30 June 2014

Carlos Bueno: “Inside the Mirrortocracy”

I want to stress the importance of being young and technical.
Young people are just smarter. Mark Zuckerberg

I was in the audience when a 22-year-old Zuck led with that drop of wisdom during his first Startup School talk. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue, it was the thesis of his entire 30 minutes on stage. It would have been forgettable startup blah-blah except that his talk followed Mitch Kapor’s. The contrast could not have been more raw.

Ironically, Zuck had arrived late and didn’t hear Kapor speak. He’s since evolved his views, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg’s influence and (ahem) getting older himself.

Kapor is the legendary founder of Lotus, which more or less kicked off the personal computer revolution by making desktop computers relevant to business. He spoke about the dangers of what he called the “mirror-tocracy”: confirmation bias, insularity, and cliquish modes of thinking. He described the work of his institute to combat bias, countering the anecdotes and fantasies that pass for truth with actual research about diversity in the workplace.

Carlos Bueno

Fascinating article about the hiring process in Silicon Valley corporations and the numerous unwritten rules that can dismiss a candidate before he even had a chance to speak. If it sounds hard to believe, look at the recent disclosures about workforce diversity – or lack thereof – from Google, Facebook and Yahoo: their personnel structures are remarkably similar, even though the companies are quite different in age and development. It’s too bad they didn’t release any data about the age distribution of their employees, that would make for another interesting comparison.

  • Workforce diversity 2014 graph by sex
  • Workforce diversity 2014 graph by ethnicity

Update: more data about workforce diversity from Twitter and Pinterest.

28 June 2014

Idle Words: “The Internet With A Human Face”

Well, people hate the online rules! Google’s answer is, wake up, grandpa, this is the new normal. But all they’re doing is trying to port a bug in the Internet over to the real world, and calling it progress. You can dress up a bug and call it a feature. You can also put dog crap in the freezer and call it ice cream. But people can taste the difference. […]

‘Big data’ has this intoxicating effect. We start collecting it out of fear, but then it seduces us into thinking that it will give us power. In the end, it's just a mirror, reflecting whatever assumptions we approach it with. But collecting it drives this dynamic of relentless surveillance.

Maciej Cegłowski

The online discussion around ‘the right to be forgotten’ – to have all records of personal actions removed from online access – has been long and the current solution imposed on search engines by the European Union not really satisfactory. This reprint of a recent conference in Germany makes the best argument for why we need this right, the ability to control the data corporations and states can store about people and for how long, and how the constant collection of data and the promise of future advertising revenue has corrupted the business models of internet giants and start-ups alike. It’s a dark view of the current state of internet surveillance, but sometimes you need a dark vision to step back and react.

Wired: “The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win”

Many Go players see the game as the final bastion of human dominance over computers. This view, which tacitly accepts the existence of a battle of intellects between humans and machines, is deeply misguided. In fact, computers can’t “win” at anything, not until they can experience real joy in victory and sadness in defeat, a programming challenge that makes Go look like tic-tac-toe. Computer Go matches aren’t the brain’s last stand. Rather, they help show just how far machines have to go before achieving something akin to true human intelligence. Until that day comes, perhaps it’s best to view the Densei-sen as programmers do. “It is fun for me,” says Coulom, “but that’s all.”

Alan Levinovitz

Interesting article about the long and complicated challenge to build a computer algorithm to match and beat humans at playing Go. Due to its complexity, Go is the only deterministic game left where people still outmatch the computing speed of machines. The conclusion sums up my impression perfectly: the problem is not the processing power, but the lack of insight into how exactly the human mind works at solving the game. Without a comprehensive understanding of the brain and consciousness, it will be next to impossible to build human-level artificial intelligence.

A traditional Go gameboard
A traditional Go gameboard. Photo: Takashi Osato/WIRED

27 June 2014

Wired: “Israel is Building a Futuristic Transit System of Magnetic Pods”

Israel’s biggest defense contractor is getting into mass transit, building the world’s first aerial maglev to carry people in egg-like pods around its campus at 44 mph. If all goes according to plan, you may soon see it in Tel Aviv.

SkyTran is a personal rapid transit system that features two-person pods hanging from elevated maglev tracks. As futuristic as that sounds (and looks), the idea has been around since 1990. It’s been suggested in cities ranging from Tempe, Arizona to Kuala Lampur, but the idea never got off the, er, ground.

