Thursday, January 10, 2019

Friday Thinking 11 Jan 2019

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. Work that engages our whole self becomes play that works. Techne = Knowledge-as-Know-How :: Technology = Embodied Know-How  

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



Earlier this year, the child psychologist Richard Freed explained how new psychological research has been used to develop social media, computer games and phones with genuinely addictive qualities. He quoted a technologist who boasts, with apparent justification: “We have the ability to twiddle some knobs in a machine learning dashboard we build, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are going to quietly change their behaviour in ways that, unbeknownst to them, feel second-nature but are really by design.”

The purpose of this brain hacking is to create more effective platforms for advertising. But the effort is wasted if we retain our ability to resist it. Facebook, according to a leaked report, carried out research – shared with an advertiser – to determine when teenagers using its network feel insecure, worthless or stressed. These appear to be the optimum moments for hitting them with a micro-targeted promotion. Facebook denied that it offered “tools to target people based on their emotional state”.

Advertising & academia are controlling our thoughts. Didn’t you know?

The genius — sometimes deliberate, sometimes accidental — of the enterprises now on such a steep ascent is that they have found their way through the looking-glass and emerged as something else. Their models are no longer models. The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought. No one is at the controls. If enough drivers subscribe to a real-time map, traffic is controlled, with no central model except the traffic itself. The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. This is why it is a winner-take-all game. Governments, with an allegiance to antiquated models and control systems, are being left behind.

These new hybrid organizations, although built upon digital computers, are operating as analog computers on a vast, global scale, processing information as continuous functions and treating streams of bits the way vacuum tubes treat streams of electrons, or the way neurons treat information in a brain. Large hybrid analog/digital computer networks, in the form of economies, have existed for a long time, but for most of history the information circulated at the speed of gold and silver and only recently at the speed of light.

We imagine that individuals, or individual algorithms, are still behind the curtain somewhere, in control. We are fooling ourselves. The new gatekeepers, by controlling the flow of information, rule a growing sector of the world.

What deserves our full attention is not the success of a few companies that have harnessed the powers of hybrid analog/digital computing, but what is happening as these powers escape into the wild and consume the rest of the world.

The next revolution will be the ascent of analog systems over which the dominion of digital programming comes to an end. Nature’s answer to those who sought to control nature through programmable machines is to allow us to build machines whose nature is beyond programmable control.

George Dyson - Childhood's End

co-living is growing in popularity  in major cities such as london and new york, and we believe this is just the beginning,’ says space 10, IKEA’s innovation lab. according to their research, the rise of the sharing economy is opening up people’s attitudes when it comes to their most intimate spaces. ‘shared living will become increasingly attractive to millions of people as they struggle to find adequate and affordable housing in cities in the years to come’ and tech will make it possible. smart hubs, or smart mirrors that work as information points in the home, make it easier to customize a space according to multiple preferences. then there is smart locks that rid the need for a physical key and smart appliances that adapt to the preferences of each user. artificial intelligence and the internet of things has the power to completely disrupt the housing market and digital devices are helping make co-living a widespread phenomenon.

designboom TECH predictions 2019: prepare to share everything

This is a long 1.5 hour Must Watch video. For anyone who hasn’t read Jeremy Rifkin’s book “Zero Marginal Cost Society” - this video will provide a great summary. Rifkin is no ‘utopian’ - he spends the first part listing our list of dire challenges - but what he does do is layout real possibilities for a survivable and perhaps flourishing future.

Lecture: The smart third industrial revolution and the future of work - 48th St. Gallen Symposium

Jeremy Rifkin (US), President, Foundation on Economic Trends
Followed by a conversation with
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach (GB), Goldman Sachs International

This is a fun list of the top 100 technologies (that includes, fire, the wheel, the ball) - worth the perusal if only just to realize how old and new technologies rank.

Technology, Ranked

The world is filled with amazing technologies, many that are so old we don’t even think of them as technologies at all.

Today, we present the definitive list of every important technology ever, ranked by their importance. These aren’t all necessarily good technologies, of course. There are plenty that have made the world a more miserable place for everybody. But they’re still on the list.

If you have any opinion about the fact that this list may be omitting an extremely vital technology, you would be wrong. This list is both correct and definitive and cannot be changed. And you’re wrong.

It may seem as if all hope is lost for truly civil conversation in what seems like an increasingly polarized world but there is still some hope even on the Internet.

