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robertogreco : scottsmith   7

In 2015, we’ll need different words to talk about the future - Quartz
"But “hackers,” “algorithms,” and to some extent “robots,” sit behind metaphorical — or actual — closed doors, where obscurity can benefit those who would like to use these terms, or exercise the realities behind them to their own benefit, though perhaps not to ours. We need better definitions, and more exact words, to talk about these things because, frankly, these particular examples are part of a larger landscape of “actors” which will define how we live in coming years, alongside other ambiguous terms like “terrorist,” or “immigrant,” about which clear discourse will only become more important.

Language is power—power that often implies, or closes down knowledge and understanding, both of which we need to make informed decisions about individual and collective futures. Everyone doesn’t need to become a technical expert, or keep a field guide to drones and robots handy (though it might be useful sooner than later), but, as I’ve pointed out in the case of complex systems and supply chains, we might all benefit from having a clearer understanding of how the world is changing around us, and what new creatures we’ll encounter out there. Perhaps it’s time we all start wielding language with greater clarity. I’m sure the robots will."
words  power  hacking  language  robots  algorithm  scottsmith  2015  knowledge  transparency  definitions  technology 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Metafoundry 4: Indicator Species
"Yesterday, Dan Hon wrote about the culture of the Silicon Valley start-up scene in his newsletter, under the heading “Not All…” It’s clear to me that Dan’s trying hard not to tar everyone in the tech industry with the same broad brush (I sympathize; both of us have friends in startupland) but it’s also clear that he’s finding something seriously amiss.

For me, the title itself was the giveaway. What Dan was describing was not just the actions of individuals, but of a system. It’s not so much that tech bros are bad in and of themselves, it’s that they’re a indicator species for an ecosystem. Like an algal bloom, their overabundance is a sign that the balance is amiss.

The Silicon Valley startup ecosystem depends on venture capital. If VCs are putting in money, they want to see a return (and a big one, because of the expectation that nine out of ten companies, at a minimum, will crash and burn). And they want to see it ASAP, because that’s how the time value of money works, and because companies are burning money like liquid hydrogen as they try to achieve lift-off. So there’s an enormous pressure on founders to produce, which inevitably selects for people who are prepared to sleep under their desk for the chance of having a breakout company (and, not incidentally, making an enormous return for their VCs, who are presumably sleeping soundly in their nice Design Within Reach beds). The system doesn’t select for women, for people who have families or lives outside of work, for thoughtful people. And by not selecting for them, it actively pushes them out, creating a culture that rejects and is intolerable for them (witness the much-documented sexism and ageism of tech culture). On top of all that, we as a culture socialize boys to be over-confident in themselves and to be deeply messed up about gender, and then there's the Dunning-Kruger effect, and then we give them a bunch of money. So it’s not surprising that tech bros (or be both more precise and less ad hominem, techbro behaviors) come out of this system.

But there’s more to it. What makes a startup a startup isn’t that it’s new (we call that a ‘small business’), it’s that it grows rapidly, ideally exponentially. That pushes startups toward bits, not atoms (near-zero incremental cost), towards anything that leverages Metcalfe's Law, towards dark patterns of nonconsensual behaviour towards users (like strip-mining Contacts lists), towards eroding user privacy, to dumping everything users have created when the startup is acquihired, and towards falling back on invasive online advertising because having a viable business model was a distant second to growing a user base.

And of course, most people building startups are mediocre, in the way that we humans are generally mediocre: we are greedy, solipsistic, unaware of our implicit biases. But putting all these pieces together, we have a system that selects for, supports, and nurtures socially hostile techbro behaviors, that solves techbro problems and alienates everyone else. And so the people who display these behaviors thrive. But I certainly know smart, thoughtful, committed people who are doing worthwhile, interesting, and ethical work in startups. I have friends in companies like Mapbox, Threadable, Keyboardio, and The Echo Nest, and they are working and succeeding in tech culture despite it being a system that's stacked against people like them, in exactly the same way that (go figure) women who succeed in tech do so despite the structural barriers in place. And just like the women in tech that I know, I can see them struggle and pay the costs of trying to succeed in that system.

Coda: I sent my original rant to Scott Smith; having just returned from a trip to Silicon Valley with his family, he responded to me in an e-mail by talking a bit about how some parts of this cultural systems are visible even to outsiders.

