Robot stuff

It’s getting closer and closer via BBC Technology’s post commenting on a European Parliament draft report from in May 2016:

The report suggests that robots, bots, androids and other manifestations of artificial intelligence are poised to “unleash a new industrial revolution, which is likely to leave no stratum of society untouched”.


This could, if not properly prepared for, “pose a challenge to humanity’s capacity to control its own creation and, consequently, perhaps also to its capacity to be in charge of its own destiny and to ensure the survival of the species”.

The EU is suggesting laws for kill switches and whether robots could potentially have ‘electronic person’ legal status.

And yes, Isaac Asimov’s laws are referred to as providing some useful rules to help…

You can’t make this stuff up.

Blocking the blockers

Always interesting to see what the ad and tracker blocking technology sites themselves use to track you – here’s Ghostery as at the end of 2016:

I’m actually fine with this – they, just like any other technology company, want to increase their usage. So it makes sense that they track me so that they can retarget to me on Facebook to promote their tools for blocking people from tracking you.

The supply of greater fools feels endless

From Fortune’s article: The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley

A few quotes tell the story.

For starters:

“What if Theranos is the canary in the coal mine?” says Roger McNamee, a 40-year VC veteran and managing director at Elevation Partners. “Everyone is looking at Theranos as an outlier. We may discover it’s not an outlier at all.”


So inexperienced people are handed giant piles of money and told to flout traditions, break rules, and employ magical thinking. What could possibly go wrong? “We hope that entrepreneurs bend the rules but don’t break them,” [Dave] McClure says. “You know the saying ‘There’s a fine line between genius and insanity’? There’s probably a fine line between entrepreneurship and criminality.”

And the oversight is minimal:

Last March, Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White traveled to Stanford to deliver a message to Silicon Valley: We’re watching you. The SEC is increasingly concerned, she said, with “eye-popping valuations,” questionable governance, and the lack of transparency at high-risk tech startups.

But when I asked investors about White’s visit, few even remembered it. There’s little reason to worry, the thinking goes, when startups can raise money with ease. Right now the supply of greater fools feels endless.

Which possibly means:

Recklessness with the financial truth is often a sign of an economic bubble about to deflate—see the dot-bombs and Enron in late 2000 and the banks amid the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis. Scandals don’t cause recessions, but they can help trigger one. As White warned her Stanford audience: “Who loses when the truth behind inflated valuations is revealed? I think we all do.”

We all do.

Artificial Intelligence stuff

I’ve been reading a bit around AI lately. It started with this piece in the New York Times which focusses initially on Google (in particular Google Translate) and then the extraordinary speed with which they’ve reorganised the entire company around AI. And then the ‘arms race’ to AI control in the industry:

Google’s decision to reorganize itself around A.I. was the first major manifestation of what has become an industrywide machine-learning delirium. Over the past four years, six companies in particular — Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and the Chinese firm Baidu — have touched off an arms race for A.I. talent, particularly within universities. Corporate promises of resources and freedom have thinned out top academic departments. It has become widely known in Silicon Valley that Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, personally oversees, with phone calls and video-chat blandishments, his company’s overtures to the most desirable graduate students. Starting salaries of seven figures are not unheard-of. Attendance at the field’s most important academic conference has nearly quadrupled. What is at stake is not just one more piecemeal innovation but control over what very well could represent an entirely new computational platform: pervasive, ambient artificial intelligence.

It’s interesting reading, especially to see how the stories and timeframes are positioned:

  • 9 months: what can AI do now (think better bots and Google Translate)
  • 5 years: what it might do in the near future (think Google Brain)
  • 70 years: history and how it will work globally (think Deep Learning)

As the NYT article notes:

The most important thing happening in Silicon Valley right now is not disruption. Rather, it’s institution-building — and the consolidation of power — on a scale and at a pace that are both probably unprecedented in human history.

