Summer is (supposedly) here which means vacations and traveling. If you’re a reader and end up swinging by Montréal, email me, lets grab coffee.

This Week: It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning. Nnedi Okorafor. The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet. AGI Has Been Delayed. New Zealand’s Next Liberal Milestone. Data is the new plutonium. Baratunde Thurston deconstructs racism.

A year ago: “Why don’t you go live in a cave?” – when technophiles cry troglodyte and Why the Luddites Matter.


It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning

The New York Times, of all places, have started publishing Op-Eds from the future, “in which science fiction authors, futurists, philosophers and scientists write op-eds that they imagine we might read 10, 20 or even 100 years in the future.” First up, Ted Chiang with some 🔥 and the Gene Equality Project, a “philanthropic effort to bring genetic cognitive enhancements to low-income communities.”

Amid fears that we were witnessing the creation of a caste system based on genetic differences, the Gene Equality Project was begun 25 years ago, enabling 500 pairs of low-income parents to increase the intelligence of their children. […]

But these explanations are unnecessary when one realizes the fundamental mistake underlying the Gene Equality Project: Cognitive enhancements are useful only when you live in a society that rewards ability, and the United States isn’t one.

How Nnedi Okorafor is building the future of sci-fi from Flossmoor

My brain exploded a little bit when I read Binti, I have to read lots more Okorafor, this profile of her journey makes her all the more interesting.

She didn’t read it [I, Robot], not for many years. Instead, she wrote in its margins. She had never written much for fun, but that summer, stuck in bed, wondering if she would walk again, she started to learn how to make up her own stories. […]

She calls her work “Africanfuturism,” as opposed to the more common “Afro-futurism.” The difference, she says, is her books — sometimes with aliens, sometimes with witches, often set in a recognizable, future Africa, with African lineages — are not cultural hybrids but rooted in the history and traditions of the continent, without a desire to look toward Western culture (or even pop culture). […]

[R.R. Martin:] “That’s because this is a world that’s been dominated by Americans and Brits, and we might be talking about alien planets or a 100 years in the future, we might be talking about Middle-earth, or we might be talking Westeros, and as far apart as those may seem, there are similarities, because the people who have written those books came from the same cultures, read the same classics.”

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

Strickler uses four or five metaphors to show us how people are moving to more private online spaces. The main one and most interesting, is the dark forest, where animals beware of predators and stay silent. That’s the first part which is an interesting line of thought. In the second part (starts at the bowling alley) he seems to see his relatively extreme disconnecting and going dark as a sign that more people will do the same, resulting in mostly the predators being left on the big platforms.

I believe it’s more of a rebalancing, not a complete migration away. It’s entirely possible (even essential?) to keep a presence on some of the larger platforms while at the same time shifting some interactions and activity to other, more private, places. We’re still learning how this online thing works, shifting our uses.

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream. […]

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process). […]

The public and semi-public spaces we created to develop our identities, cultivate communities, and gain knowledge were overtaken by forces using them to gain power of various kinds (market, political, social, and so on).

AGI Has Been Delayed

Rodney Brookes mostly on self-driving cars, bold claims made left and right, and how they are being disproven quickly. He also highlights a bet he took with AI enthusiast and inventor Kai-Fu Lee but I’m including the article for the second quote below because it’s a useful frame for claims about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

Chris Urmson was the leader of Google’s self-driving car project, which became Waymo around the time he left, and is the CEO of a very well funded self-driving start up. He says “30 to 50 years”. Chris Urmson has been a leader in the autonomous car world since before it entered mainstream consciousness. He has lived and breathed autonomous vehicles for over ten years. No grumpy old professor is he. He is a doer and a striver. If he says it is hard then we know that it is hard. […]

If we were to have AGI, Artificial General Intelligence, with human level capabilities, then certainly it ought to be able to drive a car, just like a person, if not better. Now a self driving car does not need to have general human level intelligence, but a self driving car is certainly a lower bound on human level intelligence. Urmson, a strong proponent of self driving cars says 30 to 50 years.

So what does that say about predictions that AGI is just around the corner? And what does it say about it being an existential threat to humanity any time soon.

New Zealand’s Next Liberal Milestone: A Budget Guided by ‘Well-Being’

Fantastic new policy direction by New Zealand. It remains to be seen how much it actually brings changes and is not just a marketing spin—there are some discordant opinions in the piece—but even if only aspirationnaly and Overton window wise, it’s an important announcement.

