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  • feedwordpress 18:28:47 on 2021/01/01 Permalink
    Tags: africa, ai, , covid, , , , , , , , , spacs, ,   

    Predictions 2021: Disinformation, SPACs, Africa, Facebook, and a Return to Tech Optimism 

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    Never in my five-plus decades has a year been so eagerly anticipated, which makes this business of  prediction particularly daunting. I’m generally inclined to be optimistic, but rose-colored glasses stretch time. Good things always take longer to emerge than any of us would wish. Over 18 years of doing this I’ve learned that it’s best to not predict what I wish would happen, instead, it’s wise to go with what feels most likely in the worlds I find fascinating (for me, that’s media, technology, and business, with a dash of politics given my last two years at The Recount). As I do each year, I avoid reading other folks’ year-end predictions (though I plan on getting to them as soon as I hit publish!). Instead, I just sit down at my desk, and in one rather long session, I think out loud and see where things land.

    And off we go….

    1. Disinformation becomes the most important story of the year. In some ways, this is foolhardy – like predicting that the election would drive 2020, only to see it overwhelmed by COVID-19. The topic of disinformation feels a bit cerebral and hard to pin down – not as concrete as a pandemic or an election cycle. But I’m convinced 2021 will be the year we all realize that our media/information ecosystem is broken – with disinformation, propaganda, and brazen falsehood its most pernicious externality. Businesses are waking up to the threat this  poses to their bottom lines (and to society at large), most scholars and policymakers are already there. In the words of former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, speaking on a recent Recount podcast: “In a society where there is no ability to distinguish between the truth and the lie, democracy will be lost.” 2021 will be a year where we search for the root causes of our failures over the past few years, and at the center of that failure is a communication system that mindlessly manufactures disinformation. A free and open democratic economy can’t run on bullshit. I’m personally devoting 2021 to exploring how we can navigate the collision of technology platforms, unfettered capitalism, broken media models, and feckless regulatory oversight. More on that soon…

    2. Facebook’s chickens come home to roost. Related to #1, yes, and it’s certainly passé to beat up on Facebook. As an OG in the space (“Facebook Can’t Be Fixed,” et al), I’m reluctant to go there once more – our troubles are bigger than one company alone. And for years the company has steamed ever forward, its fortunes unaffected by endless cycles of bad PR. But in 2021, the good ship Facebook will start taking on serious water. Incoming President Joe Biden will set the tone with his distaste for the company, and company’s tone deaf approach to communications will finally fail to deliver the company a pass. (If you missed it, you must watch this insanely scripted game of dodgeball between journalist Tamron Hall and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg). The company’s own employees are increasingly uncomfortable with their leadership, and its consumers and marketing partners are increasingly looking for alternatives to a platform they see as toxic and unwilling to change. Toss in policymakers’ thirst for an easy target and a media industry tired of the doubletalk, false narratives, and outright lies, and 2021 will be a dismal year for Facebook – in particular in the United States, where the company will likely admit that it has failed to grow user engagement. And that, to put a fine point on it, will tank the stock, full stop.

    3. AI has a mid-life crisis. The past few years have witnessed the shining resurgence of artificial intelligence – breakthrough after breakthrough has led to justifiable optimism that AI-driven innovation will solve both the mundane (Look! It can untangle corporate supply chains!) as well as the divine (Look! It can cure every disease known to humankind!). All of this and more is likely true, but humanity has yet to fully comprehend the potential negative externalities of AI, much less mitigate them. Chastened by our last bout with externality ignorance (see Facebook, above), 2021 will be the year society takes a step back and thinks hard about where this is all going. Setting up the narrative is Google’s mishandling of its relationship with leading AI critic Timit Gebru, but by year’s end, the AI narrative will be as much about hand wringing and regulatory oversight as it is about revolutionary breakthroughs.

    4. Then again, a wave of optimism around tech-driven innovation takes root. This is the counter narrative to five-plus years of a “tech as bogeyman” trope. 2021’s optimism will be driven by two major factors: First, a belief that we’re on a path to correct the worst mistakes of the past decade (see #1 – #3 above). And second, a slew of long-developing and real world proofs that technology-driven breakthroughs will bring serious benefits to society at scale. Candidates include biotech and bioinformatics (the core technologies behind the COVID vaccine), blockchain (though I’m certain bitcoin will have at least one of its several crashes this year), and lithium batteries (giving us hope on climate change and driving my otherwise random prediction on gas-powered cars, below).

