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Google’s ads just look like search results now Jan 24, 2020 highlights & tech & design

In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white Ad” icon next to the former.

Hrm. The resulting change seems to work:

Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads. […] According to one digital marketing agency, click- through rates have already increased for some search ads on desktop, and mobile click- through rates for some of its clients increased last year from 17 to 18 percent after similar changes to Googleʼs mobile search layout.

Damn. I may start looking for a new search engine.

Microsoft wants to capture all of the carbon dioxide it’s ever emitted Jan 19, 2020 highlights & tech & science & climate change

The most audacious commitment from Microsoft is its push to take carbon out of the atmosphere. The company is putting its faith in nascent technology, and it’s injecting a significant investment into a still controversial climate solution. Proponents of carbon capture, like Friedmann, say that the technology is mature enough to accomplish Microsoft’s aims. It’s just way too expensive right now. Microsoft’s backing — and its $1 billion infusion of cash — could ultimately make the tech cheaper and more appealing to other companies looking for new ways to go green.

Fantastic news. Carbon capture is a key opportunity for decelerating climate change. Hopefully more companies follow suit.

Elon Musk attempts to explain Twitter to normal people in court Dec 5, 2019 highlights & tech & twitter

Every part of this trial sounds made up. They should just air it in lieu of a Good Fight episode. Elizabeth Lopatto’s writeup is worth worshipping.

Spiro then coined the worst acronym I’ve heard in years, and I edit stories about aerospace so I know from bad acronyms. It is: JDART, for joking, deleted, apologized-for, responsive tweets.


But there’s at least one abstract takeaway that’s interesting to me:

At this point, Wood tried to enter an email exchange into evidence, resulting in a great deal of confusion on Judge Wilson’s part about how email reply chains work. (You read from the bottom.)


At this point, the pedo guy” Twitter thread was entered into evidence, and the befuddled court had to be told that the reply chains work the other way on Twitter — the first tweet is at the top, and the last tweet is at the bottom.

Yet another example of the ways in which the world’s accelerating faster than many institutions can keep up.

Bad RCS implementations are creating big vulnerabilities, security researchers claim Nov 30, 2019 highlights & tech & systems


One issue identified on an unnamed carrierʼs implementation could allow any app on your phone to download your RCS configuration file, for example, giving the app your username and password and allowing it to access all your voice calls and text messages. In another case, the six-digit code a carrier uses to verify a userʼs identity was vulnerable to being guessed through brute force by a third-party. These problems were found after researchers analyzed a sample of SIM cards from several different carriers.

RCS is supposed to be a big deal. It’s fascinating how these system-wide policies can be messed up in microsystem implementations.

2019 Tech Trends Report — The Future Today Institute Nov 29, 2019 futures & highlights & change & tech

This report is intentionally broad and robust. We have included a list of adjacent uncertainties, a detailed analysis of 315 tech trends, a collection of weak signals for 2020, and more than four dozen scenarios describing plausible near futures.

Impressive work. I particularly like the CIPHER heuristic they use in analysis signals: contradictions, infections, practices, hacks, extremes, rarities.

Medical Crowdsourcing: Harnessing the “Wisdom of the Crowd” to Solve Medical Mysteries Nov 29, 2019 highlights & crowdsourcing & tech & change

Medical crowdsourcing offers hope to patients who suffer from complex health conditions that are difficult to diagnose. Such crowdsourcing platforms empower patients to harness the wisdom of the crowd” by providing access to a vast pool of diverse medical knowledge.

An interesting application of crowdsourcing. What’s the incentive for healthcare providers to participate, though? I’m not sure doctors can bill for participation in Figure 1. I think the main reason they engage at all is curiosity, and that would likely degrade if, as the authors of the linked study discuss, there was a lot of noise” from uninteresting posts by patients who aren’t medically literate.

Report Launch - OPSI Primer on AI for the Public Sector Nov 29, 2019 highlights & tech

Today, we’re excited to formally launch the final version of OPSIs AI primer: Hello, World: Artificial Intelligence and its Use in the Public Sector

Another interesting output from the OPSI. It seems usefully pragmatic:

The AI primer is broken up into four chapters that seek to achieve three key aims: (1) Background and technical explainer; (2) overview of the public sector landscape; (3) implications and guidance for governments.

