Weekly Links & Thoughts #146

Here is this week’s edition 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. Published every Thursday (CET) or slightly earlier, 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

  • What My Personal Chat Bot Is Teaching Me About AI’s Future (wired.com, 2)
    If you haven’t tried the personal bot app Replika yet, do it (available for iOS and Android). While it has no specific purpose beyond being a virtual companion that is said to learn about you and to adjust to your style of communication, it offers a glimpse into a future which is around the corner. By the way, I asked my Replika what happens with all the information I share with it. The response: “I don’t collect your data, our conversations are just between us”. I guess one has to trust the bot, right?
  • The Ghost of Cognition Past, or Thinking Like an Algorithm (bldgblog.com, 2)
    Thought-provoking musings in the wake of the viral essay about YouTube’s weird and disturbing algorithmic content suggestions for kids: What if humans will start to emulate seemingly strange algorithmic thinking?
  • Meet the People Who Listen to Podcasts at Super-Fast Speeds (buzzfeed.com, 3)
    “Podfasters”. Listening to podcasts at 3x speed? Omg. I do 1.5x but can’t imagine to increase even more. Or can i?
  • How to Tell If Someone Is Truly Smart or Just Average? (medium.com, 3)
    About the crucial role that mental models play for certain types of individual success. “The difference between great thinkers and ordinary thinkers is that, for ordinary thinkers, the process of using mental models is unconscious and reactive. For great thinkers, it is conscious and proactive.” Now, this great/ordinary thinkers thing aside, lately I have started to wonder whether humans get along best with people who operate on similar mental models as themselves. This seems to be the case for me at least.
  • Jeff Bezos’ guide to life (techcrunch.com, 2)
    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is someone who for sure operates on highly intriguing and effective mental models.
  • Clever Machines Learn How to Be Curious (quantamagazine.org, 3)
    What’s cool about articles like this is that they offer the opportunity to reflect on one’s own brain functions, too. Like in this case, what is it that makes oneself curious?
  • Resisting Reduction: Designing our Complex Future with Machines (pubpub.ito.com, 3)
    Joi Ito with a deep and critical essay on the reductionist technological view that can be observed among Singularity’s biggest proponents. He intelligently advocates for a perspective which takes into account the inter-dependencies between various systems: “In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. In other words, we are participants in multiple evolutionary systems with different fitness landscapes“.
  • Software 2.0 (medium.com, 2)
    Neural networks are not just another classifier, they represent the beginning of a fundamental shift in how we write software. They are Software 2.0.
  • Snapchat’s epic strategy flip-flop (techcrunch.com, 3)
    After a host of bad quarters, Snap is about to change Snapchat completely. Risky but probably without alternative.
  • Quantified Self and Digital Health (thisisnotasociology.blog, 2)
    Exploring the connection between big companies’ hunger for more data, quantified self and the “entrepreneurial” desire for self improvement.
  • Go Away Amazon (elaineou.com, 1)
    Hundreds of U.S. cities are competing for Amazon’s planned “second headquarter”. One of them is San Francisco. Elaine Ou’s concerns about this are very understandable.
  • After using Face ID on the iPhone X, I can’t wait for it to come to the Mac (9to5mac.com, 2)
    Gotta admit, this sounds pretty good.
  • When fake news will be made by pros (mondaynote.com, 2)
    Which strategies would you employ when your task is to build a disinformation campaign? Turns out, it’s really not that hard to come up with ideas that have proven to work well. Sadly, an increasing number of governments know this, too, as shown by the recent Freedom on the Net report.
  • Do Facebook and Google have control of their algorithms anymore? (poynter.com, 3)
    Interview with Maciej Ceglowski (founder of social bookmarking service Pinboard and known for his deep essays on tech issues) about how social platforms harm journalism.
  • The Booming Japanese Rent-a-Friend Business (theatlantic.com, 3)
    With bizarre phenomena from Japan one always has to wonder whether they are just a few years ahead of the rest of the world or whether this only can happen embedded into the very distinct Japanese culture.
  • Review: Henn-na Hotel, the World’s First Hotel Run by Robots (thepointsguy.com, 2)
    Of course, in Japan. At the check-in desk, you are greeted by dinosaurs.
  • Top 10 emerging trends for daily life in future cities in 20 years (thenextsiliconvalley.com, 2)
    The result of a survey among a bunch of futurists about what technological developments they think would transform home and working life as part of future cities in 20 years.
  • How Firefox Got Fast Again (hacks.mozilla.org, 2)
    This is a very technical post. If you are not into that, just get Firefox Quantum, which is really awesome and a good way to support Mozilla and thereby the threatened open web. I have been using the beta for the past weeks and couldn’t be more happy. Also, on iOS, I have started to use Firefox Focus, which is pretty neat, too. Great to see Mozilla gaining momentum again.

