Dear Reader – Happy New Year!

Welcome to your weekly round-up of news you need to know – for smart, data-driven, augmented, creative people.

Change the world!
Brendan Harkin

The present discordant and distracted twitter
Virginia Woolf, Reviewing, 1939

Love this? Share it: Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

Forwarded this from a friend? Join the X Media Lab newsletter.


“Fourth Industrial Revolution” (Vid: 11 mins) produced by the World Economic Forum. Best quote is from Stewart Wallis of the New Economic Foundation: “Our focus must be on Human Well-Being, not Growth”. Tip o’the lid to XML Mentors who get a mention: Tan Le (Emotiv) and artist Lynette Walworth (VR work ‘Collisions’ which premiered at the WEF in Davos).

The biggest threat to employment in the US has nothing to do with China or Mexico – it’s automation. And automation is also China’s biggest threat where full employment is the real national religion. MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson’s 2012 ‘Race against the Machine‘ is still the best short introduction to technology, employment, and society in our times.

Superb simple-to-follow single page explanation of what AI and Machine Learning can and can’t do right now by the amazing Andrew Ng – Chief Scientist at Baidu, Co-Founder of Coursera, Adjunct Professor at Stanford, and Co-Founder of Google Brain. In a nutshell, if a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future. Some great resources on his site too.

The world’s largest hedge fund is building an AI machine to manage the company and making three-quarters of management decisions with 5 years. And remember, the machines don’t even have to be that clever, “just better than the overwhelmed human investment manager“.

The UN is to propose banning weaponzied AI systems – Killer Robots – (article plus excellent and frightening Vice Media video 28.0 mins). And apart from the robots, apparantly the soldiers of the future will be augmented and indestructible. We just keep winning those wars! On a lighter note, here’s three cute robot animals that actually fly!

All the ways that AI *didn’t* revolutionize our lives in 2016. Fast Company.

The Year in Robots (and Co-bots!) bridging the gap between Science and Fiction from the ever-excellent New Atlas.

A great introduction to the increasingly pervasive importance of Deep Learning: in Image Recognition, Speech Recognition, and Text Recognition (that’s your eyes, ears, and speech faculties, right there folks). Wired Magazine.

How a Machine Learns Prejudice.


Voice is the next platform and 6 million US households have already bought an Amazon Alexa. Of course the NSA would never seek a backdoor hack to listen to every private domestic conversation you ever have. And the police are already involved retreiving conversation data with writs.

It’s a year old but it’s even more relevant now than ever with a Trump presidency. Maciej Ceglowski’s brilliant account of the data industries and their discontents “Haunted by Data“. “When it comes to Data, don’t collect it. If you have to collect it, don’t store it. If you have to store it, don’t keep it”. Brilliant stuff.

XML Mentor Tim Wu interviewed by Stanford podcast “Raw Data” (Pod: join at 11.00 mins – then 20 mins elapsed) on his new book “The Attention Merchants – the Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads” in which “attention” gets turned to “data”, and you the customer become the product.

The Robotic Grocery Store of the Future Is Here: Swarm robotics, autonomous delivery vehicles, and machine-learned preferences. Ocado’s warehouse manages 48,000 lines of perishable goods along 30 kms of conveyor belts. (Vid: 1.38) and of course there was the announcement of the Amazon Go grocery store without  checkout lines or cashiers. Hilarious take-down by the French chain Monoprix who have been doing this for over a decade using something called “human technology”. Also, Mining 24 hours a day with Robots.

Finding Inspiration for Art in the Betrayal of Privacy. A German art collective’s installation in Manhattan on intended to school and shock visitors on how much, or rather, little we know about privacy and data security. New York Times.

Since September, ProPublica has been encouraging Facebook users to share the categories of interest that Facebook has assigned to them. Users showed us everything from “Pretending to Text in Awkward Situations” to “Breastfeeding in Public.” In total, they collected more than 52,000 unique attributes that Facebook has used to classify users. Btw, on data, Future Crimes by Marc Goodman is the best tech book I’ve read in ten years. I’ve got a copy sitting on my desk if anyone wants to read it and circulate it.

