The brain’s bandwidth problem and its cost in the hyper-connected age

One of Elon Musk’s key arguments for the need of a brain-computer interface is the limited bandwidth which currently exists for each of us to access our brains. Ever since he officially launched Neuralink in March 2017, the bandwidth problem and its consequences for societies have been occupying my thoughts.

As the world is getting incredibly complex, the limitations in regards to the quality and speed of accessing our brains lead to largely destructive results, which can be witnessed every day in the heated, polarized and binary political debates as well as in the simplifying responses to news events.

One commentator on Quora depicts the core problem with the lack of bandwidth very well:

“Picture anything in your mind, then try to relate it to another human with so much detail that they can reproduce it the same way you see it. One picture, a thousand words, and whatnot.

So, its like having a very very powerful computer with a very very crappy internet connection. Youre f***ed.”

Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #125

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

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  • Howard Schultz Has Something Left to Prove (fortune.com, 3)
    For its effectiveness in the attention economy, this might be one of the worst headlines in history (which ironically makes me put it on top of this week’s article selection). Howard Schultz is the longtime CEO of Starbucks. He has just “stepped down” to become executive chairman. This long feature looks at what made Starbucks a global brand, which role Schultz played in this, and how the coffee chain responds to the challenge to maintain its position and keep expanding in a market which is changing rapidly due to the rise of artisan coffee trends.
  • Should Uber’s next CEO be a robot? (roughtype.com, 2)
    Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is history. And now Nicholas Carr has an interesting suggestion: The next CEO should be a machine. He has a point: “Let’s face it: Kalanick’s great failing was that he was not quite robotic enough. His flaws were not analytical but human. He was a victim of his own meat.” But who knows if a robot would be better. One day, we’d probably wake up to a headline akin to this one by CNN (“The rise and fall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick”), just replaced with “Uber’s robot CEO” .
  • Leaked recording: Inside Apple’s global war on leakers (theoutline.com, 3)
    Once you read this depiction of Apple’s measures to prevent leaks, it becomes obvious how much of a challenge such an undertaking actually is when you run a global operation.
  • The secret origin story of the iPhone (theverge.com, 3)
    This excerpt from a new book will take 45 minutes to read, but it found it worth the time investment.
  • Conglomerates Didn’t Die. They Look Like Amazon (nytimes.com, 2)
  • Amazon’s new customer (stratechery.com, 3)
    Two good takes concerning Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods which was announced last Friday.
  • Facebook’s AI accidentally created its own language (thenextweb.com, 1)
    This is both impressive and a bit creepy.
  • Turn To Email For Millennial Engagement (mediapost.com, 1)
    Who would have guessed? 58 % of U.S. Millennials (born in the 1980s and 1990s) have a separate email address for brand communication. And: “Millennials are more likely than any other generation to find email and mobile apps important when making a purchase decision.”
  • Are we building artificial brains and uploading minds to the cloud right now? (mrfuturist.com, 2)
    A fascinating thought. Indeed, if one considers that hundreds of millions of people around the planet continuously post their emotional responses, judgments, and biases online, then this data, in a gathered form, might be a potent foundation for artificially brains – that is, if these artificial brains are supposed to come with the same characteristics (and flaws) as the human brain. Recall what was written about Travis Kalanick above.
  • Bitcoin is the Most Stable Store of Value in History (hackernoon.com, 2)
    There is a case to be made that, seen over the complete period of its (still comparatively young) existence, Bitcoin has indeed been pretty “stable” – today a Bitcoin is worth orders of magnitudes more than when it emerged.
  • Network Learning Cities (jarche.com, 2)
    Insightful points regarding the importance and potential of cities in the networked age.
  • Getting Past the Dominance of the Nation State (continuations.com, 1)
    To some extend, this plea for de-emphasizing the nation state will lead to an even bigger role for cities. Coincidentally, both this and the previous article refer to the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution.
  • Estonia to open the world’s first data embassy in Luxembourg (estonianworld.com, 2)
    Estonia is at it again. No other country iterates so much with digital variations of the traditional building blocks of nation states.
  • Can We Mobilize Education Like Manufacturing in WWII? (thisisgoingtobebig.com, 2)
    In order to tackle today’s major challenges regarding ideological conflicts, environment and technology, we should be undergoing the most massive mobilization of human intelligence we’ve ever seen, argues Charlie O’Donnell.
  • The most revolutionary thing about self-driving cars isn’t what you think (weforum.org, 2)
    Because self-driving cars require real-time responses and latency gets in the way of that, self-driving cars will become their own powerful data centers.
  • Adobe shows how to transition to the cloud (diginomica.com, 2)
    I remember some experts’ concerns about Adobe’s future when the company was still in the market of downloadable software. Turns out, its transition to the cloud went down exceptionally well.
  • French President Macron launches tech visa to make France a ‘country of unicorns’ (cnbc.com, 2)
    This will be one to watch.
  • What does it mean for a journalist today to be a Serious Reader? (cjr.org, 3)
    Great feature on the importance of reading for journalists. And obviously, this is not about reading tweets.
  • Why are The Economist’s writers anonymous? (medium.economist.com, 1)
    “Accordingly, articles are often the work of The Economist’s hive mind, rather than of a single author.
  • My thoughts on flight hacking and airline loyalty after 7 years of traveling (medium.com, 2)
    I wrote about my learnings and experiences in “hacking” air travel. As many of you presumably fly a lot, some of you might find some inspiration here.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • If you are worried about “hacked” democracy, quit Facebook
    People who consider Facebook to play a critical role in malicious actor’s undertaking to weaken democracy, should stop using Facebook (I’m not including Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram here), thereby preventing themselves from contributing to the business model’s sustainability.

