Sentiers No.30

Problems with news. The real Future of Work. Capitalism. Lecture performance. Trolleys and a New Silk Road

Busy weeks ahead but at least spring seems to finally be here in Montréal, a few week late. There are at least four or five longform articles I didn’t manage to read for this issue, hopefully for the next. I’m still playing around with the balance between “this just happened” and more evergreen stuff I can push back and talk about “late.”

Four problems for news and democracy
Excellent analysis of the news media ecosystem and its current state and problems. Ethan Zuckerman proposes a model with four different “buckets” of crises; addiction, economics, bad actors and known bugs.

Taken together, even this minimal model of the problems raised for media and democracy seems pretty daunting. But understanding the problems as buckets of interrelated challenges that can be solved without unraveling the entire Gordian knot makes the situation more tractable.

The Ezra Klein Show – Ai-jen Poo: the future of work isn’t robots. It’s caring humans
US centric in parts (well, the whole thing but most of what they say applies worldwide). When you hear “Future of Work”, make sure this thinking lights up in your mind. FoW is not only about AIs, robots, and automation.

When we think about the future of work, she says, we need to think about care workers. Home care work — caring for the elderly and for children — is the fastest-growing occupation in the entire workforce, expanding at five times the rate of any other job. By the year 2030, child care and elder care jobs will be our economy’s single largest occupation.

Her challenge to people in tech: “Silicon Valley has done a great job of solving for convenience and efficiency, it’s time we solved for equity.” 🔥[Equity as in fairness, not stock options, obvs.]

It’s capitalism, stupid
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m kind of in love with this “Activist in residency (in motherhood)” project by my friend Michelle. I’m linking again, this time to her March report, with thoughts on a number of books from her syllabus as well as conclusion so far (i.e.; It’s capitalism, stupid).

It didn’t take long to find a common culprit of much of what ails us. From social inequality to climate change, from gentrification to trust-eroding technologies, from digital colonialism to poor urban planning: most authors I read argued that it’s our underlying economic system that’s breaking things.

In short, it’s capitalism, stupid.

City Everywhere by Liam Young (Lecture Performance)
Mentioned in the last issue, the “Lecture Performance,” above is the full video. Superb.

++ Makerspaces could be the secret to making smart cities smart
Rosy tinted glasses, and saying “matured” and “crypto-economy” in the same phrase is just weird. But there are hints of what could be a promising vision for makerspaces within smart cities.

The maker movement has overcome its growing pains and matured into an enabler of citizen-centric solutions and social innovations that transcends the general understanding of the circular economy by incorporating the tools of the sharing economy and the crypto-economy.

++ “Singapore based bikeshare firm oBike announces its EVS, electric pedal assisted bicycle with a user swappable battery. The ‘bring your own battery’ or BYOB concept is slowly gaining traction.” “User swappable” is the interesting bit for me, the battery is barely bigger than a phone and slots into the bike. Carrying your own battery for recharging devices and powering other services.

Enough With the Trolley Problem
An illuminating piece by Ian Bogost, with a much more thorough explanation of the trolley problem and how to approach such ethical questions. One important point: the trolley reasoning is usually based on the assumption that the tech works, which is not completely the case now.

In particular, the seductive popularity of the trolley problem has allowed people to misconstrue autonomous cars as a technology that is already present, reliable, and homogeneous—such that abstract questions about their hypothetical moral behavior can be posed, and even answered. But that scenario is years away, if it ever comes to pass. In the meantime, citizens, governments, automakers, and technology companies must ask harder, more complex questions about the moral consequences of robocars today, and tomorrow. It’s time to put the brakes on the trolley before it runs everyone down.

++ François Chollet who does Deep Learning at Google:
“The problem with Facebook is not just the loss of your privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon. The more worrying issue, in my opinion, is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector.” + optimizing a loop of inputs and reactions is great for AI + “psychological attack patterns.”

++ Apple Now Runs On 100% Green Energy, And Here’s How It Got There

Sometimes this section ends up positive, sometimes… not so much.

China needs more water. So it’s building a rain-making network three times the size of Spain “Vast system of chambers on Tibetan plateau could send enough particles into the atmosphere to allow extensive clouds to form.” Geoengineering is here.

China 🇨🇳
Fascinating and mind boggling scale of investment and vision: “My favorite parlor game — from Silicon Valley to NYC to DC — is to ask people what is “One Belt, One Road.” Fewer than 5% can. It’s the largest global engagement strategy since the Marshall Plan — only that like 40 X as large in real dollars.”

++ In China and India, men outnumber women on a massive scale. The consequences are far-reaching (70 million fewer women in those 2 countries.)

Untold AI
I haven’t dug through this yet but AI, interfaces, Scifi movies and that private unconference thing at Juvet Landscape Hotel means it’s very promising.

++ 🍄 Mycelium based “fake leather”: Bolt Threads.

++ 📷 SmugMug snaps up Flickr photo service from Verizon’s Oath. Amidst all the talk about how we miss the open web, it would be quite the story if one of the platforms from back then was rekindled.

++ 🐠 Mystery of sea nomads’ amazing ability to freedive is solved

[O]ver time the Bajau people have undergone natural selection, resulting in certain versions of genes becoming widespread – many of which are linked to biological changes, including having a larger spleen, that could help the Bajau to hold their breath underwater for many minutes at a time.

++ Sharetribe – Building a better sharing economy

Sharetribe helps entrepreneurs and organizations create their own sharing economy platforms (like Airbnb or Uber) quickly and with a low budget.

++ 🇬🇷 Sortition
Somehow I knew of this historically but not the specific word.

The logic behind the sortition process originates from the idea that “power corrupts.” For that reason, when the time came to choose individuals to be assigned to empowering positions, the ancient Athenians resorted to choosing by lot.

++ Header image by Krzysztof Skórczewski, via Paul Cooper.

++ By the way, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t share it here but it got some very kind words a few days ago so I thought I’d include it: Work & Learn Out Loud (It’s a good bunch of ideas but also worth a read for the quotes and links to multiple “canonical” articles on the topic).

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