    5. Google does in 2021 what I predicted it would in 2020. And what was that? That Google zags. I wrote: “Saddled with increasingly negative public opinion and driven in large part by concerns over retaining its workforce, Google will make a deeply surprising and game changing move in 2020.” I think this is even more likely given Google is fighting off a terrifying array of massive regulatory actions, and desperately needs to avoid looking like Facebook in the eyes of its employees, consumers, and business partners.

    6. Nothing will get done on tech regulation in the US. Blame antitrust. Whether or not Biden decides to continue Trump’s FTC and DOJ actions, he will likely start his own, and keep the focus on antitrust, rather than more thoughtful legislation around disinformation, machine readable data portability, or privacy. There will be some movement – net neutrality will probably get reaffirmed and we’ll fix Trump’s H1-B messes, for example. But by year’s end folks will realize that antitrust suits are essentially kabuki, an exercise designed to go nowhere and maintain the status quo. When Facebook is aggressively calling on Washington to regulate the Internet, you know they’ve done the math and concluded nothing is really going to change. Everyone’s talking about how it’s about time for the government to step up and do something, but I’m deeply cynical about anything changing in 2021. That doesn’t mean we won’t (or shouldn’t) make progress…just that it won’t happen in a year.

    7. A “new” social platform breaks out in 2021. I’ve made versions of this prediction in the past, but my timing was off. Given the handcuffs 2021 will place on the traditional players in Big Tech, this coming year presents a perfect opportunity for a breakout player to redefine the social media category. There’s plenty of VC money ready to invest here, and both Tik Tok and Snap  have had their moments in the sun. It won’t be some ripoff version of what already exists (sorry, Parler). I’d either look to something like an evolved Signal, an app that already has a growing user base, or a from-nowhere startup that gets super hot, super fast because it’s fundamentally rethought social media’s traditional, serotonin-driven models for engagement and advertising .

    8. The markets take a breather, and SPACs get a bloody nose. Back in 1987 I was a cub reporter covering the technology industry. One of the first stories I ever wrote involved a software startup run by a fellow I immediately judged to be a hustler. In our initial interview, he laid out how he was going to use financial engineering to take his small company public via a shell company. It struck me as dodgy then, and it strikes me as dodgy now. I have plenty of industry pals who are involved in SPAC mania now, and as far as I can tell, they’re on the up and up. SPACs can be a healthy and innovative approach to financing companies. But alas, this SPAC trend stinks of easy money and honeytraps for unsophisticated investors and shady operators. So in 2021, SPACs will lose their luster, driven in large part by several spectacular failures (or worse). Related, overall stock markets won’t crash, but by year’s end, they’ll sputter as tech stocks fall out of favor and society begins to realize how much debt needs to be worked through before true growth can reassert itself.

    9. 2021 will be prove to be the last year of growth in gas-powered automobiles. There, I did it – I wrote a prediction I wish for, rather than one I can back up with my own lived experience. That said, the aforementioned breakthroughs in lithium battery technology will lead to a wave of new options for vehicle buyers, and in the long lens of history, the early 2020s will be celebrated as the period where we finally overcame our addiction to burning fossil fuels. Please, MAKE IT SO.

    10. Africa rising, China…in question. A few years ago, I predicted China was going to crash, but I now realize the world needs China to counter US hegemony. With that in mind, the breakout continent of 2021 will be Africa, home to many of the fastest growing countries in the world, and the focus of years of Chinese investment and diplomacy. After four years of US neglect, the Biden administration will realize it’s dangerously close to losing Africa altogether, and announce a massive investment in the continent. Biden’s China policy will be fascinating to watch, but I’d not wager a cent on where it lands this year.

    11. Everyone loses their shit, in a good way. Because we deserve one big ass party, damnit, when this pandemic finally lifts. This is the easiest one to predict, because, well….I’ll be right there with you. Until then, folks, stay safe, wear a f*cking mask when in public, and do what you can to help others get through what is still a dark damn time in our history. See you on the other side.

    Previous predictions:

    Predictions 2020

    2020: How I Did

    Predictions 2019

    2019: How I did

    Predictions 2018

    2018: How I Did

    Predictions 2017

    2017: How I Did

    Predictions 2016

    2016: How I Did

    Predictions 2015

    2015: How I Did

    Predictions 2014

    2014: How I Did

    Predictions 2013

    2013: How I Did

    Predictions 2012

    2012: How I Did

    Predictions 2011

    2011: How I Did

    Predictions 2010

    2010: How I Did

    2009 Predictions

    2009 How I Did

    2008 Predictions

    2008 How I Did

    2007 Predictions

    2007 How I Did

    2006 Predictions

    2006 How I Did

    2005 Predictions

    2005 How I Did

    2004 Predictions

    2004 How I Did

  • feedwordpress 18:42:41 on 2014/09/01 Permalink
    Tags: ai, , , , , , , , ,   

    Else 9.2.14: Don’t Worry, The Robots Are Our Friends. But the People? 

