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

Change the world!
Brendan Harkin

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“I’ve always been careful to never predict anything that had not already happened” Marshall McLuhan.

A nice little 6-minute intro to AI. It’s important that people become generally familiar with what is happening and why it’s important. ‘Software is eating the world’, right? And here’s a nicely done ‘Periodic Table of AI’ that lists every buzzword and concept you’ll need to know about AI for that next executive management retreat.

The authoritative CB Insights (you must subscribe to them) lists imminent Future Tech Trends: customized babies; personalized foods; robotic companions; 3D printed housing; solar roads; ephemeral retail; enhanced workers; lab-engineered luxury; botroots movements; microbe-made chemicals; neuro-prosthetics; instant expertise; AI ghosts. You can download the whole outstanding report here (125 pgs). Perfect plane reading. Print it out and keep it on your desk.

The history of logic should be of interest to anyone with aspirations to thinking that is correct, or at least reasonable. This story illustrates different approaches to intellectual enquiry and human cognition more generally. Reflecting on the history of logic forces us to reflect on what it means to be a reasonable cognitive agent, to think properly. Is it to engage in discussions with others? Is it to think for ourselves? Is it to perform calculations?

Following on, this moving account of two utterly different humans who would create the first mechanistic theory of the mind, the first computational approach to neuroscience, the logical design of modern computers, and the pillars of artificial intelligence. But this is more than a story about a fruitful research collaboration. It is also about the bonds of friendship, the fragility of the mind, and the limits of logic’s ability to redeem a messy and imperfect world.

The idea that ‘the brain is a computer’ is the dominant metaphor in most neuroscience. But what if can be shown that they do not operate in the same way? Yet even so, the Raven’s test is the best existing predictor of what psychologists call ‘fluid intelligence’, i.e., the general ability to think abstractly, reason, identify patterns, solve problems, and discern relationships. Computers are increasingly good at it.

On the one hand, given Europe’s many human problems, it seems ridiculous that the EU is seriously considering declaring robots to be ‘electronic persons’, until you realise the intent is to hold the programmers responsible for the actions or omissions of the robotic agents. But why only programmers of electronic robots? Why not priests, teachers, media, military, and government officials who all constantly attempt to program behaviours. In any case, these intelligent bots will soon be choosing for themselves whether to be Nobel prize winners or sex workers apparently.

Fundamentally, nature’s economy is sustained because species forge connections that create a grand circular economy in which materials are produced, consumed and decomposed, and then reused. In this economy, controlling feedback ensures materials are perpetually recycled and redistributed to sustain the productivity and environmental quality that supports life.


“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Arthur Conan DoyleSherlock Holmes.

What machines are picking up on are not facts about the world, they’re facts about the dataset.” This is a great read that explores the actual practical ways that we must balance knowing what and knowing why, and why neural nets are so accurate, so inscrutable … and so fragile. An AI program using 3D cardiac imaging as patient data has an 80% prediction success rate on the patient’s survival.

A few months ago, Foursquare achieved an impressive feat by predicting, ahead of official company results, that Chipotle’s Q1 2016 sales would be down nearly 30%. Because it captures geo-location data from both check-ins and visits through its apps, Foursquare could extrapolate foot-traffic stats that turned out to be very accurate predictors of financial performance. Many tech companies these days generate an interesting “data exhaust” as a by-product of their core activity.

Microsoft is bringing a lawsuit objecting to the indiscriminate use by U.S. law enforcement of orders that demand user data without the opportunity to inform the customer, arguing that “its customers have a right to know when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails, and because Microsoft has a right to tell them.” It said at the time that over the past 18 months’ federal courts had issued almost 2,600 secrecy orders, also referred to as “gag orders,” that prevented Microsoft from speaking about warrants and other legal process seeking its customers’ data.

Barcelona is the first municipal government to invite citizens to use Anti-Corruption Complaint Box which enable them to send information on corruption in a way that is secure, that guarantees privacy and gives citizens the option to be totally anonymous. Of course, purely malicious claims will be quickly dismissed since they would contain original sources or documentary evidence – unless you’re the CIA and you have this to show for your billions upon billions of dollars of intelligence.

Readers have been wondering why news from the incoming Trump administration has seeped into The Verge’s science coverage. It’s tempting to believe that science is apolitical. But science and politics are plainly related: science is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge is power, and power is politics.

