Dark Matter: 27 July 2017

A handful of readers responded to my call for job postings. Several of them have been posted at the end of this week’s wordy missive. As there seems to be some demand, keep them coming.

The Interwebs contained multitudes this week. Strap in.

This week in eugenics and the Internet des choses

Have a look at Beijing’s unmanned convenience store, where facial recognition gets you in the door and checkout takes place via WeChat. Novel, sure — but also a wee bit sad?

* * *

Related: is Venmo making friendship a little too transactional? (4min) An excerpt:

“It’s making people less generous and chivalrous,” Ms. Pennoyer said. “It used to be you’d go to a restaurant, and you’d put down your credit cards and split it 50-50, even if one person had steak and one had chicken. But now people pay exactly to the cent.”​

* * *

The Indian Times has a fascinating, if completely unsettling, piece on the pursuit of “uttam santati” — a perfect, “customized child” (4min). Brace yoursel:

the project was inspired by Germany, which they claimed had “resurrected itself by having such signature children through Ayurvedic practices within two decades after World War II. The parents may have lower IQ, with a poor educational background, but their baby can be extremely bright. If the proper procedure is followed, babies of dark-skinned parents with lesser height can have fair complexion and grow taller,” said Dr Hitesh Jani, national convener, Arogya Bharati.

* * *

This is heartbreaking, and wonderful: the BBC has constructed a brilliant bit of storytelling from the contents of abandoned phones owned by three recently-deceased teenage ISIS fighters (11min). This raises some fascinating questions about privacy and content ownership that I’d love to see addressed publicly at greater length by the publisher. If you know of a citation, please pass it along.

* * *

From Dean Vipond’s thoughtful essay on finding solace in the collecting of postage stamps (5min), this:

You see, I realised that stamps, for the most part, are about Good Things. They celebrate the wonders of the natural world — trees, mountains, birds, insects! They examine the fantastic achievements of individuals — scientists, artists, inventors, architects, social reformers! And they also celebrate great feats of co-operation — sporting events, world fairs, education, the United Nations, space travel! So many Good Things.

* * *

Apropos of nothing, I really loved Colin Nagy’s interview with Mark Cho (3min) of The Armoury for Leanluxe. More than a few good lessons inside for anyone who likes to prattle on about ‘customer experience’ and ‘authenticity’.

* * *

I came across several people, from Chris Butler to Dan Williams, this week talking about Minitel — sort of a French pre-Internet with elegant (natch) terminals. From a history of the Minitel (9min) posted last month in IEEE’s Spectrum:

For small business owners, this flexibility transformed the Minitel terminal into a low-cost point-of-sale system. And long before the Internet of Things, Minitel was incorporated into a variety of home-automation schemes, allowing remote control of heaters, VHS recorders, security alarms, and sprinklers.​

* * *

@MachinePix is the best Twitter account of all the Twitter accounts ever. Somehow, ‘Stunt pilot Melissa Andrzejewski flies under highliner Andy Lewis while motocross rider Jimmy Fitzpatrick backflips over the plane’ looks even better than it sounds.

This week in playing chess with Alan Turing in Rastan-on-croan

Broadly speaking, I’m not a fan of the proliferation of threaded Twitter essays. Adam Ludwin’s thread on cryptocurrencies and the forces that drive value in decentralized applications is absolutely worth spending a few minutes with. Come for the thread, stay for the replies.

* * *

Please read Julian Togelius’ piece on advice for journalists writing about AI (5min), as it’s probably good remedial material for generic non-journalist agency (and in-house) types, as well:

Recommendation: Don’t use the term “an AI” or “an artificial intelligence”. Always ask what the limitations of a system is. Ask if it really is the same neural network that can play both Space Invaders and Montezuma’s Revenge (hint: it isn’t).

Related: John Robb has quite a good piece for The Future of Work on common approaches to crowdsourcing AI training (3min). He makes an interesting note I’d not considered on the barriers created by the cost of processing power — and the extent to which this plays to the existing strengths of large technology companies.

* * *

Dan Hon was already Internet famous before he trained a neural net to come up with British placenames (3min), and now he’s even more Internet famous.

