Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.) that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.
Many thanks to those who enjoy this. ☺
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.
“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9
Swedish firm ‘body-hacks’ employees with implanted microchips that work as swipe cards opening doorsPhysicists Say They've Created a Fluid With 'Negative Mass'
The last six months have ushered in a sea-change in the blockchain community. In short, the days of experimentation are over. Blockchain is being implemented to work at scale in our global financial institutions and no one will be left untouched by its tidal force. In 2017 we can expect to see an impressive portion of post-trade communities across the financial services industry launching distributed ledger solutions, with banks and asset managers beginning to consume, and offer services through blockchain technology. When the industry begins to reap return on investment in greater operational efficiency and delivery of higher value services, non-adopting companies may risk a fatal fall behind in cost and value.
Those at the forefront of blockchain technology are already beginning to talk about the immense cost savings potential as a given, and radical simplification as the next wave of benefit. But with board level expertise low, and expectations and investments in the evolving technology growing, the pressure to get blockchain right, mounts. Failure to implement blockchain initiatives intelligently, as part of an enterprise-wide strategy, will cost crucial time and resources in the race for financial services success. What will it take for the financial services industry to realize the possibilities of this nascent technology, and make it an integral part of their technology strategy?
The Depository Trust and Clearing Company in partnership with IBM began deploying a distributed ledger for credit derivatives. This solution will eventually replace DTCC’s ‘Trade Information Warehouse’ with an initial migration of up to $11 trillion credit derivatives to a distributed ledger in which all major broker-dealers and buy-side firms will participate. The ledger will handle all post-trade processes including credit events and payment calculations.
The digital age in general has an action bias: what critics label doerism. Ready-fire-aim over ready-aim-fire. The next level is ready-fire-steer (a Paul Saffo phrase), which means you're all agile and maneuverable, OODAing the shit out of things and breaking smart at ninja levels. This makes uncertainty and ambiguity a big theme in all conversations about digital doings. We've talked a lot about both in this newsletter before.
This action bias though, does not mean intentions don't matter. They just become part of the uncertainty and ambiguity. In this issue I want to talk about an aspect of internal uncertainty and ambiguity I call the fog of intention. An ability to clear the fog of intention is what separates mere talent (hitting targets others can't hit) from genius (hitting targets others can't see). The good news is that even if you aren't an actual genius, you can still learn the trick of clearing intention fogs and hitting targets others can't see.
We’re getting reliable, instant answers from machines thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence. But if knowledge is growing exponentially because of scientific tools, then we should be running out of puzzles. Instead we keep discovering greater unknowns. In the future, questions will be more valuable than answers. Author and Wired’s “Senior Maverick” Kevin Kelly predicts our biggest questions are yet to come.
This is a very interesting article looking deeper into the problems of ‘fake news’ or what was previously labeled mainstream media as functioning to ‘Manufacture Consent’. This is very worth while read - for anyone concerned with the future of journalism as a key to a healthy democracy.
What unites the trust architects—whether they are conscious of it or not—is their common focus on economic incentives that directly align journalism with the needs of the user.
Mark Little, founder of Storyful, on what the digital economy of news would look like if it was optimized for trust
I think we’re beyond peak fake news pandemic. The early fever of moral panic has abated. Attention is moving from symptoms to cause. And so begins the sober, purposeful work of rebuilding trust in the world’s information supplies.
That’s my hope after months of conversation with an inspirational coalition of journalists, technologists, researchers, and activists. At summits, hackathons and in working groups on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve watched potential leaders emerge, conventional wisdoms challenged and enjoyed the dopamine rush of fresh thinking. And I’ve seen the ideals of this fledgling movement align with broader tectonic shifts in the media world.
The digital platform enables vast new forms of value creation - often value beyond what a profit-motivate can create. There is an increasing experimentation around new business models that are more appropriate to the value creation arising from network effects and long term spillovers.
It sounds far-fetched, but this is actually on the agenda for the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May.