This take is doubly interesting because I've just come back from a few days in SV, the last 48 hours of which were largely spent taking our kids around the Valley (including taking a half day to drive them around Google, Facebook and Apple HQ campuses) to see what it really looks like day-to-day. And spending time with my teenage daughter in particular, asking her what she saw—the people (the lack of women), the postures, the environments. She picked up right away that it was a lopsided culture. And we spent time discussing about how the power flows there, who has it, and what impact they are having on SF as a city, and on the world. We watched the Google buses pick up and drop people off, took in locals’ interactions in cafes and restaurants, and walked into the store at Apple’s main building to see new recruits (and tourists) shopping. This part of the trip wasn't really planned in advance—Susan and I just decided it would be an interesting experience once on the ground—to show the kids the other end of the pipe, so to speak, and give them an idea who is making things “for them” that shape their social and economic expectations and interactions."
debchachra  siliconvalley  scottsmith  technology  2014  startups  systemsthinking  ecosystems  echochambers  vc  gender  power  money  google  facebook  apple  sanfrancisco  economics  society  labor  influence  policy  politics  californianideology 
august 2014 by robertogreco
In the Loop: Designing Conversations With Algorithms | superflux
"As algorithmic systems become more prevalent, I’ve begun to notice of a variety of emergent behaviors evolving to work around these constraints, to deal with the insufficiency of these black box systems. These behaviors point to a growing dissatisfaction with the predominant design principles, and imply a new posture towards our relationships with machines.


The first behavior is adaptation. These are situations where I bend to the system’s will. For example, adaptations to the shortcomings of voice UI systems — mispronouncing a friend’s name to get my phone to call them; overenunciating; or speaking in a different accent because of the cultural assumptions built into voice recognition. We see people contort their behavior to perform for the system so that it responds optimally. This is compliance, an acknowledgement that we understand how a system listens, even when it’s not doing what we expect. We know that it isn’t flexible or responsive enough, so we shape ourselves to it. If this is the way we move forward, do half of us end up with Google accents and the other half with Apple accents? How much of our culture ends up being an adaptation to systems we can’t communicate well with?


The second type of behavior we’re seeing is negotiation — strategies for engaging with a system to operate within it in more nuanced ways. One example of this is Ghostery, a browser extension that allows one to see what data is being tracked from one’s web browsing and limit it or shape it according to one’s desires. This represents a middle ground: a system that is intended to be opaque is being probed in order to see what it does and try and work with it better. In these negotiations, users force a system to be more visible and flexible so that they can better converse with it.

We also see this kind of probing of algorithms becoming a new and critical role in journalism, as newsrooms take it upon themselves to independently investigate systems through impulse response modeling and reverse engineering, whether it's looking at the words that search engines censor from their autocomplete suggestions, how online retailers dynamically target different prices to different users, or how political campaigns generate fundraising emails.


Third, rather than bending to the system or trying to better converse with it, some take an antagonistic stance: they break the system to assert their will. Adam Harvey’s CV Dazzle is one example of this approach, where people hack their hair and makeup in order to foil computer vision and opt out of participating in facial recognition systems. What’s interesting here is that, while the attitude here is antagonistic, it is also an extreme acknowledgement of a system’s power — understanding that one must alter one’s identity and appearance in order to simply exert free will in an interaction."

"Julian Oliver states this problem well, saying: “Our inability to describe and understand [technological infrastructure] reduces our critical reach, leaving us both disempowered and, quite often, vulnerable. Infrastructure must not be a ghost. Nor should we have only mythic imagination at our disposal in attempts to describe it. 'The Cloud' is a good example of a dangerous simplification at work, akin to a children's book.”

So, what I advocate is designing interactions that acknowledge the peer-like status these systems now have in our lives. Interactions where we don't shield ourselves from complexity but actively engage with it. And in order to engage with it, the conduits for those negotiations need to be accessible not only to experts and hackers but to the average user as well. We need to give our users more respect and provide them with more information so that they can start to have empowered dialogues with the pervasive systems around them.

This is obviously not a simple proposition, so we start with: what are the counterpart values? What’s the alternative to the black box, what’s the alternative to “it just works”? What design principles should we building into new interactions?


The first is transparency. In order to be able to engage in a fruitful interaction with a system, I need to be able to understand something about its decision-making process. And I want to be clear that transparency doesn’t mean complete visibility, it doesn’t mean showing me every data packet sent or every decision tree.


The second principle here is agency, meaning that a system’s design should empower users to not only accomplish tasks, but should also convey a sense that they are in control of their participation with a system at any moment. And I want to be clear that agency is different from absolute and granular control.


The last principle, virtuosity, is something that usually comes as a result of systems that support agency and transparency well. And when I say virtuosity, what I mean is the ability to use a technology expressively.

A technology allows for virtuosity when it contains affordances for all kinds of skilled techniques that can become deeply embedded into processes and cultures. It’s not just about being able to adapt something to one’s needs, but to “play” a system with skill and expressiveness."
superflux  anabjain  agency  algorithms  complexity  design  networks  wearables  christinaagapakis  paulgrahamraven  scottsmith  alexislloyd  2014  communication  adaptation  negotiation  antagonism  ghostery  julianoliver  transparency  virtuosity  visibility  systemsthinking  systems  expressiveness 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Going Critical — Futures Exchange — Medium
"We aren’t there to tell them what will happen in the future, but to give them the tools to think critically and constructively about what could happen at different points in their futures."

