s3e20: SMALL MOVES, ELLIE 

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

I’m actually (shh) writing this on Monday 2 May 2016, which is the same day that I sent previous episode, s3e19 (I know, the previouslies and continuity on this are getting a bit out of hand). I’m writing it now because I have stuff in my head that I have to get out and I tried dictating it to Siri and Jesus Christ she can’t understand me at all.

Anyway, on with the show.

Also I gave up and bought a copy of Contact.

1.0 The Ideology

I used to write quite a bit about the Californian Ideology[0], a sort-of explanation as to Why The Valley Does What It Does, written by Richard Barbrook and (former colleague) Andy Cameron back in 1995, when the Information Superhighway was a thing that we thought would be awesome and no-one had yet made an AT&T video about if you’d ever been minding your business and then a bunch of jerks would come crashing your party for you daring to suggest that maybe it’d be nice if you got to see people who looked like you in videogames and before you knew it you had death threats and had to move house? No? YOU WILL.

Anyway. The Californian Ideology was something that I started looking at again, seeing if it was something that you could apply to the new round of Bubble 3.0 companies: the Ubers, Airbnbs, the radical disruptions, the sharing economies, the promises of a better life in the new off-world netblocks, the: everything will be cool y’all if you just download this app, the musings of billionaires as to what to do after they’d persuaded a billion people to use something every day. And now, I think, the next thing that caught my eye was this; Fred Wilson’s noticing[1] of Sundar Pinchar’s statement that after being mobile-first, Alphabet née Google would become an “AI-first” company.

Given the context, the more responsible reading of the statement is to say that as companies have shifted their strategy from delivering information and acting as if computing is mainly performed at desks to one of radical acceptance that there are way more people out there with computers in pockets and hands or even just sitting in *toilets* using computers, perhaps the next, er, paradigm shift, is to orient your company or organization to a world in which the organizing principle is pervasive artificial intelligence and not just the mobility of computing.

The irreponsible way of reading this, of course, and one that deliberately inserts meaning where there might not be any, is that at least a mobile-first world meant humans-using-computers-that-can-move-around, but an AI-first world is primarily By Algorithms, For Algorithms, if there were any doubt as to which particular finite element we wanted to next remove from the analyses we’re performing.

In a way, this makes sense. There are only so many humans in the world. Facebook and Google can only theoretically max out at 7bn daily active users. If you design stuff for other artificial intelligences, though, then the sky’s the limit! We Have No Limits But Our Own Aversion To Computronium.

In an AI-first world consumers aren’t flesh and blood irrational humans, they’re irrational (remember, they’re still (mostly) designed by humans) algorithms doing the (somewhat understood) bidding of (somewhat) rational (and yet probably hubristic) humans. In an AI-first world, are the majority consumers of services other algorithms? Is most of the traffic (as it probably is already), machine to machine, or machine to human? Or machine initiated instead of human initiated? It feels a bit like a slippery slope because once you’re here, you’re but a hop, skip and a jump away from some sort of blockchain-enabled hermit society[2], best described by Greg Borenstein as a sufficiently advanced satire being indistinguishable from startups[3] .

[0] The Californian Ideology – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[1] An AI First World – AVC
[2] H E R M I C I T Y
[3] Greg Borenstein on Twitter: “Ok. That’s it folks. We’ve achieved peak Silicon Valley. https://t.co/KH9uS1fXkW https://t.co/vc9WrgRKqT”

2.0 New Product

Amazon’s new Home Base service is a “digital locker” for your household purchases, automatically registering warranties for you, organizing searchable manuals from your phone, notifies you about recalls and product updates and connects you to forums with other product owners. If you ever need spare parts, Amazon knows exactly what will and won’t work, and will sort it for you by product review score.

Amazon can do this, of course, because their supply chain management is insane and they’ve got the leverage to “ask” that people who want to sell to Amazon provide what someone else would boringly call “product lifecycle management information” along with the physical goods.

