Fight for the web. Tech and the rural future. AI and meaning. Vectorialism. Tiny books. — No.56

Over the last week, for a quick client research project, I skimmed through all 55 previous issues of Sentiers. a) I’m going to have to organize all the bits and pieces in something more useful than just text files. b) I used to have more section-like titles, depending on the week’s content, like in No.33 and No.37 for example. Anyone miss those?

Join us and fight #ForTheWeb – World Wide Web Foundation

Sir Tim Berners Lee wants us to reclaim the web and is launching an initiative to define principles and hold governments, companies, and citizens to them. There’s also a report making The Case for the Web.

“The web is at a crucial point. More than half the world’s population remains offline, and the rate of new people getting connected is slowing. Those of us who are online are seeing our rights and freedoms threatened. We need a new Contract for the Web, with clear and tough responsibilities for those who have the power to make it better. I hope more people will join us to build the web we want.”

Climate Change and Technology Define the Rural Future

Using an hypothetical flight over a future countryside, Darran Anderson mixes near future techs with current developments to show us the evolution of rural, desert, and ocean landscapes, as well as its interconnection with cities and climate change. Goes from Blade Runner 2049, to the Aral Sea, the Pearl River Delta, sandstorms, irrigation, the Sahara, and Almería greenhouses.

Other nations have followed suit. A Great Green Wall of the Sahara has been conceived, to extend from Djibouti to Senegal. The project aspires to become “the largest living structure on the planet.” In Pakistan, the successful Billion Tree Tsunami program was expanded to 10 billion trees to protect against deluge and desertification while absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen. […]

With climate change, humans are beginning to appreciate that cities are not separate from the environment. They are environments. We should also recognize that the rural is, at least in part, man-made. Cities approaching the changes already in motion with a sense of the Earth as a biological network, rather than adopting psychological siege positions, will be essential for survival. […]

Life will likely continue, and people will adapt, regardless of how catastrophic the conditions become. Sites of utopia and dystopia will scatter the globe. Some will even benefit short term. Proclaiming that “technology will save us” fails to acknowledge that technology got us to this catastrophe in the first place (contaminated Superfund sites were once a symbol of progress, too). For the foreseeable future, the dream of terraforming other planets is nothing but an unhinged aristocratic escape plan.

Interlude. Hours and Hours of Relaxing & Meditative Videos.

Jason Kottke compiled this list to cut midterm anxiety. Keep this at hand ?.


Artificial Intelligence Hits the Barrier of Meaning

I’m a bit disappointed that Professor Mitchell, the author of the article, uses examples that are kind of anecdotal because the rest of the piece is quite strong and hits on an important current limitation of AI; it recognizes patterns, it doesn’t really understand anything.

Today’s A.I. systems sorely lack the essence of human intelligence: understanding the situations we experience, being able to grasp their meaning. […]

While some people are worried about “superintelligent” A.I., the most dangerous aspect of A.I. systems is that we will trust them too much and give them too much autonomy while not being fully aware of their limitations. […]

But ultimately, the goal of developing trustworthy A.I. will require a deeper investigation into our own remarkable abilities and new insights into the cognitive mechanisms we ourselves use to reliably and robustly understand the world. Unlocking A.I.’s barrier of meaning is likely to require a step backward for the field, away from ever bigger networks and data collections, and back to the field’s roots as an interdisciplinary science studying the most challenging of scientific problems: the nature of intelligence.

This Is How We Radicalized The World

There are many articles about the ways social networks have been used for radicalization and help lead various countries into the abyss. This one includes a good “historical” recap of the escalation and a few examples of the “recipes” used so it’s a useful, if depressing, read.

