May 14th – ISSUE #15


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“The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.” George Louis

‘What do we want? Evidence-based research. When do we want it? After peer review.’

Other slogans included ‘Science not silence’, ‘Respect existence – or expect resistance’. ‘The oceans are rising and so are we’ was someone’s Earth Day message; LGBT activists were ‘Showing off the entire spectrum’. A philosopher carried a placard that said: ‘Reason’.

The World Economic Forum has published a 38-page report on “Technology and Innovation for the Future of Production: Accelerating Value Creation”. It’s a super resource – every one of the diagrams in the report is worth putting on your office wall as a reference. In particular, the diagram on page 7 will make sense of the entire emerging technological world for you in a single graphic. Highly recommended.

US Higher Ed is going to be seriously financially disrupted very soon. The originator of the idea of “disruptive innovation” predicts massive college closures. These are the Five Big Tech Trends Changing the Way We Learn: 1) the Digital Classroom; 2) Global Online Collaboration; 3) the Future Workforce; 4) Virtual and Augmented Reality; 5) Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. And this is how online course providers (non-university competitors) are responding more quickly than universities to changing labor market requirements. For nanodegree programs such as machine learning engineer or data analyst, a student can enroll in Nanodegree Plus and if that student is not hired within six months of graduating, Udacity will refund 100 percent of the tuition.

(Just so you know, an *intern* at Facebook gets paid USD$8,000 a month (along with free food, free transportation, and free housing). Everything is about attracting the very best talent).

Entrepreneur billionaire Mark Cuban says if you’re not across “AI” within the next three years you’ll be a dinosaur. Here’s an introduction to Artificial Intelligence, what it is, and why now (it’ll eventually be called Augmented Intelligence in my opinion) and a lovely-to-look-at 3 minute video on ‘What is AI’. Here’s a TechCrunch article on Neural Networks Made Easy.  A simple introduction to Machine Learning, and the business implications of Machine Learning. And lastly, a great 8-minute video on the spectacular story of what Computer Vision is, how it works, and why it’s taking off after 50 years.

As one example of Computer Vision, how much of medical expenditure is perceptual in nature, and therefore potentially solvable by deep learning? Luke Oakden-Rayner calculates that Diagnostic Imaging (DI) and Pathology make up over a quarter of the total health budget. In DI, about half of that cost is wages. So even if we just limit ourselves to those two specialties, that is something like 1% of national GDP in wages. Quite staggering.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger reports that after decades of promise and hype, AI seems to have finally arrived, driven by the explosive growth of big data, inexpensive computing power and storage, and advanced algorithms like machine learning that enable us to analyze and extract insights from all that data. “The best way to assess the impact of radical technological change is to ask a fundamental question: How does the technology reduce costs?  Only then can we really figure out how things might change.” Agrawal, Fans and Goldfarb provide an elegant answer to this question in their HBR article.  “Machine intelligence is, in its essence, a prediction technology, so the economic shift will center around a drop in the cost of prediction.”

The growth in AI-directed investing could have radical consequences, especially in a scenario where a single investor or investment fund using proprietary AI is able to secure an unfair advantage over other market actors. Call it “stock market singularity.” And the groundwork for such an occurrence has already been laid. But “proprietary AI” has other very real world consequences – a New York Times story about being sent to prison by a software company’s secret algorithms. The company that markets the Compass software says its formula is a trade secret. “The key to our product is the algorithms, and they’re proprietary,” one of its executives said last year. “We’ve created them, and we don’t release them because it’s certainly a core piece of our business.” TechCrunch considers algorithmic accountability and the inherent problem with algorithms that begins at the most base level and persists throughout its adaption: the human bias that is baked into these machine-based decision-makers.

Companies should hire the people harmed or excluded by their products: whose faces their computer vision systems don’t recognize and smiles their emojis don’t capture, whose resumes they rank as less relevant and whose housing options they limit, who are mobbed by online trolls they helped organize and do little to control. Hire non-computer-scientists, and bring them in for lunchtime talks; have them challenge the worldviews of the workforce. Emma Pierson in Wired.

There aren’t many jobs that are safe with the emergence of Deep Learning. The stark reality is that the emerging AI economy is reserved for the highly skilled. Everyone else need not apply. Carlos Perez at Intuition Machine.

