Tech Revolution

By Martin SFP Bryant

how A.I. helped me remix a 90s mega-hit

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Tech Revolution
Issue #1016 • View online
Hello there,
I never cease to be amazed when things that took great care and attention from humans just a few years ago can suddenly be done by software in minutes.
Here’s a very silly—but impressive—example: for some time now I’ve had an imaginary drum ‘n’ bass mix of Chaka Demus & Pliers’ 90s mega-hit ‘Tease Me’ stuck in my head. I just don’t have the time to actually make it at the moment. But a brilliant auto-mashup tool called Rave.dj has at least got me half way there.
Rave.dj is great. You just choose two songs and it will mash them up automatically into something that sounds pretty damn good. Sure, a human producer could definitely do better, but if you ever wondered what ‘Firestarter’ crossed with ‘Turn Down For What’ would sound like, it has you covered.
I used it to scratch my own musical itch by splicing ‘Tease Me’ with Goldie’s ‘Inner City Life’, and it has only convinced me further that yes, the world really needs a drum ‘n’ bass version of the pop-reggae anthem. One day I will make the version that’s looping in my head right now.
Meanwhile this week, I have been:
  • Disappointed that A.I. continues to be racist. ‘Do not be racist’ should be an essential test for any object recognition software before it goes live.
  • Astounded by the (entirely hypothetical) idea that dark energy in the universe is explained by aliens with quantum computers 🤯
  • Relieved that Twitter is reportedly working on the ability to let you hide your old tweets. Users have called for this for years. Who wants their half-formed opinions from a decade years ago used against them today when they could have changed significantly?
  • Wondering what we’ll call the massive supply chain issues affecting the world right now when we look back on them in the future. The supply chain crunch? The supply chain squeeze?
  • Baffled about why people make so many excuses for the poor quality assembly of many Tesla cars.
Anyway, on with the show…
— Martin
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🤔 Big questions
from this week’s news…
🎲 Will El Salvador regret its big Bitcoin gamble?
“Angry protests, technological glitches and a plummet in value marked the first day of El Salvador adopting Bitcoin as legal tender” is not exactly the kind of news coverage that will encourage sceptics that El Salvador has made the right move by embracing a more decentralised financial system.
Many citizens of the country are worried, no doubt because Bitcoin’s value changes so frequently and unpredictably that a single tweet by Elon Musk could potentially destabilise the El Salvador economy.
But despite institutions like the IMF being wary, there’s something very interesting happening here.
As the BBC reports:
The government has even given Salvadorans $30 each of Bitcoin to encourage its adoption. It says bitcoin could save the country $400m a year in transaction fees on funds sent from abroad.
However, using data from the World Bank and the government, the BBC calculates this to be closer to $170m.
“We must break the paradigms of the past,” President Bukele tweeted. “El Salvador has the right to advance towards the first world.”
From the comfort of a wealthy Western country, it’s easy to discount Bitcoin as a currency for blockchain nerds, speculative investors, and criminals.
But for the developing world, cryptocurrencies offer a way to bypass an established financial system that punishes them with ridiculous fees for simple international money transfers, while providing an easy route into making investments and helping people route around their own national currencies’ inadequacies, as a really interesting Financial Times piece detailed at the weekend.
So, cryptocurrencies are a fascinating force in the modern world, but Bitcoin’s environmental impact cannot be discounted. The New York Times explained the current situation last week, noting that Bitcoin activity now uses “seven times as much electricity as all of Google’s global operations,” or “about the same amount of electricity as Washington State does yearly.”
We should beware of anti-cryptocurrency rhetoric that simply seeks to maintain the current world order, but the environmental concerns are serious. There may be little that can be done, however. Given Bitcoin’s decentralised nature, stopping its growth may be impossible.
🔐 How private is your private tech?
ProtonMail, a privacy-focused email service, caused alarm this week after it was revealed that it had handed an IP address of a user to the police. As TechCrunch reported:
ProtonMail, a hosted email service with a focus on end-to-end encrypted communications, has been facing criticism after a police report showed that French authorities managed to obtain the IP address of a French activist who was using the online service. The company has communicated widely about the incident, stating that it doesn’t log IP addresses by default and it only complies with local regulation — in that case Swiss law. While ProtonMail didn’t cooperate with French authorities, French police sent a request to Swiss police via Europol to force the company to obtain the IP address of one of its users.
