Azeem Azhar’s Weekly Wondermissive: Future, Tech & Society
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You are reading the free edition of Exponential View.
I was in Singapore this week, so I asked EV reader Sarah Gold to handle Exponential View for me. Sarah is the founder of a technology studio with a strong angle on trust and ethics. I’ve followed her work with interest over the past couple of years.
Figuring out how we build more trustworthy systems as we enter the next phase of our economy is critical. So I am glad Sarah has taken the time to share her own Exponential View.
I’m Sarah Gold, founder and CEO at IF, a technology studio specialising in ethical and practical uses of data.
IF has unrivalled expertise in showing organisations how to collect, store and treat data in ways that combine ethical and commercial considerations. Working with a range of clients and partners from different sectors, we’ve led this emerging space since 2015. We provide responsible, innovative and achievable product strategies, rooted in a commitment to giving people, individually and collectively, agency over data that’s about them.
As part of my commitment to solving emerging issues and trends in privacy, security and technology, I am a practitioner for the Research Institute in the Science of Cyber Security and an RSA Fellow.
Dept of the near future
🚨 Autonomous driving is struggling to build a reputation for safety, and Tesla’s case is not helping it. Further scrutiny into Tesla’s reports shows no proof that its Autopilot is safer than fully manual driving. 🔉Azeem discussed this at length with the Director of Duke University’s Human and Autonomy Lab, Professor Missy Cummings, who called the current state of autonomous driving the most dangerous phase in its development. (See also, London streets are a nightmare for autonomous cars.)
🎭 AI is bringing a new wave of mass appropriation to art, starting an aesthetic revolution in art, media, and political propaganda. (See also, new Deepmind research trains teams of bots to play, and win, a game of Capture the Flag, a complex multi-agent, first-person-perspective game. The bots needed to play 450,000 games. Detailed results here.)
🌀 Platforms are the defining business model of the exponential age. Five of the largest six firms in the world are platforms. Here is a good study on how and when they fail.
🤗 Martin Wolf argues for a ‘reduce harm’ approach to realising wellbeing as a goal of public policy. (See also: New Zealand’s new budget will be guided by wellbeing. Bhutan’s government has used a Gross National Happiness index to guide policy for decades.)
⚙️ The good and the bad of cobotics.
⚠️🌏 Climate catastrophe
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
The latest measurement (as of May 28): 414.94 ppm; 12 months ago: 409ppm; 50 years ago: 326.66ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.
Mid-May is the seasonal high for the CO2 levels at Mauna Loa, so for the next few months, the absolute reported numbers will decline. But don’t be fooled: the CO2 levels are increasing at a faster rate.
📖 ✨ Climate scientist, Dr Emily Shuckburgh, spoke about climate change, its origins and the future, in a recent State of the Exponential briefing with Azeem. Notes from State of the Exponential briefings are usually available only to Premium readers, but because of the importance of this topic, we’re opening it to all readers. Access Emily’s presentation, notes and the recording of the briefing here.
The European Space Agency is preparing a fleet of satellites to monitor greenhouse gases in the greatest detail yet.
Dept of full-stack trust
How companies handle data is, increasingly, part of how they earn consumers’ trust. 92% of people are more likely to trust brands that give them control over data about them. This is not just the right thing to do; it’s critical to commercial success in ‘well-functioning competitive digital markets’. (And it’s about time trust became an indicator that was tracked and rewarded.) Building trust will take a full-stack approach: from new user interface patterns that give people agency, to innovation in the underlying technical infrastructure, and real accountability. And yes: new business models will emerge.
Ethical uses of data and AI are part of making technology trustworthy. The tech industry is waking up to the value of this. ‘AI ethicist’ is one of 2019's new, trendy jobs; Airbnb and Salesforce have hired senior managers to oversee trust and ethics. Facebook, Google and Apple are talking publicly about the importance of ethics and privacy, as are global marketing agencies. It’s great to see more interest in these issues from outside and inside organisations. That said: talk is cheap. Accusations of ethics-washing will hit those who talk a big game and do little.
A year after GDPR, many are choosing to fight data regulations in court. Reinvigorated, if underfunded, EU-based regulators are increasingly attuned to bad data practices. Interface design is also receiving regulatory attention. In the UK, the Competition and Market Authority cracked down on misleading designs on hotel booking sites last year, and a cross-party bill to ban dark patterns was put to the US Senate last month.
What does good data handling look like? Change is needed at the product level to meet the demands of a shifting regulatory landscape where customers care more about data privacy. It’s possible to design services that give people agency over data that describes them. Industries should embrace the opportunity for innovation based on ethical data use: data design patterns will be an important first step.
Current practice makes it hard for consumers to manage their privacy. See this investigation by the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern on how iPhone apps track users in ways that are often impossible to stop.
