Weekly Links & Thoughts #102

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.

I hope everyone had a good start into 2017! Let’s make this a good year, against all odds!

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Length indicator: 1 = short, 2 = medium, 3 = long

  • Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People (3)
    Brilliant, critical, very extensive examination of the favorite topic of today’s smartest minds in tech.
  • On the Exponential View (3)
    Information technology is changing the face of humanity and leading to exponential developments. This very informative transcript of a talk explains why it is happening, what opportunities this offers and how it is the cause of a lot of today’s tension in politics and society. Basically, a lot of dots are being intelligently connected here.
  • At CES 2017, Amazon revs Alexa everywhere strategy (1)
  • AirPods Kick off Apple’s Battle for Our Ears (2)
    I group these two pieces together because both Amazon’s Echo hardware and Alexa personal assistant as well as Apple’s AirPods represent the “battle for our ears” proclaimed in the headline. In my eyes this will probably be the major story in consumer tech this year: Voice control and personal assistants are capturing everyone’s mind. For the moment, Amazon is focusing on homes (read here about simple things to use Echo with Alexa for), Apple on use outside of the home. Eventually of course, these use cases will merge, promising a pretty thrilling race. The competition currently lags behind, even if Google is trying its best with Google Home (and the software “Google Assistant”), while Microsoft pushes Cortana. But Amazon has definitely a leg up on the competion.
  • Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System (3)
    Smart explainer on the importance and history of consumer operating systems, culminating in the conclusion that Amazon has found its very own mass-market ready operating system in Alexa.
  • It’s too bad soft sexism isn’t a civil liberties issue (1)
    With personal assistants becoming ubiquitous, the issue of them reinforcing gender stereotypes is moving into the spotlight as well. I see why it is problematic that these assistants usually carry female names and default “personalities”. From that perspective, Google has made a better choice with “Google Assistant”. However, it sounds super boring. In my opinion, the ideal name would be one which does not instantly gets associated with a specific gender. Then users could make their own choice what “personality”/gender they prefer.
  • Google reveals secret test of AI bot to beat top Go players (1)
    A sign of things to come: A tech company testing a new AI program in public initially pretending for it to be an individual. Basically, a bot when you don’t expect a bot.
  • Virtual Reality Can Leave You With an Existential Hangover (2)
    When it comes to Virtual Reality, employing some systems thinking might be wise. There could be significant and possibly completely unexpected side-effects around the corner. Just think about if suddenly millions of people would develop strange mental conditions. I know, I know, this sounds like those fear mongers who thought the human body would be severely damaged when riding a train at 40 km/h. But with the immersion level that VR is promised to deliver, any comparison to earlier technology is kind of skewed.
  • The internet is broken. Starting from scratch, here’s how I’d fix it. (1)
    To stop the decline of what made the internet great, Walter Isaacson suggests a couple of improvements and changes to its core infrastructure, including a voluntary system for those who want to use it, to have verified identification and authentication.
  • How Digital Nomads Went From Niche to Normal (2)
    As someone who practices it myself, I don’t have the impression that location independent work (or “digital nomadism”, if you fancy that label) really has left its niche, but the headline makes more sense with some context from the article: For many startups and tech companies, having people working from other places than the office has become normal.
  • The Tesla Advantage: 1.3 Billion Miles of Data (2)
    Tesla’s big competitive advantage: Through its autopilot software, it can collect massive amounts of driver data, which is exactly what a car company needs for a future of self-driving vehicles.
  • The Difference Between Impatience and Having No Tolerance for Inefficiency (1)
    I dig that distinction proposed here: Impatience and having no tolerance for inefficiency are two different things. And boy, how little tolerance for inefficiency I have!
  • Why Hasn’t a Killer App Emerged for Finding Local Events? (1)
    The market of services for finding local events has indeed seen surprisingly little action and success stories.
  • Dropbox Could Have One of 2017’s Most Interesting IPOs (2)
    The narrative about Dropbox is changing quickly. From a company struggling to compete in an environment of fast-moving giants the outlook seemingly has gotten brighter again. At least according to this text.
  • Be Recklessly Confident when “Learning How to Code” (2)
    Highly motivating for everyone who is learning to code, and generally thought-provoking for everyone else as well: How to think and behave when learning a skill characterized by a steep and fluctuating learning curve.
  • Quantum computers ready to leap out of the lab in 2017 (2)
    Some high tech stuff here. I can’t say I understand everything about Quantum computing yet but things are clearly heating up.
  • Why Emojis are failing to evolve into a form of Language (2)
    “Emoji are so popular they’re killing off netspeak” – but not sufficient enough to form a totally new language.
  • Finland trials basic income for unemployed (1)
    I am excited that Finland’s highly anticipated basic income experiment has been launched. But I am also disappointed that it focuses on unemployed people only. That means this experiment won’t tell anything about how those who are employed would be impacted (e.g. whether they would quit current jobs and move to something they perceive as more meaningful, or for example start companies). It will neither help to position the basic income as a neutral type of social welfare, instead connecting it with the negative associations that many people already think of when hearing of social welfare. The goal of Finland’s trial is simply to incentivize unemployed people to get a job, even if it is pays little, because they’d keep the basic income. Basically, this is not an unconditional basic income, but one on the condition of being unemployed in order to be eligible in the first place – which is a completely different type of concept. But in order to remain optimistic, maybe this nevertheless turns out to be a smart way to get started; to slowly get the public used to it. The first of many small steps forward.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

  • Really too big to fail
    Can today’s tech giants fail? The list of blunders, complaints and pessimistic predictions is long. But Facebook, Google, Amazon and a few others don’t seem to be affected at all. It’s time to make peace with the idea that these companies are becoming too big to fail.
  • The obsession with “Fast-moving consumer news”
    Some people promote the idea of quitting or at least significantly reducing the consumption of day-to-day news. But wouldn’t that be just looking away from the problems? Somehow, yes. But considering the sad state of online media today, maybe that’s still the better option? A couple of notes about a debate which is gaining relevancy.

Podcast episode of the week:

  • Philosophize This: Are you living in a simulation?
    If you have read the first article linked to in this week’s list and haven’t totally lost your appetite for pondering the (admittedly obscure) idea of our existence being a simulation, you might like this podcast episode. Generally this is a recommended podcast, approaching a heavy topic such as philosophy in a lightweight, but (as far as I can judge) still not too shallow way.

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