[Crossposted from Patreon.]
Yikes. Just when I was getting settled in on Patreon, the company may have thrown a large wrench into the works. See the first section below for details.
Patreon has announced a planned revision to their subscription fees. The goal is to structure fees so that creators will get 95% of all fees charged to sponsors. Which sounds good, since creators would like to know how much they might make next month, without worrying about the variability of service charges. And of course, Patreon makes 5% of the pledge, too.
But to make that happen Patreon is adding a service fee of 2.9% plus $0.35 to every pledge. So a patron paying $2.00 per month would after 1 January pay $2.41.
This is obviously going to have some impact for those making small pledges, I bet. We’ll see what the dropout rate is. I guess I could drop the lowest subscription to $1.60, but then the $0.35 looks even stranger.
This controversy has led Patreon to update their announcement with excruciating details that I will leave out, but Patreon is arguing that this model may be the least bad of various alternatives, but which has the inarguable side effect of involving the patrons in the resulting mess. We’ll have to see if Patreon comes up with an explanation that will be shown to patrons at the time of making a pledge that makes it all clear, and doesn’t lead to dropouts.
But I believe this will lead to a decrease in small pledges, especially for patrons supporting many creators. Maybe I should have made the Supporting tier of patronage here $5, so the $0.35 wouldn’t look so big.
It’s all very inside baseball, I know, but a lot of other Patreon creators are squawking.
I’m sure we are not done with this mess.
Redbooth conducted a study, analyzing anonymized data from over 1.8 million projects and 28 million tasks, trying to determine when we are (or aren’t) completing the most tasks.
The bottom line?
We peak in productivity around 11AM. We get most of our work done earlier in the week. We rush to complete tasks in October, before the holiday season. And most importantly, getting stuff done after lunch is an uphill battle.
A group of researchers has demonstrated that Democrats and Republicans vote with their vehicle purchases. So it’s not stereotyping to guess that a neighborhood full of pickup Trucks leans for Trump, and the folks with the hybrids are Dems.
Elon Musk says Tesla will be making custom AI hardware, ‘the best in the world’, and transitioning from Nvidia chipsets for its autopilot efforts.
San Francisco has passed new rules restricting the number of robots that companies can deploy in the city: three, and nine robots total for the entire city.
Nine for the entire city?
Work Futures One and Done - 7 December 2017 - One And Done— Stowe Boyd (@stoweboyd) December 7, 2017
Kara Swisher is an Otherist; Reuters Tracer; Company elects leadership each year; Medium’s falling short; Execs say Digital IQ down 15%; Transformation held back by learned helplessnesshttps://t.co/BFVBn4e4eM
My top songs, 2017, on Spotify
Kara Swisher is an Otherist; Reuters Tracer; Company elects leadership each year; Medium’s falling short; Execs say Digital IQ down 15%; Transformation held back by learned helplessness
[Cross-posted from www.patreon.com.]
I am transitioning to a tweaked model for the Daily. I will be posting a public abbreviated version, with a single in-depth item and the remaining items as one liners. This will be called the One And Done. The full, in depth Daily will be restricted to patrons for 30 days, and will then become public.
The rationale is simple. Crafting the Daily is time-intensive, and as such should be one of the benefits for patrons, here.
Paradoxically, creating the One And Done is actually creates extra work, since I draft the Daily first. But I thrive on paradox. Or at least I can tolerate it.
Think of this as an incentive to step up to supporting Work Futures as a patron, and get the Daily.
Here’s the link to the Daily from which this One And Done was made, for the patrons among you, and in 30 days, for everyone else.
I’ve introduced the terms ‘Anotherist’ and ‘Otherist’ to characterize the two ends of the dialogue about the impact of AI on the future of work (and jobs). At one end we have those who argue AI is ‘just another technology’ like electricity or tractors, and we will respond by creating new sorts of jobs even as others are made obsolete: the Anotherists. Otherists, on the other end, maintain that AI is something other than earlier technologies, simply because AI is emulating human cognition and is not simply a means to replace human labor.