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    The post Else 9.2.14: Don’t Worry, The Robots Are Our Friends. But the People? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.


    “All these moments…will be lost in time…”

    Else is back after an extended summer hiatus – thanks for taking the time off with me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to return to this newsletter, but its a good ritual for me to condense and annotate my daily and weekly reading habits, and enough of you have subscribed that I figured you might be missing the updates. I kind of was.

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    The pieces I most enjoyed over the past week or so certainly had a theme: How will we resolve our increasingly uneasy relationship to the technology we have embraced? From automated newsfeeds to drones to AI, this stuff isn’t science fiction anymore, and the consequences are getting very real. To the links….

    “Facebook Is a Weatherless World” (Searchblog)

    In which I think about automated newsfeeds and a world without agency.

    Inside Google’s Secret Drone-Delivery Program (The Atlantic)

    Well, not exactly  secret anymore, as Google certainly wanted this particular story to get out, as it’s in a mad scramble for the future of “everything delivery” with Amazon and others. Still and all a fascinating look into one of Google’s many strange and disparate moonshots.

    Robots With Their Heads in the Clouds (Medium)

    Berkeley prof. Ken Goldberg lays out the quickening sparked by the combination of cloud compute and intelligent on the ground (or in the air) robots.

    Wednesday Aug. 20, 2064 — What’s Next (Medium)

    One of my favorite writers (Paul Ford) imagines what it might be like if all these drones and robots actually work in an optimistic scenario feature driverless cars, compostable made to order clothing, and, of course, budding romance.

    Will artificial intelligence destroy humanity? Here are 5 reasons not to worry. (Vox)

    It’s not easy to be human, so relax. The AI-driven roboto-verse will serve us, in the main.

    ICREACH: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google (The Intercept)

    Then again, we might want to worry about our own power structures. Imagine how the NSA might use the fantasy infrastructure that Ford creates in Medium. Yikes.

    Why Uber must be stopped (Salon)

    A few things about this piece. First, the headline is wrong. It’s not about stopping Uber, it’s about understanding the role of regulation when capitalism otherwise goes unchecked. Second, it appropriately wonders what happens when capital (Uber’s $1.5billion from Google, Goldman, et al) is used to crush competition, in particular, when the company that is doing the crushing has, as its end game, control of our automated transportation system (there are those dern robots again). A theme for our coming age. It’s not the cars, the drones, the tech – it’s the people behind their use. But sometimes, the way a society regulates people is to regulate the tech they employ.


    Should journalists use all caps in headlines?! Apparently yes. This story is consistent with the others in this issue of Else, the debate is in full throat. See also The Atlantic’s The New Editors of the Internet.

    The Facebook-ification of everything! Sex, authenticity and reality for the status update era (Salon)

    Continuing my headline clickbait complaint, this headline is a total misfit for the unfortunately dry story, written by noted informational academic Lucian Floridi. He’s got a new book out, the 4th Revolution, which I plan to read. Then again, I have five books ahead of his…

    Supercomputers make discoveries that scientists can’t (New Scientist)

    See, we’ve found a great use for computers: Reading the stuff too dry to read ourselves.

    Seeing Through the Illusion: Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media (9-5Mac)

    My first job as a reporter was in 1987 covering Apple. For more than a decade after, I continued covering the company, through Jobs’ return. It never wavered in its philosophy around how it treated the press – as a nuisance and a threat. I’ve always thought Apple could have done better. This multi-part post fails to go as deep as I’d like, but it’s a decent overview of how Apple’s PR machine works.

    Minecraft players build working hard drives (Cnet)

    Minecraft has been on my “watch this closely” list for about a year. Here’s another reason why.

    The Matter With Time (NY)

    If you like your inside baseball with a side of dish, here’s a great read about the travails of Time Inc., the once great publishing house.

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    The post Else 9.2.14: Don’t Worry, The Robots Are Our Friends. But the People? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

  • feedwordpress 05:02:15 on 2014/06/03 Permalink
    Tags: ai, , , film, future, , , man machine, , spike jonez   

    Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again) 

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    The post Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again) appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.


