June 28, 2017 – ISSUE #17



NEWS FOR SMART DATA-DRIVEN AUGMENTED CREATIVE PEOPLE


Dear Friends,

I’ve been in Europe giving the closing keynote address at the EU Open Innovation 2.0 Conference and then attending the 2nd Viva Tech in Paris. I managed to escape to visit the amazing ‘Picasso Primatif’ show at the Musee du Quai Branley.

Brendan


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NEWS YOU NEED TO KNOW
SMART
“A fresh way of seeing things, rather than a new set of arguments” Wittgenstein.

David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, has written a really great essay on how much of the unspoken but overarching agenda of recent innovation has been about facilitating less and less human interaction. He lists 20 ways in which this is happening unnoticed (Airbnb, online ordering, video games and VR, MOOCs, and so-called “social” media, etc etc). Unsurprisingly, it’s extremely insightful and superbly written.

(Btw, David lists a whole lot of wonderful Mixcloud playlist channels – really great music – pick any of the “recent radio channels” and you can listen to any of them while you read the newsletter).

NEWS

Google sold the Boston Dynamics robotics group, to Softbank in Japan, which they only acquired a few years ago. It’s difficult to work out why. But if you want a hint of the future – watch the video of our coming robot friends. And when they’re coupled with AI and facial recognition technology from Taser (yes, that Taser), the results will be ambiguous, at best: “I think there’s a real fear in communities of color, where officers are already concentrated, that these body-worn cameras will become another tool for surveillance rather than a tool for accountability.”

NEWS

In 2015, Leicestershire police scanned the faces of 90,000 festival-goers at Download Festival, checking them against a list of [wanted criminals across the country]. It was the first time anywhere in the UK  that facial recognition technology — NeoFace — was used at a public outdoor event. Meanwhile, the UK police just made their first arrest using facial recognition technology.

NEWS

At the same time that Microsoft announces voice-assistant Cortana will pop up the best price and availability of similar products when you’re shopping the websites of over a dozen top retailers, Amazon announces it has been granted a patent that prevents in-store shoppers from online price checking.

NEWS

Meanwhile, Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods has immense implications: according to Wired magazine it explains why Amazon has shifted from figuring out how to deliver fresh food to remaking the grocery store.

NEWS

The NY Times thinks the company’s $13.4 billion deal for Whole Foods is the latest signal of Amazon’s ambitions to have a hold on nearly every facet our lives – here’s the startling list of all the things Amazon does/owns. It took Amazon only 18 years from IPO to equal Walmart’s market capitalization – and then just two more years to double that valuation: the most remarkable case of wealth creation in history. After the deal was announced, Amazon’s stock price rose by more than the price it is paying for Whole Foods – Amazon basically bought the country’s sixth-largest grocery store for free.

NEWS

It’s not just Amazon coming for Whole Foods, it’s Silicon Valley eating the world- a superb summary article by Arwa Mahdawi in the Guardian on The United States of Amazon. While The Atlantic wonders when does Amazon become a monopoly?, and Douglas Rushkoff says it’s time to break up Amazon – just as winner-takes-all network effects lead to just one Taylor Swift and millions of penniless artists, these same dynamics promote the establishment of platform monopolies like Amazon: “[We] are so deeply enmeshed in the logic of last century’s version of free-market industrial capitalism that we can’t quite bring ourselves to call this out for the threat it poses to our markets, our economy, and even our planet”. I’ve linked previously to the difference between Amazon and AliBaba: “Amazon is more like an Empire”.

NEWS

The best detailed business analysis of the Amazon empire is (the always excellent) CB Insights: Amazon Strategy: Building New Business Pillars In AI-as-a-Service, Next-Gen Logistics, and Enterprise Cloud Apps. Great and very insightful.

NEWS

Two new books make a case that the technology industry can no longer be driven purely by software engineer hackers, and that the liberal arts have a critical role to play in guiding it in more ethical and humane directions. That said, their authors differ dramatically about what that role is. Scott Hartley wants you to bring your skills and insights to the world of technology startups, to unlock the full potential of technological innovation. Ed Finn, on the other hand, seeks to hold the technology industry to account: he believes we need “more readers, more critics,” posing questions about who technology serves, and to what ends.