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If you are worried about “hacked” democracy, quit Facebook

During a recent panel discussion, The Exponential View’s Azeem Azhar and a couple of invited expert guests talked about democracy’s vulnerability in the age of information technology and social media (you can listen to the recording here). As probably surprises no one, Facebook’s role in the weakening of democracy and its institutions came up several times. And, as also should surprise no one, there was little optimism among the participants about that dubious characters will suddenly stop leveraging Facebook through bots, micro-targeting, fake news and the creation of alternate realities to undermine democratic values and essential shared minimum consensus.

But there is something everyone who is worried about the damage of social-media-enabled manipulation to the public discourse, can do: quitting Facebook. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #124

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

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  • Phil Libin Hasn’t Eaten Since Sunday (backchannel.com, 2)
    I have no comment on what the former Evernote CEO is doing here, but it is a pretty interesting read.
  • Young Men Are Playing Video Games Instead of Getting Jobs. That’s OK. (For Now) (reason.com, 3)
    “The surprising thing about the stereotypical aimless young man, detached from work and society, playing video games in his parents’ basement: He’s actually happier than ever.”
  • We Are All to Blame for Uber (bloomberg.com, 2)
    Agreed. Uber in its current, overly aggressive and morally kinda rotten state is how it is because the systems in which it exists have been rewarding the company’s way of doing things. At least until now. With the leave of absence of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and a couple of action points announced this week by Uber board member Arianna Huffington at an all-hands meeting, the company gets the chance to prove that it can succeed while being a bit “nicer”. Whether this actually can work remains to be seen. There is at least a possibility that without its asshole-like corporate personality and execution, the company will fail to fulfill its global hyper-growth targets.
  • Susan Fowler’s Uber Exposé Should Win A Pulitzer (forbes.com, 2)
    Pulitzer or not, with her blog post about Uber’s toxic work culture and the chain reaction it caused, Susan Fowler has changed the course of history. That’s actually a more meaningful and lasting thing than a prize, isn’t it?
  • The Coming War: Browsers Against Advertising Pollution (mondaynote.com, 2)
    Both Chrome and Safari will soon block and/or punish hostile ad formats. While in the case of Chrome that comes with questions about a conflict of interest, generally, browser makers taking the lead here is a good thing.
  • Facebook’s Safety Check is a stress-inducing flip of social norms (techcrunch.com, 2)
    Except for the use during large-scale catastrophes when a big number of people helping each other is crucial, the Safety Check is one of the worst features offered by Facebook. This text explains well why: “But by making Safety Check a default expectation Facebook flips the norms of societal behavior and suddenly no one can feel safe unless everyone has manually checked the Facebook box marked “safe”.” During April’s terrorist attack in Stockholm, about 100 out of my around 110 Stockholm-based Facebook contacts had marked themselves safe. I resisted but I clearly felt the pressure. It’s ridiculous.
  • “Google is bad for the airline industry” says CarTrawler. Airlines need vastly better data skills (centreforaviation.com, 2)
    The airline industry is worried that Google accumulates too much power in directing customers to flight fares through its (brilliant) flight search engine Google Flights.
