Weekly Links & Thoughts #170

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET),  just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. Here is an archive of previous issues.
======

Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.

Weekly Links & Thoughts #169

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET),  just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. Here is an archive of previous issues.
======

Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Podcast episode of the week:

Quotation of the week:

  • “The Cambridge Analytica scandal was in some ways a sustained advertisement for the idea that targeted ads really work and that Facebook really is a space where people can be molded rather than persuaded.”
    Rob Horning in “Anxiety of Influence(reallifemag.com, 2)

Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.

Thank you for Duplex, Google

With its experimental voice-based digital assistant system for booking appointments called “Duplex”, Google has created quite a stir. Some people are amazed. Some people are worried. Some are both. Oddly, I am neither. But there are couple of interesting take-aways.

1. Smells like Vaporware

Duplex and the demo shown are a perfect way to wow a geeky audience at a Google developer conference (mission accomplished). But for a company such as Google, is also easy to prepare the technology for a highly predictable use case such as booking an appointment. How natural and human-like would Duplex sound if the person on the other end of the line suddenly asks “Hey by the way, what do you think about the situation in the Middle East/the Eurovision Song Contest/Paleo?”. Exactly, these questions would not be asked during this type of call. Therefore, what remains is a highly trivial bot conversation, a well-functioning yet not revolutionary speech recognition system, and an indeed noteworthy human-like computer-generated voice. That’s for sure an achievement. But it does not say anything about the feasibility of the approach in more wide-ranging conversations, and neither about the actually potential of Duplex on the market.

2. “The new can’t do new things in *old* ways.”

The former Windows president Steven Sinofsky coined the adage that new cannot do new things in old ways. Yet this is exactly what Google does with Duplex. The investor Bijan Sabet puts it trechantly: “It reminds me of those apps that allow you to send a fax from a smartphone. It’s duct tape for old Infrastructure”

In fact, the whole scenario of people having to call to make an appointment should not exist at all (and probably won’t in a few years). Traditional online booking systems can do this better, as can chat bots. It’s strange that Google would try to solve such a transient problem over actual innovating in this field. Sabet again:

“Instead I would rather see Google use it’s financial and engineering might to get everyone online and connected in a decentralized way via API so office hours, reservations, communications arent addressed thru computers pretending to be humans.”

But when complaining about the misguided allocation of resources and lack of innovative thinking in regards to Duplex, the premise is that Google actually would be serious with this. But the company’s actual intentions might be very different…

3. Google kicked off an important debate

Considering the previously mentioned points, it’s unlikely that the Google management presented Duplex with the sole (or prime) intention of actually launching such a service. More probably at least is that, aside from the goal to entertain the Google I/O crowd, Google wanted to spark a debate and show how far technology has come to imitate humans in narrow, highly predictable types of conversations. Mission accomplished, again. I saw people discussing Duplex who otherwise never talk about cutting-edge tech topics. It’s important that even the non-techy crowd starts thinking about AI and its possibilities as well as challenges, because it is upon us and will affect everyone. We should be thankful to Google for doing this.

4. Our human discomfort with being presented with our lack of sophistication

On Hacker News, a commentator made this thought-provoking remark:

“People who answer phones to take bookings perform an extremely limited set of questions and responses, that’s why they can even be replaced by dumb voice response systems in many cases. In these cases, the human being answering the phone is themselves acting like a bot following a repetitive script.”

Indeed, part of the outrage and criticism in regards to Duplex could be caused by the natural human discomfort with being confronted with our own bot-likeness. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post pointing out that Twitter makes humans look like bots. Since then, I am noticing bot-like behavior everywhere.

Digital technology and particularly AI is challenging humans in ways which are scary, for the simple reason that it shows us our own shortcomings and lack of sophistication, such as when doing scripted conversations on the phone while insisting in wanting to keep the exclusive right to perform those conversations.

Machines will keep entering more and more territories of everyday life. The natural response for humans must be to actually focus on the areas in which we are and will be, for a long time, more capable than computers. And it also needs to be the realization that if we don’t want to be outperformed by bots, we must stop behaving like bots ourselves.