Kara Swisher makes it clear than she is an otherist in the Recode 100, the people in tech, business and media who mattered in 2017. Number 8 in the Terrible 10 — ‘those who might have made our list if they weren’t quite so awful’ — is Job impact deniers:
Now, I am no Luddite, but it’s more than past time for a cogent and honest debateabout the impact of upcoming technologies on the workplace and the job market.From artificial intelligence to advanced manufacturing to self-drivingeverything to automation to robotics, it’s pretty clear that many of whatappear to be amazing new breakthroughs could also have potentiallydevastating implications for jobs as they are currently conceived. While itmight eventually bring another era of plenty — all-will-be-well techies like topoint to the shift from farm to manufacturing as an example — it is also criticalthat tech leaders, government and citizens begin to assess and plan for what iscoming. One very sharp pundit noted that every job that can be digitizedwill be and that is a lot of jobs — so it is time to reconsider everything fromeducation to retraining to creating a sensible assessment of what jobs willexist in the next decades.
I wonder if I’m that pundit, because I have made that statement many times.
Oh, and I agree with making Jeff Bezos #1 on their Recode 100 list.
Apparently, Reuters is getting out ahead of its competitors by using AI to mine Twitter for news, and they’ve published how they do it.
As summarized by the MIT Technology Review, Reuters has
almost entirely automated the identification of breaking news stories. XiaomoLiu and pals at Reuters Research and Development and Alibaba say the newsystem performs well. Indeed, it has the potential to revolutionize the newsbusiness. But it also raises concerns about how such a system could be gamed bymalicious actors.
The new system is called Reuters Tracer. It uses Twitter as a kind of global sensorthat records news events as they are happening. The system then uses variouskinds of data mining and machine learning to pick out the most relevant events,determine their topic, rank their priority, and write a headline and a summary.The news is then distributed around the company’s global news wire.
The system processes 12 million tweets every day, rejecting almost 80 percent ofthem as noise. The rest fall into about 6,000 clusters that the system categorizesas different types of news events. That’s all done by 13 servers running 10different algorithms.
By comparison, Reuters employs some 2,500 journalists around the world whotogether generate about 3,000 news alerts every day, using a variety of sources,including Twitter. Of these, around 250 are written up as news stories.
Reuters compared the stories that Tracer identifies with those that appear in thenews feeds of organizations like the BBC and CNN. “The results indicate Tracercan cover about 70 percent of news stories with 2 percent of Twitter data,” sayLui and co.
Sounds like a more souped-up version of Techmeme, and not limited to tech.
The MIT authors — unnamed — end with this:
Then there is the role of humans in the news business. The future of news isclearly one of increasing automation. How humans fit in is yet to be determined.
ON DEMOCRATIC WORK
Companies are publishing what appear to be plain vanilla Medium posts but are thinly veiled infomercials for products and services.
Here’s two examples in the work of work technology:
1. Regan Collins of Azuronaut posted Workplace by Facebook and SharePoint — Better Together recently. It’s a sales piece, pure and simple.
2. Benjamin Ramhofer of SAP is just as blatant in Collaboration in the Workplace of the Future — Boundaries are Irrelevant.
Medium is falling short on the image as high quality writing for a discerning community, and is devolving into hucksterism and listicles.
ON DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
Tom Puthiyamadam of PwC reports on how companies’ thinking about digital transformation has evolved over a decade. The answer is: not much.
PwC surveyed over 2,200 executives of companies with more than $500 million in revenues and found ‘executives confidence in their organization’s digital abilities is actually at the lowest it has been since we started tracking. Just 52% of executives rated their Digital IQ as strong, down 15% from the year before’.
Why? Despite growing awareness of the need for DT companies in general have made a minuscule investment in emerging technologies, which grew only 1% over the ten-year period.
Caroline Boyd (no relation) at Post*Shift has a sort of abrasive insight to a barrier blocking digital transformation: Transformation is being held back by learned helplessness.