  • In Products, as in Life, Not All Friction Is Bad (medium.com, 2)
    Most of what the tech industry is coming up with is intended to remove friction. But there are situations in which friction actually is a good thing. Interesting examples in this text.
  • This Startup Wants to Turn ‘Unboxing’ Videos Into a Big Business (fortune.com, 1)
    Every month, unboxing videos on YouTube get an estimated 10 billions views. Apparently, there are also “unboxing stars”. And now a company wants to capture this strange but lucrative niche.
  • The Other Shoe (mattgemmell.com, 2)
    A short while ago, the iPad was almost declared dead. With Apple’s upcoming release of iOS 11 and iPad Pro, the tablet device suddenly has its momentum back. It is now (for the second time) considered a potential replacement for laptops.
  • If you care about cities, Apple’s new campus sucks (wired.com, 3)
    This text might be a bit too long, but it offers a thought-provoking perspective.
  • We Need to Talk About the Power of AI to Manipulate Humans (technologyreview.com, 2)
    It has been shown multiple times: Even if they might state the opposite, humans have a tendency to become emotionally attached to robots or chatbots. The risks of being manipulated are obvious. Although, to be fair, this same is true for human-to-human interactions. Humans constantly manipulate other people to further their own agendas or goals.
  • Cryptocurrency Mining Is Fueling a GPU Shortage (motherboard.vice.com, 2)
    How did the old adage go again? “Don’t dig for gold, sell shovels”. Probably some companies are working hard right now to scale up GPU production for the Ethereum crowd.
  • The days and nights of Elon Musk: How he spends his time at work and play (qz.com, 2)
    Crazy guy.
  • Instagram’s most-followed celebs failed to label 93 percent of ads, report finds (theverge.com, 2)
    Is this due to lack of knowledge or lack of integrity?
  • This is how Big Oil will die (medium.com, 3)
    The money quote from this lengthy analysis: “This is what will kill oil: It will cost less to hail an autonomous electric vehicle than to drive the car that you already own.” Still worth reading if you are interested in how the economics of this field are going to change.
  • Inside The Chaotic Battle To Be The Top Reply To A Trump Tweet (buzzfeed.com, 2)
    One of the most absurd strategies to build a following on Twitter.
  • Quantum thought (medium.com, 1)
    A short post by me about an intriguing (and, in my opinion, fundamentally necessary) way of thinking.

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What makes Instagram the best social network right now

Here is a German version of this text.

Recently I wrote about the beginning of the “post-social media” era, explaining how social media as we have gotten to know it has peaked and has to radically change.

The most significant player of this new period that we are entering is, I’d argue, Instagram. The Facebook-owned social network currently does the best job of all competing services in satisfying people’s natural desire to connect with others while not turning into a haven for trolls, troublemakers, junk news distributors, propagandists and disinformation professionals (at least not more than what is inevitable for this type of app).

My positive stance about Instagram has been reinforced during a current trip to Indonesia, from which I return with a sizeable number of new local Instagram contacts. Based on my recent experiences during this and other travels, the service has turned into the worldwide go-to social network through which people seamlessly and casually connect with other people who they meet in various circumstances. Let me give a couple of examples from my current trip: Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #123

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

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  • Society Is Destroying and Rebuilding Itself for the Networked Age (singularityhub.com, 2)
    A summary of the book “The Seventh Sense”, which offers a fascinating explanation for why controversial and seemingly unfit leaders such as Donald Trump or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were able to accumulate so much power: They have what the author of the book, Joshua Cooper Ramo, calls “the seventh sense”, meaning an intuitive ability to look at an object and see the way in which it is changed by connection. As unfortunate as it is in the case of the individuals I just mentioned, this type of skill is a key recipe for success in a time in which everything is connected to many networks. A quote to remember from the article: “The connection of something to a network changes the essence of what it is”. I’m getting goosebumps of musing about the dimensions of this shift of how the world works.
  • Crowdsourced Reality (truthhawk.com, 2)
    A thrilling analysis of the new dynamics for media and public discourse: Unlike in the age of mass media gatekeepers which was characterized by designed, definite narratives controlled by very few, today each member of the public is exposed to a diverse and fragmented mix of narratives and “realities”; essentially, of a crowdsourced reality. In the same vein, I once labeled the Internet “the first global platform for the exchange of ideologies”.
  • What Intelligent Machines Need to Learn From the Neocortex (spectrum.ieee.org, 3)
    Reading about neurology in the context of artificial intelligence can make for a dry, overly complicated or simplifying experience. This article on the topic, however, hit a sweet spot for a layman like me (or maybe that just means that it oversimplifies, who knows).
  • Expiring vs. Long-Term Knowledge (collaborativefund.com, 1)
    This is an awesome principle to utilize for assessing what to pay attention to and what to skip: Is it expiring or long-term knowledge?
  • Here is what banning crypto would cost and why it won’t work anyway (boingboing.net, 2)
    It’s flabbergasting how politicians can’t stop asking for something which won’t be technically feasible without cutting off a whole country from the open Internet.
  • New data on the types of ads internet users hate the most (medium.freecodecamp.com, 2)
    People hate the modal ad format, yet it is ubiquitous.
  • The Problem With Our Maps (visualcapitalist.com, 2)
    Maybe this is embarrassing to admit, but I have been unaware of how the standard model of the world map is showing completely inaccurate dimensions for the various continents.
  • In search of the early adopter (HomePod edition) (theoverspill.blog, 2)
    Charles Arthur wonders who’ll be left to buy Apple’s new pricey HomePod speaker considering that most innovators and early adopters already purchased a competing product. He might underestimate people’s loyalty to Apple products. I would prefer an Apple smart speaker over any other company, simply because I trust Apple with my data slightly more than the other internet giants. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that Amazon Echo and Google Home are only available in very few countries. If Apple is smart, it’ll make HomePod available in a vast number of countries as fast as possible once it has been officially launched in December.
  • Fuck Facebook (daringfireball.net, 1)
    This brief post by John Gruber received a record amount of up votes on Hacker News. Gruber describes why he doesn’t link to Facebook content (because one never knows how long these links will last). I think, in the 123 issues of this weekly reading list, I have not been linking to Facebook more than once or twice. I intuitively don’t accept Facebook as part of the web, at least when it comes to hyperlinks.
  • Facebook Election Turns Into a Protest (bloomberg.com, 2)
    Maybe unsurprisingly, the special class of stock held by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg which gives him almost dictator-like control over the company despite only owning 14 percent of it, is widely unpopular among the stockholders who casted ballots in the company’s annual stockholder election last week.
  • Where is eBook Interoperability? (kirkville.com, 1)
    The DRM-fueled lack of ebook interoperability is most likely one reason for the current growth crisis within the ebook sector.
  • Traditional sports have an esports problem (venturebeat.com, 2)
    I’m starting to wonder if one day, professional “sports” competitions might be exclusively held digitally (maybe involving certain physical activity involving VR).
  • What the hell is happening to cryptocurrency valuations? (techcrunch.com, 2)
    On April 1st the total market cap of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ether or Ripple was just over $25 billion. Now it’s around $100 billion. Let that sink in.
  • Cryptoeconomics 101 (thecontrol.co, 2)
    With the rise of crypto currencies, a new field of economics is emerging: Cryptoeconomics, defined in this piece as “the study of economic interaction in adversarial environments.”
  • How air conditioning changed the world (bbc.com, 2)
    An eye-opening read. I never thought of air condition as a transformative technology. But without it, there would be no server farms, no modern cities in many parts of the world, and apparently human productivity would be lower.
  • A New Era for Location-Independent Entrepreneurs Has Begun (summit.startupnations.co, 2)
    A post by Kaspar Korjus, who manages Estonia’s remarkable e-Residency initiative, detailing the current progress. It’s a bit self-congratulary. But I think for pulling this kind of groundbreaking project off, they have earned that. While I personally have not benefited from my e-Residency yet (mostly due to that my country of residence Sweden offers fairly good e-gov services already), I am very curious to see how far Estonia can push this idea of a virtual citizenship and a global platform for location-independent entrepreneurs.

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I stopped using Twitter and Facebook, but shareholders wouldn’t know

In their quarterly reports, publicly listed social networking companies highlight several key performance indicators (KPI). One of the metrics they often emphasize is “daily active users” (DAU). Facebook reached 1.28 billion DAU on average for March 2017. Snapchat reported 166 million DAU for Q1 2017. Twitter doesn’t specify the number of DAU in its quarterly reports, mentioning only a “14 % year-over-year increase” for DAUs for the most recent quarter, and 328 million monthly active users (MAU).