It’s about more than interfaces. Good data practices can be great marketing. An email from online florists Bloom and Wild giving subscribers the option to opt out of Mother’s Day reminders went viral. They can also be part of physical product designs, like Morrama’s concept for a phone that reduces screen time.
Changes to technical infrastructure underpinning services are needed too. The Washington Post just announced the release of its ad-tech stack, Zeus, saying ‘user experience (UX) and privacy should never be at odds with smart revenue generation and advertising engagement.’ Nice.
Backing up their privacy-centric marketing, Apple is rebuilding maps using first-party data gathered from iPhones with a privacy-first methodology. Improvements to the functionality of maps have been reported in the US and data collection started in Canada this week.
On the open web, Google has also been working on privacy-preserving software and products. TensorFlow Federated (TFF) is an open-source framework for privacy-preserving machine learning. With Google Coral, teams can build services that use machine learning without data leaving the device, which could democratise private machine learning. And Ben Laurie has written about “human-centred APIs,” governed by policies or smart contracts.
Infrastructure innovation will create new tools that help civil society and other groups hold companies to account for their use of data. SharedStreets is doing brilliant work building open-source tools to enable safer sharing of mobility data. Reuben Binns at the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office is developing an AI auditing framework. This is really important for data collection in public spaces, like the London Metropolitan police’s use of facial recognition, or TfL’s newest roll-out to collect people’s movement data in and around stations via Wi-Fi. While opportunities for individual recourse are necessary, Lizzie O’Shea rightly argues that making individuals solely responsible for their privacy ‘fundamentally misunderstands our social and political environment.’
Trust, transparency and accountability aren’t new problems, but we need a new approach. The progress is energising. But trust can take years to build and seconds to destroy. Much more needs to be done to ensure care for people is always at the heart of product development.
Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties
💸 Hotels lost $365 million in revenue to Airbnb in 2016 alone.
Viola, Erwise, Mosaic: remembering the forgotten browsers of the early 1990s.
💊 The world’s new most expensive drug uses gene editing to treat muscular atrophy at $2.1 million. See also, China adds regulation on gene editing on humans to its civil code.
💭 25% of Google Duplex calls are made by humans.
A fun essay on how Tamagotchis prepared us for the world of smartphones, social media, and virtual relationships. 👾 🍴💉💤
The rise of China’s science fiction. In the words of a Party Official: ‘We make your iPods. We make your phones [...] but we don’t come up with any of these ideas. So we went on a tour of America talking to people at Microsoft, at Google, at Apple, and [...] we discovered they all read science fiction.’
🏦 Blockchain is more costly and slower than traditional technologies, reports the President of the German central bank following a trial. (Azeem’s comment: that is obvious because blockchains are decentralised. Centralised clearing will always be quicker. But just like putting locks on your door makes entering your home more time consuming than not having locks on it, there are times when it is valuable to trade off speed for some other attribute, such as security.)
I had a lightning-fast trip to Singapore, now the world’s most competitive economy, earlier this week. I was giving a speech at an investor conference on what we mean when we say “AI changes everything.” It’s a big brief, but I can just about tell the story in 45 minutes.
While I was in Singapore, I was able to sample an Impossible Burger, one of those meat-free burgers. My gastronomic verdict is “oui, oui, oui.” Can’t wait for them to roll out more widely.
I was able to spend some time with two different EV readers, both of whom are looking at the problem of renewable electrification and electric vehicles in the city-state and wider South East Asia. I love our community!
And related notes:
- We’re running some community experiments for Premium members in the next couple of weeks. Subscribe to get access to the Premium content and opportunities only available to EV members.
- If you want me to speak at your corporate event, I have some very limited availability from September through December. Drop Joanna Jones a line.
Finally, a huge thanks to Sarah Gold for stepping in and handling Exponential View this week. She covered an extremely important topic. Not only are we suffering a decline in trust in technology platforms, we are also seeing a fragmentation in trust across other institutions. And trust inequality, PR shop Edelman’s measures of the trust gap between the informed public and the mass population, is at a record high.
Sarah provides us with the start of a roadmap to thinking about how we might design more trustworthy systems. I’m grateful to her for taking the time. Please take a moment to thank her.
Have a wonderful week,
P.S. Scroll down to read what your fellow readers are up to!
This issue has been supported by our partner: Ocean Protocol.
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What you are up to—notes from EV readers
A number of EV readers at BlueYard Capital are working to bring together entrepreneurs who want to participate in the “Manhattan Project” against climate change.
Jan Erik Solem’s Mapillary launches a marketplace for street-level images and map data.
Alistair Nolan at the OECD put together a workshop on the future of computing, AI, blockchain, science and innovation. Recordings are available here.
Denise Howell is speaking at the IP and the Internet Conference organised by the California Lawyers Association.
Kristoffer Tjalve is inviting you to participate in the State of Communities 2019 survey.
Share your project or news with the community! Email email@example.com