I was reading a 2013 interview with Ursula Le Guin, and discovered this wonderful beginning by John Wray, the interviewer:
How do you feel about the term science fiction, as connected to your work?
Well, that’s very complicated, Wray.
I’m sorry. Are you at peace with it? Do you find it reductive?
I don’t think science fiction is a very good name for it, but it’s the name that we’ve got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.
That’s how one can identify a sci-fi author, I guess—tentacles coming out of the pigeonhole.
I guess if I ever turn my hand to fiction, it will have to be science fiction, or whatever Le Guin thought it should be called. Because of the tentacles.
The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.
Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.
Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.
Laziness is often an option, and it's worth labelling it for what it is.
I was saddened by the news that Ivan Chermayeff passed away on December 2nd, 2017 at the age of 85. While we never had the pleasure of meeting in person, Ivan and his colleagues Tom Geismar and Sagi Haviv have been gracious enough to share their thoughts and advice with me in my much shorter time as a graphic designer.
In the words of his design partner Tom Geismar, “Ivan was a brilliant designer and illustrator, with a vibrant personal style that reflected joy, intelligence and wit. He loved surprise, large-scale objects, and the colour red. For over 60 years, Ivan and I have enjoyed a partnership, to which we each brought complementary talents, in an alliance cemented by shared values and mutual respect. Ivan’s contribution to the field of design will remain unsurpassed.”
About Ivan Chermayeff
Born in 1932, Ivan Chermayeff’s career spanned more than six decades. He was a distinguished graphic designer, author, illustrator, and collagist, producing memorable work in a wide range of mediums. He created more than 100 posters announcing television shows, museum exhibitions, and other cultural events, all crafted with a fantastic sense of colour, form, typography, and visual connections.
From its inception, the design firm that he founded with Tom Geismar — now named Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv — has worked closely with architects on large-scale projects. Ivan’s design for the massive steel red 9 that sits on West 57th Street is a New York landmark, and his “fractured flag” design was a highly visible feature in the US Pavilion at Expo’67 in Montreal. After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Ivan and the firm worked closely with the Kennedy family and the architect I M Pei over many years to develop the design for the exhibition at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.
The firm has long specialised in the design of graphic identities for a wide range of companies, government institutions, and cultural organisations. Ivan’s logos include those for HarperCollins, Showtime Networks, the Smithsonian Institution, and many more.
Harper Collins logo, 1990.
Showtime Networks logo, 1997.
Smithsonian Institution logo, 1999.
Over the years Ivan designed a range of children’s books with bold illustrations and sparse text. His “Sun Moon Star,” with words by Kurt Vonnegut, has been reprinted in many languages.
Apart from his professional work, one of Ivan’s favourite means of personal expression was collage. Bright, colourful, and graphic, each collage was made from mailing envelopes, scraps of packaging, ticket stubs, bits of type, etc.
The artwork has been featured in more than 40 one-man exhibitions throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. Nearly all the collages are variations on the theme of the human face, each made with a style and visual wit characteristic of Ivan’s work.
In the wake of Ivan’s death, Mike Dempsey republished a great read and recorded interview from 2009 — Ivan the great.
Sincere condolences to Ivan’s family and friends.
We seldom hear of companies grooming and outsourcing software talent outside of Lagos, so when I heard of one operating in Aba of all places, my initial reaction was to doubt its credibility.
But I soon realised the amount of work Chibueze Ukaegbu has put into building his company, LearnFactory, when Techpoint visited Aba during our tour of the South-South and South-East...[more]
- | Arundhati Roy
One of the best things I’ve read in a while. @stoweboyd lays out his manifesto for the ultimate in allied action from men who claim to be feminists. Radical? Yes… Difficult, also yes… But possible?… Needed nay, necessary? SO MUCH YES. https://t.co/Un9E1ZL0Wi— JINGLE BELL-J Parker ❄️🎄🎁🔔 (@little_lj) December 6, 2017
ABAN started two years ago to over 50 today. Now most of these networks have not made investments yet and some probably never will but the point here is that angel investing – deploying smart capital to help entrepreneurs start and grow their companies – has become part of our every day vocabulary. And we are just starting...[more]
West Africa's biggest solar power plant goes onstream on Wednesday as Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, inaugurates a novel scheme to boost renewables and cut energy dependence on its neighbours.
