February 27, 2018 - ISSUE # 20

X Media Lab Newsletter: Live from the Berlinale Talents Festival in Berlin


Alan Kay: “Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower.”

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Sebastian Thrum““Nobody phrases it this way, but I think that artificial intelligence is almost a humanities discipline. It’s really an attempt to understand human intelligence and human cognition.”


China’s long march to AI lost on Trump. In July, China unveiled a plan to become the world leader in artificial intelligence and create an industry worth $150 billion to its economy by 2030.

To technologists working on AI in the United States, the statement, which was 28 pages long in its English translation, was a direct challenge to America’s lead in arguably the most important tech research to come along in decades. Also, the eminent Kai-Fu Lee thinks Tech companies should stop pretending AI won’t destroy jobs – “No matter what anyone tells you, we’re not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way” as he also assesses the China-US AI landscape”.

While Alibaba and Microsoft are rushing to entirely automate customer service jobs using AI, the US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (surely pronounced “Munchkin”) says I’m not worried at all” about job-stealing robots in the nearer term, that time is “not even on our radar screen…[it’s] 50-100 more years away.” Yep. Good to know we’re in safe hands.

Google must be stopped before it becomes an AI monopoly. We should start thinking now about how to build an antitrust regime that will preserve several companies’ robust AI assistants. Meanwhile, the New York Times considers the case against Google generally. It’ s not pretty.

The GANfather: The man who’s given machines the gift of imagination. By pitting neural networks against one another, Ian Goodfellow has created a powerful AI tool. Now he, and the rest of us, must face the consequences.

The MIT Technology Review has released a list of technologies it believes will make the most impact over the next 12 months, including smarter cities, genetic fortune telling and “Babel fish” earphones. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s magazine has published the annual list online in its March/April 2018 issue, and based its contents on the innovations that will shape the coming year.

Fast Company just published the 2018 edition of the World’s Most Innovative Companies which spans more than 350 enterprises across 36 categories, from the world’s most valuable firm and its continuing transformation of consumer electronics to a small outfit selling natural gum to preserve rainforests.

Tech Envisions the Ultimate Start-Up: An Entire City. Silicon Valley wants to save cities. What could go wrong?


How CubeSat satellites are changing the world (and your privacy).

Nvidia Making Facial Recognition AI for Smart City Surveillance: Nvidia announced that it has partnered with AI developer Any Vision to bring a new type of surveillance technology to smart cities. The companies are working on bringing automatic facial recognition into closed-circuit television surveillance cameras. The technology can continuously scan for faces 24/7, and automatically identify and track individuals with 99% accuracy. Not to be outdone, From Whole Foods to Amazon, invasive technology controlling workers is more dystopian than you think
Amazon received a patent for ultrasonic wristbands that track the movement of warehouse workers’ hands during work. They recently instituted a complex and punitive inventory system where employees are graded based on everything from how quickly and effectively they stock shelves to how they report theft. The system is so harsh it reportedly causes employees enough stress to bring them to tears on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, Facebook is using A.I. to help predict when users may be suicidal – Minority Report Precogs, anyone? Great article on Predictive Policing.

Pre-sale for the petro, a cryptocurrency issued by the Venezuelan government starts on Tuesday. The cryptocurrency, first mooted in December, will be backed by oil, gas, gold and diamond reserves. It is effectively being launched to help Venezuela circumvent financial sanctions enforced by the USA and EU.This is a text block. You can use it to add text to your template.



Scott Adams: “When virtual reality gets cheaper than dating, society is doomed”.

Facebook plans to unite AR, VR and News Feed with 3D posts“We’re trying to make 3D a native part of the Facebook ecosystem. Stage 3 is getting these 3D objects into AR,” says Facebook’s creative director for social VR, Ocean Quigley.Interesting article from Forbes on why Millennials will be demanding better tools in the workplace, especially VR. Millennials globally are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with old school technology in the workplace – technology that is far behind what they have in their homes. They expect Better training opportunities; Improved collaboration and virtual sharing; Developing and testing new ideas; Organizational improvement; Improved focus and privacy; and some Recess time at work. While AR/VR has been slow to move into the workplace, they are the future of businesses that intend to attract millennial talent. Millennials “get it.” They see the value of VR at work and understand how it can increase their productivity.