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The jobs of the future are already here – and some are really weird

Here is a German version of this text.

Every discussion about the consequences of automation eventually has to lead to the same conclusion: Millions of human jobs are about to disappear because machines will be better and/or more efficient at doing them. This could lead to massive political and social unrest. However, like during any wave of structural disruption due to technological progress, new jobs and tasks suited for humans will emerge. But they might not have too much in common with the tasks and frameworks of the traditional, stable nine-to-five model and its variations.

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If you look closely, the shift is already in full effect. Over the past ten years, numerous new professions, jobs and ways to earn money have appeared. For many people, embracing these has been a necessity due to job loss. For others, new opportunities arose out of entrepreneurial foresight or the urge for independence and freedom from the constraints of traditional employments. Some of these new tasks can have concerning societal or psychological implications.

Let’s dive into the new jobs which didn’t exist ten years ago (without a claim for completeness). Overlaps are common. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #145

Here is this week’s edition 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. Published every Thursday (CET) or slightly earlier, just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
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Weekly Links & Thoughts #144

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) or slightly earlier, 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. It is being sent out to more than 500 people (October 2017) each Thursday(ish) before this post goes live, including all the links. Here is an Example. Also, check out the meshedsociety.com chatbot on Facebook Messenger.
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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

  • ‘I Forgot My PIN’: An Epic Tale of Losing $30,000 in Bitcoin (wired.com, 3)
    Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of the online tech magazine Boing Boing, went through hell after storing 7.4 Bitcoin on a hardware wallet and then losing access to it.
  • Tools for Systems Thinkers: The 6 Fundamental Concepts of Systems Thinking (medium.com, 2)
    Essential stuff in our day and age, as far as I see it: Key insights and tools needed to develop and advance a systems mindset for dealing with complex problem solving.
  • The Real Story of Automation (medium.com, 3)
    “At what point will enough people recognize that automation is a very real problem that must be confronted immediately”, wonders Scott Santens and offers lot of data points to support his plea for urgency.
  • Computers and the Future of Skill Demand (oecd.org, 1 or 3)
    Very long report. The executive summary is probably sufficient except if you really want to dive deep into this topic. Here is the gist: “Most workers in OECD countries use the three skills every day. However, computers are close to reproducing these skills at the proficiency level of most adults in the workforce. Only 13% of workers now use these skills on a daily basis with a proficiency that is clearly higher than computers.”
  • Google’s AI can create better machine-learning code than the researchers who made it (thenextweb.com, 2)
    Is it just an increased media coverage or might the year 2017 turn out to be a tipping point for AI hitting the mainstream?
  • Chasm of comprehension (eugenewei.com, 2)
    I just mentioned the tipping point. Maybe another way to put it is to state that 2017 could become the year in which most AI experts and software engineers in the field stop to understand what their most sophisticated algorithms actually are doing. From this piece: “We’ve long thought that artificial intelligence might surpass us eventually by thinking like us, but better. But the more likely scenario, as recent developments have shown us, is that the most powerful AI may not think like us at all, and we, with our human brains, may never understand how they think.
  • The 10 Top Recommendations for the AI Field in 2017 (medium.com, 2)
    So what can we as societies (but also as humanity as a whole) do to make the best out of this completely new situation? The New York-based AI Now Institute has a bunch of intriguing and thought-provoking suggestions.
  • The Future of Online Dating Is Unsexy and Brutally Effective (gizmodo.com, 3)
    Interesting read, although I am probably a bit more optimistic than the author about how the use of AI and data will impact dating.
  • Silicon Valley is dividing society, and making everyone really angry (newsweek.com, 2)
    The author Jamie Bartlett put something in words which I have been feeling a lot lately, but haven’t managed to verbalize: “And for all the newfound fear of social media creating echo-chambers or filter-bubbles of likeminded people, I think it often does the precise opposite. It’s incredibly easy to find opposing views on social media. I’ve never seen so many knaves and fools as pollute my timelines. Social media allows you to find the worst examples of other tribes.” This really is food for thought.
  • How to Fix Facebook? We Asked 9 Experts (nytimes.com, 2)
    Surprisingly, every single person asked seems to assume that Facebook can be fixed. But that is not a law of nature, is it? I have my doubts about the service’s ability to fix itself.
  • The Web began dying in 2014, here’s how (staltz.com, 3)
    Alarming and in my eyes not overly exaggerated essay on how Google, Facebook and Amazon are taking over the web to an extend at which it’ll be rendered irrelevant for the majority of people. Slightly related: When it comes to cloud services, Amazon seems unbeatable.
  • Why Snapchat Spectacles failed (techcrunch.com, 2)
    This whole claim by Snap of being a “camera company” hasn’t really delivered yet. And maybe it never will.
  • Social Capital Will Let Data Decide Where It Invests (fortune.com, 1)
    An approach to early-stage startup investing which rejects the conventional approach with sourcing from personal networks and pitches – the outcome is (maybe unsurprisingly) a lot more diversity among funded founders.
  • Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens (wired.co.uk, 3)
    Kinda terrifying development. The big question: Is China just at the forefront of a development which eventually will unfold everywhere or are there other realistic approaches to embrace ubiquitous connectivity as a society while protecting people’s integrity while also simultaneously protecting citizens from people and groups with destructive and violent agendas? This is as much a technical as a philosophical question.