I’m a fan of anything that can bring Andy Warhol, technological development, culture, and business into the same essay. (NB. This is NOT investment advice from XML).

According to Cisco, in Paris the average resident spends four years of their life looking for a parking spot. Here’s 5 IoT products every smart city needs in 2017.

The US already has a Muslim registry. It’s called Facebook.


Robot Lovers (Vid: 1.20m) and Sophia (Vid: 2.38m) with others from Ben Goertzel’s and David Hanson’s Hanson Robotics in HK – if you haven’t seen these yet, they’re coming.

If there was an arts buzzword for 2016, it was “immersive” LA Times.

A great list of the 10 most exciting future-forward-looking films in 2017 – some outstanding stuff! (inc. video trailers). Also looking backwards as well as forwards, when I was back in LA recently I met a holographics company who are buying the image and performance rights to dead stars, e.g., Billy Holiday, etc. What are the ethics of digitally resurrecting actors and performers?

The Verge’s favourite pop culture of 2016: Tilt Brush gets a nod. And I must add Syfy’s The Expanse to the obligatory Black Mirror and Westworld.

The sheer amount of problem solving, rule breaking, and inventiveness the VR production process demands is reshaping the way creative and technologists do their work and work together.

The single most repeated line in Virtual Reality is Chris Milk’s claim that “VR is an empathy machine”. But what if Empathy is a bad thing? And also, how will VR show the complex causes of situations (e.g, geopolitics) and not just the consequences of situations (i.e., mere images). We are still discovering what VR will be good at.

With more musicians making repeat rounds on the festival circuit to recoup the losses from shrinking album sales, a singular experience can distinguish one music festival from a growing sea of others: Immersive Art.

Here’s What Dating Tech Will Look Like In 2017: From role-playing video games to VR sexual encounters, prepare for innovative new ways to find love and indulge lust.


You should subscribe to Open Culture – a treasure trove of  free e-books, audio books, online courses, movies, language lessons, and textbooks

28 Creative Genuises who defined 2016.

Great (long-form) article from Stanford on “Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?”. They present a wide range of evidence from various industries, products, and firms showing that research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply. Answer: we need to educate and employ a whole lot more researchers. Also see the “Eroom Paradox’ in the Maciej Ceglowski video in the Data section above (“Moore’s Law” backwards).

The 13 Most Over-Used Words in the Artworld in 2016. Yep, ‘Immersive’ is one of them. (Also from Hettie Judah “The 10 Technologies Defing Art Right Now“. Oculus gets a nod).

Backchannel’s superb Top Tech Books of 2016 – with great excerpts available for each book. I’d love to read them all! Part One Here and Part Two Here. Interestingly, two are fiction: Alexander Weinstein’s remarkable short story collection “Children of the New World“, wonderfully thought-provoking tales from the immersive and robotic near-future; and the Chinese sci-fi sensation Cixin Liu, whose first novel The Three-Body Problem is being made into a major film and may well be China’s first international blockbuster? Get acquainted!

In 2016, Women artists led the way in New Media. My favourite is Iranian artist  Morehshin Allahyari 3D Printing project to recreate the priceless objects destroyed by ISIS, releasing all the research and print files.

A brilliantly written Los Angeles Review of Books piece about a brilliant contrarian tech essayist – Nicholas Carr’s Utopia is Creepy. (Get past the first few paragraphs and it sings from there – also contains the best tech joke of the year, in the para commencing “What’s most striking about these pictures …”

It’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation: a titanic clash between New Media and Old Media, and violent contests over the visual arts.

Iggy Pop Life Drawing Class – with guess who as the model?

Deaths of great artists in 2016: it’s worse than you think.

Here’s to a stellar 2017 – and something to dance about.

© 2017 X Media Lab, All Rights Reserved
555 West 5th Street Los Angeles CA 90013
info@xmedialab.com | www.xmedialab.com