Meanwhile, AI has a diversity problem. Melinda Gates and Fei-Fei Li want to liberate AI from solely guys with hoodies. Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya is a ballerina turned neuroscientist turned creative director. She features here on The Limit Does Not Exist – Creative Brainpower and Badass Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. So what does happen when you bring a diversity of 5 neuroscientists and 5 designers together? Neurotransmission!

The World Economic Forum has published a 38-page report on “Technology and Innovation for the Future of Production: Accelerating Value Creation”. It’s a super resource – every one of the diagrams in the report is worth putting on your office wall as a reference. In particular, the diagram on page 7 will make sense of the entire emerging technological world for you in a single graphic. Highly recommended.

“Invariably,” wrote MIT Computer Scientist John Daugman, “the explanatory metaphors of a given era incorporate the devices and the spectacles of the day.” We describe everything as if it were technology. The metaphors we use to talk about brains and minds struck Daugman as especially susceptible. The technology that Greeks and Romans developed for pumping water underpinned their theories of the four humors and the pneumatic soul. Later, during the Enlightenment, clockwork mechanisms left their imprint on materialist arguments that man was only a sophisticated machine. “There is a tendency to rephrase every assertion about mind or brains in computational terms.” So herewith are this week’s two stupidest “computational neuroscientific” claims: 1) With Neuralink, Elon Musk Promises Human-to-Human Telepathy! Don’t Believe It. Why the billionaire is wrong that telepathy technology will be available in a few short years. 2) Damage to a specific part of the brain could result in religious fundamentalism (left nebulously undefined). Perhaps believing in “computer tomography” is a kind of religious fundamentalism.

But let’s take them at their word – despite experts’ skepticism, commercial companies such as No-Lie-FMRI and Government Works Inc. are marketing the use of FMRI- and EEG-based technology to ascertain truth and falsehood via brain recordings. Scientific American asks: Do We Have a Right to Mental Privacy and Cognitive Liberty? The rapid expansion of neuroimaging and related technologies suggests that we’d better answer that question, before we’re being told what we were and are thinking.

Meet the People Who Train the Robots (to Do Their Jobs). “Before the machines become smart enough to replace humans, as some people fear, they need to be taught. We spoke with five people — a travel agent, a robotics expert, an engineer, a customer-service representative and a scriptwriter, of sorts — who have been put in this remarkable position. More than most, they understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of artificial intelligence and how the technology is changing the nature of work”. Here are their stories.

The Guardian wonders “Why are we reluctant to trust robots”? Psychology research shows people mistrust those who make moral decisions by calculating costs and benefits – like computers do. (NB: we used to have psychology, ethics, and philosophy; now we have “brain science”).

Visual Dialog is a novel task that requires an AI agent to hold a meaningful dialog with humans in natural, conversational language about visual content. I uploaded a photo of me and Ray Kurzweil standing next to each other in a hotel lobby, and Visual Dialog reported it was “a man playing a video game in a room”. More training data needed?

SPACE10, IKEA’s external future living lab, are curious to learn how people feel about Artificial Intelligence. They have launched a worldwide survey called Do You Speak Human? — encouraging people to share how they would like their future AI to be. I wanted my future AI to be robotic, female, autonomous and challenging, and only used to improve experience when the data is anonymized. On every count, I am in a tiny minority of opinion.

Salon shows how and why companies like don’t actually want you to read their Terms of Service. Last month, the true cost of was revealed: The service is owned by the market-research firm Slice Intelligence, and while is cleaning up your inbox, it’s also rifling through your trash to sell your email history to third-parties. Sometimes a private citizen is caught up in a viral moment and learns that a great deal of information about him or her exists online, just waiting to be splashed across the news — like the guy in the red sweater who, after asking a question in a presidential debate, had his Reddit porn comments revealed.

(Speaking of Terms of Service, PayPal’s is almost twice as long as Hamlet at over 50,000 words, and here, how the 20,000-word iTunes Terms and Conditions became this year’s hottest graphic novel).