Here’s a potential Twitter acquirer you may not have considered: The service’s own users.
Last fall, when Twitter was considering a sale, a group of Twitter diehards started a petition encouraging the company to sell itself to its users, which would essentially turn Twitter into a co-op.
Sounds crazy? The movement garnered enough attention that a proposal to explore the co-op idea has made it onto the official agenda for the company’s annual shareholder meeting set to take place in May.
If the proposal passes, it would require Twitter to “prepare a report on the nature and feasibility of selling the platform to its users,” according to Twitter’s proxy filing submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission last week.
In other words, Twitter needs to look into the idea, although that doesn’t mean it would ever actually happen.
To provide some hope here’s another great read from a former Google “Design Ethicist” - an occupation that should be incorporated in many more organizations.
This is exactly what magicians do. They give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. I can’t emphasize enough how deep this insight is.
When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:
- “what’s not on the menu?”
- “why am I being given these options and not others?”
- “do I know the menu provider’s goals?”
- “is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?” (e.g. an overwhelmingly array of toothpastes)
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.” — Unknown.
I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities. That’s why I spent the last three years as a Design Ethicist at Google caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked.
When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want to show you where it might do the opposite.
Where does technology exploit our minds’ weaknesses?
I learned to think this way when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.
On the other hand Algorithmic Intelligence can also work with humans in ways that strengthen our abilities.
“AlphaGo’s play makes us feel free, that no move is impossible. Now everyone is trying to play in a style that hasn’t been tried before.” Zhou Ruiyang, 9 Dan Professional
Just over a year ago, we saw a major milestone in the field of artificial intelligence: DeepMind’s AlphaGo took on and defeated one of the world’s top Go players, the legendary Lee Sedol. Even then, we had no idea how this moment would affect the 3,000 year old game of Go and the growing global community of devotees to this beautiful board game.
Instead of diminishing the game, as some feared, artificial intelligence (A.I.) has actually made human players stronger and more creative. It’s humbling to see how pros and amateurs alike, who have pored over every detail of AlphaGo’s innovative game play, have actually learned new knowledge and strategies about perhaps the most studied and contemplated game in history.
From May 23-27, we’ll collaborate with the China Go Association and Chinese Government to bring AlphaGo, China’s top Go players, and leading A.I. experts from Google and China together in Wuzhen, one of the country’s most beautiful water towns, for the “Future of Go Summit.”
The blockchain technologies continue to progress - this is a recent project by the folks doing Etherium - worth the read - a signal of a potential new paradigm of distributed computing.
Akasha, a next-generation social media network powered by Ethereum and the InterPlanetary File System, was unveiled on May 3 ‒ World Press Freedom Day. The signups for the alpha release are open. The project is the brainchild of Mihai Alisie, cofounder of Bitcoin Magazine.
The Akasha, a Sanskrit word, is the unseen medium that pervades the universe and, in Eastern religions and spiritual traditions, serves as a substrate for the “Akashic Records” ‒ a permanent repository embedded in the fabric of space-time for all the information that is ever produced in the universe. Alisie’s project doesn’t go that far yet: it just wants to establish a permanent repository embedded in the fabric of the Internet for all the information that is ever produced online.
The problem that the Akasha project wants to solve is the impermanence of information online. Information ‒ web sites, documents, email archives, video, etc. ‒ can be either purposefully deleted by the governments and/or corporations that control today’s Internet, or, more simply but equally tragic, just disappear for lack of maintenance of the central servers where it’s hosted.
In fact, today’s Internet is becoming centralized, with billions of users dependent on a handful of large services. Today’s Internet is also fragile, because it relies on a centralized distribution model, with servers that come and go. If a server goes down for any technical or commercial reason, or is taken down by the authorities, all the web pages stored on that server disappear.
You can download Akasha here
A Next-Generation Social Media Network
This is a very long report - but worth it for anyone interested in the ongoing development of Algorithmic Intelligence.
