Weekly Links & Thoughts #174

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.

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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).

  • The Machine Fired Me (idiallo.com, 3)
    Gripping write-up. In a world in which an increasing number of decisions are automated, things can become pretty unpleasant in the case of a technical error.
  • Fatalities vs. False Positives: The Lessons from the Tesla and Uber Crashes (hackaday.com, 2)
    The crux of self-driving at the moment is figuring out when to slam on the brakes and when not. The more false positives, the more often the cars brake needlessly under normal driving circumstances. Reducing the number of false positives (with current technology) means that the risk of actually missing a situation in which the car should have hit the breaks increases.
  • The War on Tesla, Musk, and the Fight for the Future (dailykos.com, 3)
    A long defense of Elon Musk and his endeavors. There is serious polarization going on surrounding his personality and projects.
  • What it’s like to watch an IBM AI successfully debate humans (theverge.com, 2)
    An AI that can engage in a series of reasoned arguments with no awareness of the debate topic ahead of time and no pre-canned responses. The system has “several hundred million articles” that it assumes are accurate in its data banks, around about 100 areas of knowledge.
  • AI Can Track Humans Through Walls With Just a Wifi Signal (inverse.com, 2)
    Wifi signals pass through walls but bounce off living tissue. Now an AI has been trained to use this characteristic to monitor the movements, breathing, and heartbeats of humans on the other side of those walls.
  • Apple’s Airpods Are an Omen (theatlantic.com, 2)
    Apples’ wireless earbuds foreshadow startling changes to the social fabric, writes Ian Bogost.
  • The “Facebook Nevers” (500ish.com, 2)
    The fall of Facebook (the site, not the company) will not happen due to people quitting in large numbers. Instead, if it happens, then because of a growing number of young people who simply never became habitual Facebook users in the first place. Obviously, the time horizon for this process is long.
  • Mapping the Emerging Non-Fungible Token Landscape (medium.com, 2)
    Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are unique crypto assets: they can be distinguished from one another and have varying properties. Cryptokitties are probably the most well-known representative of this category, but far from the only one. Good overview of this dynamic new space.
  • Mary Meeker’s annual valentine to Silicon Valley reminds us tech utopianism is alive and well (venturebeat.com, 2)
    Reasonable criticism of Mary Meeker’s yearly report on the tech industry (which everybody from the industry always raves about, year after year).
  • What’s Wrong With Startup Competitions (medium.com, 1)
    “Stop wasting your time and stop entering startup competitions. Win customers, not competitions.” Tough stance. There are probably different ways to look at this.
  • The Next Trend In Travel Is… Don’t (brightthemag.com, 2)
    Personally I don’t consider abstaining from travel being the right response to the increasing issues caused by mass tourism. I prefer going where fewer others are going instead. And there are still many places like that. Probably we are looking at a typical pareto distribution: 80 % of the people travel to 20 % of the destinations suited for tourism.
  • How the 12.9-inch iPad Pro took me by surprise and replaced my laptop (paulstamatiou.com, 3+)
    A very extensive piece. It’s not the first one of that kind that makes it into this link selection. Yes, I am definitely considering this option for myself.
  • You Never Want To Be The Smartest Person In The Room (medium.com, 2)
    This mindset might be helpful in making certain choices.
  • What is wrong with tolerance (aeon.co, 3)
    A thought-provoking essay arguing for replacing the flawed concept of (religious) tolerance with a philosophy of reciprocity.
  • What Do Men Think It Means To Be A Man? (fivethirtyeight.com, 2)
    Some instructive charts and statistics, even if they only show attitudes of men in the U.S.

Quotation of the week:

  • “It’s bad to have an opinion you’re proud of if you can’t state the arguments for the other side better than your opponents.”
    By Charlie Munger according to “The Work Required to Have an Opinion” (fs.blog, 1)

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #173

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.

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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.
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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).

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #172

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.

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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.
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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).

  • The Limits of Expertise (quilette.com, 2)
    Brilliant analysis of how experts’ lack of humility and overestimation of their predictive abilities in open systems have caused the erosion of trust in expertise.
  • Looking for Life on a Flat Earth (newyorker.com, 3)
    Fringe beliefs such as those of “Flat Earthers” might be the direct consequence of the erosion of trust in expertise.
  • Your Phone Is Listening and it’s Not Paranoia (vice.com, 2)
    Talking about beliefs: Even after reading this piece, I still find it hard to conclude whether large tech companies do in fact listen to conversations and use the data for targeted ads or not. Lots of people (including the author) report having noticed this. But this still could be cognitive biases at work (such as selective perception or frequency illusion). I’m now testing it myself: Saying out loud to my smartphone that I really want a new Espresso Machine. I don’t drink Espresso and don’t interact with coffee content, so technically I should never be targeted with an Espresso Machine ad. However, particularly on Instagram, I get targeted with all kinds of irrelevant ads. So even if I should notice an ad for an Espresso Machine over the next days or weeks, this wouldn’t be a sufficient proof.
  • The Jeff Bezos Way: How to Design Your Ideal Future (medium.com, 2)
    Interesting read on how Jeff Bezos makes decisions about a future that he (like anyone) doesn’t fully understand.
  • YouTube’s top creators are burning out (polygon.com, 2)
    Being an influencer/YouTuber isn’t easy, and one becomes a slave to the algorithm.
  • “The Scale Is Just Unfathomable” (logicmag.io, 2)
    For large-scale tech platforms, moderation is industrial, not artisanal. Interesting perspective on how reality of content moderation differs from people’s imagination.
  • The Real Scandal of AI: Awful Stock Photos (medium.com, 1)
    Brave to bring this up.
  • A Glass of Ice Water in the Desert (500ish.com, 2)
    I wouldn’t usually recommend someone’s thoughts on a developer conference in this weekly link selection, but MG Siegler’s take on Apple’s WWDC 2018 is highly entertaining and comes with the right (small) dose of snark.
  • How do Apple’s Screen Time and Google Digital Wellbeing stack up? (theverge.com, 2)
    Both Apple and Google want to (or feel they have to in the light of current debates) discourage smartphone overuse.
  • Behind the Messy, Expensive Split Between Facebook and WhatsApp’s Founders (wsj.com, 3)
    If you don’t have paid access to the WSJ, here is a summary: After Facebook acquired WhatsApp, there was a slow but steady built-up of tension between the WhatsApp founders as well as their team and Facebook’s management, mostly related to philosophy about privacy and monetization. The WhatsApp people didn’t want to adopt Facebook’s proven but invasive ad-based business model, but once it got clear that there was no escape, the founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum decided to leave, walking away from about $1.3 billion in unvested shares (but when you already have billions, maybe that’s not that much of a sacrifice).
  • Useful Hacks (collaborativefund.com, 2)
    There are no shortcuts for being successful. These “hacks” are pretty great.
  • Want More Time? Get Rid of the Easiest Way to Spend It (raptitude.com, 2)
    Social media. Of course. It really is that simple.
  • Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore (theatlantic.com, 2)
    95 % of the calls I receive are from sales people. So I don’t usually answer anymore either.
  • Software is Eating the World-Tesla Edition (marginalrevolution.com, 1)
    “The larger economic issue is that every durable good is becoming a service.”
  • Visualizing the Books That Bill Gates Loves and Recommends (visualcapitalist.com, 2)
    Over the years, Bill Gates has recommended 190 books on his blog.
  • The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations (citylab.com, 2)
    How to nudge people into behavior which makes tight train operations possible and more efficient.

Podcast episode of the week:

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #171

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.

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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.
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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).