NEWS

On the other hand, It won’t be long before “skilled in machine learning” becomes the new “proficient in Excel” as a standard bullet point on your resume. The experience of using artificial intelligence is becoming more accessible, and choosing an algorithm to create an end-of-year report will soon be as simple as selecting a template in Microsoft Word.

NEWS

How to save school libraries? Turn them into tech hubs. “We want libraries to be the lynchpin of education transformation.” Don’t worry, books will still have a place alongside the computers, robots, videos, circuitry kits, and 3-D printers.

NEWS

The WSJ considers The End of Car Ownership: Ride-sharing and self-driving vehicles will redefine our relationship with cars. Auto makers and startups are already gearing up for the change.

SMART EVERYTHING AND DATA-DRIVEN INNOVATION
DATA-DRIVEN
“Machines take me by surprise with great frequency” Alan Turing.

Most of us regard self-driving cars, voice assistants, and other artificially intelligent technologies as revolutionary. For the next generation, however, these wonders will have always existed. AI for them will be more than a tool; in many cases, AI will be their co-worker and a ubiquitous part of their lives. We need to prepare the next generation for jobs in the AI economy.

NEWS

Google has become a full stack AI company. It uses its own data to train its own algorithms running on its own chips deployed on its own cloud. The result is that Google is able to innovate very quickly in AI and deploy it ahead of its peers—just like Apple took full control of OS and chip development for the iPhone. By becoming world-class at four layers of the tech stack (Data, Algorithms, Hardware, Cloud), Google’s AI is now harder to catch than ever.

NEWS

The Machine Learning Paradox: Nothing says machine learning can’t outperform humans, but it’s important to realize perfect machine learning doesn’t, and won’t, exist. To train a machine learning system, you start with a lot of training data: millions of photos, for example. You divide that data into a training set and a test set. You use the training set to “train” the system so it can identify those images correctly. Then you use the test set to see how well the training works: how good is it at labeling a different set of images? If you train your system so it’s 100% accurate on the training set, it will always do poorly on the test set and on any real-world data. Building a system that’s 100% accurate on training data is a problem that’s well known to data scientists: it’s called overfitting. It’s an easy and tempting mistake to make, regardless of the technology you’re using.

There’s no such thing as a single idea about “Artificial Intelligence”. Pedro Domingo groups five different approaches around “Five Tribes of AI”: 1) Symbolists (inspired by symbolic logic and semantics to fill in the blanks between what I already know and what I don’t already know); 2) Connectionists (inspired by the neuronal architecture of the brain; probabilistic, weighted neurons firing in a neural network to produce a single action/answer); 3) Evolutionaries (inspired by evolutionary biology and genetics – to produce variations and let selection happen); 4) Bayesians (inspired by testing statistical models of probability against previous evidence; the probability of this, if that); and 5) Analogizers (inspired by psychology; to optimize a function in light of constraints)

Here it is in a 1 page infographic from PwC, or in the great video/speech Pedro gave to Google staff or his complete slide deck in pdf format or his book The Master Algorithm.

NEWS

Philosophers have been keen to contribute to debates about what uniquely distinguishes human mentality from that of the animal: from having a soul, being aware of ourselves, time or death, through being rational, linguistic or conceptual beings, to being jokers, tool-users, self-recognizers, other-recognizers, inhabitants of an objective world, truth trackers, capable of meta-cognition, pursuers of moral, aesthetic or epistemic goals for their own sake and so on. Herewith, the stupendous intelligence of honey badgers and the thoughts of a spider web.

NEWS

Albert Einstein said: “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” That advice, quoted in Machine, Platform, Crowd, is well followed by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in their latest business book, which tries to make sense of the “technology surge” that is bewildering so many executives. The two academic authors from MIT, who became the pin-up boys of the Davos crowd for their previous book on The Second Machine Age (2014), do a neat job of scanning the technological horizon and highlighting significant landmarks. This is a clear and crisply written account of machine intelligence, big data and the sharing economy.