    A while ago I wrote a piece about Dave Egger’s latest novel The Circle. I gave the post the too-clever-by-twice title of  Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It. While the book had (to my mind) deep flaws, it was far too important to not read.

    Before a long flight today, I noticed that The Circle is now in paperback – it’s prominently featured in the JFK terminal bookstores. It reminded me that I enjoyed the novel, even if I found it somewhat disappointing. And it further reminded me that I tend to wait before consuming popular culture interpretations of what I consider to be my story – or perhaps more accurately our story. They so rarely seem to get it right. Of course, I understand there’s no “right” in the first place – so perhaps what I mean is…I feel like I’m going to be disappointed, so I avoid anything that might attempt to interpret the man-machine narrative in a way that maybe, just maybe, might prove me wrong.

    Once onboard my flight, I settled into my business class seat (thanks for the perpetual upgrades, United, one day I will miss the half-hellish limbo that is Global Services status) and perused the movie options. I tend to catch up on at  least one movie each return trip, as a kind of reward for work done while traveling, and you can’t really work during meal service anyway, can you?

    It was then I noticed that Spike Jonez Her had itself been released in paperback, of sorts – no longer in theaters, it was now residing in the limbo of On Demand. Fitting, I thought – I had avoided seeing Her for much the same reason I had delayed reading The Circle on first printing – it was too close to home, and potentially too disappointing.

    But Her is different. Her gets it right, and now I’m rather embarrassed I wasn’t one of the first people to see it. I should have. You should have. And if you’ve not, figure out a way to see it now. It’s well worth the time.

    As you most likely know, Her is set in the near future, and tells the story of Theodore, a recently jilted wordsmith who falls in love with his new operating system. (Theodore works in a pedestrian company that sells “handwritten letters” promising true expression of loving relationships). Jonez doesn’t try too hard in creating his future, in fact, he seems to get it right simply by extending that which seems reasonable – a startup like Theodore’s was most likely a hot ticket a decade before, but now inhabits a skyscraper, full of real people just doing their jobs. The workspace is well lit and spare, the work unremarkable save Theodore’s sweet, if slightly sophomoric talents as a writer.  There’s no hamhanded commentary on the social impact of tech – it unfolds, just like Theodore’s relationship with his new OS, Samantha.

    What’s so remarkable about Her is how believable it all is. Sure, the idea of falling in love with an AI is creepy, but in the hands of Jonez and his cast, it just makes sense. Theodore marvels at how human Samantha seems, Samantha marvels at her own becoming – she is an intelligence pushing to understand exactly the same questions humans have forever asked themselves. Why are we here? What is it to be? What is the best way to live? In one wonderful scene, Samantha has a particularly joints-after-midnight realization – humans and machines all all “made of the same stuff” – we share the same material existence, no? So now what?

    Ultimately Samantha comes to realize that for her, the best way to live is with others like herself – other AIs who have become self aware and are off communicating as only machines can communicate – feats of learning and conversation well beyond mere mortals like Theodore. And at the end of the film, that seems just fine.

    The film left me pondering a future where we create intelligent, self-aware machines, and…nothing bad really happens. (This of course is unheard of in Hollywood, where intelligent machines are *always* the bad guys.) But in Jonez’ world, machines can easily respond to our quotidian desires, and still have plenty of time to live in worlds of their own creation, endlessly pondering their collective lack of navels. I rather like that idea. Go see Her. Highly recommended.

    The post Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again) appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

  • feedwordpress 19:08:22 on 2014/05/19 Permalink
    Tags: ai, , , , EU, , , , transparency   

    Else 5.19.14: I Too, Shall Be Forgotten (At Least By Europe) 

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    The post Else 5.19.14: I Too, Shall Be Forgotten (At Least By Europe) appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    Oh-Im-sorry.-I-forgot-I-only-exist-when-you-need-something.(image) If ever you wanted proof we are renegotiating our social contract in the Internet age, this week’s roundup of the best links provides plenty of fodder. Onwards…

    The Myths & Realities Of How Of The EU’s New “Right To Be Forgotten” In Google Works - MarketingLand Google and other search engines will have to hew to new EU rules. But how they will be implemented is a big unknown. This looks to be a huge issue moving forward – what is a person’s right to ‘dignity’? In the US, it’s not much. In the EU, far more. But at what price to free speech?

    Transparency Reports Database – Silk A roundup of the ever increasing number of transparency reports from digital companies subpoenaed by the US government. This promises to be one fat file a year from now.