Alexander George

For improving mass transit in crowded cities, I think something like this would prove more efficient and revolutionary than self-driving cars. It would have less coverage, so it probably wouldn’t drive you to the front door, but reduced air pollution would make it more enjoyable to walk a couple of blocks from the nearest pod station. It would also allow transportation to take advantage of the third dimension, instead of being confined to the ground – skyscrapers for example could be connected directly at some arbitrary floor, reducing the need for elevators. It’s no flying car, but it would get pretty close! Unfortunately, the potential for data mining is rather low, so naturally Silicon Valley corporations are not interested in investing…

SkyTran concept magnetic pod

26 June 2014

The Verge: “Google’s Cardboard turns your Android device into a VR headset”

While Facebook’s virtual reality effort involved a multibillion-dollar purchase of Oculus VR, Google’s gone with a decidedly simpler route: cardboard. Following the end of its Google I/O keynote, Google’s put out an app called Cardboard that lets users slot their Android device into a do-it-yourself cardboard viewer. When looked through using special lenses, you can interact with various Google services like a VR headset. Josh Lowensohn

I can’t decide if this is an elaborate late April Fools’ joke or an (equally lame) attempt at making fun of for acquiring Oculus. In any case, Cardboard rightfully deserved a place in the top 5 weirdest products, next to the Nexus Q.

Google Cardboard

24 June 2014

Politico: “Google’s states of play”

Google this year has retained a quartet of lobbyists in Maryland to remove any roadblocks facing its fleet of driver-free Priuses. It’s tapped consultants in California, Utah, Georgia and other states where the company has tried to deploy its ultrafast Fiber Internet. In Illinois and beyond, Google has worked to battle back legislation that might affect Glass, its high-tech spectacles. And the tech giant has cozied up to leaders in New York state and New York City, while camping out in Massachusetts to seek changes in state tax laws. […]

Google similarly has trained its sights on new rules that would ban drivers from wearing Glass, its computer, while behind the wheel. Illinois and Delaware are two states that recently have considered such laws — and places where Google has mounted a lobbying defense.

Tony Romm

Interesting addition to my recent article about the future of self-driving cars; it seems already moves to secure their legal acceptance, even while more fundamental issues are a long way from being solved. On one hand it’s a sign of maturity, a sign Google no longer assumes anything with a Google logo will be instantly embraced by people, that building an entirely new product category will face many obstacles from numerous sources. On the other… I’m pretty sure that, if you build an awesome product (and, in this case, secure) that people can’t wait to buy, you will have little trouble getting legal approval for it.

As for Google lobbying to allow drivers to wear Google Glass… unless buyers get a free self-driving car with their Glass purchase, I don’t see how anyone would think Glass is any less distracting than phones and SMS! The days of ‘Don’t Be Evil!’ are long gone.

23 June 2014

terribleminds: “Amazon, Hachette, And Giant Stompy Corporations”

The giant monster — a kaiju, let’s say — does what a giant monster does. It stomps around. It doesn’t stomp people because it hates people. It stomps people on the way to find its breeding ground or on the way to mate with a particularly saucy skyscraper. People end up stomped like grapes because the giant monster couldn’t see them. The bigger it gets, the more it loses sight of people. The more it loses sight of all the little things underneath it. (Like, say, book culture.)

The bacterial colony wants to grow. It wants to replicate. It is programmed to fill space, to colonize — in a way, like humanity has itself done. Given no competition, bacterial colonies bloat exponentially. Seeing competition, some bacteria cheat to become resistant to that competition. Being resistant to antibiotics, for instance, allows bacteria to enter a period of unfettered growth. An epidemic. A pandemic. A holy-fuck-a-demic.

Big companies — Amazon and publishers alike — are big monsters and little bacteria.

They want to grow.

They want to stomp.

It’s their nature.

Chuck Wendig

I should probably stop posting about this Amazon vs. Hachette fight until some sort of conclusion is reached, but this analogy is simply too good not to pass along!

