Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
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Dept of the near future
⚠️ Eugene Wei on status as a service. Social media networks are as much or more about generating social capital as generating financial capital; that social capital is both incentive and payment to users to create and give their content to social platforms. (Like many, during the mid-2000s, I became enamoured with the idea of the sharing economy. Here is an excellent critical analysis of how that played out. See also, the servant economy, another critical analysis of the evolution of the 'sharing economy'.)
🙄 Mark Zuckerberg, claims he will make Facebook more 'privacy-focused'. Zeynep Tufekci first-cut analysis is worth reading: “this supposed shift [...] looks more like shrewd competitive positioning, dressed up in privacy rhetoric.” Siva Vaidhyanathan argues that Zuckerberg’s decision is purely strategic, to help ready for a confrontation with WeChat. (Facebook's core product has lost 15m American users since 2017, according to Edison Research. Its reputation is also collapsing. I think there are parallels between Zuck's announcement and Bill Gates' famous 1995 memo, which warned that Microsoft had to turn to face the threat of the Internet. Microsoft eventually did succeed in its switch, but it took two further CEOs and nearly two decades to do it. Equally, it's important to note that Zuckerberg has spoken of truly curtailing Facebook's current business model, rather talked of extending it to newer markets. Meanwhile, the idea of breaking up of the tech giants has hit Washington, with Democratic presidential contender, Elizabeth Warren, suggesting just that. Warren’s statement is worth reading.)
💯 Excellent overview of the computational biology opportunity. I recommend watching the short video too.
🏁 Quantum computing “is a marathon...and it's only ten minutes into the marathon.”
👑🗑️ The credentials of a CEO make little or no difference to a company's performance; call it the MBA myth.
🙈 “The foxes are guarding the henhouse.” Is ethical AI possible?
🔥🌎 Burning planet: 411.51ppm
Each week, I’m going to remind us of our level of the CO2 in the atmosphere. We must avoid a level of 450 parts per million for a chance to keep global warming below 2°C.
More than 1 million e-bikes were sold in the Netherlands last year.
Exciting! Researchers hope to be able to create corn hybrids which will produce up to 80% of their own nitrogen requirements within a decade. Artificial nitrogen fixation has massive energy requirements, so this could be quite helpful.
Dept of artificial intelligence & data
🎨 Ian Bogost on AI in art: “The 20th-century avant-garde turned anything whatsoever into art, an idea that overtook popular culture in the 21st. Now anyone can claim to be a “creator” of any kind and can earn some legitimacy for that claim on YouTube, or Instagram, or DeviantArt, or whatever. Today, computer-science and venture-backed start-ups are driving cultural production instead. And yet, of all the aesthetic forms, fine art might be the most compatible with technological disruption—both thrive on novelty, even if it burns hot and fast.”
Excellent deep dive by Mike Allen on the privacy debate. Highly recommended reprise of the story so far.
🌀David Kelnar at MMC Ventures has put together a very good report on the state of artificial intelligence, which covers technical progress, investment levels, corporate strategies and talent development.
🤨 A Japanese startup has developed AI surveillance cameras which they claim can detect suspicious behaviour. This kind of AI behavioural analysis is both likely to become increasingly prevalent, and ripe for all kinds of abuse.
Two years ago, Chinese researchers build a machine vision system that (controversially) predicted criminality from ID photos. Did they get it right? Or did they really just build a smile detector? (Good analysis, with a response from the researchers.)
Department of bodies and brains
The individual as a spectrum: “There isn’t one single answer to the question of where to draw the limits of my body. We are in constant interaction with the organisms living in and upon us – a locus of biotic relations and overlapping borders. If you relax and try to imagine every facet at once, you’ll see that we’re a kind of Venn diagram come to life.”
For the first time in decades, the FDA has approved a new major drug for treating severe depression... and it's ketamine! (Off the dance floor, and into the clinic!)
🦠 Researchers find further evidence to support a link between gut microbiomes and mental health, including depression.
Fecal microbial transplants are proving to be very useful treatments for some difficult conditions, but also rather harder to regulate.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
⚔️ Future of War #1: The Royal Air Force optimistically claims only one civilian casualty in the last four years of air strikes in Syria and Iraq. Other reports count 4.3k people. About 32% of sorties were flown by UAVs, which struck me as a remarkable proportion. Also fascinating, a startup satellite operator's imaging suggests recent Indian strikes on terrorist camps based in Pakistan were ineffective. (Fascinating because those bomb damage assessments were, hitherto, restricted to sovereign states with aerial or space reconnaissance capabilities.)
Future of War #2: The storied 160th SOAR of the US Army is now home to one of the most lethal UAV units, Echo Company, flying MQ-1C Grey Eagles.
👓 EssilorLuxottica and the reason why spectacle frames have a markup of 1000%.
🕹️🕊️ More data showing no link between violent video games and aggressive real-world behaviour, new research finds.
The Theranos debacle also reveals the 'broken' US patent system, which awards patents far too easily, lending credibility where it’s not deserved.
⚡ Chinese ByteDance plans to break into enterprise productivity market in the US, rivaling Slack, Microsoft and Google.
The NSA has open-sourced a tool for reverse-engineering malware.
💸 98 billionaires from Russia have more wealth than the savings of all other Russians combined.
🇹🇭 Following five years of military rule, Thailand became the most unequal country in the world.
Stone Age cave symbols could be part of a proto-writing system.
I was at SXSW in Austin this weekend. EV is shorter than usual due to travel and prep for my trip.
A very special thanks to Stewart Kime for helping me organise the EV members' get-together in Austin yesterday.
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What you’re up to — notes from EV readers
Pete Warden got Tensorflow Lite working on low-cost microcontrollers — his summary here.
Congrats to Ludwig Siegele for being appointed as US technology editor at The Economist!
Rich Walker shares a review of his company's Shadow Hand (the most complex robotic hand on Earth) in Wired.
Stephen Williams' new book on blockchain is out this month!
Alan Lesgold's new book on learning and education in the age of AI is out in March, too!
Emily Kasriel is leading a new project for the BBC, exploring the power of meeting people with conflicting opinions. One of the first pairings: Uber driver meets a Black Cab driver.
Matt Linares' conversation with Marc Böhlen, one of the researchers involved in IEEE Ethics in Action process.
Daniel Stanley summed up the conclusion of a recent debate 'Purpose or Purgatory? How business can shape the future of work?’ held at the Royal Society of Arts.
Taylor Stockton tackles some of the key challenges in successfully reskilling millions.
Christoph Molnar published a book looking into how to make machine learning models more interpretable.
Elliot O'Connor at Firstminute Capital, a London-based venture fund, is hosting its Annual Summit on March 26th and looking to invite a few of the most ambitious entrepreneurs & innovators London has to offer. The event will be attended by 200+ global technology leaders & investors including CEOs/ Founders from Softbank Vision Fund, PayPal, Farfetch, Andreessen Horowitz, Pandora, Wikipedia, Net-a-Porter and more. To be considered, apply here.
Marwan Kawadri at Founders Intelligence is looking for teammates: a business analyst / associate and a client lead.
Steffen Funck is inviting analysts passionate about renewable energy to join Statkraft Ventures' team.
Get involved in Jack Kelly's young initiative to use open-science to help fix climate change ASAP.
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