“As technology takes over our lives, we’re all trying to figure out a balance between our always-on mindsets and healthy, mindful living. Unread Messages is a new exhibition at London’s Aram Gallery that explores how design can help bridge the digital and the analog. Curated by creative agency Six:Thirty, five different designers will put projects on display as part of the show. These interactive products have all been designed to help people explore healthier relationships with technology.”
“For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable. We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause.
One of the earliest signs of technology complicating human life was the advent of the railroads, which necessitated the development of standardised time zones in the United States, to co-ordinate the dozens of new trains that were criss-crossing the continent. And things have gotten orders of magnitude more complex since then in the realm of transportation. Automobiles have gone from mechanical contraptions of limited complexity to computational engines on wheels. Indeed, it’s estimated that the US has more than 300,000 intersections with traffic signals in its road system. And it’s not just the systems and networks these machines inhabit. During the past 200 years, the number of individual parts in our complicated machines — from airplanes to calculators — has increased exponentially.
The encroachment of technological complication through increased computerisation has affected every aspect of our lives, from kitchen appliances to workout equipment. We are now living with the unintended consequences: a world we have created for ourselves that is too complicated for our humble human brains to handle. The nightmare scenario is not Skynet — a self-aware network declaring war on humanity — but messy systems so convoluted that nearly any glitch you can think of can happen. And they actually happen far more often than we would like.”
“There are very few examples that demonstrate that cultural constructions arise from their own needs better than the many different terms that the languages used by Eskimos have to refer to snow. Although it may be a fact that time has turned into a myth, by distorting it too much, it is partially right, as José Antonio Díaz Rojo tell us in the Espacio Virtual Cervantes. If the Eskimos have so many different words to define snow, it is because they need a lot of specification to talk about something constant and usual for them: to distinguish its intensity, state, etc.
Likewise, it may be partly explained how technological development proceeds in one country or another, beyond the differences in GDP or income per capita: societies use innovation to solve problems. And who better than a fellow citizen to understand the problems of a country, region, and seek solutions. For example: Would anyone have guessed ten years ago that Kenya was to become one of the world leaders in mobile payments? The World Bank explains and contextualizes this phenomenon: in a country with limited access to debit cards and even bank accounts, payments via SMS for invoices, transactions between private individuals, etc., have had a special role.In Nigeria something similar happened.”
“The newest technologies seem to be promising us a truly radiant future: robots whose skills become more refined with every passing day; increasingly numerous and wide-ranging digital data aggregated at an ever faster pace to form something resembling an embryonic global artificial brain; algorithms capable of profiling individuals and identifying their cultural and social preferences; and even cars not requiring drivers and 3D printers that will soon enable you to print your own car or your new home!
Such is the universe of magical innovations promised by the 4th industrial revolution. Cause for rejoicing? No doubt. The true sharing economy – that is to say one that strengthens social links and communities (not the Uber or Airbnb version in which the overwhelming concern is profit) – opens up new prospects for cooperation, and nothing less than a complete change of economic paradigm, as announced by writers such as Michel Bauwens.”
“There are two kinds of technology critics. On one side are the determinists, who see the history of technology as one of inexorable progress, advancing according to its own Darwinian logic—the wheel, the steam engine, the autonomous car—while humans remain its hapless passengers. It is a fatalistic vision, one even the Luddite can find bewitching. “We do not ride upon the railroad,” Thoreau said, watching the locomotive barrel through his forest retreat. “It rides upon us.” On the opposite side of the tracks lie the social constructivists. They want to know where the train came from, and also, why a train? Why not something else? Constructivists insist that the development of technology is an open process, capable of different outcomes; they are curious about the social and economic forces that shape each invention.
Nowhere is this debate more urgent than on the question of artificial intelligence. Determinists believe all roads lead to the Singularity, a glorious merger between man and machine. Constructivists aren’t so sure: it depends on who’s writing the code. In some sense, the debate about intelligent machines has become a hologram of mortal outcomes—a utopia from one perspective, an apocalypse from another. Conversations about technology are almost always conversations about history. What’s at stake is the trajectory of modernity. Is it marching upward, plunging downward, or bending back on itself? Three new books reckon with this question through the lens of emerging technologies. Taken collectively, they offer a medley of the recurring, and often conflicting, narratives about technology and progress.”
“Silicon Valley is a microcosm of the problems that lie ahead. Sadly, some of its residents would rather brush away the poverty than face up to its ugly consequences. This was exemplified in a letter that Justin Keller, founder of Commando.io, wrote to San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and police chief Greg Suhr. He complained that the “homeless and riff-raff” who live in the city are wrecking his ability to have a good time.
The Valley’s moguls do not overtly treat as inconveniences to themselves the bitter life trajectories that lead to experiences such as Keller complained of; but they have largely been in denial about the effects of technology. Other than a recent essay by Paul Graham on income inequality, there is little discussion about its negative impacts.
The fact is that automation is already decimating the global manufacturing sector, transforming a reliable mass employer providing middle-class income into a much smaller employer of people possessing higher-level educations and skills.”
