Dark Matter: 20 July 2017

Dark Matter is growing at a pretty fast clip these days — and that growth has had me thinking about how to transfer the value of scale to you, the readers (see also: Metcalfe’s Law). Stealing a turn from Anjali Ramachandran’s wonderful ‘Other Valleys’ newsletter, I’ve decided to try something new:

If you’re trying to fill a job in your organization, let me know and I’ll post the role to Dark Matter. Several thousand misfit toys around the world subscribe.

There is no charge. Reply to this email with details, ping iandfitzpatrick at gmail, or DM me on the Twitters (@ianfitzpatrick). I reserve the right to edit for reason and decency. We’ll see how this goes.

This week in talking leisure communism with Ayn Rand:

Distinguished fella (and Dark Matter subscriber) Chris Butler has a new podcast, The Liminal, focused on the in-between states of our lives. It covers extraordinary ground over the first two episodes, from Charles Fort to binaural beats.

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Three standouts from ’26 Things I learnt in India’, by Martin Weigel (4min):

  • Your ideas about the primacy of the individual and the nobility and urgency of seeking ‘self-actualisation’ do not wash here, buddy.
  • You’re an employee. Pretty much everybody here is a business owner.
  • People are aware of the price the West pays for its untrammelled, selfish conception of individuality.  Having seen the consequences, they’re not convinced they want to pay it.

The whole list is fantastic, because of course it is, because Martin. He’s got a fair amount to say about the value of distancing oneself from the routine and familiar, from contexts, and from ideas of ‘old’ and ‘new’. More immediately, a simple reminder: our generalizations about the world reflect a need to, paraphrasing Anais Nin, “see the world not as it is, but as we are”.

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Unrelated/completely related: work is underway on the development of Amaravati (14min) — an Indian city being designed and constructed from the ground up, projected to house a population of 11 million by 2035.

Consider the implications of this idea on what you do (they almost certainly exist):

If anything, the focus of inspiration for what makes a good city has shifted from West to East. For centuries the great cities of Western Europe, and then the big cities of the United States, were the aspirational reference points for any up-and-coming metropolis. Now Asian city planners are mostly seeking models elsewhere in Asia, for the simple reason of scale. “There is no city in Europe that has the density of Bombay or Beijing or Shanghai,” Chua told me. “You use the Amsterdam model, you would be dead. You can no longer look to Europe and America for any lessons.”

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Now, pair that shift with median age by continent, via the wonderful @Amazing_Maps account

This week in fake news of the near future:

You’ve likely seen the work done by a research team at the University of Washington in fabricating new video clips of President Barack Obama (6min) using small snippets of recorded text and a neural net to dynamically generate realistic mouth movements. It’s fascinating, terrifying, brilliant work. An especially-potent excerpt from the university’s own website:

Previously, audio-to-video conversion processes have involved filming multiple people in a studio saying the same sentences over and over to try to capture how a particular sound correlates to different mouth shapes, which is expensive, tedious and time-consuming. By contrast, Suwajanakorn developed algorithms that can learn from videos that exist “in the wild” on the internet or elsewhere.

“There are millions of hours of video that already exist from interviews, video chats, movies, television programs and other sources. And these deep learning algorithms are very data hungry, so it’s a good match to do it this way,” Suwajanakorn said.

Put another way: the full history of recorded video is potential training data for new footage of each of us expressing ideas we’ve never had. The implications are staggering.

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When you’re done there, read Kenneth Stanley on Neuroevolution (7min). Neuroevolution?

Put simply, neuroevolution is a subfield within artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) that consists of trying to trigger an evolutionary process similar to the one that produced our brains, except inside a computer. In other words, neuroevolution seeks to develop the means of evolving neural networks through evolutionary algorithms.

When you’re done there, Kernel.

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Surveyor, by the New York Public Library, is spectacular: a higher-tech Mechanical Turk for mapping the locations of archival city photographs. You’ve been warned: it’s an absolute rabbit hole.

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Do read Jeffrey Inscho’s piece for The Studio on mobile usage benchmarking at the Carnegie museums (7min). There’s nothing especially novel in the findings, but his team’s approach is absolutely worth replicating. Fundamentally, organizations and institutions of all stripes are still really awful about benchmarking customer and user behavior.

This week in building your own Accenture with Raspberry Pi:

I was exchanging Tweets recently with Farrah on the possibilities presented by the phrase ‘how might we?’, increasingly pervasive in organizations of a certain disposition. I suggested a simple modification, replacing the word ‘how’ with ‘in what ways’, the latter being divergent, the former driving convergent thinking.

I was reminded of that distinction this week in Scott Smith’s wonderful piece on the power of Future Design to align perspectives (6min). He writes:

As is often the case in structured explorations of the future, the teams’ sharing of their own future maps—and sense opportunities and concerns in their own words—allowed new understanding to surface. By making their own forecasts and insights visible to the other team, and by taking the time to debate differing data and understandings, each group deepened their own pool of possible strategic pathways.

Which, in turn, reminded me of this gem from Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World:

“You dont make strategy so that there’s one path to victory; you make it so that as many paths as possible lead to something which isn’t loss.”

Quote originally plucked by Mr. Davies.

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Definitely read Eric Karjaluoto on starting a design studio (4min), even if you won’t be starting a design studio. The advice is evergreen, especially this:

Be easy to hire. I have a friend who’s smart and well qualified, but he can’t find steady work. My hunch is that no one hires him because he makes the process unnecessarily difficult. He complains about their HR software. He questions whether their interest is legitimate. He gets frustrated when the process carries on. Don’t fall into this trap. Make it easy for clients to try you out, see how you work, and get comfortable.

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While you’re at it, read Tom Critchlow on organizational grain, and the need for consultants to work within it (6min), even if you won’t be starting a consultancy.
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I read Patrick Tanguay’s piece on platform organizations (6min) a few days ago and it hasn’t really left my mind since. He begins with Simone Cicero’s ace point that:
Platforms are not technologies but scalable collaboration agreements.
and runs with it, applying the ideal to internal collaboration models and product development cycles. This, in particular, has been fun to play with:
an interesting shift in understanding this idea of platform happens when you start thinking of the organization as a platform for collaboration and knowledge creation between team members and contributors. In other words, applying this model to any company, as a way of framing and structuring it, using platform design thinking ideas instead of hierarchies. Extending the model beyond its original use in creating and understanding Marketplace Platforms
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Don’t forget to send along those job listings. As always, have a great week.