The DAU metric is useful to evaluate young companies with still a comparatively low number of users, since it clearly shows the growth rate over time. For maturing companies which have been around for a while, I’d argue that the DAU metric is a weak measurement of a company’s ability to engage and retain users. Here is why:

In November, I stopped tweeting and reading my Twitter timeline. Early 2017 I significantly reduced my use of the Facebook app (not counting Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp, of course). I’d estimate that I cut the time I spend with both services by 90 %. But if you only look at the DAU, this drastic reduction would not be reflected. Because I still almost every day check both apps at least once in order to have a quick look at the notifications. Just in case. If you, like me, frequently publish stuff on the Internet, you might get mentioned/tagged somewhere, and it’s nice to know.

Nevertheless, my contributions to the bottom line of these two apps have shrunken dramatically, because I hardly see any advertisements anymore. I don’t scroll through the news feed nor the timeline. On most days, I spend no more than at max a few minutes with Facebook and Twitter. On average, Facebook earns $17,07 per year from a user in the U.S. and Canada, and $5.42 from a user in Europe. Assuming that my usage of Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger (the latter two are essentially not monetized at the moment) remains stable in 2017 and that my usage in 2016 was completely average, then this year, Facebook will generate significantly less revenue with my activity compared to last year’s $5.42.

The DAU metric masks negative changes in user patterns of long-term users, but these are in fact what matters when evaluating the outlook for mature social networking services. Only the radical step of deleting one’s account would be reflected in the DAU metric, at least in aggregate terms. I’d argue that this is not how most people actually behave. Rather, they’d grow increasingly tired and decrease their usage over time, while still wanting to be able to do quick checks on notifications, events, live streams or whatever. While these users are not totally lost (and Facebook is doing a brilliant job of keeping them engaged through their other apps), they nevertheless mean a reduction in revenue potential for the particular service. Even if this would be the case for millions of users who reduce their usage, shareholders would not see it when looking at the DAU.

Therefore, as much as publishing DAU numbers can be considered an improvement over the totally useless MAU, it’s still just an arbitrary vanity metric that masks actual changes in user behavior in order to entice investors.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #122