A growing number of experts believe that a third revolution will occur during the 21st century, through the invention of machines with intelligence which far surpasses our own. These range from Stephen Hawking to Stuart Russell, the author of the best-selling AI textbook, AI: A Modern Approach.
Rapid progress in machine learning has raised the prospect that algorithms will one day be able to do most or all of the mental tasks currently performed by humans. This could ultimately lead to machines that are much better at these tasks than humans.
These advances could lead to extremely positive developments, presenting solutions to now-intractable global problems, but they also pose severe risks. Humanity’s superior intelligence is pretty much the sole reason that it is the dominant species on the planet. If machines surpass humans in intelligence, then just as the fate of gorillas currently depends on the actions of humans, the fate of humanity may come to depend more on the actions of machines than our own. For a technical explanation of the risks from the perspective of computer scientists, see these papers.
This might be the most important transition of the next century – either ushering in an unprecedented era of wealth and progress, or heralding disaster. But it’s also an area that’s highly neglected: while billions are spent making AI more powerful, fewer than 100 people in the world are working on how to make AI safe.
Here’s a warning signal about Algorithmic Intelligence and the need for related institutions of regulation and monitoring - for example an ‘Auditor General of Algorithms’ to ensure they are doing what they claim. Perhaps other institutions will emerge. This is also a signal about the hype of start-up cultures and the pernicious incentives they can offer.
This latest lawsuit claims that Uber implemented the so-called "upfront" pricing scheme in September and informed drivers that fares are calculated on a per-mile and per-minute charge for the estimated distance and time of a ride. "However, the software that calculates the upfront price that is displayed and charged to the Users calculates the expected distance and time utilizing a route that is often longer in both distance and time to the one displayed in the driver’s application," according to the suit.
Class action says Uber's "methodical scheme" manipulates rider fares, driver pay.
Uber has devised a "clever and sophisticated" scheme in which it manipulates navigation data used to determine "upfront" rider fare prices while secretly short-changing the driver, according to a proposed class-action lawsuit against the ride-hailing app.
When a rider uses Uber's app to hail a ride, the fare the app immediately shows to the passenger is based on a slower and longer route compared to the one displayed to the driver. The software displays a quicker, shorter route for the driver. But the rider pays the higher fee, and the driver's commission is paid from the cheaper, faster route, according to the lawsuit.
"Specifically, the Uber Defendants deliberately manipulated the navigation data used in determining the fare amount paid by its users and the amount reported and paid to its drivers," according to the suit filed in federal court in Los Angeles. Lawyers representing a Los Angeles driver for Uber, Sophano Van, said the programming was "shocking, "methodical," and "extensive."
The suit, which labeled the implementation of Uber's technology as a "well-planned scheme to deceive drivers and users," is one of a number of lawsuits targeting the San Francisco-based company. The suits range from disputes over drivers' employment rights to sex discrimination to trade-secrets theft. Just weeks ago, Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, declared that he needed "leadership help."
There seems to be a lot of blame these days on social media and algorithmic intelligence on creating ‘bubbles’ and ‘silos’ - but the advent of the Long Tail and Amazon as a platform linking the few buyers interested in the few books that enabled Amazon to flip the 20-80 rule (20% of book create 80% of sales). This is a physical algorithm emerging from the finite space of bookshelves in bookstores. Amazon makes more money selling the hyper niche book to the hyper niche buyer.
Essentially, people have created and continue to create their bubbles and silos whether they are on the Internet or not.
Passionate disagreements about climate change, stem cell research and evolution raise concerns that science has become a new battlefield in the culture wars. We used data derived from millions of online co-purchases as a behavioural indicator for whether shared interest in science bridges political differences or selective attention reinforces existing divisions. Findings reveal partisan preferences both within and across scientific disciplines. Across fields, customers for liberal or ‘blue’ political books prefer basic science (for example, physics, astronomy and zoology), whereas conservative or ‘red’ customers prefer applied and commercial science (for example, criminology, medicine and geophysics). Within disciplines, ‘red’ books tend to be co-purchased with a narrower subset of science books on the periphery of the discipline. We conclude that the political left and right share an interest in science in general, but not science in particular. This underscores the need for research into remedies that can attenuate selective exposure to ‘convenient truth’, renew the capacity for science to inform political debate and temper partisan passions.