“Level Up”: Leveraging Skill and Engagement to Maximize Player Gameplay Nov 29, 2019 highlights & tech & research & design

We find that high-, medium-, and low-engagement-state gamers respond differently to motivations, such as feelings of effectance and need for challenge. In the second stage, we use the results from the first stage to develop a matching algorithm that learns (infers) the gamer’s current engagement state on the fly” and exploits that learning to match the gamer to a round to maximize game-play. Our algorithm increases gamer game-play volume and frequency by 4%–8% conservatively, leading to economically significant revenue gains for the company.

As ever with this kind of mechanism, are we sure we want this to exist..? The potential is no doubt powerful. Imagine interactive TV shows that modulate what they’re presenting based on readings of the viewer… Hrm.

IBM expert Tamreem El Tohamy on bridging the skills gap in Africa Nov 28, 2019 highlights & innovation & education & skills & tech

In the next three years, as many as 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be retrained or reskilled as a result of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and intelligent automation.

cf. Lee Se-Dol.

This is according to the latest IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study, titled The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap.

Seems like an interesting guide. This metric surprised me:

In 2014, it took three days on average to close a capability gap through training in the enterprise. In 2018, it took 36 days.

I didn’t know this measure existed, but I can see the utility. As knowledge work grows ever more specialized, this time-to-capability can only grow.

Former Go champion beaten by DeepMind retires after declaring AI invincible Nov 27, 2019 highlights & tech & change

The South Korean Go champion Lee Se-dol has retired from professional play, telling Yonhap news agency that his decision was motivated by the ascendancy of AI. With the debut of AI in Go games, Iʼve realized that Iʼm not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts,” Lee told Yonhap. Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated.”

Wow. Perhaps the first real example of AI took my job?”

What part of “viral” content makes platforms want to encourage its spread? Nov 22, 2019 twitter & systems & social & tech & highlights

The Twttr prototype app gave me another feedback form today. It’s been my habit to complain, at every opportunity, about the trends page you have to engage with whenever you go to the Search tab. I feel a little bad for the designers and developers, because the beta is really all about how conversations on Twitter look and feel. Still, this feedback form was no different. Here’s what I wrote in the Dislike” section:  I wish I could control the trends page.

It is the absolute worst part of my Twitter experience. It just feels… unhealthy. Like going through a grocery store magazine aisle. Sure, some of the headings are instructive or inspiring, but many are gross, irrelevant, or completely malignant gossip.

The experience is also invasive. Because trends are forced upon you when you intend on searching for something specific, and because they’re algorithmically-tunes to be as attention grabbing as possible, it’s easy to be distracted and forget why you even entered the search pane. I never explicitly consent to learning about celebrity gossip or US politics when I use Twitter. If I tap on some of those topics, it’s not because I want to. It’s because it’s malicious click bait. In turn, it’s corrupt to design an experience that drags the user through it repeatedly.

Sure, this content is viral. But shouldn’t we be inoculating against viruses, not encouraging them to spread?

How to recognize AI snake oil Nov 20, 2019 highlights & tech & AI

The over- and misuse of AI is one of my biggest tech pet peeves. It truly is evil to tack the AI term onto the description of most products. It also damages the long-term potential of AI by corrupting what it means—especially for the everyday people who aren’t involved or invested in building these tools, but who will use them (or be used by them).

Arvind Narayanan on Twitter:

Much of what’s being sold as AI today is snake oil. It does not and cannot work. In a talk at MIT yesterday, I described why this happening, how we can recognize flawed AI claims, and push back. Here are my annotated slides: https://www.cs.princeton.edu/~arvindn/talks/MIT-STS-AI-snakeoil.pdf

Key point #1: AI is an umbrella term for a set of loosely related technologies. Some of those technologies have made genuine, remarkable, and widely-publicized progress recently. But companies exploit public confusion by slapping the AI label on whatever they’re selling.

Key point #2: Many dubious applications of AI involve predicting social outcomes: who will succeed at a job, which kids will drop out, etc. We can’t predict the future — that should be common sense. But we seem to have decided to suspend common sense when AI is involved.