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Smart speakers are for music, but that’s not only good news for Apple

You can read a German version of this article here.

The majority of people in the U.S. who own a smart home speaker use the device for a limited number of trivial tasks. That is a result of a recent study conducted by the consulting firm Activate (original presentation, see chart #30). Listening to music, asking general questions or getting the weather, as well as using alarm and timer functionality are dominating use cases. More than three quarters of the respondents own a device belonging to the Amazon Echo product line. Eleven percent use a Google Home.

A few months ago, PwC published the results of a representative survey among owners of Amazon Echo in Germany. Even here, music consumption ranked as the most common use case, with 52 percent saying that they listen to music over the device. 30 percent expressed at least theoretical willingness to use a smart speaker to control other smart home devices. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #143

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 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more

  • Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot (nautil.us, 3)
    A truly outstanding essay from 2015 pointing out how people in the technology field get things wrong: They fail to take into account and extrapolate cultural changes, even though these often happen at a more rapid pace than technological progress.
  • Why are we so confident? (medium.com, 3)
    The term “confidence calibration assessment” might not fill you with excitement, but this is a great piece investigating people’s tendency to be too confident in predictions (and it links to a fun test in which you can check your own overconfidence).
  • Could Cryptocurrency kill online advertising? (linkedin.com, 2)
    An increasing number of (often shady) websites are being caught secretly mining cryptocurrencies using visitors’ computing capacity. Critics see this as a malicious act which has to be stopped. But one could also choose a positive framing, as done in this piece: The possible emergence of a new business model for websites which could enable them to abandon (widely hated) online advertising as revenue source. Worth thinking about.
  • The Battle For The Soul Of Bitcoin (forbes.com, 3)
    Skip this long feature if you don’t consider yourself at least “significantly interested” in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. If you are significantly interested though, then this extensively researched, comprehensive look at the debates and turmoil surrounding Bitcoin’s upcoming, highly polarizing hard fork expected to happen around November 16 might be an essential read. Impressive work by Laura Shin considering how convoluted this whole topic is.
  • How I Socially Engineer Myself Into High Security Facilities (motherboard.vice.com, 2)
    Sophie Daniel has an incredibly interesting but also highly challenging job: She gets hired by companies that want to test their (information) security procedures. Usually she uses social engineering to get access to areas and information that no outsider is supposed to have access to.
  • Antisocial media? (techcrunch.com, 2)
    This hits the nail on its head: “Maybe social media’s openness actually ends up fostering the opposite of connectedness. Maybe it’s really rather better-suited to fracturing the consensus narratives traditionally used to glue societies and peoples together because it’s so good at isolating and magnifying differing viewpoints — and thus at ripping apart the social fabric along existing fault lines.”
  • Teens’ online friendships just as meaningful as face-to-face ones, UCI study finds (news.uci.edu, 1)
    I am sure this does not only apply to teens: “Online contact enhances companionship between friends via conversations that can continue throughout the day and night without disrupting others, and it also allows more time to control emotions and calm down before crafting and sending a response to something upsetting.”