22 June 2014

David Brin - Otherness

in Bucharest, Romania

David Brin - OthernessDupă ce m‑am luptat timp de câteva luni cu 1Q84, am simțit nevoia să citesc ceva mai simplu și scurt și am început această colecție de povestiri care aștepta de ceva vreme pe Kindle. Ca și The River of Time, este structurată în părți conținând texte cu teme similare, împreună cu eseuri mai lungi și note legate de povestiri, care dezvoltă ideile într‑un alt mod decât povestea science-fiction pe care o însoțesc. În afară de motivele celor patru părți, tema majoră a volumului de față este Diferitul, un concept al lui David Brin despre societatea modernă occidentală care se poate explica cam așa: de‑a lungul istoriei, atitudinea unei comunități față de străini a fost în mod covârșitor de superioritate, evitare, frică și persecuție; în schimb în occident s‑a dezvoltat un curent opus, mai mult decât simpla toleranță și respect față de ce este diferit, un fel de xenofilie care promovează interesul, dorința de a cunoaște și îmbrățișa opinii diverse, culturi diferite. Multe tendințe ale ultimelor decenii se pot subscrie acestui trend, de la emanciparea femeii la lupta împotriva rasismului și pentru drepturile minorităților sexuale, ba chiar și mișcarea ecologistă.

Transitions

Povestirile din prima parte se desfășoară în viitorul apropiat, aproximativ în următoarele decenii, explorând diverse tendințe tehnologice. Despre The Giving Plague am scris deja acum câteva luni când am citit‑o independent de colecție. Myth Number 21 este ultra‑scurtă și greu de încadrat, poate este mai clară alături de restul romanului Earth din care a fost extrasă.

În Dr. Pak’s Preschool, un cuplu de japonezi decide să încerce o tehnică de fertilizare experimentală pentru a fi siguri că al doilea lor copil, maximul permis de lege, va fi un băiat. Relatată din perspectiva soției, Reiko, povestirea redă foarte bine reticența ei de a ceda din ce în ce mai mult controlul pe măsură ce Tetsuo își înrolează fiul nenăscut în experimente din ce în ce mai îndrăznețe și bizare, dar și dorința de a‑și mulțumi soțul – întărită de tradițiile stricte japoneze – și de a recăpăta viața idilică de proaspăt căsătoriți. În ciuda finalului poate prea mistic și ambiguu, te pune pe gânduri cu privire la aplicarea lipsită de etică a tehnologiei și la efectele nocive ale ambiției „vestice”.

What the West really has to offer – the only thing it has to offer, my child – is honesty. Somehow, in the midst of their horrid history, the best among the gaijin learned a wonderful lesson. They learned to distrust themselves, to doubt even what they were taught to believe or what their egos make them yearn to see. To know that even truth must be scrutinized. It was a great discovery, almost as great as the treasure we of the East have to offer them in return, the gift of harmony.

Detritus Affected este relatată sub forma unui jurnal ținut de șeful unei expediții arheologice într‑o fostă groapă de gunoi de la periferia orașului Los Angeles. Pe măsură ce straturile succesive de resturi sunt îndepărtate cu grijă și analizate cu o finețe greu de imaginat în epocile precedente, ies la iveală secrete pe care secolul XX le credea îngropate și uitate definitiv.

Besides, who needs to dig in order to know this place? L.A.'s story is well-documented in newspaper files, ledgers, videotape. Was any culture ever so self-involved? Books on current slang and pop culture come out every year. As they say about pornography -- nothing is left to the imagination.

21 June 2014

Self-driving cars: the long road ahead

Known for a couple of years, Google’s vision for self-driving cars has materialized recently into a couple prototypes on the streets of California. As one who doesn’t have a driver’s license and who enjoys reading on my way to work, I would certainly welcome a vehicle that could take me there on the shortest route possible while allowing me to relax and disconnect. Nevertheless, I see three major problems with self-driving cars, which will considerably delay their adoption and success.

Google driverless car prototype
When reporters pressed Dr. Urmson about when there might be commercially available cars and pointed out that the Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been quoted as saying the technology would be available by 2017, he demurred. While noting that Mr. Brin is his boss, he said his overriding concern was safety. He also suggested that his personal goal was to have self-driving car technology by the time his son turns 16, five and a half years from today. John Markoff

14 June 2014

Harvard Business Review: “One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky”

A good way to prepare is to ask yourself whether the new culture is a “peach” or a “coconut”. This is a distinction drawn by culture experts Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. In peach cultures like the USA or Brazil people tend to be friendly (“soft”) with new acquaintances. They smile frequently at strangers, move quickly to first-name usage, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. But after a little friendly interaction with a peach, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self and the relationship suddenly stops.

