Daily Bits March 25th, 2017

You’ve probably read many articles about the disembodiment we as a society are experiencing due to the infiltration of new technologies in our daily lives. Not like this, you haven’t. (FT, paywall.)

“Zuckerberg says that Facebook is committed “to continue improving our tools to give you the power to share your experience”. Yet what people might really need are the tools to connect to their own experiences. In the name of “sharing experiences”, people are encouraged to understand what happens to them in terms of how others see it. If something exciting happens, the gut instinct of Facebook true-believers is to draw their smartphones, take a picture, post it online, and wait for the “likes”. In the process they hardly pay attention to what they actually feel. Indeed, what they feel is increasingly determined by the online reactions rather than by the actual experience.”

Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens, which if you haven’t read, you really should) writes a response to Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto in the FT this morning about the impact of Facebook and friends on our experience of life.

“It is a good sign that the social media leviathan is leading the call for a global community. It is more difficult to see how far Facebook is willing to change its own business model to match its ideology. You cannot unite humanity by selling advertisements.”

This is unfair in that it overlooks the value of instant communication with anyone, anywhere, which is a key component of hope for the future. How can we unite if we can’t share ideas?

But Zuckerberg takes it further, and suggests that we need a new ideology for the new world we live in.

“If Facebook intends to make a real ideological commitment, those who fear its power should not push it back into the neoliberal cocoon with cries of “Big Brother!”. Instead, we should urge other corporations, institutions and governments to contest its vision by making their own ideological commitments.”

We have new threats, most of them global rather than regional. Conflicts of interest abound, and loyalties are called into question.

“You can be loyal to your family and your nation at the same time — so why can’t you be loyal to humankind, too? Handling multiple loyalties is not easy, because sometimes they make contradictory demands on us. But life is difficult. Handle it.”

What if commercial interests become secondary to greater goals? Is that even possible in this mercantile age? Would we trust it if it were presented to us on a platter?

Few organizations have the clout to pull it off. Facebook is one of them.

“The original gurus of Silicon Valley saw the internet as a tool for social revolution rather than for making money. In recent years, their vision seemed to be hijacked and distorted. Will Zuckerberg make the internet great again?”

But its clout is also a good reason to fear its influence. Given how much time people spend on the platform, and how insidious the data analysis and retargeting have become, we should tremble at the thought of Facebook and friends competing to impact our decisions even more than they already do.

“Take future election races, for example: in the 2020 race, Facebook could theoretically determine not only who are the 32,578 swing voters in Pennsylvania, but also what you need to tell each of them in order to swing them in your favour. But there is also much to fear from abdicating all responsibility to market forces. The market has proven itself woefully inadequate in confronting climate change and global inequality, and is even less likely to self-regulate the explosive powers of bioengineering and artificial intelligence.”

But could it not be argued that influence is inevitable? So, should we not encourage competing influences, so that we can veer towards the one that most reflects what we believe?

Am I being naïve in thinking that, if subtle control is going to happen anyway, that we can mitigate the effects through more balanced competition?

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Tell me this isn’t a little bit creepy:

A new type of cloud has been admitted to the lexicon of weather-watchers: undulatus asperitas. I love clouds (I even have a book called “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook”, talk about nerdy), but I seriously hope I never see one of these.

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The Harvard Business Review has published an introduction to ICOs and their impact on startup financing. Nothing really new, but this paragraph sums up the arguments for and against:

“Detractors of these new funding schemes scream for structure and protection, point out the scams, demand more control, and say that without equity, investors don’t have enough skin in the game. Meanwhile, proponents retort that there’s a real need for freedom to invest outside the accredited system, which sees the wealthy getting wealthier. They argue that the door needs to close on the domination of Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley and other VCs and investors in the tech industry who have been making massive returns on the backs of entrepreneurs for far too long.”

What’s frustrating is that almost all articles talk about the pros and cons without taking into account the looming power of the regulators. This is an alternative form of investment, right? Investments are regulated. Whether you think there is too much regulation or not, we can pretty much all agree that some sort of protection is a good thing, even if it’s just in the form of strong disclosures. Something, to prevent the bad options from tarnishing the good ones.

I wrote about this a while ago. Regulation will happen. And that will change the appeal of this financing method. Who knows, maybe for the better.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this reflection from Tyler Cowen, about why hitchhikers should be invited to conferences. Read it, it’s lovely.

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Right, off to watch some more episodes of Daredevil…

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