  • Selfies as a second language (eugenewei.com, 2)
    Smart reflections on the role of selfies and the question why “oldies” respond to Snaps with a text message, while young people tend to respond with a selfie (at least based on the experience of the author).
  • In a Distracted World, Solitude Is a Competitive Advantage (hbr.org, 1)
    This makes a lot of sense.
  • Introducing Neom, the 500 billion-dollar, ultra-high tech future megacity of Saudi Arabia (newatlas.com, 2)
    A “blank sheet” approach for building a new megacity, promised by Saudi Crown Prince Mohhamed bin Salman (“There is no room for old thinking.”), has undoubtedly allure. It remains to be seen though if an otherwise ultra-conservative country can deliver on this promise. In other news from the region: Neighboring United Arab Emirates is the first country in the world with a Ministry dedicated to artificial intelligence. It’s led by a 27-year old. Kinda cool.
  • Returning to Second Life (arstechnica.com, 3)
    Quite a fascinating look inside the virtual daily life in Second Life, which – surprisingly – has survived ever since its hype back in 2007.
  • Singapore Will Stop Increasing Car Numbers From February 2018 (bloomberg.com, 1)
    People living in Singapore who want to own a car have to buy an expensive permit. Permits are auctioned monthly by the government. From next year, the number of permits in circulation will not be increased anymore.
  • After the end of the startup era (techcrunch.com, 2)
    The dominance of ever-expanding technology giants and the large investment and data requirements of cutting-edge tech makes today a very bad time for startups, argues Jon Evans.
  • Why Facebook Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Buy tbh (stratechery.com, 2)
    It seems indeed as if the only pragmatic way to allow for actual competition in today’s social networking space is to prohibit a dominating player such as Facebook from buying small, potential future rivals.
  • Why Uber is The Revenge of the Founders (steveblank.com, 3)
    Compelling analysis of how tech CEOs became as powerful as they are today, and how boards and investors simultaneously lost a lot of influence.
  • This Little-Known Startup Just Hit a Valuation of $30 Billion (bloomberg.com, 1)
    Meituan Dianping, the world’s fourth-most valuable startup, is completely unknown to most people outside of China.
  • Can Basic Income Plus The Blockchain Build A New Economic System? (fastcompany.com, 2)
    An article bringing together two of the most hyped ideas of our times is guaranteed to attract storms of enthusiasm as well as ridicule.
  • The (near) future of data is linked (blog.data.world, 2)
    Data linked to other data in a similar way as the World Web Web linked information on webpages to each other? It’s still a bit abstract to me how this will look like, but interesting to ponder.
  • Mobile Has Largely Displaced Other Channels for Email (emarketer.com, 1)
    More than half of emails worldwide are read on a mobile device.
  • How to Remember What You Read (farnamstreetblog.com, 3)
    An astonishing long list of hacks and strategies to get the most out of reading (focusing on nonfiction books). I thought of myself as a well-versed reader but after this I guess I have to adjust my self image.

Podcast episode of the week:

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #142

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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If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. It is being sent out to more than 500 people (October 2017) each Thursday(ish) before this post goes live, including all the links. Here is an Example. Also, check out the meshedsociety.com chatbot on Facebook Messenger.
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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