That males are naturally promiscuous while females are coy and choosy is a widely-held belief. Even many scientists – including some biologists, psychologists and anthropologists – tout this notion when interviewed by the media about almost any aspect of male-female differencesincluding in human beings. In fact, certain human behaviours such as rape, marital infidelity and some forms of domestic abuse have been portrayed as adaptive traits that evolved because males are promiscuous while females are sexually reluctant. These ideas, which are pervasive in Western culture, also have served as the cornerstone for the evolutionary study of sexual selection, sex differences and sex roles among animals. Only recently have some scientists – fortified with modern data – begun to question their underlying assumptions and the resulting paradigm.

The Financial Times wonders, in these days of New Year’s resolutions, whether you might want to consider examining your data regimen. Do you feel like your digital self is slipping out of control?  Have you let yourself install too many apps, clicked “I agree” a few too many times, lost track of how many accounts you’ve created? Perhaps you feel you’re not as in control of your digital life as you’d like to be. Don’t despair! This data detox is designed just for you. By the end of the 8-day program, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier and more in-control digital self. The Tactical Technology Collective Data Detox toolkit.


“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal.” ― George Orwell, 1984.

As previously mentioned, ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers centres on an omnipotent hybrid of Google, Twitter and Facebook, and asks exacting questions about their shared vision of the future, the timing is perfect – chiming with rising angst about the digital giants’ imperial approach to information, and the sense that their power and recklessness is now having real-world impacts. Here’s the trailer for the film again, and here’s a great article from The Guardian on the insidious workplace practices now surrounding us and spying on us, veritable and creepy Big Brother practices. Remember Radiohead’s prescient ‘Fitter Happier‘?

Before VR can really hit it big, someone must build the best cameras, make the best content, find the best ways for people to consume that content, and work out a way to monetize the whole shebang. And that’s IMAX’s thing. As Hollywood begins to brace itself for what some people think will be the most important new storytelling format since movies were invented, IMAX thinks it can lead the way. It’s betting big on proving that.

Amazon wants to build apps for virtual reality headsets to start selling its products through the new medium, if a new job offer is any indication. The company is currently looking for a “Creative Director, Virtual Reality” whose tasks include to “envision the future of Amazon’s VR solutions and guide our creative and technical teams to produce compelling, world-class experiences.”

Many professional forecasters in Washington make a living out of predicting the kind of world we might inhabit 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. These reports are put together by a committee of dozens of experts, each contributing their best-case (or worst-case) scenarios in politics, society, technology, science and the environment. Governments and companies often use such reports to make decisions about where to invest money, station troops, open factories and how to train future workers. But now thinkers believe that sketching out fictional futures may do more to stimulate people to prepare for the future than multi-chapter white papers with hundreds of footnotes. Two recent studies — the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” and the Atlantic Council’s “Global Risks 2035: The Search for the New Normal” — both look at the year 2035.

Shelley Palmer identifies 5 awesome illegal uses of Alexa. Meanwhile, all those people asking Alexa to order kitchen supplies, turn on the lights, or play music gives Amazon a valuable stockpile of data that it could use to fend off competitors and make breakthroughs in what voice-operated assistants can do. “There are millions of these in households, and they’re not collecting dust,” Nikko Strom, a speech-recognition expert and founding member of the team at Amazon that built Alexa and Echo, said at the AI Frontiers conference in Santa Clara, California, last week. “We get an insane amount of data coming in that we can work on.” Lastly, Jack Ma outlines the difference between Amazon and Alibaba – one’s a Platform and one’s an Empire.

LinkedIn just gave its desktop UI the full Beverly Hills makeover. This wasn’t a nip-and-tuck or a light rhinoplasty. It was a shave-some-bone-and-redistribute-some-toochis-fat overhaul to make the professional social network look like its frenemy, Facebook. It is a welcome upgrade to a kludgy design that even company co-founder Reid Hoffman once conceded “needed work.”

Here at Sundance New Frontiers the focus is squarely on VR where the art is emerging more quickly than any entertainment value. Business Insider wonders what happened to Virtual Reality.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the real opportunities are in non-entertainment applications, and probably in AR rather than VR. For example, DigiLens’ technology can enable “eyeglass-thin” AR heads-up displays for motorcycle helmets, car windshields, VR headsets, aerospace applications such as fighter jets, and AR smart glasses.

