2017 gets off to rousing start with DJ Southwold‘s magical sophisticated rhythms and some elderly geezer “singing”…
punk’s not dead!
Reading, Writing, Linking, Thinking, Talking
This alarming picture of political clickbait on Facebook from @terrence_mccoy in the Washington Post prompted me to have a quick look at the history of “yellow journalism”.
My italics. A good definition of “clickbait”…
1. An entertaining summary of the story so far on Facebook’s news feed and algorithmic biases from the PBS ideas channel
2. “Facebook ‘overestimated’ video viewing time” from BBC News
3. “Low-income families face eviction as building ‘rebrands’ for Facebook workers” from the Guardian
4. “Facebook and Israel to work to monitor posts that incite violence” from the Guardian
Gulp… so Facebook is going to get involved in policing one of the most contentious conflicts in the world… good luck with that one…
In an in-depth qualitative study of 36 web users, upon seeing advertising for weight loss products on Facebook some female users reported that they assumed that Facebook had profiled them as overweight or fitness-oriented. In fact, these weight loss ads were delivered generically to women aged 24-30. However, because users can be unaware of the impersonal nature of some personalisation systems, such targeted ads can have a detrimental impact on how these users view themselves: to put it crudely, they must be overweight, because Facebook tells them they are.
So maybe Facebook has a lot of power… or maybe we think it has more power than it actually does…
From the Economist (written by Tim Cross):
“For some time, making transistors smaller has no longer been making them more energy-efficient; as a result, the operating speed of high-end chips has been on a plateau since the mid-2000s (see chart). And while the benefits of making things smaller have been decreasing, the costs have been rising. This is in large part because the components are approaching a fundamental limit of smallness: the atom. A Skylake transistor is around 100 atoms across, and the fewer atoms you have, the harder it becomes to store and manipulate electronic 1s and 0s.”
I’m not an engineer. But if it’s true that computing power is slowing down then it has important implications for the way we think about software and computer products.
The mentality of Silicon Valley often seems to be that of a little boy saying “I’m blowing up this balloon! And it’s going to get bigger and bigger and never pop!”
The truth is that civilizations, businesses, technology and even people grow, plateau and then decline. If the future is here, but not evenly distributed then it is likely to stay unevenly distributed.
What kinds of products and services will we need if computing power slows down? What kinds of problems will people be prepared to spend money on to get fixed? Might there be opportunities around fixing what we already have or making it work better rather than fantasies of unlimited growth? A prescient entrepreneur might want to start thinking about this…
(also – the new time a tech guru or new media consultant says “computer power is doubling every two years!” you can say “oh no, it’s not”…)
Martin Belham of the Guardian recently wrote a piece about driverless cars, how wonderful they are and how one day we will wonder how we ever did without them.
Martin is a nice and very clever man. I wish him well. But to me his rosy picture seemed to have one important thing missing.
For example, if Uber (as reported) invests heavily in driverless vehicles, once they’ve scooped up enormous amounts of passenger data, they could dispense with drivers altogether. If Uber become a very dominant player in this market (and their aggressive tactics are well documented) lots of drivers who now work for Uber may be seeking alternative employment. Not to mention those black cab drivers who might see their jobs disappear as driverless firms dominate.
A privatised transport system – geolocation data owned by Google, passenger data owned by Uber, with no drivers. What impact would this have on public transport? On people who don’t have disposable income to go everywhere by taxi? How should it be regulated? Who uses the bus lanes?
Martin’s picture of the future is missing the large gangs of young men (and women) hanging around on street corners because they can’t get a job driving a car or a lorry.
The other odd thing about Martin’s piece is this sentence:
“The business that buys a fleet of driverless cars knows that staff can be doing paperwork between meetings while they travel, for maximum efficiency.”
So we will have driverless cars in this future. But we will still be doing “paperwork” and having “meetings”.
No matter how shiny the future, organisations are as bureaucratic as ever, and as obsessed as ever with “efficiency” while continuing to have pointless meetings…
Since I got a SoundCloud Pro Account I’ve spend more time looking at my stats and fiddling with my profile then actually making any music.