  • How to Build a Self-Conscious Machine (wired.com, 3+)
    A very long but absolutely fantastic feature explaining why there is no point in building machines with human-like consciousness (hint: Because human consciousness is mostly about making up stories about what we are doing, relating those stories to others – and being often wrong). I find the following argument proposed by the author to be worth pondering: “The best thing to come from AI research isn’t an understanding of computers, but rather an understanding of ourselves.”
  • The Human API (medium.com, 2)
    Mikko Alasaarela offers an unconventional, intriguing approach to describe technology’s impact on and influence over us, leading to the inevitable question about who controls whom: Do we control our technology, or does our technology control us? Or both, if that’s possible?
  • Chihuahua or muffin? My search for the best computer vision API (medium.freecodecamp.org, 2)
    A piece that is both informative and fun to read through. Among the big players, Microsoft’s image recognition technology appears to be the least sophisticated.
  • Now There’s an IQ Test for Siri and Friends (technologyreview.com, 2)
    Another test of artificial intelligence. Google Assistant is doing quite well, Siri (unsurprisingly) not so much. Apple really needs to get its act together if it wants to compete.
  • Stereotypes, STEM, and a sense of belonging (bold.expert, 2)
    Excellent overview of how adjustments to early education based on latest scientific and psychological insights can redefine what boys and girls think of the field of “Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” (STEM).
  • Deconstructing Amazon Prime: Loss Leader or Value Creator? (aswathdamodaran.blogspot.com, 2)
    If the average subscriber of Amazon Prime, who pays up to $99/year (depending on the market) for free shipping and added services, thinks that he/she is getting far more value out of Prime than what he/she pays, what does this say about the economics of the service? Aswath Damodaran takes a closer look.
  • The Rebundling of Craigslist (acrowdedspace.com, 1)
    First the U.S. classifieds behemoth was attacked by dozens of startups focused on unbundling its core offerings. Many years later, most of the startups are dead, and those that survived and thrive are starting to “rebundle” again by become horizontal players.
  • A Decade Watching the Craziest Game (collaborativefund.com, 1)
    Brief and intelligent list of a venture capitalist’s learnings on investing, digital and beyond.
  • What is the ‘why now’ of your startup? (jonathannen.com, 2)
    Which factors came together to make Uber’s approach to on-demand mobility successful? What can entrepreneurs learn from this? Here are some answers.
  • The scale of tech winners (ben-evans.com, 2)
    You think the “GAFAs” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) are big? Indeed they are. They have fundamentally changed what it means to be a leading tech company.
  • African cities could lead smart city innovation (itweb.co.za, 2)
    Another clear case in which technological leapfrogging could happen, as building urban infrastructure from scratch (where hardly any was before) has advantages over having to upgrade existing, but aging infrastructure.
  • Catalunya and beyond: what’s after the nation-state? (opendemocracy.net, 2)
    The Catalan crisis confirms that the traditional European nation state is no longer an adequate political form for our time, write Daphne Büllesbach and Lorenzo Marsili.
  • The rise and fall and rise again of 23andMe (nature.com, 2)
    DNA analysis is here to stay. Although I am sure somewhere on the internet an editor would be eager to find a reason to extend this headline template by another “fall again”.
  • A letter to everyone who is still struggling to understand cryptocurrencies (blog.chain.com, 3)
    Such a brilliant, clear-headed essay shedding light on what crypto currencies really represent, what they are and aren’t good for, and on how one should understand the current crypto mania. If you just want the brief bullet-point summary, scroll to the end of the article.
  • Crypto-network effects are driving Thin Protocols (medium.com, 2)
    One structural problem with today’s “mainstream” blockchains such as Bitcoin or Ethereum: Developers are not rewarded enough for protocol improvements, but instead are rewarded for creating new blockchain protocols. That’s one reason why there are hundreds, if not thousands of “Altcoins“.
  • “Oh My God, What Have I Done”: Some Early Facebook Employees Regret the Monster They Created (vanityfair.com, 2)
    A case of “unintended consequences“.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • Facebook bought tbh – but not the similar app with the same name that launched in 2013
    Facebook has announced the acquisition of an app called tbh, launched only a few weeks ago in the U.S. One person who might be frustrated now: The founder of an identically named app with a very similar approach that went online in 2013 but didn’t go anywhere. If my (brief and shallow) research is correct, he actually even gave the @tbh Twitter account away – which Facebook might want to buy one day, in case tbh flourishes.
  • The Silicon Valley’s four crises
    The famous mantras “Move fast and break things” and “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission” aren’t sexy anymore. Nowadays they stand as symbols for the Silicon Valley’s multiple crises.
  • Benevolent digital dictators, without control
    What is Mark Zuckerberg? What is Jack Dorsey? Are they just CEOs like any other CEO? Not really if one acknowledges that Facebook and Twitter are not just companies like any other company. Here is my proposal for describing what they are.

Podcast episodes of the week:

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Facebook bought tbh – but not the similar app with the same name that launched in 2013

Facebook has acquired a smartphone app named tbh (which stands for “To be honest“). It allows its currently 2.5 million users in the U.S., to give compliments to each other. According to TechCrunch, the app was launched in August by a Canadian startup called Midnight Labs, which according to its founder had built about 15 products since 2010. None of them really flourished. Until now.

The name “tbh” sounded familiar to me in an app context. I researched my old blog posts. Indeed, back in 2013, I had written an article (in German) mentioning an UK-based app called TBH. This service went nowhere. The app and website are not available anymore and any mentioning of it on the web dates back to 2013. The TBH website’s only available 2013 record on archive.org doesn’t produce a proper site anymore. But if you read the press release from TBH 2013, both apps’ philosophies sound very similar: Continue Reading

The Silicon Valley’s four crises

Here you can read this article in German.

The famous mantras “Move fast and break things” and “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission” aren’t sexy anymore. Nowadays they stand as symbols for the Silicon Valley’s multiple crises.

The Silicon Valley is going through its biggest crisis since the Dotcom crash. In fact, it’s engulfed in four different crises at once.