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

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  • Why Germany Still Has So Many Middle-Class Manufacturing Jobs (hbr.com, 2)
    As a native German, I am quite amazed by how well my home country has fared in regards to manufacturing despite a radically changing global environment. Correspondingly, unemployment is the lowest in 25 years. Certainly the weak Euro has helped, but still – there are several reasons for the strength of the “Mittelstand”, as explained in this informative piece.
  • The Future of European Transit: Driverless and Utilitarian (nytimes.com, 2)
    While companies in the U.S. focus on self-driving cars for individuals, in Europe transit authorities and mobility providers invest in self-driving public transit, which is said to be a significantly easier challenge.
  • There are bots. Look around. (ribbonfarm.com, 3)
    Comparing high-frequency trading of stocks with the automated distribution dynamics of news through bots in the digital space – an intriguing analogy.
  • The Illusion of Measuring What Customers Want (jtbd.info, 3)
    Reading the title, one might suspect to be very familiar with everything written in this text. I did think so, but it turned out to be an educative read. I learned a few new things.
  • The world’s biggest problems and why they’re not what first comes to mind (80000hours.org, 3)
    A fascinating long read that definitely helps to realize which areas to focus on if one should decide to go on a mission to contribute to a better world.
  • China censored Google’s AlphaGo match against world’s best Go player (theguardian.com, 1)
    When machines beat humans at a skill humans thought they excelled at, that hurts the ego. So much that some might even choose censorship to protect people from this reality.
  • The rise of the QR code and how it has forever changed China’s social habits (scmp.com, 2)
    Something else remarkable that’s going on in China.
  • Thoughts on Tokens (medium.com, 3)
    Bubble or not, Blockchain-based tokens as fuel and facilitators for startups and software projects are making lots of people within tech quite excited right now.
  • Blockchains are the new Linux, not the new internet (techcrunch.com, 2)
    But it is still totally unclear whether the Blockchain is the new internet or the equivalent to a highly geeky operating system doomed to be neglected by the masses (but still with an important role in the grand scheme of things).
  • A year of Google & Apple Maps (justinobeirne.com, 3)
    Detailed comparison of how Google and Apple improve and adjust their maps product over the period of a year. Google clearly is much more active in that regard.
  • This Is How VR and AR Kill Smartphones (virtualrealitypop.com, 2)
    No, this is not how VR and AR kill smartphones, but how some of the scenarios that we use smartphones for today will be better served through VR and AR. Potentially.
  • Can We Quantify Machine Consciousness? (spectrum.ieee.org, 2)
    By now I have read a fairly large amount of texts about the phenomenon of consciousness and the big question whether machines one day could be given a consciousness. I still have no clue what the answer is, but no one seems to really have. Yet, super fascinating stuff.
  • Is Humanity Obsolete? (battellemedia.com, 2)
    After having read Yuval Harari’s latest book Homo Deus and experiencing certain unsettling emotions while doing so, John Battelle wonders about the most existential issue. By the way, somewhat of an important question related to this: How will religions and their worshipers respond to the era of “Dataism” described by Harari, since Dataism does away with the core idea of human exceptionalism and of being “the chosen ones”? Could the rise of religious extremism, maybe in an indirect manner, be part of religion’s backlash against the technologically-driven demystification of humans?
  • A quick trip to Amazon Books in NYC… (500ish.com, 2)
    How customers experience Amazon’s physical book stores that are now popping up at several locations in the U.S.
  • Airbnb Employees Speak Out About Company Bullying Tactics & ‘Toxic’ Work Environment (brokeassstuart.com, 2)
    These reports, if they are representative, are a bit more surprising than what has been revealed about the climate at Uber’s offices, considering that Airbnb fairly successfully has built its brand on positive values such as openness, kindness and trust.
  • How Unity convinced investors it’s worth $2.6 billion (venturebeat.com, 2)
    A fun interview with the CEO of Unity, a company whose platform plays a key role for most of today’s videos games as well as for the up and coming VR scene, and which generally seems to do a lot of things right at the moment.
  • The Right to Attention in an Age of Distraction (philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com, 3)
    In our current attention economy, everyone and their mom tries to capture everyone’s attention (and, if I may say so, Donald Trump is probably the biggest attention thief of them all), which pegs the question if there is a need for a “right to attention”, which would protect people from having their attention constantly and unwillingly captured. Sounds impractical? Definitely. Still, thought-provoking reflections.
  • The Domino Effect (reallifemag.com, 2)
    A philosophical take on the wider implications and background of a curious quasi-rule: Any interface to which we have access can likely be used to order pizza.

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  • The Exponential Five
    The debate is intensifying about whether Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft have too much power. Considering the exponential tendencies of today’s technological advancements, I do side with those who are concerned.

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The Exponential Five

Here is a German version of this text.

Lately the debate about the dominance and market power of the “Frightful Five”, a term coined by Farhad Manjoo last year as a joint label for the 5 leading tech consumer companies (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft), has been intensifying. Pundits are divided along a clear line. On the one side you have the camp of people who are not too concerned. They argue that there is intense competition between those 5 rivals and that, historically, all companies eventually have been outperformed by more agile and more innovative newcomers. History will repeat itself even this time, they say.

The other camp consists of those who worry that notwithstanding the long-term outcome, for the near- and mid-term, the tech juggernauts’s dominance and ability to hoard and evaluate large amounts of data would harm competition and won’t be in the interest of the broader public.

Both sides have valid points. People always have fallen into the “this time is difference” trap, only to realize that it was the same all over again. On the other hand, just because something always has worked along a predictable quasi-law, is that a guarantee for the future? And certainly, in 500 years, all of these companies will have vanished. But what about 100 years? 50? 25? It would be naive to rule out the possibility that Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft will be around in 25 years with an even much larger footprint than today. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #121

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

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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 3 to 10 minutes, 3 = more than 10 minutes

