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Welcome to Friday's Big Revolution. One reason I do this newsletter is for the mental exercise of bei
August 24 · Issue #180 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Friday’s Big Revolution. One reason I do this newsletter is for the mental exercise of being forced to write every day. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to write in the ‘Big Thought’ section until the moment I start it. Yesterday was such a day, so it was encouraging to see that many readers particularly enjoyed the piece on education. Thank you for the feedback!

Big things you need to know today
  • 23andMe is to stop third-party developers accessing its customers’ DNA. The “raw genomic data” was used by developers of health apps, weight loss services, and quantified self tests. Judging by the response on Twitter, many customers were unaware this was happening.
  • Google has shut down accounts being used in a widespread Iranian disinformation campaign against the US. It’s shuttered 39 YouTube channels, six Blogger blogs, and 13 Google+ accounts. Twitter and Facebook took similar steps earlier this week. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News says tech companies are set to meet to plan a strategy for handling the upcoming midterm elections. Seems a bit late.
  • Facial recognition tech at a US airport caught an attempted illegal entry in its first week. A success, sure, but let’s see how many mistakes it makes over time before celebrating too much.
The big thought
Kalashnikov's odd new tech
Why should new tech look ‘new?’
Kalashnikov, the Russia-based maker of the world’s best-known assault rifle, the AK-47, seems to have gone crazy.
Okay, you could say being an arms manufacturer is a crazy way to spend your life, but seriously, this week set out its vision of the future – and in the eyes of many people, it’s weird.
First up, Igorek – a bipedal robot that looks like something characters in an early Alien film would have used – has been ridiculed for its outdated appearance. The BBC reports that “the 13-feet (3.96m) tall, 4.5-tonne, manned robot is designed for 'carrying out engineering and combat tasks’.”
In a world where Boston Dynamics’ terrifying robot dogs are state of the art, it’s easy to see why people laughed at Igorek. It looks like a relic from a lost sci-fi age. What’s more, it can’t even move – or do anything else – yet.
Meanwhile Kalashnikov wants to take on Tesla with its own electric car. The vehicle has a pretty impressive range of 217 miles (350km) per charge, but it (intentionally) looks like a 1970s Soviet hatchback. 'Here’s the future!,’ Kalashnikov is saying, but then showing off something inspired by the Cold War era. You can see why many might not find that too appealing.
Once again, there was ridicule for poor Kalashnikov. Russians wondered why their country was producing tech like this in the face of the much slicker solutions emerging elsewhere.
But if I ignore my churning stomach to set aside the countless deaths and unknowable suffering Kalashnikov has been responsible over the past few decades through sales of its weapons, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the company. Why should new tech look 'new?’
About 15 years ago, a small group of young-ish people near me started buying imported Nissan Figaros. These Japanese cars from the early 1990s had a 1950s look. There was a time when I’d see a Figaro or two driving around South Manchester every few days. They really stood out, and given they were both retro and rare, you can see why they appealed to a certain kind of hipster.
So, why not make a car with modern tech that looks like it’s from the 1970s? There’s a certain 'Life on Mars’ chic to that era, and given that the future is likely all about less car ownership and more about calling a self-driving taxi whenever you need one, what’s wrong with a bit more variety in the way cars look?
And if you’re going to build a bipedal, manned robot, why not make it look like something out of an old sci-fi film or 80s anime? Let’s make our old dreams reality as well as our new ones.
'Futuristic’ looks can get boring very quickly, so let’s take more inspiration from the past.
One big read
The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion People The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion People
A must-read piece on the challenges Facebook has to contend with in policing the speech of 2 billion people. You’ll come away from this feeling glad it’s not your job.
One big tweet
Craig Bro Dude
Twitter convincing people that snark is a personality is the crime of the century.
8:17 PM - 23 Aug 2018
That’s all for today...
Tomorrow is the weekend, which means… a weekend edition of Big Revolution. See you then!
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