Civil Discourse Exists in This Small Corner of the Internet

The subreddit Change My View is built on the proposition that we’ve at least got to listen to people we disagree with.
Imagine a place on the internet where a post that begins with “I’m not a feminist” is met with comments quoting Virginia Woolf and asking serious, clarifying questions. A place where a conversation about gun-control legislation unfurls into a thread of analogies, statistics, and self-reflection; where a discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of immigration is carried out in a series of building logical arguments. A place where users with radically different political opinions interact productively and politely, where a willingness to participate thoughtfully is the rule rather than the exception, and where people readily admit when their views on a subject have been altered.

This vision seems like the stuff of technology fantasy; spend five minutes on the platforms that host most of the web’s political arguments, and you’re likely to find name-calling, bigotry, sarcasm, and stubborn assumption. It’s a rare thing to stumble on an online dispute about politics that hasn’t devolved into a furious and chaotic shouting match, where no one can make out what is being said for the noise.

But civil discourse does exist, at least in a small pocket of the internet. Reddit’s Change My View ( ) forum, founded in 2013 by Kal Turnbull, then a teenage musician in Scotland, is an online space that promotes respectful conversation between people who disagree with each other. Its mission statement says that the subreddit is “built around the idea that in order to resolve our differences, we must first understand them.” Turnbull says that he created Change My View because of what he saw as a lack of places to turn to if you wanted to discuss an issue with people who took the opposite perspective. There was social media, but the goal on those platforms was largely not to listen and engage in search of insight. He wanted the forum to be conversational—a way of learning about an issue that wasn’t limited to self-directed research. Because of the unique oasis that Change My View represents from the troll-stalked depths of the rest of the internet, a number of academic studies have used its data to analyze how persuasion and civility work online. It has also spawned a blog and a podcast.

This is a signal if the insanity of current copyright laws.

How to Download the Books That Just Entered the Public Domain

Public Domain Day was yesterday, but you were probably hungover, so here’s how to download the tens of thousands of books that became legal to download for free in 2019.
Starting at midnight on January 1, tens of thousands of books (as well as movies, songs, and cartoons) entered the public domain, meaning that people can download, share, or repurpose these works for free and without retribution under US copyright law.

Per the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, “corporate” creations (like Mickey Mouse) can be restricted under copyright law for 120 years. But per an amendment to the act, works published between 1923 and 1977 can enter the public domain 95 years after their creation. This means that this is the first year since 1998 that a large number of works have entered the public domain.

Basically, 2019 marks the first time a huge quantity of books published in 1923—including works by Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, and Robert Frost—have become legally downloadable since digital books became a thing. It’s a big deal—the Internet Archive had a party in San Francisco to celebrate. Next year, works from 1924 will enter the public domain, and so-on.
So, how do you actually download these books?

20 Best Sites to Download Free Books in 2019

Love to read? Then you'll love these places to find free books
Ever thought of creating a library with thousands of free books? You'd never have to spend a dime. It sounds impossible, but it's not! Free books, on nearly any subject you can think of, are all over the web, ready to be read, downloaded, and shared. All you need to do is speed up your reading so you have enough time to get through all of them!
Here are the top 20 sites where you can find and download a wide variety of completely free books online, anything from romance novels to computer technology manuals.

This is a good signal of current and future issues with all AI and algorithms.
This is really just a lesson in the oldest adage in computing: PEBKAC. “Problem exists between keyboard and chair.” (Not “and computer,” as I accidentally wrote before, obviously. That would imply a faulty cable or wireless interface. Thanks to everyone on the internet for pointing it out.) Or as HAL put it: “It can only be attributable to human error.”

This clever AI hid data from its creators to cheat at its appointed task

Depending on how paranoid you are, this research from Stanford and Google  will be either terrifying or fascinating. A machine learning agent intended to transform aerial images into street maps and back was found to be cheating by hiding information it would need later in “a nearly imperceptible, high-frequency signal.” Clever girl!

But in fact this occurrence, far from illustrating some kind of malign intelligence inherent to AI, simply reveals a problem with computers that has existed since they were invented: they do exactly what you tell them to do.

The intention of the researchers was, as you might guess, to accelerate and improve the process of turning satellite imagery into Google’s famously accurate maps. To that end the team was working with what’s called a CycleGAN — a neural network that learns to transform images of type X and Y into one another, as efficiently yet accurately as possible, through a great deal of experimentation.

