Newsletter No.22 — Feb 11, 2018

Sentiers No.22

Heads up: For a couple of reasons related to early writing methods, the first forty-five issues archived here are “pre last review” and haven’t been fully re-reviewed yet. Please forgive typos and miscellaneous mistakes if you see them! They are also less structured than more recent issues and thus haven’t been split into multiple notes. (Yet?)

A very “churn heavy” issue this week with lots of dystopic symptoms. Sweet dreams! (Note that for most of these articles, the technology depicted is super interesting, the implementation usually doesn’t pay enough intention to the implications. Akin to programming AIs with biased data used without serious enough forethought.)

Saw The Last Jedi yesterday. Wasn’t all that good was it? 😩

I’ll try to be more positive next week.

What it was like to watch the Falcon Heavy fly
I’m at once extremely impressed with Space X and all their accomplishments—including last week’s first launch of Falcon heavy—and very… uncomfortable and annoyed that a corporation is now leading the way in space. It should be humanity, countries if we must, that explores the universe, steps on other planets. And Musk’s chucking of a Tesla into space is not helping this feeling.

The Churn
Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built
The tech backlash (tech second thoughts?) continues apace and one of the most damning signals his from all those ex employees who are now coming out more and more frequently with condemnations. The fact that the c-suite of most of these companies keep their kids away from screens and social media is also a good indication of what their products are doing.

“The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?” Mr. Harris said. “We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.”

++ Is Technology Addictive?
Audrey Watters wonders if ‘addiction’ is the right framing for this discussion. Also, are users properly equipped to make informed decisions in these matters.

There is a huge asymmetry here in terms of power and information, and the tech industry has spent a lot of time and energy trying to encourage and reinforce these sorts of behaviors in its users. I’m not sure consumers have necessarily stopped and asked in response, why am I responding this way? What am I being trained to do or trained to feel?

++ The End of Cash; The End of Freedom
The end of cash is often presented as a great new thing but most people (including those working on these techs) don’t spend enough time thinking about the implications for some people and the surveillance it enables for all.

The obvious point is about taxation; you can tax money you know about. But the less obvious point is about control and surveillance: If everything is done electronically, you can know who is doing what, because spending is doing. Nothing meaningful can be done in the modern world without money following it. People need money to live and money must be used to buy any goods involved.

++ Can an Entire City Run on the Blockchain?
Again, good example of some great technologies and great opportunities… for which not enough thought is given regarding privacy, surveillance, etc. We’ve had lots of proof in recent years that our tools of freedom and connection can also be used for control and authoritarianism, you’d think people would think on the implications of connecting together every sensor in a city.

Right now, there are silos of data. Not every security camera or electronic lock is made by the same company. Not every parking garage uses the same parking sensors to determine capacity. If we could securely organize all of that data onto an interoperable backbone, then law enforcement (or government officials or whoever is allowed access to the data) would be able to get that access without going through multiple separate parties.

++ The House That Spied on Me
I don’t understand what the draw is to connecting up your home with ‘smart’ gadgets, I really don’t. But even if you do, have a look at this article and all the data that’s being sent to the outside. Those companies are just massively overstepping what’s needed to accomplish the tasks people buy the devices for. Feels like there’d be some demand for internally (to the home) connected devices that don’t talk to the outside, with some kind of dashboard you check to let through useful exchange and update inquiries. But that’s probably not going to happen.

The whole episode reinforced something that was already bothering me: Getting a smart home means that everyone who lives or comes inside it is part of your personal panopticon, something which may not be obvious to them because they don’t expect everyday objects to have spying abilities.
…If homes become sentient, and it becomes the norm that activity in them is captured, measured, and used to profile us, all of the anxiety you currently feel about being tracked online is going to move into your living room.

++ Twitter, PornHub and other platforms ban AI-generated celebrity porn
Last week I mentioned deepfake algos to paste someone else’s face on a person in a video, even pr0n sites are already taking action against the practice.

Why ‘urban villages’ are on the rise around the world
Nice overview of the different forms an urban village can take with examples of participatory, sharing and senior versions.

The result was an unusual school focusing on ecology, practical skills, and individualized learning that opened in 2004. Along the way, the community collectively created other services: a low-power broadcasting radio station, an organic food cooperative, a car repair shop, a tea house, a community theater, and many other projects tailored to the residents' needs.
Includes the Every One Every Day about a fantastic five year project by Participatory City.

++ The Quito Papers: A New Manifesto for Urban Planning in the 21st Century

From a design and planning perspective, this means moving away from an emphasis on the city center and the central business district and towards neighborhoods and the connectivities between them.

Exclusive: Intel’s new Vaunt smart glasses actually look good
They do look good and it’s an interesting, somewhat minimalistic take on this kind of display. I feel absolutely zero draw to owning something like this though.

++ Announcing “Project Things” - An open framework for connecting your devices to the web.
I love Mozilla. Great values and great projects, this one around IoT.

++ Tractor Hacking: The Farmers Breaking Big Tech’s Repair Monopoly
Story from last year but this is a new short documentary about the farmers fighting to good fight for the right to repair.

No, not the Sterling or Bratton stacks; magazine stacks. Monocle has a good podcast named The Stack and so does Stack Magazines. Confused yet? I’m including this episode of the Monocle version because it’s pretty good but mostly because the Editor of TLS mentions ::The Age of Autodidactism::, which doesn’t seem to be new but I’d never heard it and quite like: ‘The TLS’, ‘Observador’ and ‘Anxy’.

John Perry Barlow, Internet Pioneer, 1947-2018

Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter: "I knew it’s also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key totalitarianism.'”

++ Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning
An old idea worth revisiting, Steward Brand’s concept of pace layering. Btw, it could be much much shorter because they ramble on a bit (sorry) but Brand on the Tim Ferris podcast has some good moments: The Polymath of Polymaths.