Weekly Links & Thoughts #116

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

  • Cloud computing’s history foretells the future of automotive (diginomica.com, 2)
    About the parallels between how individual computing gave way to cloud computing (which in turn changed the role and characteristics of computers at large) and the shift from individual car usage to connected, distributed mobility. Fascinating analogy.
  • The Crisis of Attention Theft—Ads That Steal Your Time for Nothing in Return (wired.com, 2)
    “Attention theft” – what a brilliant term. Personally I find it applicable to many more circumstances than those commercials shown on TV screens in public mentioned in the article.
  • What it’s really like to work in a Chinese mega-factory, according to a student who spent 6 weeks there (businessinsider.com, 3)
    This interview with a guy who assembled iPhones is very long (about 30 minutes reading time), but exceptionally informative.
  • Sky Mining (reallifemag.com, 2)
    Contemplating conflicting motivators behind today’s re-surge in enthusiasm for space travel. It seems to be equally about escaping the destructive impact of the threats to planet Earth that at least in parts could be considered side effects of capitalism and about exporting capitalism (and inevitability its side effects) to other planets.
  • The despair of learning that experience no longer matters (newyorker.com, 2)
    This piece left me with a lot of thoughts which I have not been able to sort properly yet. In any case, I find it quite intriguing to ponder whether many populist voters’s realization that their decades-long professional experience is not valued enough anymore could explain their  frustration.
  • Facebook and the Cost of Monopoly (stratechery.com, 3)
    Ben Thompson is disappointed by the announcements made at Facebook’s developer conference F8 (which were mostly related to AR/VR and aimed squarely at squashing Snapchat – which the latter admittedly is making easier than it has to). He considers them a sign that Facebook’s (network-powered) monopolistic characteristics are harming innovation. The possible connection between monopolism of today’s Silicon Valley culture and lack of customer-centric innovation is also the topic of this piece arguing that the Valley’s tech industry is destroying itself.
  • Build a Better Monster (idlewords.com, 3)
    The founder of the beloved niche bookmarking site Pinboard, Maciej Cegłowski, has published the written version of a speech in which he connects a lot of dots and events of recent times to outline the problematic status of quo of today’s digital business models and monopolistic tendencies of a few large companies, the increasingly massive side effects on politics and public debate, as well as possible solutions. Long but worth it and filled with succinct and observant lines to remember for later (such as this one: “One problem is that any system trying to maximize engagement will try to push users towards the fringes.“)
  • Selling Mark Zuckerberg (buzzfeed.com, 3)
    A detailed look at Mark Zuckerberg’s personal transformation.
  • Will Tech-Driven Deflation Export Japan’s Economic Woes to the World? (singularityhub.com, 2)
    Japan historically has been chasing efficiencies through technologies, which in combination with a low birth rate is being seen as a major reason for the country’s economic woes. In the light of current technological and demographic trends, it’s not to be ruled out that this could become the fate for plenty of other nations.
  • Why Kickstarter Decided To Radically Transform Its Business Model (fastcompany.com, 3)
    Gotta love Kickstarter for adopting the new U.S. corporate entity type called Public Benefit Corporation. It came with the pledge to never sell the company or go public and to offer a “general public benefit.” Remarkably, the investors were on board with the decision.
  • AI: Process v Output (thewavingcat.com, 3)
    An in-depth, well-researched and well-curated analysis of what’s considered to be one of the major challenges of applied artificial intelligence: the inability of humans to understand the process with which an AI produces its output, and the trade-off which would happen if transparency of the computing process would be the goal. For the author, there is no question: “Transparent messiness is more desirable than oblique efficiency.” Meanwhile, Albert Wenger, who actually is the VC who according to the previous piece introduced the Kickstarter founders to the concept of the Public Benefit Corporation, puts things into perspective by pointing out that no one really knows how humans do what they do.
  • Primitive reflexes and artificial intelligence (medium.com, 1)
    That’s something which humans have for sure ahead of AI: We are born with reflexes that require no external teaching at all.
  • Steve Ballmer Serves Up a Fascinating Data Trove (nytimes.com, 2)
    Traditionally non-innovating former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is back with a new project, and it seems to be quite useful (from a U.S. tax payer perspective). I loved how his new endeavor was commented here: “Those of us who have been in or around the technology space since the 1990s when Microsoft used to bulldozer all in front of it are completely unused to Steve Ballmer doing things that we can uncomplicatedly see as good”.
  • The Art of Writing One-Sentence Product Descriptions (medium.dave-bailey.com, 1)
    Especially useful advice for people building or promoting products/services, but essentially good advice for a lot of things one creates in life: “If we want our product to be shared by word of mouth, then we must accept that it will likely pass from person to person as a single sentence.”
  • Smartphones Are the New Cigarettes (markmanson.net, 2)
    An apt analogy if you consider how hastingly people pull out their phones after a longer period of forced abstinence (or forced offline mode). Not really accurate when comparing the use cases though. Unlike cigarettes, smartphones actually can be used for a lot of good and useful tasks.
  • Why Americans Don’t Understand The European Startup Scene (arc.applause.com, 2)
    The fragmentation of Europe makes the startup scene hard to understand even for Europeans, I’d argue.
  • On Growing: 7 Lessons from the Story of WeChat (blog.ycombinator.com, 3)
    The Chinese messaging and social media giant did a lot of things right and followed quite an innovative playbook.
  • Meet Algo, the VPN that works (blog.trailofbits.com, 2)
    Something different: I recently created my own VPN tunnel in the cloud with this self-hosted VPN server. It’s a slightly technical task but fun if you like to challenge yourself a bit. However, if you are technical, than you will laugh at me calling this a “challenge”. Important note: As you will run this software on a commercial cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or DigitalOcean where you’ll add your payment details, you should not use this if your goal is to be completely anonymous. Use cases are encryption in public WiFis and circumvention of locally blocked websites (when traveling) as well as possibly even of geo-blocking.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • Exponent.fm Episode 110: Moral Hazard
    Great exchange between Ben Thompson and James Allworth about constructive and destructive entrepreneurship and the consequences for technology and capitalism.

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