=======
Sign up for the meshedsociety weekly email, loaded with great things to read about the digital world. Sent to almost 600 subscribers (May 2018).
=======

Weekly Links & Thoughts #168

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET),  just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. Here is an archive of previous issues.
======

Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

Service of the week:

Quotation of the week:

  • “In a loose sense, WeWork’s business model is getting SoftBank to buy beer for software workers.”
    Matt Levine in “WeWork Accounts for Consciousness” (bloomberg.com, 2)

Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.

Weekly Links & Thoughts #167

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET),  just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. Here is an archive of previous issues.
======

Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Podcast episode of the week:

Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.

A message to WhatsApp founder Jan Koum

Jan Koum, the other co-founder and former CEO of WhatsApp, is leaving Facebook. His former colleague Brian Acton did the same a few months ago.

Judging from the media reports about Koum’s parting with Facebook, it seems that a long-standing disagreement of Koum and Acton with Facebook’s core values in regards to the collection of user data and ad monetization is one (or the) reason why both are moving on. Acton even went so far as to embrace the tiny #deletefacebook movement (which has little chances of success). Continue Reading

Most people cannot leave Facebook

It’s time to spell out something which everybody already knows: The majority of the 2 billion Facebook users are unable to leave Facebook, no matter how much they would want to.

A mix of different factors makes it literally impossible for most people to delete their Facebook account. Those are:

  • The need to supplant emotional labor with Facebook (read Sarah Jeong’s essay on how she tried to stay away from Facebook and really felt bad about it. For many, not having Facebook means an extremely weakened social support lmnetwork)
  • The need to use Facebook to get required information (such as parties, events, gossip, personalized news).
  • The need to use Facebook to run a business/make a living (Read: Emerging Markets Can’t Quit Facebook)
  • The need to use Facebook for work-related tasks.
  • The need to use Facebook to maintain and reach a personal audience (particularly relevant for influencers and people from the fields of media, marketing and communication, politicians etc.)
  • The need to login to 3rd party sites with Facebook credentials

Let’s pretend this list is complete (though it probably is not): Every person would weight the relevancy of these factors and the perceived lock-in for each of them differently. But every person who has been an active Facebook user for a while would find that at least a few of these factors do apply to them. To some, possibly all of them.

Taken together, these various lock-in factors allow for a drastic conclusion: Facebook is almost immune against a user backlash. Campaigns to delete Facebook will never catch on with the masses, because the perceived personal cost of giving up Facebook all together is too high for most people. I consider myself half-way out of there since about a year ago, but even for me, going all the way would be a sacrifice which I am hesitant to make (although I am pondering it).

This means that Facebook can carry on as usual, and it has enough wiggle room for more missteps, data leaks and unethical initiatives and experiments.

The majority of people need Facebook too much. Thus right now, the only risk for Facebook comes either from internal issues that would lead to significant strategic mistakes, or from regulation. But considering people’s reliance on Facebook, who do you think users would side with if regulation threatens to cut them off from whatever Facebook provides them with (see above)?

Facebook is the most powerful organization in the world at this moment, and it has eliminated people’s freedom of choice while technically being able to insist that people can leave if they want. In principle and regardless of how benevolent its leadership might be – this is a scary status quo.

=======
Sign up for the meshedsociety weekly email, loaded with great things to read about the digital world.

Weekly Links & Thoughts #166

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET),  just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. Here is an archive of previous issues.
======

Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

Podcast episode of the week:

Quotation of the week:

Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.