In some early results, the agent was doing well — suspiciously well. What tipped the team off was that, when the agent reconstructed aerial photographs from its street maps, there were lots of details that didn’t seem to be on the latter at all. For instance, skylights on a roof that were eliminated in the process of creating the street map would magically reappear when they asked the agent to do the reverse process:

This is a good signal of the looming emergence of self-driving transportation.

Zoox Wins First Permit to Ferry Californians in Robot Cars

Driverless car startup Zoox Inc. became the first company to win approval to transport members of the public in its driverless test vehicles in California, according to a statement from the California Public Utilities Commission.

While there are more than 60 companies with permits to test autonomous vehicles in California, they are restricted to carrying employees and contractors. With the permit from the CPUC, Zoox can now offer an autonomous-driving service to the public, though it’s still required to have a trained safety driver ready to take over at all times. It’s also not permitted to charge money for the rides.

“We’re on track to deploy a commercial service of our fully autonomous vehicle by the end of 2020, so this is an important marker along that road,” said Bert Kaufman, a Zoox spokesman.

Kaufman said Zoox’s next step will be to apply to the Department of Motor Vehicles for driverless testing without a safety driver, and to the CPUC for a driverless passenger service. He declined to specify when it will take those steps.

This is a strong signal of what will be emerging in the next decade.

First buses, now Shenzhen has turned its taxis electric in green push

Roads in a Chinese city have gotten much quieter in recent years. Shenzhen, widely called the Silicon Valley of hardware, has been expending resources to phase out rattling diesel vehicles chugging through the city of 12 million people.

All public buses in the city went electric by the end of 2017. Taxis soon followed suit. The Transport Commission of Shenzhen announced on its official site this week that 99 percent of the city’s more than 21,000 cabs are now powered by batteries.

This is a good signal of the emerging interface with the digital environment. Google just received FCC approval to use this technology in wearables and other devices. The graphics are a must see.

Wave hello to Soli touchless interactions

Soli is a new sensing technology that uses miniature radar to detect touchless gesture interactions.
Imagine an invisible button between your thumb and index fingers – you can press it by tapping your fingers together. Or a Virtual Dial that you turn by rubbing thumb against index finger. Imagine grabbing and pulling a Virtual Slider in thin air. These are the kinds of interactions we are developing and imagining.

Soli sensor technology works by emitting electromagnetic waves in a broad beam.
Objects within the beam scatter this energy, reflecting some portion back towards the radar antenna. Properties of the reflected signal, such as energy, time delay, and frequency shift capture rich information about the object’s characteristics and dynamics, including size, shape, orientation, material, distance, and velocity.
Soli tracks and recognizes dynamic gestures expressed by fine motions of the fingers and hand. In order to accomplish this with a single chip sensor, we developed a novel radar sensing paradigm with tailored hardware, software, and algorithms. Unlike traditional radar sensors, Soli does not require large bandwidth and high spatial resolution; in fact, Soli’s spatial resolution is coarser than the scale of most fine finger gestures. Instead, our fundamental sensing principles rely on motion resolution by extracting subtle changes in the received signal over time. By processing these temporal signal variations, Soli can distinguish complex finger movements and deforming hand shapes within its field.

There is still a large portion of the world that doesn’t have access to the Internet - but the next decade will bring ubiquitous connectivity in more ways than one - This is a fascinating account of Google’s approach. Worth the read.

Loon’s Balloons Will Fly Over Kenya in First Commercial Telecom Tryout

Floating equipment in the stratosphere prevents the need for extensive infrastructure on the ground
Kenya runs on mobile phones. There are almost 43 million in use by Kenya’s nearly 50 million citizens, meaning the East African country has the 33rd highest mobile phone usage in the world. By comparison, it has fewer than 70,000 fixed landlines.

And yet, outside of major cities like Nairobi, the infrastructure for mobile telephony is lacking. That’s why, in 2019, telecommunications provider Telkom Kenya will begin turning to high-altitude balloons built by the Alphabet subsidiary Loon to provide mobile phone service.

“High-altitude balloons are actually a very reasonable way to approach this problem,” says Sal Candido, Loon’s head of engineering. “They’re high, they cover a lot of ground, and there are no obstacles.” It’s simple “but for one thing,” Candido adds—each balloon needs to stay in place in the stratosphere, providing coverage for one area for hundreds of days before being replaced…..