Populist leaders and the legions of influencers riding their wave know they can create filter bubbles inside of platforms like Facebook or YouTube that promise a safer time, one that never existed in the first place, before the protests, the violence, the cascading crises, and endless news cycles. Donald Trump wants to Make American Great Again; Bolsonaro wants to bring back Brazil’s military dictatorship; Shinzo Abe wants to recapture Japan’s imperial past; Germany’s AFD performed the best with older East German voters longing for the days of authoritarianism. All of these leaders promise to close borders, to make things safe. Which will, of course, usually exacerbate the problems they’re promising to disappear. Another feedback loop. […]

Which will most likely leave the poor, the old, and the young to fall into an information divide. This is already happening. A study released this month from the UK found that poorer British readers got less, worse news than wealthier readers. And according to a new study by Pew Research Center, only 17% of people over the age of 65 were able to identify fact from opinion. Teenage Instagram wellness communities are already transforming into mini Infowars-style snake oil empires.

What the Times got wrong about kids and phones

Good piece pushing back on the “dark consensus” article I linked last week, with a much more even handed and widely researched view. Although it doesn’t address one of the points that made the consensus piece valuable to me; the addiction inducing methods used in those products, which evolve quicker than the research. The parents in the piece are the “pushers” aware of what they are doing, where here it’s the results from longer term research. Still, the privilege and virtue signalling aspects Kamenetz mentions are important.

[M]isleading conclusions, and some of the anecdotal evidence they cited contradicted the central hooks of the stories. […]

But in fact, strict approaches aimed only at limiting screen time aren’t the most effective. You have to be a role model and engage alongside your kids, a notion that the Times stories largely skirted. […]

Yet even if taken as an anecdotal romp through the state of parenting, the series is flawed. The hook, for example, is that “the people who are closest to tech” are uniquely alarmed about kids and screens. In fact, most polls, such as this Pew survey, show that a majority of parents are concerned about their kids’ media use.

  • Apple’s New Map. An in depth, painstaking look at the improvements in a new version of Apple maps for California. The work on the maps, and the work on the article, are crazy. Dozens of before and after gifs.
  • Symposium – The Demo @ 50. Celebrating the “The Mother of All Demos.” Look at that list of speakers!
  • Does Synthetic Data Hold The Secret To Artificial Intelligence?. “There are advantages and disadvantages to synthetic data; however, many technology experts believe that synthetic data is the key to democratizing machine learning and to accelerate testing and adoption of artificial intelligence algorithms into our daily lives.”


Vectorialism, platform capitalism, & surveillance capitalism

Bopuc with an excellent, quick description of vectorialism, which is analogous to platform capitalism, and surveillance capitalism, without getting stuck at the level of thinking about capital. (Vectorialism is taken from McKenzie Wark’s thinking.)

Six Secrets From the Planner of Sevilla’s Lightning Bike Network

Great story in Sevilla which shows what political will and a (relatively) small amount of money can do for city biking in just a few years.

The trick, Calvo said, is to set the expectation that public input will determine how to add bike lanes to a street, not whether to add them. […]

“The whole network is €32 million,” he says. That’s how many kilometers of highway — maybe five or six? It’s not expensive infrastructure. … We have a metro line that the cost was €800 million. It serves 44,000 trips every day. With bikes, we’re serving 70,000 trips every day.”


Primes by Robin Sloan

In his latest issue, Sloan had this excellent bit about newsletters. (His archives are closed so I’m linking to the signup.)

In addition to sending several email newsletters, I subscribe to many, and I talk about them a lot; you might have heard me say this at some point (or seen me type it) but I think any artist or scholar or person-in-the-world today, if they don’t have one already, needs to start an email list immediately. […]

Why? Because we simply cannot trust the social networks, or any centralized commercial platform, with these cliques and crews most vital to our lives, these bands of fellow-travelers who are — who must be — the first to hear about all good things. Email is definitely not ideal, but it is: decentralized, reliable, and not going anywhere — and more and more, those feel like quasi-magical properties.

Tiny Books Fit in One Hand. Will They Change the Way We Read?

No, no they won’t. But cool!

“[D]warsliggers” — tiny, pocket-size, horizontal flipbacks that have become a wildly popular print format in the Netherlands […]

The tiny editions are the size of a cellphone and no thicker than your thumb, with paper as thin as onion skin. They can be read with one hand — the text flows horizontally, and you can flip the pages upward, like swiping a smartphone.