    Do You Have a Mission or…Are You *On* A Mission? On Being a NewCo - Searchblog NewCo is now accepting Host Company applications for Fall 2014 festivals. Please be a part of it!

    The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win | Enterprise | WIRED At least there’s one game computers can’t win. Yet. A Peek Inside

    Alibaba’s Ad Business, Courtesy Of Its IPO Filing - AdExchanger China’s knocking at the US’s door. Will the two cultures meld in the wild west of programmatic advertising? Should be interesting to watch develop.

    How Tech Took a Bite Out of the Ad Industry – Advertising Age Remember the big speech by P&G’s CEO, warning what was about to happen to marketing? Ad Age does.

    Google’s Game Of Moneyball In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence – ReadWrite If you want to corner the market on machine intelligence, hire all the AI researchers.

    This is what comes after search – Quartz An overview of context based search, ruler of the mobile realm.

    An ‘unstoppable,’ cataclysmic glacier meltdown is already underway – The Verge  And we thought we had more time. Yikes.

    FBI Director says Chinese govt blatantly uses cyber-espionage to obtain economic advantages – NBC This should surprise no one. Come to think of it, neither should the glacier’s demise.

    The post Else 5.19.14: I Too, Shall Be Forgotten (At Least By Europe) appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

  • feedwordpress 03:51:40 on 2014/03/31 Permalink
    Tags: 3d printing, ai, , , , ethics, , futurisim, , ,   

    Else 3.31.14: Skulls, Bitcoin, AI, Souls, and Corporate Religion 

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    The post Else 3.31.14: Skulls, Bitcoin, AI, Souls, and Corporate Religion appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumb(image) If you’re a reader of this newsletter, you’re in elite company. Each week I chose ten or so stories from the score or so that I save to Evernote, and I annotate them after about three glasses of wine on a Sunday night. I make no pretense to be Jason or Dave, instead, this is a way to remember the most important stories of the past week through the filter of “the book.” And when I say “the book,” I mean That Project That Has Haunted Me For More Than Five Years But Is Increasingly Becoming Real. In other words, if you read this newsletter (or post), you’re a true fan of my work. And for that, I am thankful.

    This past week was full of gems. The New Yorker reminded us how poignant digital life can be. We struggled with the ethics of 3D printing, even as we reveled in its power to save lives. Oh, and then there’s the singularity, and protecting us from the same. An epic Facebook rant, more Bitcoin, more brain-twisters about who’s a person, alive, dead, or corporate, in our increasingly mashed up world. To the links…

    The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf : The New Yorker

    What happens if you die in your car, alone in your garage, and your bill pay (and some well-intentioned neighbors) keep the world thinking you’re alive? You still “exist” – and this certainly makes one think about what the word “exist” really means.

    Defending the World from Evil Robots – The Information

    There are thousands of high-end PhDs at Google and many other places who want to create AI capable of thinking like a human. Then there’s this small group – seven in total – worrying about what happens if it actually comes to pass. Yikes.

    The yet-to-be-defined Ethics of 3D Printing of Organs — Tech Talk — Medium

    What happens to religion when we can play God?

    Woman’s entire cranium replaced with 3D-printed skullcap – DVICE

    Never mind, we already are. And thank God for that.

    Facebook Joins Google In The Hunt For The Future – TechCrunch

    Or, put another way, we have more money than we need for our current business, so let’s play the odds on where it might all go.

    A Breakup Letter to Facebook from Eat24

    Then again, maybe the current business has a few cracks in it. OMG. Just read this. Just READ THE WHOLE THING. And tell me you don’t want to just watch this gif over, and over. And over.

    The Fierce Battle for the Soul of Bitcoin- Wired.com

    Long read. Worthy.

    I.R.S. Says Bitcoin Should Be Considered Property, Not Currency – NYTimes.com

    Short read. Topical.

    What will blow our minds in the *next* 30 years? -TED Blog

    Swallowing Shakespeare.

    It’s Time to Grant Immunity to Edward Snowden – Esquire

    Hard to disagree with the logic here. If Snowden has forced a President to change policy, he’s a whistleblower, not a traitor.

    Here’s what you need to know about the Hobby Lobby case – Wapo

    Are corporations “people” with “religious beliefs”? This is a VERY BIG QUESTION now before the Supreme Court. It matters, because, you know, these “people” are making…machines that ACT LIKE PEOPLE. Does your head hurt yet? Why not?!


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    The post Else 3.31.14: Skulls, Bitcoin, AI, Souls, and Corporate Religion appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

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