[stream interrupted, resumed Friday May 6, 2016]

All this talk of Smart Homes and stuff and instead we still don’t have Easy Spimes. Look, here’s a thing IKEA could do:

– email you your receipt (because you signed up for IKEA FAMILY, right?)
– if you didn’t sign up, do simple OCR on a photo of your receipt that you took with your phone
– identify the IKEA products that you bought
– have a single IKEA URL where you can view all your IKEA purchases
– and download manuals again
– with measurements
– that you can export to Sketchup or whateve

All this stuff exists! It’s just not joined together yet. A collection of digital information about physical objects, siloed. And, I mean, why not do it? Does IKEA lose anything by doing this? I mean I guess that it’s a bunch of work. But you know, it would sure make my IKEA FAMILY life better.

Of course, if Amazon didn’t do this then Google could do it with Gmail just by scanning through all your receipts and “intelligently” collecting information about all your purchases in the same way that Google Now is able to work out where you’re flying because email is the other thing that stores everything that isn’t Dropbox. So, Google reads all your email and:

– includes one-click product registration links
– does somewhat-smart object recognition, tallying up purchases against receipts
– collects manuals together in Drive
– makes those manuals searchable
– includes links to Google Shopping for related products

I MEAN REALLY HOW HARD IS THIS. I mean, if IKEA knew what lights I’d purchased from them then the next time I went to the store they could tell me what replacement bulbs I could get that would actually fit and I wouldn’t have to worry about which fucking bulb fits in which fucking socket. BUT NO.

3.0 Grab Bag

* software is eating jobs/the world but now you can sign with your favourite football club as an e-sports player, so everything works out in the end[0].
* Darius Kazemi has made this amazing Pleystation glitch-shirt[1]
* better technology in American government is being institutionalised[2]
* Robin Sloan is a national treasure and a genius for this centaur RNN-assisted writing setup[3]. By 2025, we might see a Pulitzer go to a centaur writer.
* not everyone can produce “good” or compelling writing, but good or compelling writing can come from anywhere, even Reddit[4]. This reminds me of clasically “good” ARG writing but massively simplified so that it’s more accessible to a larger audience: only one place, one easy URL to get all the latest bits, each piece makes sense on its own, you get a sense of a larger whole without having to do much work. Also, serialisation.
* You only have to wait a couple days between seeing another engineering interview horror story on Hacker News, so it’s great to see Slack (who else?!) write a walkthrough of how their engineering interview process works[5]
* I’ve had a few people ask for URLs to previous newsletters. You can get a Tinyletter archive here[6] but at some point I need to export all the newsletters and host them on my own domain and get them all tagged up.
* UCL’s map of the world’s shipping routes is the physical internet moving atoms around. It will also kill your browser.[7]

[0] English Premiership club West Ham United sign first esports player
[1] Ƥℓe¥stΔt|⬤n | Teespring
[2] Two Obama Tech-Reform Programs, 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows, Become Permanent in GSA – The Atlantic
[3] Writing with the machine
[4] The Flesh Interface | Motherboard
[5] A Walkthrough Guide to Finding an Engineering Job at Slack — Several People Are Coding
[6] Things That Have Caught My Attention
[7] This is an incredible visualization of the world’s shipping routes – Vox

Okay, I had a peek at the probability wave and I’m fairly certain that I’m going to be in Australia in a couple weeks time. I gather that Australia is a pretty big place, so I can be a bit more specific.

I’m taking part in Web Directions Transform 2016 in Canberra on Wednesday May 18 (workshop) and Thursday May 19 (conference). I am super honoured to be speaking alongside Leisa Reichelt, Dana Chisnell and Jared Spool.

On Friday May 20th in Sydney, I’ll be having a conversation with Seb Chan in front of people thanks to the Australian Center for the Moving Image and Web Directions which I’m also super looking forward to. This one is free!

(Then I’m popping back home for about 40 hours, before heading off to Sacramento for work, and then…)

On Thursday May 26th and May 27th I’ll be in Washington, DC taking part in the White House Foster Care & Technology Hackathon taking part in a panel about the work I’ve done with Code for America and the State of California in child welfare digital services.

So you know. Time-zone whiplash.

I took a bit of a break this week. I might write about why next week. In any event, have a good weekend, and send notes and stuff because I love them.

Best,

Dan