This week in lossy futures and the Maidstone Saveloy:

I absolutely loved Matthew Sheret’s piece last week on designing for trust (5min) — specifically the idea that we can isolate the technical characteristics of trust. This, a thousand times over:

Consumer advocacy organisations and state bodies are starting to ask questions about how they can hold services to account for the way they use and store data. Services should be built in a way that makes it possible to do that.

Please read his whole post. It’s quite timely stuff.

* * *

I loved tripping across Bristol Braille — a non-profit enterprise that’s built Canute, a high-end Braille reader on top of open-source firmware. So good.

* * *

Take a few minutes with John Willshire’s post on the Time Capsule Retrieval Service (11min) — a speculative design exercise undertaken with — among others — Scott Smith, for the Emerging Technologies team at the Royal Society. It’s elegant design, and delightfully low-tech.

* * *

All of the Space Invaders tiles in Paris are belong to Michael Surtees.

This week in the annals of supercompensation:

Tim Malbon’s piece based upon his recent Google Firestarters talk, ‘WTF is Product-Led Digital Transformation, Anyway’ (6min), is magnificent. This is one of the truer things I’ve read this week:

Working together in the right way, and delivering something exceptional leaves a permanent mark. It changes the way people work and think. Doing it is a powerful way of learning it. The way we partner to co-design and collaborate very closely across every stage of the lifecycle through ideas, insights, design, prototyping, making, scaling and operating is an incredibly powerful learning experience. You don’t get this if your partner works inside a black box, or handles the engagement in a top-down way.​

While you’re at it, Tim had an especially provocative thought this week in response to a Gizmodo piece on ad hoc social networks springing up from Amazon Echo owner contact data (4min):

Things stay connected to the company you bought them from, which means the company can change them into other things​

That’s a really important thought, and one that we’re not talking about nearly enough. We give space in our lives to a collection of known brands (and known ethe) whos principles are, all too frequently fluid.

* * *

Finally, bookmark John Cutler’s piece for Hacker Noon on 40 ways to build resilience into (mostly, though not exclusively, design and development) teams (4min).

What I’m reading right now:

Way back in 2009, Adam Greenfield published a brilliant collection of 100 propositions for the intersection of networked technologies and urban spaces, cleverly-if-you’re-into-the-Futureheads-titled The City is Here for You to Use (7min). The first of those propositions feels like a siren’s call to government digital bureaus everywhere:

“The advent of lightweight, scalable, networked information-processing technologies means that urban environments around the world are now provisioned with the ability to gather, process, transmit, display and take physical action on data.”

He also posted a wonderful accompanying bibliography — one that’s kept me (and, I assume, others) occupied for years. Bookmark it.

Eight years later, I’m reading Greenfield’s latest book, Radical Technologies. It feels very much like a follow on to The City— particularly in the sense that it’s not nearly so much a book on technology as it is a treatise on us coming to terms with technology atop the infrastructure of daily life. A favorite excerpt, from a chapter on Augmented Reality, p79: –

Watch what happens when a pedestrian first becomes conscious of receiving a call or a text message, the immediate disruption they cause in the flow of movement as they pause to respond to it. Whether the call is made hands-free or otherwise doesn’t really seem to matter; the cognitive and emotional investment we make in it is what counts, and this investment is generally so much greater than that we make in our surroundings that street life clearly suffers as a result.

Jobs for Misfit Toys:

Ben Thompson on the Twitters, winning the week:

Hiring is probably the single largest arbitrage opportunity available. Letting degrees/admissions committees make choices for you is dumb.​

* * *

The team at Protaventures is hiring for two (remote!) positions:

  1. Visual designers with product experience who “can write CSS/Sass like a boss” and aren’t afraid to work in the Rails/Redux/React/ReactNative stack
  2. Rails developers who enjoy writing JavaScript, specifically Redux/React/ReactNative.
* * *

Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners is hiring a senior strategist to work on ‘one of the agency’s high profile accounts’, presumably on-site in Sausalito, California.

* * *

Made by Many is hiring both a Senior Strategist and a Product Manager, for roles on-site in London. Your author gently suggests that you apply.

* * *

London-based agritech startup Fieldmargin is hiring a mid-weight Android dev and a mid-weight iOS dev to build tools that help farmers manage their businesses and collaborate with their teams.

* * *

Finally, for students working at the intersection of public policy and the Interwebs, the Google Policy Fellowships in Africa and Europe are accepting applications. Get on it.