Here’s a signal of a future world of the interface between humans and the digital environment - and perhaps transcending our need for passwords.
“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”
Swedish firm ‘body-hacks’ employees with implanted microchips that work as swipe cards opening doors
The syringe slides in between the thumb and index finger. Then, with a click, a microchip is injected in the employee’s hand. Another “cyborg” is created.
What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish startup hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.
The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.
The power of nanofabrication is only at the threshold of emerging. This is fabulous and the imagination staggers on thinking of where such technology will be in another 20 years. The future Large Hadron Collider maybe very different.
About 15 months ago, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded US $13.5 million to a five-year project involving an international collection of universities and national labs to start work on shrinking particle accelerators so that they could fit on a chip. The project, dubbed “Accelerator on a Chip” could have a profound impact on both fundamental science research and medicine.
In a nutshell, the aim is to use lasers and a piece of nanostructured silicon or glass about the size of a grain of rice to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional technology can. The resulting technology could potentially match the power of SLAC’s 3.2-kilometer-long linear accelerator in as little as 30 meters.
England explains that the Accelerator-on-a-Chip project has been able to harness these converging technologies of nanofabrication and solid-state lasers and combine them in order to make a miniaturized particle accelerator. While a variety of techniques for accelerating particles using this type of approach have been proposed over the years, according to England, it’s only become possible to realize it within the last three years because of the large amount of progress made in fabricating nanostructures and testing them.
In terms of operation, the miniaturized accelerometer works on the same basic principles of today’s large-scale particle accelerators. These accelerators use metallic, microwave cavities to speed up the electrons.
We should be all familiar with the looming emergence of self-driving cars, and we should be aware of a looming nano-bio-technology that will become part of the regular medical tool kit. Here a good signal about the progress of autonomous and other bio-nano motors that could cruise through our bloodstream keeping us healthy. The graphic depictions of these molecular dragsters is worth the view.
Chemists will navigate molecular wagons along a tiny golden track.
Six teams from three continents are preparing for a unique race on a polished gold track in the south of France this month. But this is no luxurious supercar event: competitors will be racing single molecules. In 36 hours, they aim to move them a distance of 100 nanometres — about one-thousandth the width of a human hair — on a laboratory track held in a vacuum and chilled to a few degrees above absolute zero.
The contest is being billed as the world’s first nanocar race, and the aim is to get people excited about nanotechnology and molecular machines, says co-organizer Christian Joachim, a chemist who works at the Centre for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies in Toulouse, where the event will take place. He and Gwénaël Rapenne, a chemist at the University of Toulouse-Paul Sabatier, developed the contest after Joachim realized — following an interview with a journalist — that nanocars attracted much more public attention than did his research on fundamental aspects of nanotechnology.
This is an awesome development involving new materials to capture water from the air’s humidity.
A new kind of water-capturing device could be a game-changer for some of the world’s driest places. It can pull water vapor out of the air at humidity as low as 20 percent — conditions that may be seen in the Sahara desert during its hottest months — and it can operate entirely off-grid, just using the ambient power of the sun.
This means it could provide water for parts of the world likely to be most vulnerable to water shortages under future climate change, including areas afflicted by recurring drought.
According to a description of the new design, published Thursday in the journal Science, a single tissue box-sized device can harvest up to 2.8 liters, or about three quarts, of water in one day at low humidity — that’s a bit more than the half gallon of water experts recommend a person drink over the course of a day.
The design provides a “better way” to capture water under low relative humidity than previous techniques have offered, according to Kyoo-Chul Park, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, who was not involved with the new project but has worked on other water capture designs in the past.
