summing up 111

summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Socializing technology for the mobile human, by Bill Buxton

Everybody's into accelerators and incubators and wants to be a millionaire by the time they're 24 by doing the next big thing. So let me tell you what I think about the next big thing: there's no such thing as the next big thing! In fact chasing the next big thing is what is causing the problem.

That the next big thing isn't a thing. The next big thing is a change in the relationship amongst the things that are already there. Societies don't transform by making new things but by having their internal relationships change and develop.

I'd argue that what we know about sociology and how we think about things like kinship, moral order, social conventions, all of those things that we know about and have a language through social science apply equally to the technologies that we must start making. If we don't have that into our mindset, we're just gonna make a bunch of gadgets, a bunch of doodads, as opposed to build an ecosystem that's worthy of human aspirations. And actually technological potential.

We’re living in the present and we’ve forgotten that true innovation is about system transformation, not just a linear forward progression. That distinction is key to understanding the problem.

Privacy Rights and Data Collection in a Digital Economy, by Maciej Cegłowski

The internet economy today resembles the earliest days of the nuclear industry. We have a technology of unprecedented potential, we have made glowing promises about how it will transform the daily lives of our fellow Americans, but we don’t know how to keep its dangerous byproducts safe.

There is no deep reason that weds the commercial internet to a business model of blanket surveillance. The spirit of innovation is not dead in Silicon Valley, and there are other ways we can grow our digital economy that will maintain our lead in information technology, while also safeguarding our liberty. Just like the creation of the internet itself, the effort to put it on a safer foundation will require a combination of research, entrepreneurial drive and timely, enlightened regulation. But we did it before, and there’s no reason to think we can’t do it again.

No technology is entirely positive or even neutral. Every technology is both a burden and a blessing. It is never a matter of either/or – it will always be both. And we must ask with urgency, is whether we're gonna manage the machine or whether it will manage us.

Notes on AI Bias, by Benedict Evans

I often think that the term ‘artificial intelligence’ is deeply unhelpful in conversations like this. It creates the largely false impression that we have actually created, well, intelligence – that we are somehow on a path to HAL 9000 or Skynet – towards something that actually understands. We aren’t. These are just machines, and it’s much more useful to compare them to, say, a washing machine. A washing machine is much better than a human at washing clothes, but if you put dishes in a washing machine instead of clothes and press start, it will wash them. They’ll even get clean. But this won’t be the result you were looking for, and it won’t be because the system is biased against dishes. A washing machine doesn’t know what clothes or dishes are - it’s just a piece of automation, and it is not conceptually very different from any previous wave of automation.

That is, just as for cars, or aircraft, or databases, these systems can be both extremely powerful and extremely limited, and depend entirely on how they’re used by people, and on how well or badly intentioned and how educated or ignorant people are of how these systems work.

Is it really about making machines and tools smarter and more intelligent? Or about augmenting the individual to be smarter or to be more productive? Maybe we should aim for something different: contributing to raising our collective intelligence. Because that is the intelligence we're part of, that shapes us as we shape it, that defines our culture and ultimately the borders of our world.


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