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Polymathic Monthly - Issue #12: Computerphobes, Topsy and AI


Polymathic Monthly

August 27 · Issue #12 · View online
A curation of articles, tech, books and innovation strategy to enrich your career and personal lives.

To discredit his competitors, Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant named Topsy. In 1903, a time when users believed electricity was witchcraft, Edison’s antics didn’t help.
In the early days of the telephone, people wondered if it could be used to communicate with the dead. Folk were that confused.
In 1986, IBM put out an ad suggesting that their new computer model would cure the disease ailing the many computerphobes.
Electricity, the telephone, and the computer are known as general purpose technologies (GPTs). Utilities now woven into the fabric of our lives.
And, in a few years, I believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be a GPT. AI will increase productivity, as GPTs do, and probably reduce the hours of human work required in the industries where it has the most impact. The real issue, I fear, is that AI will only exponentially increase inequality, as the AI platforms will be owned by the large technology companies. But worrying about how bad things will turn out is not the way to go. Elon Musk is fear mongering, suggesting that AI is more dangerous than some countries with nuclear weapons, and Mark Zuckerberg is suggesting he tone it down. 
I’m siding with Zuckerberg on this one.
My stuff: Please vote for my Antifragile Grid talk for SXSW 2018. Thank you in advance! I’ll be presenting in Vermont first week of Sept and in Detroit the week after. I’d love to grab a hot chocolate with any subscribers in these towns!
  1. Fun and comprehensive 3 part post on AI, written by Tim Urban. 
  2. Will there ever be a free market for electricity? Travis Kavulla, in one of the best articles I’ve read on the electricity industry, ponders.
  3. Have you ever wondered why is there no toothpaste in hotel rooms? Slate investigates. H/t to Kevin Kelly.
  4. The electrocution of Topsy is written up in Wired. Warning: some might find the video disturbing.
  5. In 1964, the ad-hoc committee on the Triple Revolution suggested that the cybernation would kill everything. Like we say about AI.
  6. And yes, there was a time when people feared computers
  7. This Slate article touches on how movie directors take advantage of our technophobia and the four stages of technology acceptance.
  1. Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable provides a futuretech road map.
  2. Last Days of Night is a fantastic fictionalization of the Tesla, Westinghouse and Edison battle.
  3. Catching up on my Black Panther before the 2018 movie release.
  4. Brynjolfsson and McAfee seem to have a great partnership going. Taking it from where they left off in Second Machine Age, the authors share suggestions on how to navigate a future defined by the Machine, Platform, and the Crowd.
  5. In the mold of Applied Minds (How Engineers Think), Algorithms to Live By provides real life applications of math concepts. Surprisingly entertaining book!
Keep the recommendations coming and have a great September! 
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