If you’re interested in the Oculus vs ZeniMax IP court case featuring Mark Zuckerberg and legendary creator of Doom, John Carmack, here’s good summary from UploadVR. And Zuckerberg is involved in another legal stoush – he purchased a 700-acre plot of land in Hawaii in 2014 for more than $100 million. Zuckerberg has begun filing lawsuits against Hawaiian land owners who own small slices of his estate that were passed down from generation to generation. As many as eight suits have been filed against hundreds of people. The Facebook chief is using a legal manoeuvre called “quiet title and partition,” which forces owners of undeveloped land to sell the property in a public highest-bidder auction. It’s a case of “When Privacy matters”, as The Verge wryly notes.

A new immersive art installation in the heart of Silicon Valley was dreamed up by David Byrne, the front man of the Talking Heads, and loosely modelled after the work of neuroscience and psychology labs at top institutions like Caltech and Harvard.

In case you were not aware of Dots, it’s a global phenomenon with a user base of over 100 million downloads. Their top two markets are the U.S. and U.K., with their core audiences residing in NYC and London. The bulk of their user base is 24-34-year-old females that are educated, work in creative industries and generally have no other games on their phone. They view Dots games as a zen-like experience and often play on their commute, to wind down or to daydream.

Art and science can seem so different. Scientists work in teams, in the laboratory; their progress is piecemeal and, by-and-large, they know how to measure its occurrence. Art, so often at least, in contrast, is personal; it’s about the signature achievement of the individual artist. And as for progress, well, that question doesn’t really come up. This month, a new book and a traveling exhibition bring the extraordinary scientific and artistic achievements of Santiago Ramón y Cajal to North America. Cajal’s drawings are a remarkable example of the seminal, creative, re-orienting significance of pictures in science. It is so easy to overlook the importance of visualization to thought and discovery.

A bit of fun – PhotoSpots takes the form of a heat map showing the most photogenic and inspiring photo locations all over the world.  This super useful crowdsourced interactive tool can drill up or down to any level was created by Mike Wong. Have a play here.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.

The rise and fall of popular positions in the field of philosophy is not governed solely by reason. Philosophers are generally reasonable people but, as with the rest of the human species, their thoughts are heavily influenced by their social settings. Indeed, they are perhaps more influenced than thinkers in other fields, since ‘big’ ideas in modern philosophy change more frequently than ideas in, say, chemistry or biology. Why? Is philosophy more like fashion than science?

Hollywood is increasingly floating on a sea of Chinese money. And not just Hollywood. Football players are being offered eye-watering sums of Yuan to play in the Chinese National League. Beijing has announced it is monitoring a pattern of “irrational” overseas investments in several sectors, particularly film, real estate and sports. China’s concerns are understood to be twofold: that some companies are disguising capital flight as foreign investment, while others are using high-profile entertainment purchases — a trendy sector among Chinese investors — as a short-term strategy to boost stock prices. This increasing regulatory oversight will make it more difficult for ‘concept deals’ [Chinese companies acquiring businesses outside of their core business areas] to receive approval.

Modern Masters of the ineffable, the impossible, and silence: John Cage and Samuel Beckett have had volumes of their letters published. Meanwhile, Meredith Monk, a performance artist who makes space in her work for silence, and draws together some of her overarching themes, including Tibetan Buddhism, meditative performance, and the shamanic tradition of giving voice to things that don’t have voices of their own.

It’s Arthur C. Clarke’s Centenary. Here’s a great short bio of the world’s most famous SF writer and his amazing trajectory.

If you’re feeling out-of-touch with what Millennials are thinking and doing, here’s a great book that introduces you to them and the new companies they’re building – 3 Billion Under 30.

Experience The Hypnotizing Light And Space Art Of James Turrell reviewed in the delightful pop culture review Konbini.

“I’m a Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too?” I’ve always loved Emily Dickinson – sharp, elusive, defiant. I’ll make sure I get to the Morgan Museum on Madison in NY to see this wonderful showcase before it closes on May 21st. (Here’s a 360-degree panorama of the jaw-dropping main library). And here’s a list of her top ten poems.

And lastly, as another new President is sworn in, let’s not forget what it’s all about: Power, Corruption, and Lies.

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