Weekly Links & Thoughts #119

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

  • The 1 Percent Rule: Why a Few People Get Most of the Rewards (jamesclear.com, 2)
    An intelligent explainer on the Pareto Principle’s power (aka 80/20 Rule), the phenomenon of accumulative advantage and the resulting 1 Percent Rule. A lot of the dynamics that shape our world and economy are based on these mechanisms.
  • The meaning of life in a world without work (theguardian.com, 2)
    Yuval Noah Harari debunks the myth of traditional work being the unique instrument to create meaning in life. An essential read, in my opinion (except if you have read his latest book Homo Deus, in which case you might be familiar with his line of thought).
  • Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. But, turns out, they were right (qz.com, 2)
    As a reminder, Luddites were people in Britain who fought against the industrialization. This is a thought-provoking piece, although the claim that the Luddites were right depends on the perspective. In fact, in most regards, living and working conditions are better nowadays than back then, thanks to this very technology they rejected. So in that case they were wrong. They were right about that the change that came with the technological shift would disrupt their lives. That’s the inevitable side effect of large-scale structural change. Learning from the past, the goal should not be to resist the change but to find ways to mitigate the negative effects on individuals and social stability.
  • Memes are serious business with their own stock exchange (cnet.com, 2)
    Why did it take so long? A stock exchange for memes called Nasdanq. But the formula follows a different rule than in the real economy, where stock value increases if a company’s products are popular. At Nasdanq, if a meme goes mainstream, its value tanks since everyone is on the joke.
  • The ‘Frightful Five’ Aren’t So Scary, as Long as They’re Competing (nytimes.com, 2)
    “Frightful Five” is another moniker for what sometimes is called GAFAs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) but including Microsoft. The author makes an important point – there indeed is heavy competition going on. From my European perspective, this doesn’t change the fact though that they all are US (West Coast) companies. Even if you have 5 players that out-compete each other fiercely, there is little diversity, since they all represent the same cultural value set and ideological legacy – which particularly considering the far-reaching consequences of this industry’s activity might be questionable sometimes.
  • 21 Telling Photos From the Mark Zuckerberg Presidential Campaign Trail (observer.com, 2)
    Nice one. Zuckerberg and the “folks”.
  • Why the Surge in Violence Against Robots Matters (extremetech.com, 2)
    The likely way to reduce violent acts against robots? Making them look and behave more like humans (but maybe not so much that it leads to the effect of the uncanny valley?).
  • AI runs on rationality. Yet, we are the children of serendipity (medium.com, 1)
    Serendipity is definitely one of life’s spices. In order to make a AI-powered world worthwhile for humans, embedding the concept of serendipity into the core algorithmic philosophy is elementary.
  • Will Machine Learning and AI Ever Solve the Last Mile? (simplystatistics.org, 1)
    When AI-powered interactions between humans and machines are taking place, humans nowadays often have to intervene in the background and solve specific types of problems to support the AI. However, while this post frames it as a weakness of AI, maybe it’s a feature instead of a bug? Some think that the ideal scenario is not machines replacing humans for specific tasks, but machines and humans working together (re-recommending this article).
  • Stories vs. Statistics (collaborativefund.com, 2)
    Even in the age of big data, statistics are easily kidnapped and brainwashed by stories that thrive on millions of years of primal instincts.
  • Amazon’s ‘Echo Show’ Gives Alexa the Touchscreen It Needed (wired.com, 2)
    My first thought when I saw the photos and product videos was: “Wow, so ugly. Looks like it was designed in the 80s”. I personally like 80s design, but mostly due to a weird appreciation of that decade’s ugliness. Anyway, a commentator on Hacker News made a smart point: This is no accident. The Echo Show is targeting average Joe and Jane, including (or even especially) those belonging to older generations. The Echo Show’s resemblance of old school TV sets or radios could in fact help to tone down the creepiness factor of having a seeing and listening device standing in the kitchen or elsewhere in the home (related: “How Much Can An Amazon Echo Hear?“)
  • Microsoft and Harman Kardon put Cortana in the home (newatlas.com, 1)
    This partnership raises the question whether Microsoft will exclusively rely on third parties to compete with Amazon and Google (and soon with Apple) in the smart home speaker arena, or whether the company will to launch a flagship product of its own.
  • Transport app Citymapper trials its own smart bus and transport service in London (venturebeat.com, 2)
    Citymapper is a London-based startup that offers maps and services for efficient use of public transport in urban areas. And now, to the surprise of some, this company which in total has raised $50 million in venture capital, plans to launch a physical (smart) bus service in London.
  • Turkey Can’t Block This Copy of Wikipedia (observer.com, 2)
    One gotta love what the geekiest minds frequently come up with. A new way for addressing web pages called “InterPlanetary File System” pulls the same set of data from multiple places, and with this method, Turkey’s block of Wikipedia can be circumvented. This approach sounds very exciting in times in which governments get all too eager to censor the web.
  • What does $100 Ether mean? (medium.com, 3)
    Like Bitcoin, the Blockchain-based, programmable smart contract platform Ethereum is currently having a good run. So what does it mean to have $100 in Ether, and how is Ethereum different from Bitcoin? Her is an outstanding and comprehensive explainer by one of Ethereum’s leading figures. In another quite lengthy essay, he approaches the same topic from a very different angle. Both texts are great to wrap one’s head around the philosophy and technology of Ethereum and to understand how smart contracts could  change the world.
  • Jürgen Schmidhuber on the robot future​: ‘They will pay as much attention to us as we do to ants’ (theguardian.com, 2)
    I didn’t know that there is a German equivalent to Ray Kurzweil.

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