Cultural peaches and coconuts

In coconut cultures such Russia and Germany, people are initially more closed off from those they don’t have friendships with. They rarely smile at strangers, ask casual acquaintances personal questions, or offer personal information to those they don’t know intimately. But over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become gradually warmer and friendlier. And while relationships are built up slowly, they also tend to last longer.

Erin Meyer

Interesting way of looking at cultural differences. I’ve spent some time in Paris recently and France definitely feels like a ‘coconut’ culture. The more I think about it, the more I can find examples of myself acting either as a ‘peach’ or a ‘coconut’, although I’m not sure which one is predominant.

11 June 2014

Forbes: “Apple To Abandon Headphone Jack?”

Right now you can plug any pair of headphones or earphones into an iPhone, iPod, iPad, Mac or MacBook, but with the switch Apple would control an essential peripheral and its MFi licensing program would see it start to take a sizeable fee for every pair of headphones sold for use with an Apple device. Meanwhile Apple would suck up the majority of the profits with the Beats brand because owning it means there will be no licensing fee. Gordon Kelly

The headphone jack is the only standard connector on iPhones, of course it has to be replaced by a proprietary model! As much as Apple plans to open up the software, closing the hardware platform this way would be extremely annoying. I just hope it won’t happen anytime soon.

10 June 2014

GigaOm: “Memo to Eric Schmidt: Being Social is Not a Widget”

Why? Because to truly be successful, social media or social networking — which Google has apparently come to realize is an important feature of the web as it exists today, and a competitive threat as well (sub req’d) — can’t just be bolted onto what you are already doing. It’s not a software upgrade or a hardware fix. Schmidt makes adding social features sound like something Google can accomplish by tweaking an algorithm here and there, or adding a new widget (possibly even a Facebook plugin). But he is wrong. Mathew Ingram

A couple of days ago I discovered this article saved in my browser bookmarks and was struck but how good it anticipated the struggles of Google+, which was still a secret internal project back in 2010 when the article was published. After its project manager and main supporter left in April and with the CEO distancing himself from the project, the future of Google+ looks more uncertain by the day.

09 June 2014

Wood Fiction: “I Need Amazon: Why Hachette is not the Underdog”

If you want to boycott Amazon, go for it — but don’t pretend you’re doing it for the artists. You are choosing a corporate entity that has built its fortune on fucking authors over one that has risked bankruptcy to make sure I get paid better. Brian G. Wood

Another opinion on the war between Amazon and the Big5 from a self-published author. It largely confirms my previous thoughts; Amazon may take a hit in the short run by not selling titles from the major publishing houses, but it has numerous other sources of income and will slowly build a catalog of independent titles. On the other hand, publishers don’t have another digital platform of comparable size to the Kindle and stand to lose the most over the long run it they don’t radically reform their business model.

Quartz: “The “Apple doesn’t get the cloud” era is officially over”

Now, three years since iCloud’s debut, things seem to be coming together. (We’ve certainly come a long way since Ping, Apple’s failed iTunes social network, and MobileMe, iCloud’s ill-fated predecessor.) Next, we’ll see if Apple can excel in cloud services the way it has in hardware and software design. Dan Frommer

Is it me, or the conclusion of this article contradicts its title?! I think somebody forgot the add the question mark…

Apple never had a problem saying that iCloud is best-in-class, it was the way it actually performed in real life situations that causes people countless headaches; so to assume all has been fixed after a simple keynote presentation can only amount to a useless article written for the sensationalist headline. The real test for Apple’s cloud services will come after the release of iOS 8, when the new OS will start running on hundreds of millions of Apple devices around the world.

05 June 2014

stratechery: “Publishers’ Deal with the Devil”

On the Internet, though, words are much more like the mythical story of Faust, available to anyone and everyone for zero marginal cost. Each of you reading this article is creating a new version of this site on your computer, and it’s not costing anyone a cent1. Unfortunately for those accruing those fixed costs, it’s much more difficult to convince customers to move from $0 to even $0.01 than it is to go move from $1 to $2 (or $10 to $20).

This reality, unsurprisingly, terrifies the publishers, which is where we return to Faust: just as the doctor made a deal with the devil, so have publishers, but in this case the devil is Amazon, and Mephistophilis, the devil’s agent, is DRM.

