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Twill by yiibu - Issue #11

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This week: The web is Doom, social media shamans, Uber countermeasures, the power 1/2 billion 'losers
 

Twill by yiibu

April 25 · Issue #11 · View online
A weekly dispatch on our evolving relationship with technology. Topics: Near-future design, autonomous everything, design ethics, machine learning and the human impact of embedding technology into everyday life.

This week: The web is Doom, social media shamans, Uber countermeasures, the power ½ billion ‘losers’ and a creepy robotic tongue.

New this week...
0.0 Excellent Bitcoin primer that also includes some interesting reminders on the history of money… 
“as recently as the 1860s the United States had eight thousand private currencies in circulation, issued by ‘banks, railroad companies, retail stores and other entities’.​”
…along with some interesting thoughts on Bitcoin’s longevity.
“January marked seven years since the launch of Satoshi’s original code. In seven years, Google, Facebook and Twitter had all become not just big companies, but fundamental parts of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people. They had become verbs. M-Pesa is about the same age as bitcoin, and handles half Kenya’s GDP. Bitcoin is nowhere near that. It’s time for the cryptocurrency to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.”
1.0 How to make a better bot. 
There’s something deeply, irrationally frustrating about not being understood by a piece of technology whose first and most important job is to parse what you’re saying.” 
2.0 Well done us! The average web page is now the size of an install of Doom.
3.0 Uber is rolling out facial recognition in China to prevent fraud, as drivers have been caught doing everything from spoofing their locations to faking rides to cash in on subsidies.
(Will be interesting to see if Uber’s countermeasures will simply be met with yet another means of creatively gaming this new constraint :-) 
4.0 We often worry that the world is homogenising at the hands of big Western-led tech and media companies. A few anecdotes that show otherwise:
5.0 The internet’s impact on one small, remote, snow-swept American town…as seen through the eyes of a reporter who grew up there. An engaging piece with beautiful (if incredibly frigid) photography.
6.0 Even small doses of boredom can generate stress says an article on the danger of boring buildings “…researchers argue that humans are healthier when they live among variety — a cacophony of bars, bodegas, and independent shops — or work in well-designed, unique spaces, rather than unattractive, generic ones”.
7.0 The Tesla Model X SUV’s assorted smart/autonomous bits and pieces are glitching! Another promised smart thing that’s letting us down…?
8.0 …or maybe these are just growing pains and we’re projecting the usual fear, uncertainty and doubt when faced with novel interfaces.
9.0 Not bad for a human: a short animated primer on AI in video games (…and also from same author, an excellent series of video introductions to AI).
10.0 Long but excellent investigation of the present and future of China’s 500 million strong Diaosi (屌丝) or ‘loser’ generation. 
For Diaosi like Hu, the rallying cry of his generation came not from the heroes of Chinese history, but from a video game.
11.0 Hail the maintainers! A conference and conversation about the past, present and future value (and creativity) in maintenance.
Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations.
…to which you may want to watch this:
Train track Veggie Market - YouTube
This week in robots
Xian’er the robot monk
Xian’er the robot monk
  • A Chinese man recently went shopping with eight robotic escorts whose job it apparently was to carry his packages. 70s sci-fi inspired ‘bots that carry things’ are now all the rage in China, with mixed results.
  • “Who are you?” asks the robot monk who bears a permanently surprised expression and carries a tablet with guidance on Buddha’s teachings.
  • “I created a machine that licks my favourite [Anime] characters with a robotic tongue”. Enough said.
  • A teeny concept-bot (…think guided GoPro on wheels) that could serve as your 'eyes on the ground’ and help complete tasks that require seeing into small spaces (or sneaking into a space unobserved!). 
  • April fools from Google, the self driving bicycle concept video would make an interesting series to explore 'things that feel OK when rendered autonomous’–and things that just plain don’t. I anticipate more than a few cultural differences…
Thing from the past. Thing from the future
From the past: In one of the first examples of computer vision, it took University of Edinburgh robot Freddy 10 minutes in 1969 to detect a cup. Now you can ‘rent’ an API that will do it in milliseconds! (image source

From the future: Autodesk has created a system that mixes 3-D printing and AI to customise everyday objects (…and make them more interesting, more usable by people with disabilities, more child-proof).
RetroFab, takes in a 3D scan of an appliance … and then automatically suggests different shapes and layouts for the appliance’s buttons, dials, switches, levers or LEDs.
That is all
Our best wishes for a productive week.
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