This is a very promising signal - also integral to domesticating DNA - the capacity to manage the expression of genes.
Despite the revolutionary promise of genome editing, it has some drawbacks. For one, it changes a cell’s underlying DNA sequence, potentially creating unexpected effects that could cause cancer or other diseases. Epigenetic editing doesn’t change the DNA sequence, which can make it safer as a therapy, Gersbach says. Also, genome editing relies on DNA repair pathways, which insert new bases into the genetic code in an unpredictable fashion. Epigenome editing doesn’t cut DNA and doesn’t require stitching in bases to repair it, making the tools’ use across cell types more consistent, says Gersbach.

Researchers Engineer Epigenome Editors to Study How Gene Expression Affects Disease

Using CRISPR and other tools, scientists are modifying DNA methylation, histone marks, and other modifiers of gene expression to understand how they affect health and disease.
In Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte’s lab at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, the health of mutant mice suffering from kidney disease, muscular dystrophy, or diabetes improved after the scientists tweaked genes associated with the ailments. Belmonte and his colleagues, however, didn’t edit the genes themselves. Instead, they targeted the epigenome to modify the chemical and protein tags that sit on the chromatin and influence gene expression.

Scientists are developing molecular tools to edit these epigenetic tags, uncovering how they affect the noncoding regions of the genome and control gene expression. A better understanding of how the epigenome functions could lead to new, safer therapeutics for diseases, from cancer to elevated cholesterol. “There are a lot of really cool things you can do with epigenome editing that are really different than genome editing,” says Charles Gersbach, a biomedical engineer at Duke University.

Another breakthrough in the domestication of DNA - with significant signal for all of our future.
The animals’ post-op recovery was “pretty amazing,” Ren says. The pig that lived two months after surgery didn’t experience any breathing problems, and its lung transplant was colonized by bacteria that inhabit normal pig lungs — signs that the tissue was developing normally and integrating well into the body.

Scientists successfully transplant lab-grown lungs into pigs

The procedure brings scientists closer to one day providing bioengineered lungs for humans
For the first time, researchers have created lungs in the lab and successfully transplanted them into pigs.

These bioengineered lungs, described online August 1 in Science Translational Medicine, developed healthy blood vessels that allowed pigs to live for several weeks after surgery. That’s a significant improvement from previous efforts: Lab-grown lungs implanted in rodents failed within hours, before the lungs could develop the complex blood vessel network necessary for long-term survival.

For the study, immunologist Joan Nichols at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and colleagues built lungs for four pigs by first using a sugar and detergent mixture to strip the cells from lungs of donor pigs. That left sterilized, pearly white, lung-shaped scaffolds made of the intercellular proteins. (In humans, researchers envision using donated organs or 3-D printing made-to-fit lung scaffolding.) The researchers then repopulated each scaffold with blood vessel and lung tissue cells from the pig destined to receive that organ.

Each engineered lung grew for 30 days inside a bioreactor tank, pumped full of nutrient cocktails that helped cells stick to the scaffold and multiply in the right spots. The researchers then replaced the left lung of each pig with the bioengineered version.

After surgery, Nichols’ team allowed one pig to survive for 10 hours, another for two weeks, a third for a month and the fourth for two months. At each pig’s demise, the researchers did an autopsy on the animal to see how the new lungs integrated into the pigs’ bodies over time. None of the animals was given immunosuppressant drugs, and none of the transplants was rejected. Inside a pig’s body, the bioengineered lung’s blood vessels plugged into to the animal’s natural circulatory system, supplying the organ with oxygen and nutrients to survive.

This is a very exciting signal - that may help many and prevent others from suffering - not ready for primetime.


The binding of amyloid beta peptides to prion proteins triggers a cascade of devastating events in the progression of Alzheimer’s—accumulation of plaques, a destructive immune system response, and synapse damage.

“We wanted to find molecules that might have a therapeutic effect on this network,” says Stephen Strittmatter, professor of neurology and of neuroscience, and director of the Yale University Alzheimer Disease Research Center.

Strittmatter and research scientist Erik Gunther screened tens of thousands of compounds looking for molecules that might interfere with the damaging prion protein interaction with amyloid beta.

The researchers then dissolved the optimized polymeric compound and fed it to mice engineered to have a condition that mimics Alzheimer’s. They found that synapses in the brains were repaired and mice recovered lost memory.
A collaborating team at Dartmouth University reported a positive response when they delivered the same cocktail to cells modeled to have Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a devastating neurological condition that infection with misfolded prion proteins causes.

The next step is to verify the compounds aren’t toxic in preparation for translation to clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease.