The 55-hectare plant at Zagtouli on the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou will be able to churn out 33 megawatts - enough to power tens of thousands of homes...[more]
LaLa World has come up with a new financial ecosystem, created largely for the massive underbanked section of the society, by making use of the now popular Blockchain technology to bridge the gap between fiat and non-fiat currencies...[more]
I had a dream the other night. I had taken a nebulous job on some UN commission and was scrambling through an airport trying to locate some group of young people in transit to a conference.
Endless twisting tunnels, moving from terminal to terminal, packed with hordes of travelers.
I finally located the kids in the back of a sandwich shop that was out of sandwiches, and we made our way out a door to a cargo plane where the crew handed us parachutes.
That’s when I woke up, before we actually sky dived into Norway.
- | H.L. Mencken
For your idea to spread, your app to go viral, your restaurant to be the place, it's likely you'll need to hit critical mass.
This is a term from physics, describing the amount of plutonium you need in a certain amount of space before a nuclear reaction becomes self-sustaining.
Once enough people start driving your new brand of motorcycle around town, it's seen by enough people that it becomes accepted, and sales take off from there.
Once enough people who know enough people start talking about your new app, the touchpoints multiply and organic growth kicks in.
Once enough readers read and engage with your book, it's no longer up to the bookstore to push it... people talking to people are the engine for your growth.
It's sort of the opposite of Yogi Berra saying, "No one goes there, it's too crowded." When you hit the right number of conversations, the buzz creates its own buzz, popularity and usage creates more popularity and usage.
The thing is, though, most marketers are fooling themselves. They imagine that the audience size necessary for critical mass is right around the corner, but it's actually closer to infinity. That, like a boat with a leak, you always have to keep bailing to keep it afloat. If you don't design for a low critical mass, you're unlikely to get one.
This is why most apps don't ever take off. Not because they weren't launched with enough fanfare, not because the developers didn't buy enough promotion or installs—because the r0 of virality is less than one. Because every time you add 10 users, you don't get a cycle that goes up in scale, you get one that gradually decays instead.
The hard work of marketing, then, isn't promoting that thing you made. It's in building something where the Minimum Critical Mass is a low enough number that you can actually reach it.
Facebook, one of the finest examples available, only needed 100 users in one Harvard social circle for it to gain enough traction to take the campus, and then jump to the Ivy League, and then, eventually, to you.
My book Purple Cow was seeded to about 5,000 readers. That was all the direct promotion it needed to eventually make its way to millions of readers around the world.
How many people needed to start carrying a Moleskine or selfie stick or a pair of Grados before you decided you needed one too?
Yes, of course, sometimes the route to popular is random, or accidental. And betting on lucky is fine, as long as you know that's what you're doing. But the best marketers do three things to increase their chances:
- They engineer the product itself to be worth talking about. They create a virtuous cycle where the product works better for existing users when their friends are also using it, or a cultural imperative where users feel better when they recommend it.
- They choose their seed market carefully. They focus on groups that are not only easy to reach, but important to reach. This might be a tightly-knit group (like Harvard) or a group that shares a similar demographic (like the early readers of Fast Company) or a group that's itching to take action...
- They're hyper-aware of the MCM and know whether or not they have the time and the budget to reach it.
Making your MCM a manageable number is the secret to creating a hit.
Fast Company is running an awards project called The 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards. This is a description of a modest proposal for that project.
Men have done – on the whole – a piss-poor job of running the world, basically since the Bronze Age. I propose a movement, by men, on behalf of the world, a movement called The Brotherhood of the Future, where men agree to 25 Years of Women in Charge of Everything.