  • If we’re living in a simulation, this UK startup probably built it (wired.co.uk, 3)
    The British startup Improbable is developing a platform for sophisticated large-scale simulations, available for external developers who want to build their models on it. I’ve written about my interest in real world simulations in an older post. I’m really curious to see what Improbable will come up with.
  • Donald Trump, Our A.I. President (nytimes.com, 2)
    Fascinating thought: Donald Trump’s unpredictability as President resembles how an artificial intelligence would act – purely relying on day-to-day data-driven decisions, without any attempts to try to appear consistent and coherent.
  • Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America (time.com, 3)
    The U.S. invented the Internet and U.S. companies took the lead in building global platforms on top of the Internet. Then came Russia and took the lead in leveraging these very platforms to shape the world in its interest. In hindsight, it’s an astonishing story for future history books.
  • As we may read: From print to digital and back to print (craigmod.com, 2)
    Speaking about books: Apparently there is a revival of print books and a stop in growth for ebooks. I would be surprised if this turns out to be more than a temporary trend though. However, it might take several generations for the print book to disappear as part of mainstream media.
  • Most people prefer friendly robots — but not in France and Japan (recode.com, 2)
    Cultural differences are one of the most wonderful things to investigate. According to a survey, the vast majority of Americans wants friendly robots. But in France, an equal percentage of survey respondents — 37 percent — prefers friendly and formal bots. Also France is the country where the largest number of people (even if only 8 percent) want a “hip” robot personality. In Japan, 51 percent want a formal robot, and only 20 percent a friendly one.
  • How Safe Will Autonomous Vehicles Need To Be? (hunterwalk.com, 1)
    There had been 35,092 automotive deaths in the U.S. in the year 2015. Hunter Walk asks if that means that the target number for autonomous vehicles has to be equal or below that in order to be accepted by society? Obviously, the answer is very complicated.
  • Bots will soon be able to borrow our identities (venturebeat.com, 2)
    Often when I have lengthy chat sessions with people, I pay attention to their different communication styles and ways of responding. Some patterns are always reoccurring. When human communication is reduced to just written words, it’s probably not too complicated to create bots that are able to imitate anyone’s personality. Actually I wrote a post titled “Twitter makes humans look like bots” about this topic about a year ago.
  • Google starts tracking offline shopping — what you buy at stores in person (latimes.com, 2)
  • Is Facebook Licensing this Intrusive Google Patent? (medium.com, 2)
    It’s damn hard to be enthusiastic about the creeping intrusion into people’s personal lives in the name of ad optimization.
  • Facebook can’t moderate in secret anymore (points.datasociety.net, 2)
    This sums up Facebook’s undertaking fairly good: “There’s no pretty way — maybe no way, period — to conduct this kind of content moderation.”
  • Tulips, Myths, and Cryptocurrencies (stratechery.com, 3)
    The only ting that matters for the success of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin is whether enough people believe in it as a means of storing and exchanging value.
  • Bringing back the Somali shilling (jpkoning.blogspot.com, 2)
    An informative story also related to the previous topic: Even after Somalia’s Central Bank ceased to exist in 1991 due to civil war, people kept using the local currency shilling. However, its value decreased over time due to counterfeiting. Eventually, the exchange rate of the shilling moved close to the cost of producing fake shilling bills.
  • What’s The Deal With The Samsung Internet Browser? (smashingmagazine.com, 2)
    Among mobile browsers in Germany, Samsung’s own browser recently reached a market share of remarkable 18 percent. I found this text from 2016 explaining the background story of this not very acknowledged but seemingly not irrelevant piece of software.
  • The Rise of the Fat Start-Up (nytimes.com, 2)
    Farhad Manjoo writes about a new type of startup, characterized by massive cash needs due to high operational costs. Oddly, he then only profiles one and mentions those few directly created or inspired by Elon Musk. However, the recent emergence of a new Berlin-based Unicorn called Auto1 can be considered another indicator for the accuracy of the alleged trend spotted by Manjoo: Auto1 buys used cars with its own capital and sells them at a profit. The company just raised 360 million Euros in additional funding.
  • Uber in Silicon Valley is a whole different beast than in Europe (theverge.com, 2)
    A crucial point which helps to explain the discrepancy between Uber’s perceived (or actual) relevance and importance in its home market and elsewhere.
  • How Long Should Your Medium Posts Be? (hackernoon.com, 2)
    Apparently 8 minutes reading time is the sweet spot for getting the best engagement on Evan William’s publishing platform medium.com.
  • The Internet Is Broken’: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It (nytimes.com, 2)
    Apropos Evan Williams: He has regrets about what he unleashed with Twitter. Refreshing openness. He is still on the board of Twitter.
  • Kill Google AMP before it KILLS the web (theregister.co.uk, 2)
    There is a noticeable rise of negative sentiment towards Google’s AMP initiative aimed at speeding up mobile web pages. This rant offers some background why that might be.

Video of the week:

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