law and features an ensemble called the Urban Voices Collective. It's in Marylebone in London on the evening of December 15th. I'll be there, and I'm sure many members of the Exponential View family will be, too. You can pick tickets up from here.
This week's issue is brought to you with the help of our partner, WorkShape.