In a nutshell, men would sign a pledge to not take on a leadership role in any government, partnership, company, NGO, union, church, or any other organization for the next 25 years. This means at every level of any organization. Instead, men would step aside to allow women to take on these leadership roles, and would actively support women in assuming and carrying out that leadership.
So men that sign up to this pledge could be the leader’s chief of staff, a trusted advisor, or a direct report to a woman in a leadership role, but they would agree to always defer to a woman in whatever organization.
For men currently in a leadership role – like a CEO, managing director, senator, congressman, mayor, chief of police, chairman of the board, governor, head of division or department – they would agree to transition out of their current leadership role as soon as practical, and to find a woman who will fill the role instead.
I realize that this idea is disruptive, and will require a willing commitment to the value of the concept by men. It also means that a generation of men would have to forgo the economic and personal benefits of leadership. We’ll be doing this for the benefit of the world, guys, and maybe for its salvation. I mean look at the state of things. Climate apocalypse, an extinction event, politics spinning into madness, a march toward doomsday.
How do I know women will do better? There’s a great deal of evidence that women could do a better job running the world, and a more humane job, than men. And why not give it a try? They certainly can’t do a worse job, and they’ve seen every stupid mistake that men have made since literally the beginning of time. If it is a gamble, I think it’s good bet to make.
Note: This movement requires no commitment by women. It will rise or fall totally on the whims of men, who have benefitted unequally for millennia by the appropriation of power by men in all spheres of society.
And it does not require every man to join the Brotherhood of the Future. I expect that many companies, countries, organizations, and religious institutions will resist. But if some proportion of men join the Brotherhood we will at some point hit a tipping point, and the world might start spinning around a different axis: different values, different aims, and different means to accomplish them, I bet.
If you are willing to take the pledge, please click on the link here and join the Brotherhood (or the Auxiliary of the Future, for non-men) supporting the cause.
And don’t get me started on #MeToo, and the sickness pervading society. That’s a secondary thread that we can talk about later.
- | Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Some observations from Michelle Goldberg about younger Americans getting shortchanged by the highhanded tax shenanigans that the GOP has planned for our future [emphasis mine]:
The anti-Communist Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was alarmed to find in a recent survey that 44 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country, compared with 42 percent who want to live under capitalism. For older Americans, the collapse of Communism made it seem as though there was no possible alternative to capitalism. But given the increasingly oligarchic nature of our economy, it’s not surprising that for many young people, capitalism looks like the god that failed.
Nowhere is that clearer than in the wretched tax bill passed by the Senate in the early hours of Saturday morning, which would make the rich richer and the poor poorer. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the bill directs the largest tax cuts as a share of income to the top 5 percent of taxpayers. By 2027, taxes on the lowest earners would go up.
Millennials, a generation maligned as entitled whiners, would be particularly hard hit. As Ronald Brownstein argued in The Atlantic, the rich people who would benefit from the measures passed by the House and the Senate tend to be older (and whiter) than the population at large. Younger people would foot the bill, either through higher taxes, diminished public services or both. They stand to inherit an even more stratified society than the one they were born into.
Private jet owners and parents sending their children to private schools are benefitted by the planned tax policies, while Goldberg notes that cutting ‘deductions for state and local taxes, which could make it harder to fund the public schools where the vast majority of millennials will send their kids.’
The GOP could give a shit about everyone else.
The Republicans are looting the future to feed the yawning maw of the wealthy, old, white GOP supporters. They are pissing on everyone else: the young, the powerless, the poor, and the blue that opposes them. They are driven by greed, racism, and hatred, and below it all, fear of the inexorable change that will ultimately undo them.
This is a war, and at present, they hold all the levers of power. But when the pendulum swings the other way, as it surely will, this time we will not turn the other cheek. Now we must make plans so that their gerrymandering and hostage-taking tactics cannot work, and we will not sit down at a table and compromise with the architects of our country’s doom, the looters of our posterity.