  • Where Humans Meet Machines: Intuition, Expertise and Learning (medium.com, 2)
    What Daniel Kahneman, behavioral economist, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, thinks about algorithms making decisions. Probably unsurprisingly for those who have read his book “Thinking, fast and slow”, he worries more about human decision making  than algorithmic one. (medium.com, 2)
  • Fascism is back. Blame the Internet. (washingtonpost.com, 2)
    Heavy headline, but an opinion piece which resonated with me. Currently I see a 20 % probability that the internet (or rather what it does to and with people) eventually will lead to a turning away from the principles of the enlightenment, a collapse of modern civilization and a time akin to the Middle Ages. Notably, this also means that I consider it still more likely that humanity will find ways to constructively deal with the networked age. I hope. Yet, it’s very clear that on an aggregate level, the consequences of the internet are posing quite a challenge to humanity and the still pretty primitive and easily mislead (collective, tribal) human mind.
  • How a Pentagon Contract Became an Identity Crisis for Google (nytimes.com, 2)
    Google wants to work with the Pentagon in the field of AI and considers this type of partnership necessary for competitive reasons, but a significant number of Google employees hate the idea. According to this article, the internal debates are even more heated than those following the infamous “Google memo” last year.
  • AI winter is well on its way (blog.piekniewski.info, 3)
    Whether there will be another AI winter or not: Currently, an increasing number of experts in the field of artificial intelligence appear to become disappointed with the pace of progress within the field.
  • Machine learning is helping computers spot arguments online before they happen (theverge.com, 2)
    I want this technology for real conversations. As a locally run app (for privacy reasons) on a phone or smartwatch which alerts people if a conversation that they are having is turning tense. This could help save many relationships and marriages.
  • Spotify’s Censorship Crisis is About Social Responsibility (musicindustryblog.wordpress.com, 2)
    How should music streaming services and other content platforms deal with editorial choices in regards to social responsbility? It’s not easy, as shown by Spotify’s recent controversy surrounding the removal of artists such as R. Kelly from its playlists.
  • Would You Have Hired Steve Jobs? (medium.com, 2)
    Thought-provoking question. Many probably would not have. But maybe even rightly so. Some people are not made to be employees.
  • The Beginning of the Future (howwegettonext.com, 2)
    A delightful collection of visual art created over the past couple of centuries depicting the future.
  • The Birth And Death Of Privacy: 3,000 Years of History Told Through 46 Images (medium.com, 3)
    Another historical visual trip, equally enlightening. At the end of it, it’s hard not to see how privacy probably will turn out to have been a very temporary phenomenon (at least for the masses).
  • Indistractable: How to Focus In and Tune Out Digital Distraction (medium.com, 2)
    Nir Eyal has performed quite an impressive personal pivot: From the guy who taught app developers how to make users “hooked” to the guy who teaches users how to stop being so hooked. Like the drug dealer who later opens a rehab clinic.
  • Why Startup Timing is Everything (medium.com, 2)
    On the importance of the right timing to be successful with a startup.
  • The Rise of the Muslim Woman Tech Entrepreneur (nytimes.com, 2)
    Some interesting numbers in this piece detailing the unusual high number of women in traditionally male tech sectors in some Muslim-majority countries.
  • Go Ahead, Skip that Networking Event (hbr.org, 2)
    The author reviewed dozens of studies on networking and the overall implications are that networking events don’t live up to their billing.
  • Unquantified (nomasters.io, 2)
    Not quantifying anything is my default state (ok sometimes I check how many kilometers I walked during a day, but it’s not essential – one can always make a fairly accurate guess), and I am happy with it. But maybe the older I get, the more I’ll be realizing the benefits of monitoring certain body data. I am not ruling that out.
  • Desperate for jobs, Venezuelan immigrants turn to ride-hailing services across Latin America (techcrunch.com, 2)
    How on-demand ride-hailing services benefit from the Venezuelan crisis. I’m currently in Colombia and here, most Uber drivers seem to be locals. But according to the article, it’s different in other countries of the region.
  • Why The Heck Is Bird Potentially Worth $1B? (news.crunchbase.com, 2)
    The latest tech fad in the U.S. are electric scooters. Investors seem to love this new smart mobility niche, but so far, the economic performance of the leading startup in that field, Bird, looks rather modest.
  • Estonia plans to become a free public transport nation (popupcity.net, 1)
    Certainly “free” public transport is not really free, it’s paid for through taxes. Still, it’s great to see that this seems to work out well for Tallinn (and Estonia).

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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.

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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.
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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).

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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.

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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.
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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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)

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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.

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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.
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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:

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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