"Skills in researching, synthesizing, creating, communicating and critiquing new futures can engage many different kinds of students, stretch the minds of the more linear thinkers among them, and connect more deeply to those who don’t feel the current system speaks to, and therefore includes, them. Most importantly of all, it creates a kind of new engine—or millions of engines—of creation and innovation our national and global economies so desperately need. We can’t simply keep the next few generations of students captive in moribund education bureaucracies while we adults fight over a singular path forward. We actually need to have the faith to loosen our death grip on them, and give them the fundamental tools, some of which I list above but of which there are surely more, to constantly reassess, readjust and redesign their own pathways as they encounter the complexity ahead."
scottsmith  education  criticalthinking  unschooling  deschooling  tcsnmy  schools  schooling  cv 
september 2013 by robertogreco
Design for the New Normal (Revisited) | superflux
"I was invited to talk at the NEXT Conference in Berlin by Peter Bihr, as he felt that a talk I gave last year would fit well with the conference's theme Here Be Dragons: "We fret about data, who is collecting it and why. We fret about privacy and security. We worry and fear disruption, which changes business models and renders old business to ashes. Some would have us walk away, steer clear of these risks. They’re dangerous, we don’t know what the consequences will be. Maintain the status quo, don’t change too much.Here and now is safe. Over there, in the future? Well, there be dragons."

This sounded like a good platform to expand upon the 'Design for the New Normal' presentation I gave earlier, especially as its an area Jon and I are thinking about in the context of various ongoing projects. So here it is, once again an accelerated slideshow (70 slides!) where I followed up on some of the stories to see what happened to them in the last six months, and developed some of the ideas further. This continues to be a work-in-progress that Superflux is developing as part of our current projects. "

[Video: ]
anabjain  2013  drones  weapons  manufacturing  3dprinting  bioengineering  droneproject  biotechnology  biotech  biobricks  songhojun  ossi  zemaraielali  empowerment  technology  technologicalempowerment  raspberrypi  hackerspaces  makerspaces  diy  biology  diybio  shapeways  replicators  tobiasrevell  globalvillageconstructionset  marcinjakubowski  crowdsourcing  cryptocurrencies  openideo  ideo  wickedproblems  darpa  innovation  india  afghanistan  jugaad  jugaadwarfare  warfare  war  syria  bitcoins  blackmarket  freicoin  litecoin  dna  dnadreams  bregtjevanderhaak  bgi  genomics  23andme  annewojcicki  genetics  scottsmith  superdensity  googleglass  chaos  complexity  uncertainty  thenewnormal  superflux  opensource  patents  subversion  design  jonardern  ux  marketing  venkateshrao  normalityfield  strangenow  syntheticbiology  healthcare  healthinsurance  insurance  law  economics  ip  arnoldmann  dynamicgenetics  insects  liamyoung  eleanorsaitta  shingtatchung  algorithms  superstition  bahavior  numerology  dunne&raby  augerloizeau  bionicrequiem  ericschmidt  privacy  adamharvey  makeu 
april 2013 by robertogreco
Could Minecraft be the next great engineering school? - Quartz
"The game’s open, often cooperative play, peer-built environments and simplicity has drawn an army of dedicated players who often spend days tunneling, hammering and building, just for the pleasure of making."

"While serious games have been used for some time for education and awareness, Minecraft seems different, a particular tool for a particular moment when computing skills, clever engineering solutions and the ability to engage distributed groups for social good all converge. Game designer and media philosopher Ian Bogost has called Minecraft a “game about resilience…a masterful magic crayon” after a term used by Chaim Gingold to describe tools that unlock new kinds of creativity. Bogost goes one step further to liken it to “shit crayons,” like the improvised tools poet Wole Soyinka used to write his works in a Nigerian prison—a tool for emancipatory creativity under moments of stress and constraint."

[See also: "The Great Lego Minecraft Shortage of 2012: ]
play  videogames  seriousgames  gaming  games  scottsmith  ianbogost  mooc  moocs  mineraftedu  unhabitat  kibera  svenskbyggtjänst  minakvarter  myblock  mojang  blockbyblock  edg  srg  education  learning  sandboxes  deschooling  unschooling  2012  engineering  minecraft  lego 
december 2012 by robertogreco
Thoughts on Informality — Changeist
"Excerpts from the Informal Economy Symposium have been posted in video form by the Claro team, with more to come, including a quick snip of yours truly. Great thoughts from a great event.

I'm working now on a summary of the event's big themes for Current Intelligence, which should be available later this month. Watch this space."

[video here: also here: ]
abbymargolis  keithhart  johnthackara  adaptability  richradka  adamwhite  ignaciomas  benjaminlyon  informality  formailty  copycats  copycatting  scottmainwaring  fringe  aldodejong  adhoc  timothyjamesbrown  stevedaniels  uncertainty  instability  complexity  scottsmith  2012  diy  work  pirate  innovation  design  money  development  informaleconomy  informal 
november 2012 by robertogreco

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