Weekly Links & Thoughts #165

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. Here is an archive of previous issues.
======

Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

  • Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult (aeon.co, 3)
    Possibly the best thing I’ve read on the topic of filter bubbles and echo chambers – two terms that are often used interchangeably. In this essay the philosophy professor C Thi Nguyen explains the crucial difference: Filter bubbles (or as he calls them, epistemic bubbles) happen when people don’t have access to different viewpoints and facts. This phenomenon is less common than widely assumed. Echo chambers on the other hand are social structures from which other relevant voices have been actively discredited. In echo chambers, there usually is no lack of access to different view points or facts – but there is no trust in them. This is why just throwing more facts at people in echo chambers does not work. Nguyen also offers a very helpful check: “Does a community’s belief system actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to its central dogmas? Then it’s probably an echo chamber.”
  • An Apology for the Internet — From the Architects Who Built It (nymag.com, 3+)
    What went wrong with the internet? Why did many of its lofty promises didn’t come true, whereas an ugly side of it has emerged that no one expected? A bunch of early internet architects and leading figures offer their critical and partly self-critical views.
  • The Price of Free is Actually Too High (feld.com, 1)
    Hard to make an objective statement here, but it seems reasonable to state that there should be a cap to the price of free.
  • The Half-Life of Danger: The Truth Behind the Tesla Model X Crash (thedrive.com, 3)
    Smart analysis of the uncanny valley of automated driving, where understanding it requires a level of driver training equivalent to that of pilots. You also find some really funky matrices in here.
  • When algorithms surprise us (aiweirdness.com, 2)
    When machine learning algorithms solve entirely different problems from the ones the programmer intended.
  • Inside the Jordan refugee camp that runs on blockchain (technologyreview.com, 3)
    Critics say one might easily just use a traditional database. But there is something to the idea of owning and controlling one’s data, and for this, a blockchain is presumably the more feasible approach.
  • Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture (medium.com, 3)
    A thought-provoking attempt to connect contemporary phenomena and trends such as fake news, authenticity, irony and memes.
  • Want to feel unique? Believe in the reptile people (aeon.co, 2)
    Why do some people believe in extreme conspiracy theories? It might be because of a deep-seated need for uniqueness.
  • Consumers don’t need experts to interpret 23andMe genetic risk reports (statnews.com, 1)
    Anne Wojcicki, the CEO and co-founder of 23andMe, a company that has pioneered providing accessible consumer DNA tests, believes that people don’t need a medical professional nearby when learning about genetic risks. In a recent essay, Mikaela Pitcan pointed out though that the reaction towards learning about risks differs significantly from person to person.
  • How to save your privacy from the Internet’s clutches (techcrunch.com, 3)
    A comprehensive list of tips to escape “surveillance capitalism”.
  • The New Octopus (logicmag.io, 3)
    What to do when corporate entities become too big and too powerful? The recipes of the past don’t necessarily work anymore with today’s new giants.
  • The Paradox of Universal Basic Income (wired.com, 2)
    Joi Ito with a very nuanced take on the UBI.
  • World After Capital: Scarcity (continuations.com, 2)
    How scarcity has shifted over time from food to land to capital and is now shifting to attention.
  • Duolingo Suddenly Has Over Twice As Much Language Learning Material (fastcompany.com, 2)
    I’d call Duolingo one of the best, most beneficial commercial web services in existence. Recently a cab driver in Colombia told me that he learned English through Duolingo and by subsequently talking with passengers. There must be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of similar cases.
  • The axes of HomePod evolution: don’t judge what you can’t yet see (theoverspill.blog, 2)
    Every major Apple product has been an MVP (minimal viable product) when it first hit the market and gradually received missing features and services. HomePod most likely is no exception.
  • A Big Phone (mattgemmell.com, 2)
    Attempts to use an iPad as a notebook replacement have been a thing ever since the iPad was introduced. Reading this makes me wonder if now maybe is the point at which this actually could work without too many sacrifices.
  • Why New York City Stopped Building Subways (citylab.com, 3)
    Insane if you think about it: “Since December 16, 1940, New York has not opened another new subway line“.

Quotation of the week:

Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.

Weekly Links & Thoughts #164

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Usually published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. Here is an archive of previous issues.
======

Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode (or subscribe if you find yourself reading a lot of the content on a specific site and want to support it).

Podcast episode of the week:

  • The Knowledge Project: Learning How to Learn

    Barbara Oakley, who teaches the most popular massive open online course in the world, talks about learning, how to do it best, and how to waste your time while thinking that you are learning.

Thanks for reading! If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection in the future, sign up for free for the weekly email.