Dark Matter: 13 July 2017

This week’s a bit lighter on links than usual, as I’ve been completely consumed by both work and Mike Bise’s incredible archive of GAP in-store playlists — which reveals considerably more Saint Etienne than I recall overhead in the halcyon days of early-90’s New Hampshire.

Thanks, as always, to those of you who share Dark Matter with others. If you’re the thoughtful sort, a request: reply to this email with a succinct one-to-two sentence description of the newsletter.

I’ve been working, slowly, diligently through Jan Chipchase’s extraordinary Field Study Handbook, which arrived along with a smaller, paper-bound book called Sustainable Data. Over the last week or so, I’ve returned several times to this passage from the latter:

“As more data comes on stream, revealing what people are doing and how, there is a growing danger of people being treated as little more than lines in a database, stripped of personality and context, there solely to be mined and monetized. The massive scale of wholesale data collection has allure, particularly at the organizational level, coddled by numbers. Unaware that there’s little more to life than what they are able to measure, over time, the organization’s palette becomes calibrated to bland food.”

This week in you’re over-using the word ‘liminal’:

From a Creative Review interview with photographer Gregory Crewdson (6min — you absolutely should read it in full), this gem:

“It’s not entirely fictional and it’s not entirely truthful. It’s consciously taking places that mean something to me and have connections to my life but also working with a theatrical set of conventions and cinematic images and use of heightened colour and light … all that’s put into a mix to create some kind of ‘subject of truth’, I would call it. It’s not evidential truth – it would do you no good in the court room, but does you well in the gallery.”

which, in turn, reminded me of this from Russell Davies in 2011:

“Because that’s what we need to add to so many things, to give them that extra neccesary magic. A pretending layer. So it’s not just a useful or beautiful or functional object – it’s got some little nod to who we’re pretending to be when we’re using it.”

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Mark Pollard, Aussie, gentleman, on the Twitter:

“Young strategists start out like young rappers — they put words together because they can. After a while, they start with a point and then find the words.”

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There’s a teaching moment for young designers and strategists in BlueCross’ ill-conceived notion of sending marketing materials in a USB-powered direct mail piece (3min). Really.

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All the service framework Reddit channels are belong to Made by Many, who have launched a professional service and product design development program (7min) that resembles a hybrid of A Book Apart and IDEO’s Human Centered Design framework. Sadly, it’s not yet available for public purchase.

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Building on a post I shared a few weeks ago: do read Robin Wong on slow innovation and the three parts of the newsroom (5min): factories, workshops, and labs. It’s a piece that Richard Sennett could be proud of.

This week in wait until Kaytranada gets his hands on scikit-learn:

A bot called ‘My Handy Design’ is creating and marketing cell-phone cases on Amazon using random stock and rights-managed imagery. Items appear to be removed for copyright on a near-constant basis. As a bot, My Handy Design is tireless in its Negativland-like pursuit of trademark infringement.

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A lovely piece from Robert Ito for Google on the important role that gender balance plays in machine learning (12min). To excerpt liberally:

“Programmers give virtual assistants a female voice because, well, men and women alike tend to prefer one. “But it perpetuates this idea that assistants are female, so when we engage with these systems, it reinforces that social bias,” says Chou. Many of the field’s best minds worry about what’s going into real-life AI systems—and thus what’s going to emerge. That’s where the push for greater diversity in AI comes in. Little of this will be easy. But its proponents are smart, resourceful, and committed to the cause.​”

Google also just launched PAIR: People + AI Research Initiative, which is worth a look if you’ve not seen it.

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John Robb’s written a short piece on ways in which AI creates new jobs (4min). Some are obvious, others not so readily apparent.

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Artificial Intelligence Now is especially interesting: an initiative from Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker with a focus on four areas of learning:

  1. the role of AI in rights and liberties
  2. the relationship between labor and automation
  3. how AI impacts bias and inclusion
  4. the impact to safety of AI deployments in institutional technology infrastructure

This week in a future gleaned from a childhood spent playing Fatal Frame 2:

From Lewis Gordon’s meandering, spectacular review of the new game The Signal From Tölva (9min), in Heterotopiaszine:

Tölva’s derelict industrial spaces feel similarly empty. But there’s another symptom of neoliberal economic policy that the game touches upon. There might not be a single human in the game but there are robots. Many of them. The game’s workforce is entirely automated aside from you, the player, who has managed to hack into the Surveyor network, able to assume control of a drone and exercise some semblance of agency roaming the wilds of the planet.​

Read it. Really. Please.

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Adapted from a talk at SXSW, a New Inquiry piece by Joerg Blumtritt, Simone Browne, and Heather Dewey-Hagborg on ‘subverting biopolitics’ (8min) makes for excellent reading. This, in particular, stuck with me:

This biopunk future will come in three ages:

  1. Quantified bio: 23andme-like diagnostics become available at grocery rates for everybody. Just as the iPhone tracks every step I take, people will have their genomes continuously monitored, including their microbiome and all microorganisms around their house, gardens, pets and cattle.
  2. Evolution as will and representation: Genetic modifications are commoditized. Sanitation, hygiene, and most of medicine has moved from chemistry to biology, substituting hydrochloric acid or isopropyl alcohol with enzymes and phages.
  3. Siphonophora humanity: Our modified bodies are enhanced with all kinds of additional bio-receptors. These work similarly to taste buds in their method of gathering information about our environment and people within smelling distance while we pass by, without any need of cognitive processing, will feed directly into our metabolism.
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How many unintended micro-aggressions will I perpetrate against the machines? wonders Matt Jones. This is brilliant.

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Finally, from a CBC article on a small Canadian town that depends almost exclusively on Amazon Prime for supplies of commercial goods (4min):

Canada Post says the Iqaluit post office is one of the busiest in the country and parcel shipping to the remote office is increasing at two to three times the national average. In the first five months of 2017, the post office delivered 88,500 parcels. That’s an increase of 27 per cent over last year and averages out to around 12 packages per person in Iqaluit. While those numbers aren’t specific to Amazon orders, Marineau-Plante, peeking behind the post office counter, estimates 80 to 90 per cent of the parcels bear the Amazon logo.

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Until next week. Be well to one another.