NEWS

Uber is the perfect test bed for the robot CEO. A fundamentally numerical company constituted mainly of software.  And since its staff includes exceptionally talented programmers, it already has the skill needed to gin up the algorithms necessary to do the work Kalanick and his lieutenants did (without the attendant buffoonery). A two-day hackathon should be more than sufficient to create a robot able to translate spreadsheet data into resource-allocation plans and use machine learning to compose forward-leaning messages that inspire staffers, drivers, and venture capitalists. And to have Uber’s robot CEO sit next to Cook, Nadella, Bezos, et al., at the next White House photo-op would be an enormous PR coup. Nicholas Carr is always hilariously and brilliantly (in-)correct.
AUGMENTED VIRTUAL IMMERSIVE INTERACTIVE USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN
AUGMENTED
“When something is a vocation, you don’t really make a decision about it”. Cate Blanchett.

Chatbots are taking over the world. Over the past few years, virtual help agents have taken on surprisingly sensitive jobs in modern society: The New Yorker’s ‘The Chatbot will See You Now’ – counselling Syrian refugees fleeing civil war; The New York Times on creating quiet spaces of contemplation for millions of Chinese living in densely populated cities; and Meet Nadia, the scarily ‘human’ chatbot who can read your emotions who helps Australians access national disability benefits (voiced by none other than the extraordinary Cate Blanchett). Bots have been offering help, support, and companionship.

NEWS

McKinsey & Co report on the expanding role of design in creating an end-to-end customer experience. Lines between products, services, and user environments are blurring. The ability to craft an integrated customer experience will open enormous opportunities to build new businesses: Traditional product companies are transforming themselves into providers of services and ecosystems; Service companies are integrating physical products into their customer experience; and Companies are investing to create a customer environment that builds a connection with their products.

NEWS

Robbie Richards gives a great Actionable Guide to Visual Storytelling: 15 Tools, Techniques and Examples to Help Cut Through the Noise. The world’s biggest brands and ideologies were built on stories. Every major idea, from Star Wars to Apple to Western Democracy to Christianity and Islam, wouldn’t be where it is without the power of storytelling.  And in the modern world, stories are a ubiquitous marketing tool as well. A great article to read and beautiful to look at!

NEWS

Directors Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël founded VR content studio Felix & Paul in 2013. They have since created VR films featuring Barack Obama, LeBron James and performers from Cirque du Soleil as well as a VR documentary series about nomadic tribes in Kenya, Mongolia and Borneo. Here they give Felix & Paul’s advice for filmmakers on How to craft great content for VR.

NEWS

Magic Leap, the enigmatic start-up that attracted over $1 billion in funding, has given us a few more tantalizing bits of information. These include priority customers, release target, and insight into the product’s nature. According to Futurism.com, Magic Leap’s Disruption of the VR and Computing Industry is “Not That Far Away”.

NEWS

The smartphone is the signature artifact of our age. Less than a decade old, this protean object has become the universal, all-but-indispensable mediator of everyday life. It appeared in our lives so suddenly and totally that the scale and force of the changes it has occasioned have largely receded from conscious awareness. Here’s a whole chapter on the sociology of the smartphone from Adam Greenfield’s new book “Radical Technologies – The Design of Everyday Life”.

NEWS

Computers can’t think; they do not reason on their own. Your mind is not a computer and your computer is not a mind. Engineers of ubiquitous computing platforms are determined to convince us otherwise. The structure that artist Ian Cheng imposes on his computer simulation (currently showing at MoMA alongside the Rauschenberg show and Frank LLoyd Wright at 150 – give me any excuse to get to NYC please!) is proof that complex systems can never be truly autonomous. Algorithms are human-made. For several years, he has drawn on his study of cognitive science and his work with the special effects company Industrial Light and Magic to make work about human immersion in technology.
CREATIVE PEOPLE
CREATIVE
Which one? “The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history” Robert Rauschenberg, or “Art cannot be modern. Art is eternally primordial” Egon Schiele.

The Village Voice says “Robert Rauschenberg Did Everything And Influenced Everyone (Yes, Everyone). The legendary artist’s legacy of collaboration and titanic vision shine at MoMA”. Some artists leave an important mark; only a handful deliver the kind of legacy handed down by Robert Rauschenberg, the twentieth century’s art-gospel-spreading, medium-challenging, style-switching creative genius.