The Rise of Virtual Citizenship – In Cyprus, Estonia, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere, passports can now be bought and sold. Virtual citizenship is a commodity that can be acquired through the purchase of real estate or financial investments, subscribed to via an online service, or assembled by peer-to-peer digital networks.
Can You Trust your Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVA)? Data processed through virtual assistants may open you to security and privacy risks, namely: wiretapping; compromised end devices (IoT); malicious voice commands; and unexpected voice recording. Wired has a good short video on How to Control What Alexa and Google Assistant Do With Your Voice Data


Amazing short video: Open Bionics is a UK-based start-up tech company. Its mission is to create affordable 3D printed prostheses. They are about 30 times cheaper than other prostheses on the market. They operate using sensors attached to the skin to detect muscle movements. The muscle movements control the hand and open and close fingers.

These days, education reformers, evangelists and foundations pay a lot of lip service to the notion of lifelong learning, but we do little to invest in the systems, architecture, and infrastructure needed to facilitate seamless movements in and out of learning and work.



Andy Warhol: “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself”. 

From Campbell’s to Commodore: How the Warhol Museum uses tech to illuminate the iconic artist. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has opened a collection of pieces and installations showcasing his extensive engagement with new technologies. And they’ve dedicated to ma

king a space that is inviting to all people, as they say, Warhol would have done. (This week’s Billboard lists 10 times Warhol left his mark on music).

Technology isn’t just changing society — it’s changing what it means to be human. Michael Bess is a historian of science at Vanderbilt University and the author of Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in a Bioengineered Society. His book offers a sweeping look at our genetically modified future, a future as terrifying as it is promising. It assesses the impact that biotechnologies will have on our lives, as they come to be applied with increasing pervasiveness to the modification of human bodies and minds. If you’re interested in CRISPER, here’s a great intelligible article covering the basic technology and all the main issues with great infographics from the always-good CB Insights.

Gaza, Yemen and a lesson for Big Tech – ‘The internet is creating opportunities for some of the world’s least-connected people to improve their lives’.

Tell Employees What You Want Them to Strive for (in as Few Words as Possible). Microsoft has gone from listing over 100 competencies to three big ideas: Create clarity, generate energy, deliver success.

Thanks, Robots! Now these Four Non-Tech Job Skills Are In Demand. The more we rely on AI and machine learning, the more work we need social scientists and humanities experts to do. Mark Cuban thinks studying philosophy may soon be worth more than computer science. He views previously lucrative jobs in industries like accounting and computer programming as subject to the powers of automation. To remain competitive, Cuban advises ditching degrees that teach specific skills or professions and opting for degrees that teach you to think in a big picture way, like philosophy. Meanwhile, Why human educators must assert control as bots enter the classroom.

These days, education reformers, evangelists and foundations pay a lot of lip service to the notion of lifelong learning, but do little to invest in the systems, architecture and infrastructure needed to facilitate seamless movements in and out of learning and work.

Club Culture, And The Design It Inspired, Finally Gets A Visual History. A new book celebrates the influential graphic design that emerged in the U.K.’s club scene. It’s long overdue.

At first glance, this set of works appears to be photographic. On second viewing, however, the indication of a slight brushstroke tells us in fact that they are hyperrealistic paintings.Their creator Gerard Boersma says: “I paint people on the streets, in stores, public transport and museums. They show the way people see themselves, interact or are influenced by modern developments in various ways. I freeze time and our fast and busy lives are forever captured in a moment. Finally ready to be observed quietly.”


Andre Breton – “Man, that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his destiny, has trouble assessing the objects he has been led to use, and for which he has agreed to work”. (Surrealist Manifesto)

Ansel Adams – American photographer and environmentalist: “I hope that my work will encourage self expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and creative excitement in the great world around us.”

Kazimir Malevich – painter and art theoretician. He was a pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the avant-garde Suprematist movement.[He was a devout Christian mystic who believed the central task of an artist was that of rendering spiritual feelingbio and art

W.H. Auden – bio and poetry at “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and ‘10 Classic W. H. Auden Poems Everyone Should Read

Nikos Kazantzakis and his “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Martin Scorsese – music by Peter Gabriel (here also his immortal ‘Biko’ in memory of the apartheid martyr Steve Biko).

Ian Brown and the Stone Roses musical masterpiece ‘Fools Gold’ (intro by William Burroughs) and of course anything by the late great Kurt Cobain.

Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick – and a splendid analysis by the wonderful Thug Notes.

Matt Groening (The Simpsons): “People go into cartooning because they’re shy and they’re angry. That’s when you’re sitting in the back of a classroom drawing the teacher”. Springfield builds an opera house, but since no-one attends it they convert it into a prison. Old and forgotten laws are used to fill the prison, and therefore Homer goes to jail for kicking a can five times in a row.

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