This is a great example of how renewable energy is changing energy geo-politics - especially because of what it can offer to many and other marginal areas of the world. There is a good 10 min video as well.
What the mainland can learn from Hawaii’s electricity solutions
On the southern edge of the island of Kauaʻi sits an unsightly diesel power plant. The rust-covered smokestacks (a by-product of being next to the ocean) that emit a mechanical engine drone are a stark contrast to the serene beauty of the rest of the Hawaiian island. For decades this smoke-belching eyesore was the main source of electricity for Kauaʻi. But now it's being overtaken by renewable sources -- one that's made possible by batteries like those being built by Tesla.
For the residents of Kauaʻi, sites like this are not only ecologically friendly but are also saving money, according to KIUC and other utilities on the island. "Hawaii was the most dependent state in the country on imported fossil fuels," Hawaiian Governor David Ige told Engadget. "Even as recent as five years back we were still over 90 percent reliant on imported fossil fuel for our electricity generation. We had amongst the highest energy costs in the country. And when imported oil went to $150 a barrel, it really strained our economy, because so much of our money was going out of state just to purchase oil."
We’ve heard renewable energy and electric land vehicles - here’s a signal of the continued transformation of our transportation industries.
The model that Zunum Aero is working on is more or less designed to replicate that of bus travel — “walk-on, walk-off” aircraft that don’t require a 2.5 hour journey to the nearest major airport. By way of example, passengers can expect to travel from regional airports in the Boston area to Washington, DC for “half the fare and in half the time it takes today door-to-door,”
Earlier this year, Airbus confirmed plans to test a prototype of a self-piloted flying car by the end of 2017, as it looks to invest in solving the growing gridlock on city roads. This followed shortly after fledgling startup Lilium Aviation announcing a $10.7 million funding round for its vertical take-off and landing jet. Elsewhere, Massachusetts-based Terrafugia has been developing working prototypes of roadable aircraft for more than a decade, and it recently received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that paves the way for it to get unmanned passenger vehicles in the skies by 2018.
A new aviation startup is launching out of stealth today with plans to facilitate a U.S. regional hybrid-electric aircraft network by the beginning of the next decade.
Founded out of Kirkland, Washington in 2013, Zunum Aero is striving to “take aviation into the future” with 10-50 seat aircraft that use thousands of quieter regional airports to transport people up to 700 miles starting from the early 2020s. The company says it expects to increase the range to 1,000 miles by 2030.
In a nutshell, Zunum Aero is looking to better utilize underused airport inventory. Currently more than 95 percent of all U.S. air traffic emanates from only 2 percent of the country’s 5,000 airports.
The long-term aim of Zunum Aero is to build a regional electric air network, offering travelers a 40 percent decrease in door-to-door travel time by using a smattering of local airports, while also promising 80 percent lower emissions. Additionally, the company says it has lower in-house operating costs, which will mean up to 80 percent cheaper fares.
Reality is often stranger than fiction - this is a very interesting look at what could be a deep form of bio-intelligence.
... RNA editing is especially rife in the neurons of cephalopods. They use it to re-code genes that are important for their nervous systems—the genes that, as Rosenthal says, “make a nerve cell a nerve cell.” And only the intelligent coleoid cephalopods—octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—do so. The relatively dumber nautiluses do not. “Humans don’t have this. Monkeys don’t. Nothing has this except the coleoids,” says Rosenthal.
It might be connected to their extraordinary intelligence.
Octopuses have three hearts, parrot-like beaks, venomous bites, and eight semi-autonomous arms that can taste the world. They squirt ink, contort through the tiniest of spaces, and melt into the world by changing both color and texture. They are incredibly intelligent, capable of wielding tools, solving problems, and sabotaging equipment. As Sy Montgomery once wrote, “no sci-fi alien is so startlingly strange” as an octopus. But their disarming otherness doesn’t end with their bodies. Their genes are also really weird.