There can be no future compromise with the oligarchy, especially about the future.
Michelle Goldberg closes:
The Trump era is radicalizing because it makes the rotten morality behind our inequalities so manifest. It’s not just the occult magic of the market that’s enriching Ivanka Trump’s children while health insurance premiums soar and public school budgets wither. It’s the raw exercise of power by a tiny unaccountable minority that believes in its own superiority. You don’t have to want to abolish capitalism to understand why the prospect is tempting to a generation that’s being robbed.
- | Joan Didion, cited by Louis Menand in The Radicalization of Joan Didion
Folk music: Mark Fry’s Aeroplanes
“Hardly anything is open 24h in Rome: a few bars, a few stores, self service gas stations and flower kiosks, a lot of flower kiosks. You can find them everywhere in the city and they never close. They never close.
Their presence has always fascinated me, they seem like sentinels in the quiet roman night, small lighthouses populated by half-asleep immigrant workers.”
I have never ‘been’ to Rome, just passed through. Next time in Italy I will spend a weekend at least.
The way European French speakers lock their doors.
There are more truck drivers in the US than just about any other occupation.
For a long time, unionized truck drivers benefitted from work rules, healthcare, vacations, etc. It wasn't an easy job to get, but it was a career.
Companies started to realize that if they offloaded the work to freelance truckers, people with their own rigs, they could take advantage of a free market. As a result, more and more of the work ended up with independent operators, who got to be their own boss, paying for their own equipment, finding their own work. (HT)
The problem, exacerbated by the speed and power of the internet, is that there's always someone cheaper and hungrier than you are. That if you do undifferentiated work, the market will squeeze you to do it cheaper.
We get (slightly) cheaper trucking. The millions of drivers get exhausted while living right on the edge. They work too many hours, carry too much weight, burn themselves out.
And the same thing is true for anyone who signs up to be a cog in a digital marketplace. Uber drivers, freelance bottom-fishers, hard-working people cranking things out by the pound...
Any market that seems to offer an easy in to the undifferentiated will eventually squeeze them.
Polite Raccoon; What Managers Need to Know About Social Tools; Gaming the Algorithms; Bullshit; Expensify’s Secret; Innovation, Schminnovation
[Reposted from Patreon.com/workfutures. Create free account and follow there to get email notifications of these and other posts.]
The start of the second full week of the new Work Futures on Patreon. I’m starting to get my feet underneath me, and I’m enjoying the interaction with patrons. Several people have expressed a concern with having to sign up for yet-another-platform. I may have to continue pushing out the daily as a newsletter for longer than I had hoped. More to follow.
ON SOCIAL TOOLS
Slack’s Cal Henderson describes a practice within the company’s use of its own product: the ‘polite raccoon’ emoji which directs overly-talkative (writative?) team members to take their off-topic chattering in a Slack channel offline.
One of the downsides of working out loud is, well, it can get loud.
According to a massive 2012 research study of 4,200 companies by McKinsey, 72% reported using social tools to facilitate communication. Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley were struck by those figures and wanted to look into the motivations of those signing up to use these platforms. Mostly they found a lot of me-tooism, and few decisions based on solid business cases.
They decided to run an experiment at a large financial services firm contrasting two groups, one using Jive-n, and the other relying only on conventional tools, like email.
Their results strike me as far too rosy, and sidestep a number of well-known problems with brute force adoption of both earlier generations of social tools and today’s crop, as well. But take a look, by all means, at What Managers Need to Know About Social Tools.
A small interaction with Jason Fried of Basecamp today on Twitter:
The link is to a Work Futures post on Medium (I haven’t ported it to Patreon, yet): Progressivity, not Productivity.
I noticed that Nikhil Nulkar (@nikhilnulkar) also linked to that article in response to Jason’s tweet. Thanks, Nikhil!
Anil Dash connects the dots between seemingly innocuous choices in CMS systems from the early days of blogging and the resulting algorithmic arms race that has rejiggered the world’s media and fused it with the web.