“From Big Data to the driverless car, we seem to live in an age of dizzying technological progress, which many hail as a ‘new industrial revolution’. Robotic intelligence is becoming so advanced that many warn machines could take white-collar jobs within a generation, while computers are moving ever closer to passing the Turing Test. Meanwhile, smart technology is increasingly marketed as desirable for reducing the capacity for human error: Google’s developers note that most accidents had by their driverless car are caused by other drivers. Global companies such as IBM are involved in designing purpose-built smart cities, such as South Korea’s Songdo, which can manage the climate and water supply or respond to citizens’ movements in real time.
While much of this seems cause for celebration – liberating us from banal tasks and informing our ability to make choices – others sound a note of caution. Wall Street’s ‘flash crash’ in 2010 was allegedly caused by ‘spoofing’ technology tricking automated trading systems into believing a share crash was taking place, wiping over £500 billion off the market in a few minutes: an example of the real-world impact of entirely virtual activity. It similarly remains unclear how the driverless car would respond to systems failure or pedestrian behaviour. Architect Rem Koolhaas raises the concern that cities where citizens are ‘treated like infants’ with no ‘possibility for transgression’ are not necessarily desirable places to live.
Is it troubling that innovation seems so concerned with eliminating human failure or has that always been the aim of technological development? Is humanity facing its ‘greatest existential threat’ from today’s robots, as Tesla’s Elon Musk warns? Does the ‘new industrial revolution’ mean a welcome transformation in how we interact with the world or a limitation of our capacity in act waywardly and unpredictably?”
“Technology has always been closely attached to our bodies, in the form of decades-old headphones or ultramodern devices. It has always been a part of our lives, and our attachment to it seems to grow every day. Intimate Technology refers to systems that colonize our body, influence our behavior and define our identity.”
“The idea of a basic income now being discussed assumes that people have to live on it entirely as work effectively disappears for most people other than the most highly skilled. This presumes a reasonably high level of income and that most work will indeed disappear. I am not so sure about this. There are wildly different research results about how many jobs technology will destroy and/or create and the honest answer is: nobody knows. There will be displacements and job losses and policy-makers need to prepare but we don’t really see this yet in the productivity figures. If anything recent experiences in the US and the UK in particular point to a slowing down of productivity increases although there are issues around measuring methods. We are also currently witnessing record employment numbers in Germany so the big labour market impact has not yet materialised and it remains to be seen how it will affect different economies in the future.”
“Technology alone will not create good jobs for everyone.
To help understand and shape the future world of work, the German Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs launched the Dialogue Process “Work 4.0” in April 2015. We want to exchange ideas about the future of work with experts from academia, business associations, and unions, with practitioners, and with the public at large. To get the ball rolling, my ministry has published a Green Paper Work 4.0 outlining the major challenges. This paper is the basis for the discussions we are currently having with all key stakeholders. In late 2016 we will bring together the results of these discussions in the form of a White Paper. While I am aware of the risks, I am also interested in the opportunities digitalisation offers for our economy and for employees in Germany.
At this point, we have come to realise that technology alone will not create good jobs for everyone. I believe that a successful transformation towards a digitalised world of work may offer enormous economic and social benefits. However, the process is not a matter of course: it must be shaped by all stakeholders.”
“The past five or six years have seen an explosion of political initiatives around the globe in which tech-minded actors of various kinds (including geeks, hackers, bloggers, tech journalists, digital rights lawyers, and Pirate politicians) have played leading parts. From whistleblowing to online protests, from occupied squares to anti-establishment parties, their political actions can no longer be ignored, particularly following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass digital surveillance capabilities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and allied agencies.
In my writings, I use the term freedom technologists to refer to those political actors — both individual and collective — who combine technological know-how with political acumen to pursue greater digital and democratic freedoms. Indeed, freedom technologists regard the fate of the internet and of human freedom as being inextricably entwined. Far from being the techno-utopian dreamers or ineffectual “slacktivists” of a certain strand of internet punditry, my anthropological research shows that most of them are, in fact, techno-pragmatists; that is, they take a highly practical view of the limits and possibilities of new technologies for political change.”
“I am very excited to announce the release of my new short film “Technology versus Humanity”. This film marks the beginning of a new period for me, with much of my future work focusing on the topic of how exponential technological changes are changing what and who we are, as humans, where this is going in the next 15 years, and what we need to do, TODAY, to make sure that these changes will indeed be beneficial to us.
For this film, I was very fortunate to be able to team up with Story7 and Jean Francois Cardella as producer and director, and Jeremy Joly as DOP. They made this film very special – thanks! We shot most of the footage in Cannes and the surrounding area – see some of the pics below. If you like this movie, please share it and spread the word, or submit a comment below and let me know what you think. Thanks! New hashtag as of today: #techversushuman”
“Aldous Huxley (July 16, 1894–November 22, 1963) — author of the classic Brave New World, little-known children’s book wordsmith, staple of Carl Sagan’s reading list — would have been 118 today. To celebrate his mind and his legacy, here is a rare 1958 conversation with Mike Wallace — the same masterful interviewer who also offered rare glimpses into the minds of Salvador Dalí and Ayn Rand — in which Huxley predicts the “fictional world of horror” depicted in Brave New World is just around the corner for humanity. He explains how overpopulation is among the greatest threats to our freedom, admonishes against the effects of advertising on children, and, more than half a century before Occupy Wall Street, outlines how global economic destabilization will incite widespread social unrest.”