Once you’ve read the NYT article, take a read through these two posts from WaitButWhy almost two years ago – they seem as prescient and fresh now as they would have been then:

BTW Ian and I chat about Artificial Intelligence as it relates to marketing in episode 64 of HubShots.

Public transport

Every time I see a bus packed with people, I say a silent thank you to all of the passengers.

I can’t help but think of this comparison:

Car versus bus versus bike
(via: Going Car Free)

Taking public transport, even when it’s crowded, or rainy, or hot is a valuable contribution to society. If only more people did it when possible (I totally get that it’s often not feasible).

We don’t need more roads, we need more public transport. It’s been said many times.

Which is why when I see suggestions like this (that has been massively shared on social) I shake my head – all that design and initiative wasted as they try to solve the effects of the problem and not the problem itself:

Apple Pay is really new and amazing for some people

I used Apple Pay this morning in a shop and the girl behind the counter was amazed by it. She wanted to know all about it and how it worked. She was young and tech savvy and yet this was an entirely new (and massively cool) concept for her.

If you have an AMEX and have had Apple Pay for a while you’ll likely find this strange – to you paying with Apple Pay is probably so routine you’re actually surprised when you can’t use it. Soon, for all ANZ customers this will be a similar experience.

However, the point here is that just because something is old hat to you, it doesn’t mean it’s old hat for everyone else. For many people, the things you take for granted are close to magical for them.

Never forget this when you communicate via your marketing and personal relationships.

The last thing you want to be is that arrogant tosser who looks down dismissively on those who haven’t yet integrated magic into their daily activities.

Netflix launches Fast but should really call it Random

Netflix released their own stripped down version of SpeedTest called Fast – here try it now.

I don’t know if it’s indicative of how bad our internet connection is or what, but it seems that every time I try it I get a vastly different speed result. In the last few minutes my speeds have ranged from 1.2 Mbps through to 25 Mbps with no discernible pattern.

I tried it on my phone (switching to 4G) and got even wider speed ranges, anything from 2Mbps up to 67 Mbps.

I love the simple, uncluttered (and importantly ad-free) approach, but frankly it’s useless.

Remote working and company culture

This piece by David Niu on Entrepreneur made me think. In it he outlines his view that remote working inhibits company culture.

He notes his own views:

I firmly believe that a strong company culture determines your success, and you can’t have a strong culture without people working together in an office setting.


A strong workplace culture is an organization’s No. 1 competitive advantage because you need enthusiastic, excited employees to build great products and delight your customers. When a majority of your employees work remotely, you lose the ability to build that culture.

That’s not so say that remote working is without benefits. From their own conducted research he notes that remote workers are generally happier, more productive and felt more valued.

Whilst he provide stats and studies about the benefits of remote work, he only provides opinions (his) about the inability to build culture in a remote environment.

Others would disagree, but perhaps only armed with opinions themselves. Matt Mullenweg (WordPress) is a good example and there are others. Important to note that all of the top performing remote working companies have regular staff meetups. So perhaps it’s about getting the balance right.

Techmeme de-clickbait-ifying

Techmeme is the first thing I check every morning. It’s my window to the tech world. One of things I really appreciate is their human editing of headlines. Not only do they de-clickbaitify, but they also add details that help to communicate the real story.

Here’s a story from The Verge:

Apple updates iTunes with a ‘simpler’ design that doesn’t really help

And here’s the Techmeme augmented version:

Apple releases iTunes 12.4, brings back left sidebar, but doesn’t address core issues with navigation and possibly makes it worse

Here’s a headline from The Washington Post:

What happened when a professor built a chatbot to be his teaching assistant

And here’s the much more useful Techmeme version:

Computer science professor successfully used IBM’s Watson to make an AI teaching assistant for answering questions online

Next time you plan something, write something, send something, make sure you are adding value, not squandering attention.

There’s a reason I head to Techmeme everyday, and hardly ever to The Verge.