Newsletter No.29 — Apr 15, 2018

Sentiers No.29

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?)

There’s the very loose idea around this newsletter that it might, at some point, turn into something more like a magazine, or lead to a magazine project. Or a “publication,” which I see as a more bookish, less regular, but still periodical “thing.” CLOG being one example.

Anyway, following a reader’s comment this week as well as a couple of meetings, the “Sentiers long game” is top of mind. If any of this brings ideas, tips, opinions or reckons to mind, please hit reply and tell me.

I tried to stay away from Facebook but happened on a good article that connects to many other ideas, it’s towards the end of the email with Brand, O’Reilly, and Barlow.

"Fear of AI is a science-fiction story about fear of science and technology...our sense that the future is out of control."
Kim Stanley Robinson

I spent part of the week at a the MUTEK_IMG forum, curated by friends from the fantastic HOLO magazine. There were a number of excellent speakers, I thought I’d link to some of their work, not all new but pretty much evergreen.

  • For only the second time in my life, I enjoyed a speaker reading his talk, in this case because liam young was reading in a somewhat theatrical fashion and over the incredible images and ideas of his films, assembled together beautifully. You can see most of the shorts on his Vimeo and under “Slow Thoughts” at Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today. You should also read Tim Maughan on some of the same topics (he moderated a panel at this same event).
  • I didn’t know Madeline Gannon but wow, veeeery interesting work with robots at ATONATON. Very much in the same direction as the centaur or hybrids ideas I’ve linked in part issues.
    “I want to be able to fly like a drone. I want to be able to race like a car. I want these machines to be an extension of me”Madeline Gannon
  • Sam Lavigne uses lots of humour and innovative ideas to make us think about important issues, have a look here: work in progress.
  • Beautiful work by Andre Baynes, some of which, like his Living Lab, reminded me of some of Superflux’s projects.

Two relatively secondary announcements but taken together they point to some of the new interfaces we might be seeing soon(ish).

Researchers develop device that can ‘hear’ your internal voice
This project/device can hear what you are thinking by picking up the “subtle neuromuscular signals that are triggered when a person verbalises internally.” Not sure how effectively and soon this could come to market (and right now wearing these you look like even more of a dork than with Google Glasses) but it would certainly go a long way in actually making voice an important interface. People keep predicting that voice is the next big thing but other than at home (Alexa, Google Home, etc.) or once in a while with your phone, when would you actually speak to your device in public? Even worse, how would many people do so at the same time?

Our idea was: could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition? […]
The AlterEgo device managed an average of 92% transcription accuracy in a 10-person trial with about 15 minutes of customising to each person. That’s several percentage points below the 95%-plus accuracy rate that Google’s voice transcription service is capable of using a traditional microphone, but Kapur says the system will improve in accuracy over time. The human threshold for voice word accuracy is thought to be around 95%.

Leap Motion to release plans for experimental augmented reality headset
Not to be confused with Magic Leap, Leap Motion announced a design for AR headsets using it’s hand tracking tech. Interesting move and the kind of things that can make new and cheaper solutions more quickly available. Have a look at the impressive test videos included.

Instead, the company is releasing the necessary hardware specifications and software under an open source license next week. “We hope that these designs will inspire a new generation of experimental AR systems that will shift the conversation from what an AR system should look like, to what an AR experience should feel like,” the company writes.

Cities need a modern-day Hanseatic League to get bargaining power on self-driving cars.
Put ‘Hanseatic League’ in a headline and I’ll click it. (Good piece though.)

A new association of cities would join in a common cause for engagement, transparency, data sharing, and collaborative experiments to make autonomous vehicles work for cities.

++ To my surprise, Uber is interesting again.
“Cars are to us what books are to Amazon”
Good thread on the potential for integration between the data and infrastructure of Uber and their new purchase, JUMP.

And a number of other moves to pay attention to, as Uber gets into car rentals and public transit.

Full On Surveillance in China 🇨🇳
Excerpt straight from David Meyer’s Connected Rights newsletter, via Peter’s and emphasis mine.

THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT WANTS the country’s facial recognition and surveillance systems fully unified and operational by 2020. According to Radio Free Asia, that includes a ::surveillance platform called Sharp Eyes that can "link up public surveillance cameras and those installed in smart devices in the home::, to a nationwide network for viewing in real time by anyone who is given access." The platform will be used along with the "social credit" system that already bars people from buying train tickets if they have ever been caught "spreading false information" online.

Facebook And Ideology
Why Zuckerberg’s 14-Year Apology Tour Hasn’t Fixed Facebook
One of my favorite articles on Facebook because it starts with a review of the many times Zuck has apologized for basically the same thing; overstepping peoples’ privacy and expectations. Good to remember. Follows up with one of the better and balanced takes on the situation as it stands.

By 2008, Zuckerberg had written only four posts on Facebook’s blog: Every single one of them was an apology or an attempt to explain a decision that had upset users. […]
As far as I can tell, not once in his apology tour was Zuckerberg asked what on earth he means when he refers to Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users as “a community” or “the Facebook community.” A community is a set of people with reciprocal rights, powers, and responsibilities. […]
Again, this isn’t a community; this is a regime of one-sided, highly profitable surveillance, carried out on a scale that has made Facebook one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization. […]
And fundamentally, Facebook’s business model and reckless mode of operating are a giant dagger threatening the health and well-being of the public sphere and the privacy of its users in many countries.

Silicon Valley’s Sixty-Year Love Affair with the Word “Tool”
It’s the first time I see this argument, linking the history of the word ‘tool’ in Silicon Valley, including by Zuck (and others), to the thinking of Stewart Brand. His ideas of empowerment through tools leading to individualism and a disdain for politics.

Tool talk encodes an entire attitude to politics—namely, a rejection of politics in favor of tinkering.

Jumping from the quote below, you can also see some loose genealogy with Tim O’Reilly’s general thinking, especially his push for government as platform.

The idea that tools were preferable to politics found a ready audience in a decade of deregulation.

It also reminds me of The Incomplete Vision of John Perry Barlow, which argued that his focus on individual liberties and a distrust of government led to a blindspot—shared by many internet activists—regarding the same overreach by big companies, such as we are currently observing with Facebook.

And finally, if you aren’t already aware, have a look at the The Californian Ideology, the background of all of the above.

Sometimes, Twitter is a beautiful thing: I saw this on an OS map and couldn’t not investigate. A place of worship symbol in the middle of bloody nowhere on the edge of a wood. It was a foggy, atmospheric day up on the North Downs, so I decided to walk three sides of a square through the wood to reach it.…

++ The fascinating world of Instagram’s ‘virtual’ celebrities
Fake news, fake people, fake politicians, fake excuses (hello Mark!), we are living in a constructed world more and more everyday, without even needing metaphysical reflections.

++ The American Chopper meme, explained
There are some truly brilliant versions of this meme. I’ll repeat what I tweeted; I want to see an episode where the Teutuls are digging through all the versions and reacting to them. 😉

++ I’m not always in agreement with him but some things to think about by Benedict Evans; The death of the newsfeed and Steps to autonomy.