That means that as the center-left government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sets its priorities in the budget that will be unveiled on May 30, it is moving away from more traditional bottom-line measures like productivity and economic growth and instead focusing on goals like community and cultural connection and equity in well-being across generations. […]

Under New Zealand’s revised policy, all new spending must advance one of five government priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing the inequalities faced by indigenous Maori and Pacific islands people, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission, sustainable economy. […]

Jim Balsillie : ‘Data is not the new oil – it’s the new plutonium’

Jim Balsillie, retired co-CEO of Research In Motion, has been pretty constant and adamant over the last couple of years in his criticism of smart cities (like he did for Sidewalk Toronto) and surveillance capitalism. This time again, he makes a good case with some useful wording and framings. He also offers six recommendations which are worth a read.

(Transcript of his testimony at the hearings of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy being held in Ottawa, Canada.)

The online advertisement-driven business model subverts choice and represents a foundational threat to markets, election integrity and democracy itself. […]

Data at the micro-personal level gives technology unprecedented power to influence. Data is not the new oil – it’s the new plutonium. Amazingly powerful, dangerous when it spreads, difficult to clean up and with serious consequences when improperly used. […]

When this new Fourth Estate declines to appear before this Committee — as Silicon Valley executives are currently doing — it is symbolically asserting this aspirational co-equal status. But it is asserting this status and claiming its privileges without the traditions, disciplines, legitimacy or transparency that checked the power of the traditional Fourth Estate.

Baratunde Thurston: How to deconstruct racism, one headline at a time 🎥

For only the second time over eighty-two issues… a TED talk! But this is the fantastic Baratunde Rafiq Thurston on systemic racism and living while black so indulge me and go watch. Btw, the link is to his website with an inspiring answer to the extra unexpected question, more on the data he used, and his process.

I’m semifamous, mostly happy, meditate twice a day, and yet, I walk around in fear, because I know that someone seeing me as a threat can become a threat to my life, and I am tired. I am tired of carrying this invisible burden of other people’s fears, and many of us are, and we shouldn’t have to, because we can change this, because we can change the action, which changes the story, which changes the system that allows those stories to happen. Systems are just collective stories we all buy into. When we change them, we write a better reality for us all to be a part of. I am asking us to use our power to choose. I am asking us to level up.

Miscellany

  • 🎮 A new indy gaming platform is coming out and some old school web people are very enthused. Putting the Soul in Console. “[T]his little game machine looks like one of the most fun and joyful new efforts that any company has done recently, and that a tiny indie software company in Oregon has the ambition to even attempt such a thing makes it only more endearing.”
  • 🚰🇳🇦🇫🇮 This solar-powered desalination device delivers cheap, clean water. “The basic tech that it uses for desalination, called reverse osmosis, isn’t new. But because the system can run on solar power, without the use of batteries, it avoids the large carbon footprint of a typical energy-hungry desalination plant. It’s also significantly cheaper over the lifetime of the system.”
  • 💩⛰ This is why we can’t have nice things. The North Face used Wikipedia to climb to the top of Google search results.
  • 🦠💧 World’s rivers ‘awash with dangerous levels of antibiotics’. “Largest global study finds the drugs in two-thirds of test sites in 72 countries”
  • 😱 Earth’s methane emissions are rising and we don’t know why. “The fact that growth rates in the atmospheric concentrations of methane are approaching the levels we saw in the 1980s, after a period of relatively slow growth, is deeply concerning. The fact that we don’t understand the reasons for this surge deepen that concern.”
  • Britain’s equivalent to Tutankhamun found in Southend-on-Sea. “The research reveals previously concealed objects, paints a picture of how the chamber was constructed and offers new evidence of how Anglo-Saxon Essex was at the forefront of culture, religion and exchange with other countries across the North Sea.” (Click through for pics of some remarquable artefacts.)
  • R / D Reading Design is an online archive of critical writing about design. The idea is to embrace the whole of design, from architecture and urbanism to product, fashion, graphics and beyond. The texts featured here date from the nineteenth century right up to the present moment but each one contains something which remains relevant, surprising or interesting to us today.”

Found via

Some of the articles for this week were found via Doug Belshaw, Meanwhile, and Michèle Champagne. Thanks!