Meanwhile, US media outlet ProPublica faced widespread criticism for an article that suggested WhatsApp was undermining the privacy of its end-to-end encryption by policing the service via a moderation team that handles complaints about what users send on the platform.
Both cases are a reminder that end-to-end encryption stops people intercepting your messages, but it doesn’t mean that the companies who operate these services shouldn’t have to moderate content and comply with local laws in other ways.
Encryption isn’t broken or undermined, you just have to remember that it isn’t the ultimate privacy protection.
💩 Should we fear smart toilets?
Smart devices can track pretty much any human activity now, so why not our toilet activity? The Wall Street Journal this week reported that “commodes that measure vital signs, screen for chronic illnesses and might even diagnose Covid-19 are in the works”:
Some smart toilets are geared toward helping doctors monitor patients with chronic conditions or heightened risk for certain diseases, whereas other companies aim to sell the toilets—with price tags in the hundreds or thousands of dollars—directly to consumers as a tool to track or improve their own health and wellness.
It doesn’t sound like a bad idea… But what if your employer uses a smart toilet to secretly monitor your health? What if public toilets covert monitor the community’s diet?
And besides, as Christian Payne noted when I tweeted this story yesterday, Japanese hi-tech toilet manufacturer Toto made a smart toilet 16 years ago, so why aren’t all toilets already smart?
👀 ICYMI
Stories you shouldn’t miss from the past week…
  • TikTok is overtaking YouTube. New App Annie data finds TikTok now scores higher than YouTube for average watch time among Android users in the US. While this is an incomplete picture (what about iOS?), it helps explain just why YouTube is so keen for its rival Shorts feature to be a success. [The Verge]
  • NFT fans have gone wild for randomly generated lines of text describing gear that could be used in an adventure game that doesn’t exist. ‘Loot’ has reportedly generated sales worth $46m, creating an market cap of $180m. But it’s actually quite an interesting project… if the speculators grabbing all the, er, loot don’t spoil it for everyone. [Coindesk]
  • The UK government is increasingly using large data sets such as Amazon sales information to target specific people with ‘nudge’ messages to change their behaviour. [The Guardian]
  • Twitter’s new Super Follows feature has highlighted a messy problem with the App Store in-app purchases that Apple desperately needs to fix. [The Verge]
  • A US court does not think A.I. can be classed as an inventor. The ruling is the opposite of a recent decision in Australia that said patents can be granted in the name of software ‘inventors’. However, Australia’s patent commissioner wants to appeal that ruling. [The Register]
  • Amazon could launch its own TV as soon as next month. [Insider $$$]
🌟 Thing of the week
Playbyte’s new app aims to become the ‘TikTok for games’
🏭 Future of work
At a time when many US employers are crying out for good candidates, they could be disregarding many perfectly good candidates without even talking to them.
As the Verge reported, automated job application filtering often misses nuance:
For example, some systems automatically reject candidates with gaps of longer than six months in their employment history, without ever asking the cause of this absence. It might be due to a pregnancy, because they were caring for an ill family member, or simply because of difficulty finding a job in a recession.
More specific examples cited by one of the study’s author, Joseph Miller, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal include hospitals who only accepted candidates with experience in “computer programming” on their CV, when all they needed were workers to enter patient data into a computer. Or, a company that rejected applicants for a retail clerk position if they didn’t list “floor-buffing” as one of their skills, even when candidates’ resumes matched every other desired criteria.
Tuning your CV for a specific job application is nothing new, but tuning it for a computer to read first could be a 21st century skill worth learning.
More future of work:
  • Bosses turn to ‘tattleware’ to keep tabs on employees working from home. [The Guardian]
  • If you never met your co-workers in person, did you even work there? [New York Times $$$]
📰 Big reads
Meet the Self-Hosters, Taking Back the Internet One Server at a Time
Meet the Freedom Phone, a Smartphone for Conservatives
“Disinformation influencers” for hire, only $15 a day
More big reads:
🐣 Tweet of the week
This tweet encapsulates one aspect of modern remote working life, but it’s funny to read the quote-tweets, where people take it as proof of whatever positive or negative view they already had of remote work.
Hazel Jennings
Remote work is so weird. I just wrapped up an 8-year run at Instagram; one of the most impactful chapters of my life so far... by closing my laptop, walking into my kitchen and standing there by myself eating a banana because it was starting to brown.
That's all for now...
I’ll be back in your inbox next week with more. Got something you want to tell me about this newsletter? Just hit reply to this email and get in touch!
— Martin.
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