The NY Times explains how Tech’s Frightful Five have got us. Play this fun game: If an evil, tech-phobic monarch forced you to abandon each of the Frightful Five (Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, and Microsoft), in which order would you do so, and how much would your life deteriorate as a result? To help answer this, please take a moment with this companion quiz. Despite the picture of Silicon Valley as a roiling sea of disruption, these five have gotten only stronger and richer over time, and can buy any competition at any time. “If you want to create and capture lasting value, look to build a monopoly,” Peter Thiel famously advised entrepreneurs, expounding on his view that monopolies are good for innovation and, ultimately, for society at large. In an interview with ProMarket, Jonathan Taplin discussed the rise of monopoly platforms and the part that rent-seeking and regulatory capture play in the digital economy today.

Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook combine for $2.9 trillion in market cap and $555 billion in annual revenues (2016). However, each company is quite different in how they make their billions. Visual Capitalists’ chart breaks down their revenue streams based on product and service categories, to see where the dollars are coming from.

Lastly, Sangeet Chaudary discusses the dark side of platforms: how today’s large platforms pose an increasing threat to their own ecosystem.

“As data scientists, our job is to extract signal from noise.” Daniel Tunkelang.

Read this shocking article from the Washington Post on the absurd and brutal War on Drugs (No, notthose legal Big Pharma drugs; only these ones, the illegal drugs). We’ve reached the point where the government and police can penetrate rectums and vaginas, where judges can order forced catheterizations, and where police and medical personnel can perform scans, enemas and colonoscopies without the suspect’s consent. And these procedures aren’t to nab kingpins or cartels, but people who at worst are hiding a quantity of drugs that can fit into a body cavity. In most of these cases, they were suspected only of possession or ingestion. But these tactics aren’t about getting drugs off the street. You’ll have no trouble finding drugs or getting high in South Dakota, Texas, New Mexico, South Carolina, or any other state or city in the news for these searches. These tactics are instead about degrading and humiliating a class of people that politicians and law enforcement have deemed the enemy. I don’t think it’s funny at all – but it’s hard not to think of the real dangers of such Predictive Anal-ytics.

At its core, any predictive model or algorithm is a combination of data and a statistical process that seeks to identify patterns in the numbers. This can include looking at police data in hopes of learning about crime trends or recidivism. But a useful outcome depends not only on good mathematical analysis: It also needs good data. That’s where predictive policing often falls short. Here’s why big data analytics of police activity is inherently biased.

Moving onto the Internet of Things, here’s a great complete beginner’s guide to IoT by Bernard Marr at And Kaveh Waddell at The Atlantic considers that The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics – Technology is evolving faster than the legal and moral frameworks needed to manage it. But it’s not just about an ethics – criminal IoT attacks will become widespread and increasingly damaging. Leaked alleged NSA hacking tools appear to be behind a massive cyberattack currently disrupting hospitals and companies across Europe, Asia, with Russia among the hardest-hit countries – everything from computers to x-ray machines. Remember what Marc Goodman as said: “if it has a screen, it can be hacked”.

Fear not – the IoT will soon be taking photos of you in your bedroom and bathroom and posting them into the cloud. Amazon is pitching it as an easy way to snap pictures of your outfits to send to your friends when you’re not sure if your outfit is cute, but it’s also got a built-in app called StyleCheck that is worth some further dissection.

How about your children’s bedroom? In July, Mattel is releasing an internet-connected “digital nanny” called Aristotle. Aristotle is an Amazon Echo-type listening and talking device with a camera. In order to work, it collects and stores data about your child’s activity and interactions with it. Because Aristotle connects to other apps and online retailers, that data may be shared with those partner corporations, which may use that data for a wide variety of purposes—including targeting the marketing of other products to you or your young child. Aristotle is meant to live in your child’s bedroom from birth to adolescence, reading bedtime stories, projecting videos, and delivering content from an endless stream of partners selling books, music, games, and apps. Mattel says that the gadget and its voice are a “persona, and something that the child can become comfortable with and feel close to. “And if you ask Aristotle itself, it says that its “purpose in life is to help comfort, entertain, teach, and learn from you, as we grow together.” The excellent www. are running a petition to ask Mattel to put children’s privacy first.

Facebook is doing damage control after an Australian media report suggested that the company guided an advertiser to specifically target emotionally vulnerable children on its platform. Facebook executives in Australia used algorithms to collect data on more than six million young people in Australia and New Zealand, “indicating moments when young people need a confidence boost.” The data analysis — marked “Confidential: Internal Only” — was intended to reveal when young people feel “worthless” or “insecure,” thus creating a potential opening for specific marketing messages.