Ben Thompson

The Internet is in uproar over the recent battle between Amazon and a large publisher over e-book selling rights. While it’s easy to point the finger at Amazon and blame their tactics, let’s keep in mind that publishers are far from ‘innocent victims’, but instead large corporations with their own interests and profits to defend. This article presents a more balanced opinion on this troubled relationship and, I think, one much closer to the truth. The way out of this feud is straightforward for an outside observer, but it would cause huge disruptions for the business model of large publishing houses, essentially the same situation they were trying to avoid in the first place by handing over distribution to Amazon, and later Apple. Unfortunately for them, their Faustian deal with the Amazon ‘devil’ only delays the inevitable…

04 June 2014

re/code: “What’s Apple Really Up To? Keeping You in Apple World”

To my mind, the overwhelming theme at WWDC was that your digital life can be better if your phone, tablet and laptop all have the familiar Apple logo. Unlike in the past, it wasn’t just about a better laptop operating system, or a better phone-and-tablet platform. It was all about the advantages you get if you use Apple hardware, software and services for everything.

The biggest new features were about making iPhones, iPads and Macs work seamlessly together, so that people on Planet Apple have no reason to leave, and those toting other brands might be tempted to fully join the Apple tribe.

Walt Mossberg

Well, that’s generally what platforms do, constantly reinforcing the positive effects of being member of an ‘exclusive club’. But this can also work against the platform if the costs to join the club are too high. Since you only get the ‘full Apple experience’ by owning two of their devices or more, people who only buy one (be it an iPhone or iPad) don’t get the benefit of many features. They are likely in the majority, as the recent numbers mentioned at WWDC show there are about 80 million Macs in active use, compared to hundreds of million iPhones and iPads.

01 June 2014

Yoon Ha Lee - The Bonedrake’s Penance

in Bucharest, Romania

Într‑o fortăreață izolată departe de valurile trecătoare ale civilizațiilor, o mamă își crește copilul, gătindu‑i brioșe și educând‑o despre pericolele locuinței lor neobișnuite. Aceasta servește în același timp drept muzeu pentru numeroase artefacte de război și e vizitat în mod periodic de emisari ai noilor puteri galactice dornici să depună noi exponate. Cele două personaje implică și ele destule mistere: despre „mamă” aflăm din primele rânduri că este un dragon din oase, în timp ce despre fiică se dezvăluie cu încetul că este de fapt o fată umană. Cadrul e destul de similar cu o altă povestire de aceeași autoare pe care am citit‑o recent, ca și stilul, bogat, plin de mister și culoare. Vocea la început candidă a fiicei se transformă odată ce înaintează în vârstă și întrebările despre originea ei și a mamei-dragon nu se mai lasă amânate. Din păcate scena revelației de la final a fost cam bruscă și dezvăluirea în sine ușor de ghicit cu mult înainte, în special dacă ești un cititor de SF experimentat.

I was incredulous about her claim that some of the most vicious encounters occurred between members of the same species, even the same communities within those species.
Nota mea: 3.5
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue #143

disponibilă online pe site‑ul Beneath Ceaseless Skies

James Patrick Kelly - 10^16 to 1

in Bucharest, Romania

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 87În octombrie 1962 în New York, Criza Rachetelor Cubaneze e pe cale să izbucnească, dar la doar 12 ani, Ray Beaumont e mai interesat de noile numere din revistele lui preferate de benzi desenate și de joaca în pădurea din spatele casei, printre frunzele uscate ale toamnei. Într‑una din zile, căsuța lui din pădure e vizitată de o apariție fantomatică, care se dovedește a fi un om cu haine și accent ciudat care se interesează în ce dată sunt. Convins că Cross este un călător din viitor, Ray îl ascunde în buncărul familiei, sperând la dezvăluiri fabuloase și la o șansă de a deveni erou. Și din păcate, dorința i se îndeplinește… Deși tema este destul de convențională pentru science-fiction, povestirea m‑a impresionat prin punctul de vedere diferit al copilului pus în fața unei decizii cu mult peste capacitatea lui și cu felul în care construiește și intensifică tensiunea de la o pagină la alta.

When I was a kid, I didn’t mind being lonely. Now it’s hard, knowing what I know. Oh, I have lots of friends, all of them wonderful people, but people who know me say that there’s a part of myself that I always keep hidden. They’re right. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell anyone about what happened with Cross, what I didn’t do that night. It wouldn’t be fair to them. Besides, whatever happens, chances are very good that it’s my fault.
Nota mea: 4.0

disponibilă online pe site‑ul Clarkesworld Magazine