But that isn’t the only good news about Alzheimer’s

A treatment to reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's is moving to human trials

A drug-free dementia reversal treatment is making the leap from animals to humans.
In 2015, researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) in Australia published the results of a study in which they successfully reversed the symptoms of dementia, a type of mental decline that most often manifests as Alzheimer’s disease, in animal models — without using any drugs at all.

On Tuesday, Australia’s Federal Minister for Health announced plans to give those researchers $10 million in federal funding to begin safety testing their dementia reversal technique in humans.

The QBI team’s promising technique centers on the use of ultrasound technology.
When applied to the brain region, the waves of the ultrasound temporarily open up what’s called the blood-brain barrier. This activates mechanisms that break apart and clear the toxic amyloid plaques associated with dementia.

This technique has already effectively restored memory function in mice and sheep, and with the $10 million in funding, the QBI team will be able to begin safety testing it in humans in late 2019.

The concept of artificial photosynthesis is definitely in the research agenda - but there’s also another way - enhancing natural photosynthetic species.

Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic glitch, boost crop growth by 40 percent

Plants convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis; however, most crops on the planet are plagued by a photosynthetic glitch, and to deal with it, evolved an energy-expensive process called photorespiration that drastically suppresses their yield potential. Researchers from the University of Illinois and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service report in the journal Science that crops engineered with a photorespiratory shortcut are 40 percent more productive in real-world agronomic conditions.

"We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern U.S. each year," said principal investigator Donald Ort, the Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Science and Crop Sciences at Illinois' Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. "Reclaiming even a portion of these calories across the world would go a long way to meeting the 21st Century's rapidly expanding food demands—driven by population growth and more affluent high-calorie diets."

This landmark study is part of Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is engineering crops to photosynthesize more efficiently to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government's Department for International Development (DFID).

The team engineered three alternate routes to replace the circuitous native pathway. To optimize the new routes, they designed genetic constructs using different sets of promoters and genes, essentially creating a suite of unique roadmaps. They stress tested these roadmaps in 1,700 plants to winnow down the top performers.

Over two years of replicated field studies, they found that these engineered plants developed faster, grew taller, and produced about 40 percent more biomass, most of which was found in 50-percent-larger stems.

This may be helpful to anyone considering cleaning up their digital landscape in the new year.

How to Delete Online Accounts You No Longer Need

Having too many digital accounts raises your risk of data being misused or stolen. Here's how to clean house.
Deleting online accounts is one of the best ways to protect your data security and privacy. The less data you have stored on corporate databases scattered across the internet, the safer you are from the misuse of personal information.

To improve your data security, you don’t necessarily need to join the #deletefacebook movement, which stemmed from Facebook's privacy scandals. A number of essentially defunct platforms, such as Myspace and Google+, have suffered data breaches that affected tens of millions of users who may not have used the platforms in years.

Data breaches that compromise old accounts can lead to identity theft, says Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology policy for Consumer Reports. And if you're no longer using a company's service, there's little reason to let it continue to store and potentially monetize your information, he adds.

When you're ready to exorcise those ghosts of internet past, you can follow the directions below for a number of once-popular services. We also include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms that you might want to quit, despite their continuing popularity. A number of platforms let you download your old data, like posts and photos, before pulling the plug.
Unless specified otherwise, these instructions are for a computer browser, but the steps are usually similar on a phone or in an app.

And since it is the new year - perhaps this will be useful in managing the flow of emails everyone must navigate.

How to Use the Infinite Number of Email Addresses Gmail Gives You

One trick you may or may not have picked up about Gmail is that you can add in periods anywhere in the front part of your address and it makes no difference whatsoever: works just the same as What's more, you can add a plus sign and any word before the @ sign (e.g. and messages will still reach you. If these tweaks make no difference, then why use them? One major reason: filters.

Here are a few ways you can make use of the feature to bring order to the chaos of your inbox.

Wow - this is a very weak signal - but also probably inevitable - transforming the mobile and the ebook in ways that could be so useful. The 20 second video is tantalizing.

New Xiaomi Phone Leaks In Video, Showing Interesting Tri-fold Display

Evan Blass, perhaps better known as Evleaks, has posted a video of questionable veracity that shows what appears to be a foldable smartphone running the MIUI interface seen on devices created by Xiaomi. According to Blass, the device in question is allegedly made by Xiaomi, as the presence of the skin would indicate, but no further information was available. The video is shot in a dark room by a mystery user, and the device shown is scarce on bezels, foldable, and seemingly not similar to anything Xiaomi has thus far released.

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