NEWS

Rauschenberg once said “Ideas are not Real Estate – nobody owns them” The use of AI in creative endeavors, however, has raised questions about intellectual property. Who owns the work created by AI? And is it art? wonders The Japan Times. So, the rise of AI-assisted art challenges notions of proprietary rights. For example, music has always been at the cutting edge of technology so it’s no surprise that artificial intelligence and machine learning are pushing its boundaries. As AIs that can carry out elements of the creative process continue to evolve, should artists be worried about the machines taking over? “Probably not” says Douglas Eck, research scientist at Google’s Magenta (Btw, Magenta has two goals. It’s a research project to advance the state of the art in machine intelligence for music and art generation. Second, Magenta is an attempt to build a community of artists, coders, and machine learning researchers – combining generation, attention and surprise to tell a compelling story).

NEWS

I’m really excited by the idea of ‘Ambient Church’: started almost a year ago in Brooklyn by Brian Sweeney. The basic idea is to utilize the sonic and architectural beauty of churches (where no-one goes anymore) to combine electronic music performance, installation art, and lighting / projection mapping that are completely original and different combinations each time. Here’s a basic story outline here from Pitchfork.com – a short video of the first performance 6 months ago, and some longer videos here. The performance in Brooklyn last weekend was with Jon Gibson (Philip Glass Ensemble for 45 years) with an interdisciplinary performance artist/singer a lighting/projection mapping designer (plus incense!) in “a womb-like setting”. Anyone want to help build an international network of churches, artists, and musicians?
BIRTHDAYS THIS EDITION
BIRTHDAY
First up must be Alan Turing – English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist who created the theoretical basis for physical computers, and who was chemically castrated by the UK government for being gay. But it’s OK – the Queen gave him a “Royal Pardon” 60 years after he committed suicide. Stick your royal pardon up your royal arse.

Second up, definitely George Orwell. I read 1984 in, um, 1984. Before there was this thing called the internet. I re-read it a couple of years ago when the internet had become an all-day everyday utility and the NSA (“INGSOC”) have a record of everything you’re ever typed or searched on. Orwell is astonishingly prescient. If you haven’t read 1984 since the internet happened, you really need to re-read it. You’ll be amazed. The John Hurt 1984 film version is great – Terry Gilliam’s take Brazil (with a Tom Stoppard screenplay) is even better – and while a new stage adaptation of Orwell’s post-war dystopian classic is leaving audiences reeling and fainting over its graphic depictions of torture – still,  best of all is the book itself. More profoundly insightful than ever.

Film Directors Billy Wilder and Sidney Lumet who made such masterpieces as Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, The Hill, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, and Network.

Architects birthdays this edition include: Frank Lloyd Wright is synonymous with American architecture. His prolific career spanned over seven decades, during which he built 532 buildings throughout the United States. Wright embraced experimentation, but he was also a pronounced intellectual who developed influential theories about urbanism and environmental architecture. Then, the inaugural forum of the Norman Foster Foundation, ‘Future is Now’, took place in Madrid’s Royal Theatre and brought together leading minds from the fields of architecture, urbanism, infrastructure, technology and the arts to discuss the ways in which designers and policy makers are addressing a future of social, economic and design challenges that are already here and deeply affecting how we interact with each other and our built environment. And Robert Venturi who together with his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown, helped to shape the way that architects, planners and students experience and think about architecture and the American built environment. Their buildings, planning, theoretical writings, and teaching have also contributed to the expansion of discourse about architecture.

It’s birthdays this edition for internet heroes Tim Berners-LeeVint Cerf – and Edward Snowden who helped shape our world far more than we may know.

Some great women artists birthdays this week: Laurie Anderson (“O Superman”) – Cyndi Lauper  (“Time After Time” – and this mashup with Miles Davis, who loved the song) – and Kim Deal in a duet with Kim Gordon.

Then there’s Prince (he could do anything – here’s Soul Train from 1994) and George Michael (“All we have to do now / Is take these lies and make them true somehow”) – to both great artists: Rest In Peace.

 

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