If that makes you feel like taking a cold shower – here’s a wonderfully empowering website with the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls – (“Strong is the new Pretty”). Share widely!

The New York Times is cheering on the Orwellian future for Western “democracy” in which algorithms quickly hunt down and eliminate information that the Times and other mainstream outlets don’t like, reports Robert Parry.

What Algorithms Want (Imagination in the Age of Computing) by Ed Finn describes a handful of the algorithms that matter most for 21st-century culture, and for each, it traces the circuit between those users, algorithms, programmers, and the values and ideas that animate the whole system. It’s this larger frame for understanding these “culture machines” that makes Finn’s book so insightful about the roles of algorithms, writes Scott Selisker in this week’s LA Review of Books.

If you ask me, The Atlantic is by far the best long-form journalism in American popular periodicals. They’re currently running a great series on “Can Technology Rescue Democracy” A collection of essays from technologists and scholars about how machines are reshaping civil society with some great essays on “Broken Technology Hurts Democracy … and fixing both begins in American schools”; “Restoring the Public’s Trust in American Journalism: Faith in crucial institutions requires the free flow of reliable information”; “How Platforms Are Poisoning Conversations”; “The Case for a Taxpayer-Supported Version of Facebook”; “Disentangling Democracy From Geography: It’s time for representative government to catch up with internet-era concepts of community”. Great thought -provoking stuff!

“Design, if it is to be ecologically responsible and socially responsive, must be revolutionary and radical.” Victor Papanek.

Google began thinking seriously about design when they had a group working on Maps, a group working on Search, and a group working on Gmail. If they were working in isolation from one another, those products were moving in different directions. Google co-founder Larry Page realized that they needed to be pulled together. And what pulls together disparate things? Design. Here’s an abbreviated history of design in Silicon Valley.

What Design Can Do: Spark Social Change. Four studios and projects reveal the challenges of visualizing an activist movement and the problems in need of creative solutions when design is invested in change.

Giorgia Lupi says “Data is now recognized as one of the founding pillars of our economy, and the notion that the world grows exponentially richer in data every day is already yesterday’s news. Big Data doesn’t belong to a distant dystopian future; it’s a commodity and an intrinsic and iconic feature of our present— like dollars, concrete, automobiles and Helvetica. The ways we relate to data are evolving more rapidly than we realize, and our minds and bodies are naturally adapting to this new hybrid reality built of both physical and informational structures. And visual design—with its power to instantly reach out to places in our subconscious without the mediation of language, and with its inherent ability to convey large amounts of structured and unstructured information across cultures—is going to be even more central to this silent but inevitable revolution.

The Economist agrees: finally connecting the dots between data as the new oil and the metaphorical productive capacities of data refineries. The Economist – always a decade late, and always pretending they were the first to notice.

Speaking of Augmented Reality, here’s what a high-speed car chase in , here’s a dazzling history of the movie’s ideas of science fiction interfaces, and PRINT’s annual list of design books released over the past year, as collected by PRINT Editor-in-Chief Zachary Petit. “Despite its disastrous reputation, this past year was an interesting year for design books, with a surprising quantity of reissues among those below. Whether you’re looking for reading material, inspiration for the coming year, or a gift for that creative person in your life, these books—listed in no particular order—are sure to enlighten and edify”. My favorite, “You are Here: NYC Mapping the Soul of the City”. Maps are magical. Every graphic, like every story, has a point of view, and New York is rife with mapmaking possibilities, thick with mythology, and glutted with history. You Are Here: NYC assembles some two hundred maps charting every inch and facet of the five boroughs, depicting New York’s of past and present.

How to Get into VR – This is the second edition of Paths, a news series from Y-Combinator outlining emerging technologies with clear steps on how to get started in each field. It’s an incredible collection of tutorials, resources, terms and other reference material for anyone looking to get involved in the industry.

Earlier this year, Thomas Metzinger made waves by publishing an article in Frontiers in Robotics and AI that argued that virtual reality technology – the ability to create illusions of embodiment – will “eventually change not only our general image of humanity, but also our understanding of deeply entrenched notions, such as ‘conscious experience,’ ‘selfhood,’ ‘authenticity,’ or ‘realness.’”