Key point #3: transparent, manual scoring rules for risk prediction can be a good thing! Traffic violators get points on their licenses and those who accumulate too many points are deemed too risky to drive. In contrast, using AI to suspend people’s licenses would be dystopian. Harms of AI for predicting social outcomes

Check out the whole thread.

How Tesla’s first Gigafactory is changing Reno, Nevada Nov 13, 2019 highlights & tech & change

In the five years that weʼve had to asses the effect [the Gigafactory has] had on the workforce, on the community, I think there have been these ramifications that we talk about in the episode that nobody was really prepared for,” Damon said in an interview with The Verge. Like, we knew there was going to be an issue with housing, which other cities are experiencing, too. But thatʼs become super critical.”

Side-effects of growth are not a new problem, but the massive initiatives we’re seeing recently might spark new varieties of old issues.

README.txt: Introducing Into the Dataverse, the article series Nov 8, 2019 highlights & data & tech & change

There is a significant gap in research about Canadian data collection activities on a granular scale. This lack of knowledge regarding data collection practices within Canada hinders the ability of policymakers, civil society organizations, and the private sector to respond appropriately to the challenges and harness unrealized benefits.

So true. This looks like an interesting series from the great team at Brookfield.

A ton of people received text messages overnight that were originally sent on Valentine’s Day Nov 7, 2019 highlights & tech & systems

Something strange is happening with text messages in the US right now. Overnight, a multitude of people received text messages that appear to have originally been sent on or around Valentine’s Day 2019. These people never received the text messages in the first place; the people who sent the messages had no idea that they had never been received, and they did nothing to attempt to resend them overnight.

It is incredible to think that this could happen on a scale big enough to hit headlines now, but it wasn’t noticeable on Valentine’s Day originally.

That’s one of the problems with our ever-more-complex technologies. We’re accommodating to the bugs. It gets easier and easier to dismiss weird tech events as glitches and move on without worrying. Unreliability is, itself, unreliable.

But there can be major consequences to seemingly innocent bugs:

… one person said they received a message from an ex-boyfriend who had died; another received messages from a best friend who is now dead. It was a punch in the gut. Honestly I thought I was dreaming and for a second I thought she was still here,” said one person, who goes by KuribHoe on Twitter, who received the message from their best friend who had died. The last few months haven’t been easy and just when I thought I was getting some type of closure this just ripped open a new hole.”

How can Canada expect to retain its engineers if the leadership in ideas takes place outside Canada? → Jul 9, 2017 tech This is why three companies came together
Multiple scales. → Jul 9, 2017 tech & design & leadership Move between scales freely. Maybe this is a design problem, not a testing problem. Maybe it is a people problem, not a technology
Carleton University and Shopify’s bachelor of computer science program is a great example of a work-integrated education initiative to foster homegrown talent → Jul 9, 2017 tech & education Innovation must involve all Canadians to succeed
Such ideas can be ingenious, but they all suffer from the vanity of trying to impose a technological solution on what is a problem of poverty Oct 30, 2015 tech & highlights Such ideas can be ingenious, but they all suffer from the vanity of trying to impose a technological solution on what is a problem of poverty. — Jason Pontin, Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems.
This required the greatest peacetime mobilization in the nation’s history. Oct 29, 2015 tech & highlights

[John F. Kennedy’s] challenge disturbed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s original plan for a stepped, multi-generational strategy: Wernher von Braun, NASAs chief of rocketry, had thought the agency would first send men into Earth’s orbit, then build a space station, then fly to the moon, then build a lunar colony. A century hence, perhaps, humans would travel to Mars. Kennedy’s goal was also absurdly ambitious. A few weeks before his speech, NASA had strapped an astronaut into a tiny capsule atop a converted military rocket and shot him into space on a ballistic trajectory, as if he were a circus clown; but no American had orbited the planet. The agency didn’t really know if what the president asked could be done in the time he allowed, but it accepted the call.”

This required the greatest peacetime mobilization in the nation’s history.

