This week we have: The Automation Charade. Tim Berners-Lee’s Inrup. The Chia cryptocurrency. Plain, trains, and automobiles. IP and data in Toronto. In praise of mediocrity. Hidden details of the NYPL, and much more.
Fall is here 🍂, make sure to take long walks outdoors, enjoy the colours where you have them, and don’t watch too much US news. Please note that I will likely skip next Sunday, see you after the break!


⚡️ The Automation Charade

After tryborgs last week, this time we have fauxtomation. Both are reframing tech narratives to take into account the perspective of overlooked or purposefully ignored segments of the population. This one is quite fascinating for its historical perspective on the language and promise around automation vs what it has actually represented and how we should use that perspective to re-evaluate our expectations of automation and our understanding of the business forces behind it. (Fauxtomation refers to things presented as automated where in reality labor is “simply” hidden.)

Automation is both a reality and an ideology, and thus also a weapon wielded against poor and working people who have the audacity to demand better treatment, or just the right to subsist.

We must also reckon with the ideology of automation, and its attendant myth of human obsolescence. […]

The gap between advertising copy and reality can be risible. But fauxtomation also has a more nefarious purpose. It reinforces the perception that work has no value if it is unpaid and acclimates us to the idea that one day we won’t be needed. […]

We are more important and powerful than we have been led to believe—and the we in question here is no longer the marginalized ranks of women performing reproductive labor, but increasingly the postindustrial precariat at large. […]

Fauxtomation must be seen as part of that tendency. It manifests every time we check out and bag our own groceries or order a meal through an online delivery service. These sorts of examples abound to the point of being banal. Indeed, they crowd our vision in virtually every New Economy transaction once we clue into their existence. […]

The phrase “robots are taking our jobs” gives technology agency it doesn’t (yet?) possess, whereas “capitalists are making targeted investments in robots designed to weaken and replace human workers so they can get even richer” is less catchy but more accurate. […]

Tech

One Small Step for the Web…

Tim Berners-Lee, father of the web, is working on Solid, “an open-source project to restore the power and agency of individuals on the web” and on a company to accelerate its adoption, Inrupt (sorry but what a sh%t name). Laudable goal and I would love for something like this to work but, and I hate to say it, for some reason… it feels naive and doesn’t inspire much confidence. Someone convince me?

Solid is a platform, built using the existing web. It gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access select elements, and which apps you use. It allows you, your family and colleagues, to link and share data with anyone. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time. […]

Meanwhile though, there is a wave of concern, and related energy, desperate for change. People want to have a web they can trust. People want apps that help them do what they want and need to do — without spying on them. Apps that don’t have an ulterior motive of distracting them with propositions to buy this or that.

More: Tim Berners-Lee tells us his radical new plan to upend the WWW.

BitTorrent’s Creator Wants to Build a Better Bitcoin

It’s too bad he’s concentrating his efforts on a currency instead of the ledger under it, like the multiple blockchain uses others are working on. However, it’s interesting that he’s trying something other than mining via massive CPU usage but I’m not sure how much better his storage idea is in terms of environmental impact.

Cohen gives his version of mining the more bucolic name “farming.” Similar to bitcoin, participants compete to win Chia cryptocurrency in a race that also processes transactions. Unlike in Nakamoto’s system, maximizing your chance of winning depends on amassing disk storage space, not running more powerful—and energy-hungry—hardware.

The Powerhouses of the Internet Are Turning Hostile to Websites

Pretty much every large website / app / service is keeping more and more of it’s trafic to itself.

In the last five years, there has not been a single major website or dominant web property that has embraced, rewarded, or significantly grown their outlinking. We’ve reached an era of a less-connected web, a web focused on retaining users rather than sharing content.

Millieu

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – the Electric Remake

Very useful look at all the different transport modes currently developing or actively transitioning to electricity, including some more rarely mentioned like shorter distance ships, short flights and new ways of electrifying trains. The most interesting part though, is where the author considers “Airports, ports, train stations, logistics centers and the like” as potential energy hubs, a plausible vision bringing new elements to the classic view of electrified vehicles being at the edges of the grid.

Improved battery, motor and power control technology will challenge the dominance of small fossil-fuel engines in every light sector: motor boats, lawnmowers, snowmobiles, mopeds and motor cycles. […]

What we have seen time and again in clean energy is the value of getting started in sectors that can be served today, and using the resulting volume to spur innovation and drive down costs to meet the needs of tomorrow’s markets. The lithium-ion snowball is rolling and picking up new sectors and applications along the way. […]

Airports, ports, train stations, logistics centers and the like could become energy hubs – offering low-cost charging, batteries to smooth demand, and ancillary grid services, resilient power for server farms and the like, maybe even heat and cooling to local businesses and homes. That is, as well as transport hubs, offering a range of transportation and logistics services, mass transit, car-sharing and flying taxi terminals.

Via Marting Spindler’s super smart The VUCA Observatory.

Sidewalk Toronto has only one beneficiary, and it is not Toronto

Adding to the chorus against the deal. I’m taking note of it because it’s by Jim Balsillie, a former chairman and co-CEO of Research In Motion (Blackberry), who’s bio here mentions that he “commercialized Canadian intellectual property in more than 150 countries.” Somewhat unusually for a smartcity piece, his opinion is framed around, and insist repeatedly on, Intellectual Property, referring multiple times to “IP and data.” The last quote below is quite a good encapsulation of the situation.

You can only commercialize IP or data when you own or control them. That’s why Sidewalk, as a recent Globe and Mail investigation revealed , is taking control to own all IP on this project. […]

A privately controlled “smart city” infrastructure upends traditional models of citizenship because you cannot opt out of a city or a society that practises mass surveillance. Foreign corporate interests tout new technocratic efficiencies while shrewdly occluding their unprecedented power grab. […]

A year later, we are at a point where a secretive, unelected, publicly funded corporation with no expertise in IP, data or even basic digital rights is in charge of navigating forces of urban privatization, algorithmic control and rule by corporate contract.

Collective intelligence to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

At Nesta, some ideas on how to leverage collective intelligence in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “1. Seeing: A far wider pool of data and inputs. 2. Shaping: Design and creation. 3. Learning: Monitor, adapt and improve.”

[C]ollective intelligence – ways of harnessing more data and more brain power of all kinds and at every level and learning faster.

Often the less obvious data are more valuable than the official data. For example, in many countries, mobile phone data is a better indicator of economic activity and its shifting location than anything else. Recent initiatives like Global Pulse have shown how valuable these can be. Often, too, very local, tacit data is more useful than formal data.

Miscellany

In Praise of Mediocrity

In my opinion, he’s overstating the need people feel to excel in their hobbies. But even exaggerated, some good points in there.

When your identity is linked to your hobby — you’re a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber — you’d better be good at it, or else who are you? […]

In a way that we rarely appreciate, the demands of excellence are at war with what we call freedom. For to permit yourself to do only that which you are good at is to be trapped in a cage whose bars are not steel but self-judgment. […]

[T]he simple pleasure of doing something you merely, but truly, enjoy.

📚📹 Hidden Details of the New York Public Library

A nice commented walking tour of the NYPL, explaining a lot of the architectural and historical details.