The pea under the mattress is the choice that Google made to favor dashes over underscores in blog post urls, which led the CMS companies to adopt that convention wholesale, for better Google rankings. Anil, despite his surname, favored underscores. But in retrospect, he now sees the lineaments of today’s online world:
Google was teaching us that the way to win on the web is to game the algorithms of big companies.
And then, the molehill begat a mountain [emphasis mine]:
In that old era of the social web, the community’s shared knowledge of how to game algorithms was mostly used for harmless things. People would try to get more readers for their personal blogs, or pull off silly stunts like “Google bombing”, which was essentially just playing with getting a certain site to rank high in Google’s results for a particular term. It’s no wonder we thought it was no big deal if we changed our apps to make content that suited Google’s arbitrary rules. None of this stuff mattered that much, right?
But by attaching monetary value to search ranking, what Google ended up catalyzing was a never-ending arms race, where they constantly updated their algorithm and each community on the web constantly tried to learn how to exploit the new mechanics. The stakes of the algorithmic arms race kept going up; instead of being about pulling off silly pranks, understanding how to appease Google became the cornerstone of multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns. Instead of being about one character in a web address, it became about publishing content that suited the algorithm, whether it was true or not. At first, the only people paying attention were nerds making content management systems, then a broader audience of people trying to optimize their search engine positioning.
Eventually, though, movements across the political spectrum came to understand that knowledge of how to appease the algorithms that govern social media had profound social and cultural power. It wasn’t just marketers who figured out the best way to promote their ideas, it was trolls and activists and harassers and people on the fringes who wouldn’t have had any way to get the word out before — both for better and for worse. At that point, the rise of fake media markets was inevitable.
Anil tries to end on a rallying cry, exhorting us to ‘hold the big platforms accountable’ and to turn the tide.
My worry is that we may have to unravel the entire fabric of the web to rework this massive concentration of power that grew from the coevolution of social platforms and the networks that grew to populate and appropriate them. If we can even get to there from here.
Andre Spicer relates a few tales of dealing with corporate bullshit, like new age off sites where nebulous abstractions and team building exercises waste an afternoon in some hotel conference room. Yawn.
Spicer offers Harry Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit:
The philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Princeton University defined bullshit as talk that has no relationship to the truth. Lying covers up the truth, while bullshit is empty, and bears no relationship to the truth.
In my experience, the worst purveyors of bullshit are senior executives, especially successful CEOs (or CEOs of successful companies, which is not quite the same thing). Spicer seems to agree:
Calling out an underling’s piffle might be tough, but calling bullshit on the boss is usually impossible. Yet we also know that organisations that encourage people to speak up tend to retain their staff, learn more, and perform better. So how can you question your superiors’ bullshit without incurring their wrath? One study by Ethan Burris of the University of Texas at Austin provides some solutions. He found that it made a big difference how an employee went about posing the questions. ‘Challenging’ questions were met with punishment, while supportive questions received a fair hearing. So instead of bounding up to your boss and saying: ‘I can’t believe your bullshit,’ it would be a better idea to point out: ‘We might want to check what the evidence says, then tweak it a little to make it better.’
Good survival skills for work rebels.
Maybe I should have called this section NOT ON AI, since its really about companies that use people to augment AI-based systems, and the problems that can arise from that.
Lily Hay Newman offers a deep dive into the iffy security side effects of Expensify relying on Mechanical Turkers to review results of AI analysis of expense receipts. Jeffrey Bigham of Carnegie Mellon says,
Every product that uses AI also uses people. I wouldn’t even say it’s a backstop so much as a core part of the process. People definitely believe their technology is powered only by AI when it seems intelligent, and there’s every incentive for the companies to perpetuate that myth.
Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel take on the unimaginable: deflating the hype around innovation, and instead drawing attention to the prosaic but essential need for maintenance. Along the way they dethrone Schumpeter and Christensen, and all the droning on about innovation in corporations.
