Weekly Links & Thoughts #133

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

  • Diversity Crisis in AI, 2017 edition (fast.ai, 2)
    The overwhelming majority of engineers who work on artificial intelligence (AI) software are white males. Considering the expected impact of AI on the world, and also considering that every single individual (gender, ethnicity, age etc notwithstanding) has biases and blind spots, not having maximum diversity in this field is absolutely undesirable. This is, in my opinion, a major mistake in reasoning by James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote the controversial memo: He assumes that a biological difference in the average distribution of traits between women and men would justify not to give diversity efforts the highest priority possible. But irrespective of the “supply” of engineers and underlying reasons for imbalances, the fact that diversity in software engineering and related professions is more critical than ever doesn’t change. Therefore, in my eyes, if that means a positive discrimination of underrepresented groups in software engineering, that’s actually a necessary price to pay. You need what I call “diversity of biases”, so that they can correct each other. This probably matters less when a company is specialized in developing fart apps. But with AI, the stakes are slightly higher.
  • Visualizing the Diversity of the Tech Industry (visualcapitalist.com, 1)
    Informative overview. A bit surprising that Uber, widely considered the pinnacle of bro culture and Testosterone, actually is ahead of Facebook and Google, both when it comes to the percentage of female employees, and also in regards to ethnical diversity (I’m not implying that bro culture and Testosterone are limited to only white males, of course).
  • Sense Hacking: The Real-Life Cyborgs of the DIY Augmentation Scene (howwegettonext.com, 3)
    Fascinating stuff: About the effort to provide humans with an additional sense to detect electromagnetic waves typically imperceptible to us.
  • See the cool kids lined up outside that new restaurant? This app pays them to stand there (washingtonpost.com, 2)
    Surkus is a new app which allows anyone willing to pay to manufacture a crowd. This might be the end of everything cool and trendy, because if this business model works, no future hipster will know anymore if a queue to a new venue is organic or paid-for (you might need to open the article in an “incognito” window of your browser to circumvent the paywall).
  • Instagram’s Kevin Systrom wants to clean up the &#%$@! Internet (wired.com, 3)
    In comparison to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram has managed to establish itself as somewhat of a “happy place”, comparatively free of the exhausting debates, outrage and hate that flourish on other platforms. The Facebook-owned company is actively pursing that philosophy, essentially trying to create something akin to a digital Disneyland.
  • How I think about free speech: Four categories (juliagalef.com, 1)
    Julia Galef, whose work and fight for rational, self-critical thinking I am a big fan of, offers intelligent thoughts on the nuances and limits of free speech – a question which seems increasingly hard to navigate in a polarized, connected world.
  • Inside the Wild World of Sneaker-Buying Bots (motherboard.vice.com, 2)
    From the department of “things you probably didn’t even know existed”.
  • Quick Thoughts on Amazon’s Echo Show (500ish.com, 2)
    It’s remarkable how the display-equipped version of the Amazon Echo has managed to “reinvent” the tablet concept for a specific purpose in a way which actually gets people excited. This emphasizes how important seemingly small iterations to products actually can be.
  • Inside the Increasingly Complex Algorithms That Get Packages to Your Door (technologyreview.com, 2)
    “If one single driver has to go to 57 stops, you already have a quattuorvigintillion possible combinations”.
  • The State of Cryptocurrency: Mid-2017 Edition (hackernoon.com, 2)
    Taylor Pearson went to the 2017 Blockstack Summit and presents his take aways about the state of cryptocurrency technology and market.
  • The Token Effect (blog.ycombinator.com, 2)
    Explaining Bitcoin, Ethereum, smart contracts and ICOs in an article which only takes 4 minutes to read is quite an achievement!
  • The Actually Distributed Web (linuxjournal.com, 2)
    Open source advocate and co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls, explains how and why the Blockchain (he uses the term “distributed ledgers”) could make his long-term vision of full agency for individuals as distributed peers on the internet become reality, at last.
  • The Blockchain Problem Space (blog.ironbay.digital, 2)
    But what happens if one puts all passion about the alleged world-changing potential of the Blockchain aside and evaluates it purely as a technology ?
  • Platform Sprawl Leaves No Industry Behind (sloanreview.mit.edu, 2)
    It’s not unthinkable that eventually every single industry will be characterized by platform dynamics.
  • No More Lost Decades (medium.com, 1)
    According to the perspective presented here, the decade of startup “Blitzscaling” is over, the next ten years will be about building real businesses.

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