A team of scientists led by Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Eli Eisenberg at Tel Aviv University have shown that octopuses and their relatives—the cephalopods—practice a type of genetic alteration called RNA editing that’s very rare in the rest of the animal kingdom. They use it to fine-tune the information encoded by their genes without altering the genes themselves. And they do so extensively, to a far greater degree than any other animal group.
While a typical mammal edits its RNA at just a few hundred sites, the squid was making some 57,000 such edits. These changes weren’t happening in discarded sections of RNA, but in the ones that actually go towards building proteins—the so-called coding regions. They were ten times more common in the squid’s neurons than in its other tissues, and they disproportionately affected proteins involved in its nervous system.
Domesticating DNA progresses - we didn’t need to know everything about a plant before we started to domesticate them to serve our needs.
UCLA researchers have created a new system to produce human T cells, the white blood cells that fight against disease-causing intruders in the body. The system could be utilized to engineer T cells to find and attack cancer cells, which means it could be an important step toward generating a readily available supply of T cells for treating many different types of cancer.
The preclinical study, published in the journal Nature Methods, was led by senior authors Dr. Gay Crooks, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of pediatrics and co-director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, and Amelie Montel-Hagen, an associate project scientist in Crooks' lab.
The thymus sits in the front of the heart and plays a central role in the immune system. It uses blood stem cells to make T cells, which help the body fight infections and have the ability to eliminate cancer cells. However, as people age or become ill, the thymus isn't as efficient at making T cells.
Scientists have found that arming large numbers of T cells with specific cancer-finding receptors—a method known as adoptive T cell immunotherapy —has shown remarkable results in clinical trials.
Adoptive T cell immunotherapy typically involves collecting T cells from people who have cancer, engineering them in the lab with a cancer-finding receptor and transfusing the cells back into the patient.
Cement and reinforced concrete serve as a key foundations of the human built world. But even something so basic as concrete is being innovated. The pictures provide a clear way to understand the innovation.
Scientists at ETH Zurich have developed a lightweight concrete floor system that does not require steel reinforcement. It is 70 percent lighter than conventional concrete floors.
...scientists from ETH Zurich’s Department of Architecture (D-ARCH) have developed a concrete floor system that does not require steel reinforcement. These concrete floor elements have the load-bearing slab with 2cm thickness is extremely stable. In addition, it is 70 percent lighter than conventional concrete floors.
Scientists arched the slabs like the vaulted ceilings of Gothic cathedrals that makes the floor lightweight. Simply by virtue the shape, they can support very heavy loads and so do not need to be strengthened by steel reinforcement.
What is truly hard to foresee - are breakthroughs in basic science and their possibly implications. The difficulty is that science can often be stranger than fiction.
Researchers in the US say they've created a fluid with negative mass in the lab... which is exactly as mind-bending as it sounds.
What it means is that, unlike pretty much every other known physical object, when you push this fluid, it accelerates backwards instead of moving forwards. Such an oddity could tell scientists about some of the strange behaviour that happens within black holes and neutron stars.
To create this strange fluid, the team used lasers to cool rubidium atoms to a fraction above absolute zero, creating what's known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.
In this state, particles move incredibly slowly and follow the strange principles of quantum mechanics, rather than classical physics - which means they start to behave like waves, with a location that can't be precisely pinpointed.
The particles also sync up and move in unison, forming what's known as a superfluid - a substance that flows without losing energy to friction.
The team used lasers to keep this superfluid at the icy temperatures, but also to trap it in a tiny bowl-like field measuring less than 100 microns across.
While the superfluid remained contained in that space it had regular mass and, as far as Bose-Einstein condensates go, was pretty normal. But then the team forced the superfluid to escape.
Using a second set of lasers, they kicked the atoms back and forth to change their spin, breaking the 'bowl' and allowing the rubidium to come rushing out so fast that it behaved as if it had negative mass.