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Polymathic Monthly - Issue #15

‘We wanted flying cars and instead we got 140 characters’

Polymathic Monthly

December 3 · Issue #15 · View online
A curation of articles, tech, books and innovation strategy to enrich your career and personal lives.

‘We wanted flying cars and instead we got 140 characters’

I don’t often agree with Peter Thiel but I couldn’t agree more with that quote above. The quote, attributed to Thiel but no longer on his Founders Fund website, is praised and ridiculed in equal measure. Praised because it highlights an issue with innovation today - smart people working on trivial tech - and ridiculed because he and his venture capital buddies are the ones who continue to invest in these trivialities. 
I agree with the quote but not for the obvious reasons; 
  1. The things we ’want’ are limited by our imagination. He suggests we want(ed) flying cars. Even his imagination for what would be amazing technology is rooted in the concept of a ‘car’. The shift from horses to cars wouldn’t have happened if we’d kept modifying horses.
  2. We do not have flying cars (yet) but 140 characters (and our social media tools) seems to be exposing the worst of our humanity and splintering societies at the same time. And we are finding out, in real time, that we are unprepared or ill-equipped to manage the accidents of these technologies.
I’m an optimistic realist when it comes to technology. The irony of putting my idealistic hopes on technological advancements to then see these technologies simply become vehicles for enrichment (e.g. blockchain/cryptocurrencies) grates on me. I do believe that the overall benefits of our technologies will surpass the negatives. We do need to self-regulate, now probably more than at any other time in our history, since it seems we are pushing and chasing progress at all and any cost. 
I stay optimistic though… Optimistic that even if the artificially intelligent robot overlords (that we build) do take over, they wouldn’t be able to treat us any worse than we already treat each other…

  1. I’m constantly amazed at how logistically superior Amazon is to every other eCommerce company out there. And then I find out how the sausage gets made, the 'Flex’ program, and I wonder if I’m complicit in helping Amazon (possibly) break employment laws…
  2. Joi Ito ponders what we lose when we fail to consider human beings as a critical element in the design of solutions to our more complex problems. He also questions our push for a Singularity that he doubts exists. I agree with him. Ito is speaking my language when he suggests that ’I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer’. He also quotes Donella Meadows, my favorite systems thinker.
  3. Nick Bilton yearns for the end of the addictive and, possibly, destructive reign of our social media technologies. Coming from the guy who (literally) wrote the book on Twitter, we should heed his warning.
  4. Similar to Amazon Prime/Flex, I’ve used MTurk and wondered about the humans that actually do the dirty work we farm off to the data extraction machine.
  5. How would it feel to realize your kids were part of a beta test to build an edTech software under the guise of an AltSchool that disrupts education? 
  6. Dana Lewis of Alabama used cheap mail order parts and social media to build an artificial pancreas for people with diabetes. She then took it a step further and open sourced her technology so the rest of the world can benefit from her invention. There is hope yet for mankind…
  7. Amazon’s Echo might be pretty good for people with early onset Alzheimers.
  8. The main character from ’Kubo and The Two Strings’, the animated movie I recommended a few weeks ago, uses his Origami creations to tell stories to crowds for some money/gifts. That presentation style is called Kamishibai and it is an engaging style you and I can borrow
  9. Turns out that the broad conclusions drawn from using college students for behavioral psychology experiments might be wrong. It’s because the scientists fail to realize something that we all instinctively know; that there are wide variations across human populations. 
Thanks, as always, for reading. Please share with friends, colleagues and foes alike. There might be one more Polymathic before the end of the year. We’ll see. In the meantime, please send any Kamishibai inspired presentations and altruistic technologies my way…
All the best!

This issue of Polymathic was sponsored by Tandemspring, the team behind the book ’Unlock The Corporate Mindset’
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