At the turn of the millennium, in the world of business and technology, innovation had transformed into an erotic fetish. Armies of young tech wizards aspired to become disrupters. The ambition to disrupt in pursuit of innovation transcended politics, enlisting liberals and conservatives alike. Conservative politicians could gut government and cut taxes in the name of spurring entrepreneurship, while liberals could create new programmes aimed at fostering research. The idea was vague enough to do nearly anything in its name without feeling the slightest conflict, just as long as you repeated the mantra: INNOVATION!! ENTREPRENEURSHIP!!
They note that innovation’s shine has faded starting in the early 2000s, and the inescapable link between the madness of endless unyielding innovation and the resulting impacts on the Earth, society, and our skewed economics.
In their final analysis, they offer this [emphasis mine]:
There is an urgent need to reckon more squarely and honestly with our machines and ourselves. Ultimately, emphasising maintenance involves moving from buzzwords to values, and from means to ends. In formal economic terms, ‘innovation’ involves the diffusion of new things and practices. The term is completely agnostic about whether these things and practices are good. Crack cocaine, for example, was a highly innovative product in the 1980s, which involved a great deal of entrepreneurship (called ‘dealing’) and generated lots of revenue. Innovation! Entrepreneurship! Perhaps this point is cynical, but it draws our attention to a perverse reality: contemporary discourse treats innovation as a positive value in itself, when it is not.
Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there? We must shift from means, including the technologies that underpin our everyday actions, to ends, including the many kinds of social beneficence and improvement that technology can offer. Our increasingly unequal and fearful world would be grateful.
...is a seed capital matching investment fund focused on driving diaspora investments into Somali agriculture and rural businesses
Most organizations think nothing of having twenty valuable employees spend an hour in a meeting that's only tangentially related to their productive output.
But if you're sitting at your desk reading a book that changes your perspective, your productivity or your contribution, it somehow feels like slacking off...
What would happen if the next all hands meeting got cancelled and instead the organization had an all hands-on read instead?
Of course, I'm biased. I think if you read Your Turn or The Dip, your work would change for the better. But I'm fine if you read any of 100 or 1,000 other books about work, the market, contributions, marketing or anything else that will help you leap.
Here are more than twenty books you might want to read at work today. You and ten co-workers reading together... it might change everything:
Seven out of ten Africans are involved in agriculture and investments in this sector are estimated to be two or three times more effective at reducing poverty than investing in other sectors. Alternative finance in the form of angel investors are providing important seed money to jumpstart agripreneurs and push them to profitability...[more]
The Ashesi D:Lab, Blockchain Society Ghana, Kumasi Hive and Devless are organizing the first Blockchain Hackathon in Ghana in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and the Association of Ghana Industries. For this challenge, the most creative and inspiring teams from all over Ghana are invited to design and pitch a blockchain-inspired solution for a supply chain platform for the Ministry of Trade.
The platform aims to enable buyers (large scale contractors and LSE’s) to engage suppliers (sub-contractors and SME’s) in an exchange arrangement that ensures that buyer needs are met while supplier capacity is enabled.
We asked: Why not make this a Blockchain project and here we are!!!
What are you waiting for? Check out this exciting challenge...[more]
That's the advice you'll hear in golf, in tennis and in baseball. That your follow through changes everything.
But how can it? After all, the ball is long gone by the time you're done with your swing.
Here's the thing: In order to not follow through, you need to start slowing down before you're done hitting the ball. The follow through isn't the goal, it's the symptom that you did something right.
And of course, the same thing is true of that conference you run, or the customer service you provide, or the way you engage with a class or a job... if you begin slowing down before the last moment, the last moment is going to suffer.
Swarm Robotix hires high school and college students with robotics experience to develop multi-robotic systems. We have created a rapid prototyping process that leverages the energy, talent and schedule of students and quickly converts great ideas into commercially viable solutions in 12 month cycles.
Swarm's vision is to bring together educators, students and industry to improve applied math and science education. We will be the world leader in multi-robotic swarm technologies.