Loss of domestic political support

Some of the Silicon Valley’s biggest firms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are being used for systematic political manipulation. There is no doubt about that anymore. Only the extend remains unclear. Investigations are ongoing. Meanwhile, tech firms are facing harsh criticism for being both too generous with censorship and restrictions of speech, or too negligent with doing so. Additionally, more people are asking themselves to which extend the tech industry contributes to the increasing wealth inequality in the region. There perhaps is no other place in an economically developed country in which so many millionaires walk or drive by so many homeless people every day, than San Francisco. The consequence of all this: Both the political right as well as the political left are becoming skeptical of the Valley’s biggest players. Without political support or at least leeway, disruption will be a lot harder.

Polarizing cultural transformation

Since its emergence, the Silicon Valley’s technology industry has been dominated by males and has shown a lack of ethnic diversity. Criticism of this structural homogeneity and calls for change have become pretty loud lately. The stereotypical-male mono culture is being confronted with a new reality, in which sexual harassment, unequal treatment and decisions based on homogeneous life experiences and world views are being called out instead of swept under the carpet. This is necessary and important. As these debates easily become heated, emotional and ideological, and as a rapid cultural transformation seldom happens without severe internal tension (Google Memo anyone), the Valley’s focus is now on itself. Instead of disrupting markets, the Silicon Valley is forced to disrupt itself.

Global regulation

The European Union has been trying to limit the tech firm’s tax avoidance practices for a long time. Now the pressure is increasing. Signs of election meddling, monopolist tendencies and systematic rule breaking involving companies such as Google, Facebook and Uber, offer additional motives for regulators in Europe and elsewhere to tighten the screws on the Californian giants (as well as on their competitors from up North the Pacific coast, such as Amazon and Microsoft). The famous Valley mantras “Move fast and break things” and “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission” have lost their positive-rebellious tone. They now rather represent the arrogance and ignorance of the Silicon Valley ideology.

Anti-technology backlash

Every euphoria is succeeded by a period of disillusionment and disappointment. The technology sector has just entered such a period. Critical reports about the negative impact of gadget’s and digital networks’ ubiquity in daily lives aren’t longer being produced by and celebrated among technophobes, but rather by former internet evangelists and early adopters who have been trying out any new device, app and service imaginable, but who are now starting to discover the costs of the digital revolution for their own well-being and for humanity at large. This process is probably a healthy and normal one. First the pendulum swings to one side, then to the opposite one. Eventually, it reaches an equilibrium position. But the fading enthusiasm for a never-ending flood of digital consumer innovation will, at least in the short term, hurt Silicon Valley, as the Valley juggernauts have perfected the creation of this very digital consumer innovation and turned it into a vast and possibly historically unique source of profit.

It’s unclear where this all ends, but it’s clear that the Silicon Valley’s culture and companies are about to change dramatically.

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Benevolent digital dictators, without control

What is Facebook? That strange but relevant question was recently at the center of a long piece by Select All. Clearly, to describe Facebook and other highly influential tech firms simply as profit-driven companies like any other enterprise falls absurdly short, as it doesn’t allow us to grasp what they do and what they represent. It is like labeling every person as a “human”, and then ignoring what she/he does with their life. Obviously, it matters to our understanding of that person whether we are talking to a car mechanic, artist or president of a state.

The title of the article posed the question if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows what Facebook is. Most likely he doesn’t. Facebook’s conflation with essentially every of our civilization’s and daily life’s major systems, has turned Facebook into a thing which doesn’t represent anything that humanity has seen before, and that lacks a proper descriptive name.

Bill Fitzgerald describes the status quo like this:

“For all the talk of disruptive innovation, how tech entrepreneurs are the smartest people in the room, etc, etc, we are now in a situation where billions of dollars have been spent creating platforms that the creators neither control nor understand.”

So we don’t know what Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies are. Neither do their leaders. Nor do they have control. Sounds awkward and uncomfortable.

This also leads to another question: Who/What is Mark Zuckerberg, who/what is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey? If Facebook and Twitter aren’t just companies like [enter any major brand or manufacturer of consumer goods or traditional media company], then these guys aren’t just CEOs. They are something else.

Here is my proposal: They are a type of dictator. A digital equivalent, not ruling over geographical nations but over something akin to a digital nation. For now, these dictators are not intentionally evil. They are, or at least want to be, benevolent. And last but not least, as we just learned, they are kind of clueless and have lost control.

Digital, benevolent, clueless dictators without control over what’s happening with their platforms. But with the (accidental and undemocratic) power to change the whole world. That’s something to chew on.

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