The ever-perceptive Robert Yang says his current thinking is that there are currently 3 general camps for VR (games, tech, film) and 3 general dimensions to VR (real-time, real-world, and immersive.) There’s a handy diagram too!

I’ve said it repeatedly: a new technology like virtual reality doesn’t just need the technological infrastructure to make it work. It also needs a commercial infrastructure, particularly a profit-making business of creating VR content. An overview of the state of VR content creation – the Virtual Reality Content Business that Isn’t –  concludes that Hollywood really doesn’t want to get left behind by virtual reality, but at the same time, there’s still no established business model. Meanwhile, hate to say I told you so, but Facebook just closed Oculus Studio. How long before they shutter the $3 billion investment altogether?

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway.

How to Tell Your Story – A five-step guide for how to build and develop a compelling narrative, that can be adapted to your preferred storytelling medium. Great stuff from 99U. Otherwise, here’s 70 life and business lessons for designers – great fun and ideas to put in your calendar.

A beautiful story of how beauty evolves – in a new book on duck sex, dancing birds, and human orgasms,Richard Prum argues against a cold and utilitarian view of nature’s splendor.

It is, indeed, never too soon to disturb the ineffable confidence of overpaid blockheads in their perfect entitlement to a disproportionate share of the common wealth. Look at the worthless bureaucrats. There most certainly is such a thing as a free lunch. There is, in fact, a free banquet, of which every rich person daily partakes. It is long past time they invited the rest of us. George Scialabba at Commonweal in The Free Banquet: The Case for Universal Basic Income reviews Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy by economist Philippe van Parijs and political scientist Yannick Vanderborght.

Damon Linker at The Week isn’t so sure, writing in The Spiritual Ruin of a Universal Basic Income: “Most people simply aren’t equipped to lead lives of self-directed flourishing. In a world of widespread, permanent unemployment, we’d be far more likely to see throngs of people spending their days giving themselves over to obsessive video gaming, immersion in virtual-reality porn, and drug addiction, as they desperately grasp for a chemically induced substitution for the real-world fulfillment now placed permanently off limits to them. It would be a psychological and spiritual disaster. Much better than pushing for a UBI would be a concerted effort in favor of a New Deal-style government jobs program that would provide employment for those out of work”.

Meanwhile, the rich get richer and the poor get replaced by robots. Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. But, turns out, they were right. The truth is that the Luddites were the skilled, middle-class workers of their time. After centuries on more-or-less good terms with merchants who sold their goods, their lives were upended by machines replacing them with low-skilled, low-wage laborers in dismal factories. To ease the transition, the Luddites sought to negotiate conditions similar to those underlying capitalist democracies today: taxes to fund workers’ pensions, a minimum wage, and adherence to minimum labor standards.

Shall we start with James Brown – the hardest working man in show-business, in Paris in 1971 – the guitar solo is unbelievable.

Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth – featuring a cameo from Chuck D from Public Enemy with his three-point plan which I committed to memory a long time ago: “1) Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts, 2) Tell It Like It Is, and 3) Let Everybody Know”.

Stevie Wonder – with his tribute to Bob Marley or his tribute to Duke Ellington  – (“Music is a world within itself / With a language we all understand / With an equal opportunity / For all to sing, dance and clap their hands”).

David Byrne with Brian Eno and Jezebel Spirit from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts or Once in a Lifetime with Talking Heads.

Kate Pierson here with B-52’s and Rock Lobster – (the best song ever) – or Kate here with Iggy Pop – or Kate here with REM.

Sydney genius Dave Mason with two of the best cover versions of all time: the anti-Vietnam War song, Bad Moon Rising (“Hope you have got your things together / Hope you are quite prepared to die”), and Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You”. Btw, it’s Burt Bacharach’s birthday this edition too – here’s a link to the incredible Dione Warwick singing some of his library of masterpieces: Walk On By, I Say A Little Prayer, and Do You Know The Way To San Jose.

And lastly, artists/writers Keith Haring, Terry Southern (Dr Strangelove, Easy Rider), and the amazing Cate Blanchett – if you can see Manifesto in any form, especially the installation work, you should – it’s a masterpiece.

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