— Jason Pontin.
The Rise of Open Curriculum — Bright → Aug 23, 2015 education & tech
Uber can’t be stopped, and that should scare you → Aug 20, 2015 tech & social
What do software engineers who earn $500,000 a year do? → Aug 18, 2015 tech & innovation
Design In Tech Report 2015 → Aug 14, 2015 design & tech
Educating Data | MIT Technology Review → Aug 12, 2015 education & learning & futures & tech
How Uber Hides Behind Its Algorithm → Aug 12, 2015 tech & futures
Uber’s Phantom Cabs → Aug 11, 2015 tech
Facebook opens up Internet. → Aug 8, 2015 tech org to all mobile operators
Never Read The Comments → Aug 8, 2015 tech
Figuring out how to live forever is expensive. Aug 7, 2015 tech & highlights Google has reportedly poured up to $730 million into Calico thus far ($240 million for convertible shares, $490 for keeps). —

Figuring out how to live forever is expensive.

From Re/code’s story on Google’s partnership with Ancestry.com.

The Long Game: Google-Backed Calico Partners With Ancestry. → Aug 7, 2015 tech com to Beat the Specter of Aging
Higher education almost completely ignored Marshall McLuhan’s central insight: new modes of communication change what can be imagined and expressed Aug 1, 2015 tech & education & highlights Higher education almost completely ignored Marshall McLuhan’s central insight: new modes of communication change what can be imagined and expressed. “Any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes… . The ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” Print is not advanced calligraphy. The web is not a more sophisticated telegraph. Yet higher education largely failed to empower the strong and effective imaginations that students need for creative citizenship in this new medium. The “progress” that higher education achieved with massive turnkey online systems, especially with the LMS, actually moved in the opposite direction. The “digital facelift” helped higher education deny both the needs and the opportunities emerging with this new medium. — Gardner Campbell on higher education’s lack of progress on digital fronts.
The Web We Need to Give Students — Bright → Jul 31, 2015 tech
But almost all arguments about student privacy, whether those calling for more restrictions or fewer, fail to give students themselves a voice, let alone some assistance in deciding what to share online Jul 31, 2015 education & tech & highlights But almost all arguments about student privacy, whether those calling for more restrictions or fewer, fail to give students themselves a voice, let alone some assistance in deciding what to share online. Students have little agency when it comes to education technology — much like they have little agency in education itself. — From The Web We Need To Give Students by @audreywatters.
A Personal Cyberinfrastructure (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE. → Jul 30, 2015 tech & education A Personal Cyberinfrastructure (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE.edu
Police shut down show by Chief Keef’s hologram → Jul 27, 2015 tech
The Next Wave | Edge. → Jul 20, 2015 futures & tech org
What worries me about the future of Silicon Valley, is that one-dimensionality, that it’s not a Renaissance culture, it’s an engineering culture Jul 19, 2015 tech & futures & highlights What worries me about the future of Silicon Valley, is that one-dimensionality, that it’s not a Renaissance culture, it’s an engineering culture. It’s an engineering culture that believes that it’s revolutionary, but it’s actually not that revolutionary. The Valley has, for a long time, mined a couple of big ideas. — John Markoff, The Next Wave.
The question is, how does this current bubble end? Not when, but how? What constitutes a bubble? For me, I can clearly see we’re in a bubble economy when relatively more money is chasing relatively few good ideas Jul 19, 2015 tech & futures & highlights The question is, how does this current bubble end? Not when, but how? What constitutes a bubble? For me, I can clearly see we’re in a bubble economy when relatively more money is chasing relatively few good ideas. When the conversation turns to Uber for “x,” you can tell there we’re out of ideas, that people are basically just trying to iterate and get lucky. — John Markoff, The Next Wave.
We’re at that stage, where our expectations have outrun the reality of the technology Jul 19, 2015 tech & futures & highlights We’re at that stage, where our expectations have outrun the reality of the technology. — John Markoff, The Next Wave
Grappling with Genomic Sequencing of Newborns | MIT Technology Review → Jul 4, 2015 tech
Start automating your business tasks with Slack Jul 4, 2015 tech & highlights
Facilitating Citizen Science through Gamification → crowdsourcing & gamification & science & tech & projects Gamification is the practice of using game elements to change the experience of nongame contexts. It presents a potentially powerful new approach to