Numbers are addictive. They change: a little bit here, a little bit there. You want to know when they go up. You panic if they don’t move. But when the numbers are so small, they probably don’t tell you anything.
So why should a two year old track which only had 6 plays suddenly pick up five in a week?
It’s probably just a bot. But a bot coming from Italy, according to the stats.
A puzzle. Never to be solved.
Numbers and pictures dominate. Words come a poor third.
The girl walking around the lake, hands raised high holding her tablet, watching her bright reflection.
Spellbound by the bright shimmer of the screen. Transfixed by her own image.
Dive in the bright lake, lose yourself in the bright world.
You can’t dive in, it’s just a reflection. You’ll bang your head against the glass screen, the mirror will stop you, you’ll hurt your head.
It pushes you away, you can’t go in.
You can’t dive in the real lake either, there’s a fence. A high fence around the lake.
Only in movies do people smash through mirrors. It’s an expensive trick.
Only in moves do cars smash through shop windows. In the real world, have you ever seen a car smash through a window? No one has. More people have seen a car smash through a window in a Hollywood movie, shattering it into a thousand pieces, than have ever seen a shop window shatter in real life.
He heard a loud bang. He turned to see the car rolling towards him, the windscreen shattered but intact. No crash, just a bang.
Breaking glass causes distress, grounding you back in the real world. The glass falls to pieces.
Drop the mirror, drop the screen, the glass shatters.
Half in one world, half in another. Half in the world, half in your head.
The internet is not so much broken as unfinished.
If you’ve chosen to live in a house which is still being built, then you have to expect that the roof may not be on, the windows and doors are just holes in the wall and the plumbing and electrics may not all work properly, if at all.
What’s the right way to behave online?
If digital behaviour is different from real world behaviour what are the new rules?
The big tech giants that dominate our lives are running around trying to find answers. When they get it wrong, it doesn’t look good.
In June Google hired an ethics adviser Luciano Floridi. He argued in the Guardian for some “bold ideas”:
Most experts agree that current European data protection law is outdated. I see it as the expression of a time when there was a clear divide between online and offline. Today, that divide is being bridged in favour of the “onlife”, a mixture of analogue and digital, physical and virtual experiences, like driving a car following the instructions of a navigator.
The car metaphor is a dead giveaway. A driverless car? Like one of Google’s?
In July Google’s approach to implementing the EU’s Right to be Forgotten ruling became headline news courtesy of the BBC’s Robert Peston. The most interesting piece I read about this (apart from Robert’s own), was Andrew Orlovski’s new angle in The Register (“Google de-listing of BBC article ‘broke UK and Euro public interest laws'”)
All of us engaged in research over networks must commit to finding a way to modernize the process of informed consent. Instead of lowering our standards to the level of unread click-through agreements, let’s raise the standards for everyone.
What we need is an ethics-review process for human-subject research designed explicitly for web-based research…
(Credit to @dianecoyle1859 for this link)
David Banks has some intelligent thoughts and practical suggestions on the ethics of wearable technology. I’d disagree with his suggestion that police forces should be banned from using Google Glass. Law enforcement might be the only place Google Glass serves a useful purpose, rather than just being an annoyance.
I couldn’t write this without mentioning Model View Culture, the online magazine set up by @Shanley. It’s a must read: a combative critique of the values, practices and morality of Silicon Valley. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s an essential antidote to the complacency and lack of self awareness of too much of the tech scene.
The technology giants are relatively young (even “immature”? ). When you’re an adolescent you haven’t worked out the right thing to do yet. The BBC, like many other mainstream media organisations, has been trying to answer these questions for a lot longer. David Jordan, Director of BBC Values and Standards (Disclaimer: I use to work in that team), recently outlined the BBC’s guidance on removing content online (“Should the BBC unpublish any of its content online?”). It’s rational, nuanced, sensible and, mature.
Bold ideas? I’d rather have some old ones.