Sentiers No.11

Impakt, commons, broken systems, the internet zucks and biomimicry

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You’re getting this a bit later than usual. Sorry about that, I spent a good chunk of the afternoon finally watching Blade Runner 2049. Found it pretty great but I sure hope the objectification of women changes quicker than that in the actual future.

Lets start on a positive note with this list from the STEPS Centre on Twitter.
No silver bullets
No one-size-fits-all solutions
Recognise complex ecologies
Listen to marginalised perspectives
Open up to views and ideas
Broaden out possibilities
Pay attention to power
Look at framings
Appreciate uncertainties
Create political spaces
Seek justice

Impakt Festival
The videos from Impakt Festival 2017 are up and I might have to take a few days off to watch it all. I’ll probably start with Anab Jain who’s always brilliant, then the Speculative Realities panel moderated by Nicolas Nova and Post-Truth & Soft Power moderated by Tobias Revell.

Re-imaging Politics through the Lens of the Commons
I could have highlighted half of this piece. A great vision of how a cooperative and commons based vision could be the way away from the global plutocracy we currently live in.

Over the past five years or more, the commons has served as a kind of overarching meta-narrative for diverse movements to challenge the marketization and transactionalization of everything, the dispossession and privatization of resources, and the corruption of democracy. The commons has also provided a language and ethic for thinking and acting like a commoner—collaborative, socially minded, embedded in nature, concerned with stewardship and long-term, respectful of the pluriverse that makes up our planet.

What Happens to the Internet After a Disaster?
How infrastructure crumbles after disasters and some of the projects, communities and networks working on resilient backup solutions.

Communities sustaining their own network infrastructure, not just for emergency management, but as a catalyst for changing the ways people think about network infrastructure and as a tool for strengthening social fabric itself.

Broken systems and thinking like an algorithm
In this piece, James Bridle goes on (it’s a bit long) about the cases of weird / off / disturbing / frightening videos young kids see on YouTube Kids.

What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse.

I’m unsure about the purposefulness or danger behind what he’s seeing but clearly he’s unearthed another example of the same giant internet systems corrupted on purpose or by accident. Systems which are, well, fucking up society. What he talks about parallels terrorist radicalisation, the alt-right and fake news. I.e. gigantic gameable systems with administrators unwilling or unable to control the flow of crazy and dangerous.

We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay.

(Note that YouTube is now taking some limited steps agains this.)

Be sure to follow that up with The Ghost of Cognition Past, or Thinking Like An Algorithmby Geoff Manaugh who skips over the systems worries of Bridle and concentrates on the content and the mode of thinking, the algorithmic narrative. By way of his love of writing, Umberto Eco and Blade Runner, he wonders what happens to generations who start thinking like the algorithms that feed them these weird videos.

The real risk would seem to be that children exposed to recommendation algorithms at an early age might begin to emulate them cognitively, learning how to think, reason, and associate based on inhuman leaps of machine logic.

++ Manaugh also mentions a Fincher / Spacey / Political thriller venn intersection Netlfix discovered and turned into House of Cards, which leads me to the news that Netflix is going to test new ideas by publishing comic books.

The Internet ZSucks
The Web began dying in 2014, here’s how
TL;DR : Google is about “knowledge,” Facebook is about social, Amazon is e-commerce. Mobile trafic has passed desktop and it’s even more dominated by Google and FB. 😩😡

What has changed over the last 4 years is market share of traffic on the Web. It looks like nothing has changed, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic.

Related; if you didn’t last week, you might also want to go back to Sentiers No.10 and read the Stratechery articles I mentioned.

Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web
Most of this has been said before but always worth a reminder + his analysis of everything that loads with a modern website is something everyone should be aware of.

Biomimicry: turning birds into bullet trains
Nice quick video about the Shinkansen and birds, followed by an intro to biomimicry. (I love biomimicry, we had an insert on it in The Alpine Review No.2.)

++ Here’s How Far the World Is From Meeting Its Climate Goals
Mixed bag. Not as bad as I thought but not that good either.

++ Mission 1 Complete!

This has been a long time coming – excited to announce we have achieved Mission 1: to image the entire Earth’s landmass every day!

++ The Fungus That Turns Ants Into Zombies Is More Diabolical Than We Realized
AArrrrghhhh!!!! 🐜

O. unilateralis is able to control the actions of its host by infiltrating and surrounding muscle fibers throughout the ant’s body. In effect, it’s converting an infected ant into an externalized version of itself. Zombie ants thus become part insect, part fungus.

The Churn
The Guardian view on the Paradise Papers: a light on murky dealings

[T]he economist Gabriel Zucman, estimated that approximately 10% of global GDP – about $7.8tn (£6tn) – is held offshore. This is about the size of Japan’s and Germany’s economies combined. The academic says 80% of all offshore cash is now owned by 0.1% of the richest households.

++ WeWork Hits Education With an Entrepreneurial School for Kids
That’s kind of horrible. We should teach kids to be lifelong learners, teach them to collaborate, understand the world, be empathic, not try to turn them into something as narrow as “entrepreneurs” and certainly not through a school and curriculum emanating from a Silicon Valley disruptor.

++ How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met 😡

Behind the Facebook profile you’ve built for yourself is another one, a shadow profile, built from the inboxes and smartphones of other Facebook users.

I’ve only recently started listening to podcasts with any kind of regularity. One thing I’m realizing (which might be a big d’uh! for some o you) is that earring someone talk gives you a new perspective on them and makes it feel like you know them more closely. Some great things I listened to in the last couple of weeks: