Sunday Seven: screens, structures and goats

Some articles of the past week that I found moving:

Fear of Screens – by Nathan Jurgenson for The New Inquiry

This review of Sherry Turkle’s premise in Reclaiming Conversation ends up being a passionate defense of our individual right to define and choose our forms of real conversation.

“How do you look at everyday people using digital devices to communicate with one another and suppose that they may not even know what conversation and friendship are?… Why this presumption of doom?”

The claims that our interactions are less meaningful because we use screens presume to define what is “human” as good, and what involves electronics as not so good, while reality is not so black-and-white.

“To prescribe one form of media — to privilege speaking over writing over texting — would require deep description and analysis of the context: who is speaking, to what ends, and why. Turkle too often assumes screen-mediated communication comes in only one flavor, which cannot grasp the complexities of our always augmented sociality, to say nothing of how screens are differently used by those with different abilities.”

Who says that conversation through a screen is not conversation? Why can’t digital communication also be human?

“Each time we say “IRL,” “face-to-face,” or “in person” to mean connection without screens, we frame what is “real” or who is a person in terms of their geographic proximity rather than other aspects of closeness — variables like attention, empathy, affect, erotics, all of which can be experienced at a distance. We should not conceptually preclude or discount all the ways intimacy, passion, love, joy, pleasure, closeness, pain, suffering, evil and all the visceral actualities of existence pass through the screen. “Face to face” should mean more than breathing the same air.”

Jurgenson points out that the very act of worrying about what type of communication we are engaging in stilts the conversation itself, and forces us to worry more about the medium than the message. That in itself detracts from the connection.

The article contains insightful and refreshing refutations of the “personal connection is good, screen connection is bad” philosophy that ends up positioning those who disconnect as better human beings than those who don’t. But at the same time it is also guilty of over-simplifying. The enhanced opportunities for communication that our devices offer, as well as the emergence of new customs and even language, is an extension of our culture that sparks and breathes life into connections. Meeting people and keeping in touch have never been easier. But screen-mediated conversations are not the same as physical ones. Tone gets misunderstood, words are stronger than intent, and the non-verbal cues that subliminally tell us so much are strikingly absent. For deep, soul-building connection, you still need to look into someone’s eyes, without a screen in between.

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The Useless Agony of Going Offline – by Matthew J. X. Malady, for The New Yorker

Continuing with the theme, The New Yorker magazine has a deeply amusing and beautifully written essay on the joys of constant connection. It’s all about being better informed.

“At the end of the experiment, I wasn’t dying to get my phone back or to access Facebook. I just wanted to get back to being better informed. My devices and the Internet, as much as they are sometimes annoying and frustrating and overflowing with knuckleheads, help me to do that. If getting outside and taking walks, or sitting in silence, or walking dogs, or talking with loved ones on the phone got me to that same place, I’d be more than happy to change things up.”

It’s true that those of us with smartphones have become used to whipping out our devices in public to look something up. It’s true that link jumping can suck up hours much more productively than sitting in front of the television. But even the self-confessed need to be better informed begs the question “why?” Or rather, since the answer to that is quite self-evident, “why so much?”.

Speaking as a complete knowledge junkie that usually ends the day with 48 tabs open on my browser, I can attest to the pull of mental stimulation. And I, too, have done the “pulling the plug” experiment a few times, although never for more than a day. But unlike the author, I totally love those offline days. I’ve weaned myself off my information addiction, and can happily indulge my knowledge addiction with (gasp!) paper books and magazines. The idea of three sunrises in one day sounds like bliss. And if I thought that the days actually would go slower if I didn’t “connect”, I’d be tempted to do it a whole lot more often.

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Billowing lightbulbs that it would be a crime to put a lampshade on:

by the Czech designer Petra Krausová, via Dezeen

by the Czech designer Petra Krausová, via Dezeen

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What world are we building? – by danah boyd, via Medium

A wake-up call by the technological anthropologist danah boyd (her name is intentionally without capital letters), this article is an adaptation of a talk that she gave in October, which is well worth repeating, redistributing and adapting some more.

Her absorbing book “it’s complicated”, published in 2014, brought to light the conflicted relationship that young people have with the opportunities, the threats and the pressure that social media brings to their lives.

“While social media was being embraced, I was doing research, driving around the country talking with teenagers about how they understood technology in light of everything else taking place in their lives. I watched teens struggle to make sense of everyday life and their place in it. And I watched as privileged parents projected their anxieties onto the tools that were making visible the lives of less privileged youth.”

This essay extends that to include the obligations of social responsibility, and goes into more depth about the racial and social divisions that spontaneously divide online territories. It talks about the development of social media and the social divisions that it can unintentionally cause.

“Teenagers weren’t creating the racialized dynamics of social media. They were reproducing what they saw everywhere else and projecting onto their tools. And they weren’t alone. Journalists, parents, politicians, and pundits gave them the racist language they reiterated.

And today’s technology is valued — culturally and financially — based on how much it’s used by the most privileged members of our society.”

The power of algorithms to shape our opinions and decisions – through the recommendation engines in our favourite stores, through the ads displayed when we search for something on Google, through the information that Facebook chooses to show us based on what they think we want to see – is now a subject of increased study. Which is a relief, and fascinating – if we’re going to be manipulated, it’d be nice to understand how. But what we’re discovering is disconcerting, and showing us aspects of ourselves that we’d rather not face.

“Our cultural prejudices are deeply embedded in countless datasets, the very datasets that our systems are trained to learn on. Students of color are much more likely to have disciplinary school records than white students. Black men are far more likely to be stopped and frisked by police, arrested for drug possession or charged with felonies, even as their white counterparts engage in the same behaviors. Poor people are far more likely to have health problems, live further away from work, and struggle to make rent. Yet all of these data are used to fuel personalized learning algorithms, to inform risk-assessment tools for judicial decision-making, and to generate credit and insurance scores. And so the system “predicts” that people who are already marginalized are higher risks, thereby constraining their options and making sure they are, indeed, higher risks.

This was not what my peers set out to create when we imagined building tools that allowed you to map who you knew or enabled you to display interests and tastes.

We didn’t architect for prejudice, but we didn’t design systems to combat it either.”

Powerful. And something that we should all think about, especially those of us who take access for granted and who participate in the creation of online culture and information. Society is complex. Technology is complex. The intersection of the two is where the future is being constructed, in ways we cannot at this stage predict. Interactions rarely happen as we think they will, especially when people are involved. And yet the parameters we create today will affect the society of tomorrow. So we do need to think about what we want that to look like. And we need to think about the perspectives that the main group of technology creators, with its well-documented lack of diversity, is subconsciously embedding in the tools we use. Most importantly of all, we need to decide what we want to do about it.

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The big myth Facebook needs everyone to believe – by Caitlin Dewey,for The Washington Post

More on the power of algorithms. A fuss kicked up in my home country of Spain over Facebook’s handling of bull fighting images (labelling them, together with those of prostitution and nudity, as potentially offensive topics) highlighted the difficulty of making things “nice” across cultures.

“As Facebook has tentacled out from Palo Alto, Calif., gaining control of an ever-larger slice of the global commons, the network has found itself in a tenuous and culturally awkward position: how to determine a single standard of what is and is not acceptable — and apply it uniformly, from Maui to Morocco.”

In even attempting to filter, Facebook is assuming the role of moral arbiter, deciding on our behalf what is appropriate and what is not. Obviously some filtering is better than none, but too much encroaches onto cultural identity and personal freedom. Who draws the line, and where?

“And yet, observers remain deeply skeptical of Facebook’s claims that it is somehow value-neutral or globally inclusive, or that its guiding principles are solely “respect” and “safety.” There’s no doubt, said Tarleton Gillespie, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in New England, that the company advances a specific moral framework — one that is less of the world than of the United States, and less of the United States than of Silicon Valley.”

So where is this heading? Increasing cultural uniformity? Or social media fragmentation? Even pronouncing that neither is good is itself a cultural bias. Yet the debate highlights the incongruency of asking private companies to police a public forum, and the apparent impossibility of a diverse world living under uniform rules. It also brings up our misaligned expectations of the businesses that aim to connect us. They are businesses, and as such have the right to implement the policies that they see fit. Yet our interaction is their main product, and they stand to lose it if we don’t feel understood. Is it possible to be all things to all people?

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Why goats are the internet’s new cats – by Kristen Brown, for Fusion

Instagram image, via Fusion

Instagram image, via Fusion

And speaking of diversity, with no intention whatsoever of trivializing it, goats are butting into (he he) cats’ territory as the queens of cuteness. Apparently the rising popularity of goat memes, photos and videos is to do with internet’s increasing diversity.

“Lauricella suggested that the goat’s present popularity has to do with the backlash against urbanized life and the allure of farmers’ markets, hobby farming and DIY-culture. Lauren Berliner, a digital culture scholar at the University of Washington-Bothall, agreed. Goats, she told me, are a link between the suburban and rural, between the developed world and everywhere else. Sure they’re popular in Uganda, but maybe your hip neighbor in suburban Seattle has one, too.”

Google Trends indicates that our searches for goats on the internet are increasing, even in urban areas. In part because they remind us of grass. In part because goats can be easily anthropomorphised. In part because it’s time we had something new to obsess over. And, they’re cute, in a bleaty sort of way.

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The next generation of journalism students have no idea what they’re getting into – by Erica Berger, for Quartz

I’ve been seeing a lot about “peak content” recently, about how the vast amount of information available is burning us out. This article comes at it from the journalist’s perspective rather than the reader’s.

“The constant pressure of deadlines and the realities of the journalism economy can lead to feelings of disempowerment. And when journalists feel disempowered, they not only lose their ability to do their jobs well–they also stop caring about whether they do a good job.”

Is journalism now a zero-sum game? If someone reads my article, they’re not going to read yours? Has the amount of reading our audience can do reached a plateau? And where to from here?

“If the media continues to be created and spread at such a rapid rate, we know the effects are unlikely to be positive. Fact-checking already has a troubling tendency to fall by the wayside. The need to churn out constant content also means that editors often lack the time to do more than proofread. Then there are the intangible things we’re losing: the art and joy of writing; the ability to leave the office in search of interesting people and stories begging to be told. Most worrisome of all, we could lose journalists’ ability to act as watch dogs on behalf of the public.”

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Two things I particularly enjoyed this week:

  • One of the many reasons I love living in Madrid:

sunrise-in-Madrid

  • The movie Red. Stellar cast (Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, Karl Urban, and I could go on). Excellent script. Whimsical production. Good soundtrack. A lot of fun.

Sorry, but I think you must be kidding?

I’m all for technology helping us to communicate better and connect more effectively. But this is crazy.

Just Not Sorry is a Chrome extension which will edit your emails for you, to make sure that you are only using strong, assertive language. No more of this “female speak”. Apparently we are too self-effacing, unassertive and apologetic in our business correspondence.

photo by Paul Green

photo by Paul Green

We say “sorry” way too often. We use “I think” more than we should. “We hope to” is for uncertain wimps. “Did that make sense?” is the death-knell for a well-reasoned argument. What we need to do, say experts, is transmit more confidence, never apologize, and remove all “weak-sounding” language from our communications.

This is going to extremes, and while it may seem like a way to help women achieve success and equality in the business world, it actually perpetuates stereotypes while ignoring the underlying barriers.

I do agree that almost all of us can use a bit of help on our persuasion skills. From those who are too deferent to those who are too aggressive, most of us fail to realize the power of words and phrasing to set a tone, transmit a message and win people over. Writing or speaking with confidence and brevity is a skill that is usually not given enough attention in education, in spite of its importance and proven impact.

And, I do agree that there is such a thing as “too deferent”, and that it is usually women who fall into that negative habit. On my last trip to London a young woman seated across from me gave up her seat so a guy could sit next to his girlfriend. And she apologized while doing so. A very nice person, obviously. But it struck me then that she really didn’t need to be apologizing for anything at that particular point in time. She should have been saying “you’re welcome”.

But that doesn’t mean that an email from her would be less interesting or worthy than one with shorter, more impactful sentences. Her niceness could well be the breath of fresh air that the reader’s day needed, her politeness could make her communication stand out from the others. In a room full of assertion, isn’t a gracious and respectful voice more likely to be noticeable? Isn’t someone who seems to accept doubt more likely to have a thoughtful opinion?

For all its processes, objectives and metrics, business is about people. And people like “nice”. People like understanding and respect. Efficiency is important. But so are relationships and trust, even in this technological and networked age. If people like you and see you as a “good person”, they’re more likely to want a relationship with you, and to trust you. I’ve found that politeness opens doors, smooths professional interaction, and encourages others to respond in kind.

Having made the case for politeness, let’s go deeper. What web apps or services like Just Not Sorry want to do, beyond pointing out the “weaker” words and phrases in your email, is to help you to write more assertively. It highlights words or phrases that it considers “weak”, so that you can re-think them, change your wording, use tougher language. In other words, write more like a man.

Do we really need to sound more like a man to be taken seriously? Do we need to act less like women to achieve gender parity? Isn’t that a bit like assuming that our main problem in the business world is that we’re not more masculine?

And I can think of few things more certain to weaken your confidence in your communication than a ton of red underlines – very similar to the spelling and grammar correction suggestions that most email services helpfully offer – indicating where you “went wrong”. Except perhaps feeling pressured to write something that doesn’t sound like you at all. Ironic for an app that aims to boost your (apparent) confidence.

That said, I thoroughly encourage brevity of language (although, as anyone who corresponds with me regularly knows, not necessarily of thought). “I think” is removed, not because it’s “weak” but because it’s obvious. The same with “just”, it’s usually unnecessary. Too many “ums” in a speech drive me mad (and men are just as guilty of those as women are).

Confidence is important in the business world and in life, for both men and women. But so is tone. And so is authenticity. Just Not Sorry may have its uses, and some may find it helpful. But it seems to me like another case of the Internet trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Do we really want to live in a society in which “too polite” is regarded as a fault?

Sunday Seven: sharing, scaling and feeling

Some of the most interesting reads of the week (where has January gone?):

Scaling The ‘Sharing Economy’ – by Frances Coppola, for Forbes

Just one of many salvoes in the debate on the impact that the “sharing economy” is having/will have on the world economy. The debate is intense and heating up, which is actually very enjoyable because it ropes in themes such as the value of community, the economic value of free time, and “would you go to Helsinki anyway, if there weren’t Airbnb rooms available?”.

“Proponents of the “sharing economy” claim that thousands of ordinary people renting out their assets for a consideration makes more efficient use of existing capital. This is true at the margin, though the sharing-economy fans have a tendency to ignore such minor issues as opportunity costs and dilapidation in order to support exorbitant claims about the beneficial economic effects of so-called “sharing”. There might be some economic improvement as a result of more intensive capital use by ordinary individuals, but it’s not going to change the world.”

Pending further research, so far I am in the Coppola/Kaminsky camp, which points out that the impact of the new sharing business models on the world economy are/will be marginal at best, since individuals can earn more money (which is good), but hotels, taxis, etc. earn less (which is not so good).

I say “pending further research” because where I live, the attraction of Uber vs. taxis is the lower prices. So I would save money by using the sharing economy, right? It’s cheaper for me to “share” my neighbour’s drill than it is for me to buy my own. Good for me, not so good for the drill makers or the people they employ. But if I can spend my savings on something else, I create more demand and perhaps even jobs in that sector. If I decide to stash my savings in the bank, the bank will lend my money to another business which will hopefully create value and jobs. But what if I put my savings under the mattress? Delayed consumption, you might say. And here is where we get into pure philosophical economics, which I could happily debate all day but is not the purpose of this summary.

So, you see why I love the sharing economy debate. It is not just about a more efficient use of assets. It’s not just about a re-distribution of wealth. It involves an up-close study of motivation and human rationality, of individual and collective values, of cultural differences, the relative value of time, and the importance of philosophy.

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Hippie paper aeroplanes… Very cool. Via Wired.

Paper Airplane from the book "Paper Airplanes: The Collections of Harry Smith, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I" Edited by John Klacsmann and Andrew Lampert. Published by Anthology Film Archives and J&L Books. http://jandlbooks.org/HS_planes.html

Paper Airplane from the book “Paper Airplanes: The Collections of Harry Smith, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I” Edited by John Klacsmann and Andrew Lampert. Published by Anthology Film Archives and J&L Books. http://jandlbooks.org/HS_planes.html

Paper Airplane from the book "Paper Airplanes: The Collections of Harry Smith, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I" Edited by John Klacsmann and Andrew Lampert. Published by Anthology Film Archives and J&L Books. http://jandlbooks.org/HS_planes.html

Paper Airplane from the book “Paper Airplanes: The Collections of Harry Smith, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I” Edited by John Klacsmann and Andrew Lampert. Published by Anthology Film Archives and J&L Books. http://jandlbooks.org/HS_planes.html

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The guilt trip as a user interface – by Katie Notopolous, for Buzzfeed

I really hate the “No thanks, I’m not interested in being smart/informed/beautiful” option on the “Subscribe to my essential newsletter!!!” window that pops up on some media sites. It’s not the guilt that they’re attempting to make me feel that drives me mad, it’s the condescension implied that by not adding to my inbox’s overflow, I’m choosing to be a lesser person.

“The fact is, yeah, we probably ought to feel a little guilty about what we’ve gotten up to on the Internet in the last few years. I mean, look at your Google history (seriously, you are sick). But that private self-loathing that’s been the fire for so many great moments should be, well, private. Let US hate ourselves. Let US create awkward social situations with acquaintances. Let US off the hook for not treating our inboxes like the pile of unread New Yorkers that already cause us internal shame. We feel plenty bad already.”

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Harnessing the power of video games for journalism – by Rose Everleth, for Nieman Labs

via Nieman Reports

via Nieman Reports

This is really interesting: video games as journalism. I didn’t see this one coming, which now that I think of it, was short-sighted. But, will the application end up being practical? Or is it another “gimmick” to stand out in a “peak content” world? I hope it’s the former – this seems like another welcome example of the stunning creativity that the media world is gearing up to offer.

“For journalists, games offer compelling storytelling possibilities. They can simulate complex systems, where different choices create different outcomes. They can create a sense of emotion and urgency in players. And they can connect people with experiences they may never have in actual life. “Our job as journalists is to inform the public,” says Wei. “By using emotion and empathy, games allow us to inform readers in a new way, one they both remember and understand.””

Journalism that makes us “feel” – that has always been more lastingly gripping than straightforward news or clickbait. A public that feels more is more motivated to change things.

““News isn’t just about conveying information,” says Benedetto. “It’s about getting people to understand a situation, and I can’t think of any better way to do that than by dropping them into a situation and having them figure it out.””

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Digital Revolution Needs Offline Help to Realize Its Potential – from The World Bank

The World Bank has come out with a sobering report on the dangers of allowing the current “digital inequality” in the world to continue.

“The spread of digital technologies over the last two decades has been rapid and generated a lot of excitement about the possibilities of the digital age. But the hoped-for benefits — greater productivity, more opportunity for the poor and middle class, more accountable governments and companies — have not spread as far and wide as anticipated, says the report.”

Nearly 60% of the world’s population is still offline. Nearly 2 billion people do not use a mobile phone. Half a billion people live in areas with no mobile coverage. The report argues that relying on digital to solve the world’s problems is not the solution. Analog, or “offline”, reforms need to set the stage first.

And it’s nowhere near as simple as it sounds:

““While technology can be extremely helpful in many ways, it’s not going to help us circumvent the failures of development over the last couple of decades. You still have to get the basics right: education, business climate, and accountability in government.””

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These photos are so beautiful… Via My Modern Met. Almost enough to make me miss Christmas already.

by Kristina Makeeva, via My Modern Met

by Kristina Makeeva, via My Modern Met

by Kristina Makeeva, for My Modern Met

by Kristina Makeeva, for My Modern Met

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Why do we expose ourselves? – by Astra Taylor, for The Intercept

Cripes. Tell me you don’t recognize yourself in this article.

“1984, Harcourt acknowledges, was an astoundingly farsighted text, but Orwell failed to anticipate the role pleasure would come to play in our culture of surveillance — specifically, the way it could be harnessed, as opposed to suppressed, by powerful interests. Oceania’s “Hate Week” is nowhere to be found; instead, we live in a world of likes, favorites, and friending. Foucault’s panopticon, in turn, needs a similar update; mass incarceration aside, the panopticon — for the rest of us — has become participatory, more of an amusement park or shopping mall than a penal institution. Rather than being coerced to reveal secrets, today we seem to enjoy self-exposure, giving away “our most intimate information and whereabouts so willingly and passionately — so voluntarily.””

There’s so much that we still don’t know about our own human needs and limits. And how much of the success of social media models is principal motivation, and how much is unexpected side effects? And what difference does it make to our behaviour to be watched, vs to know we are being watched? Does it matter who’s doing the watching, does that affect how we feel about it?

“Recommendation algorithms, advertising, and addictive interfaces all chip away at our autonomy in different manners. What’s more, we are forced to participate in online life in myriad ways. Students are advised to manage their social media profiles so they can get into a good college; adults are compelled to groom their LinkedIn profiles in order to secure employment; journalists and other creative professionals are told they must join Twitter to promote their work; and so on.”

If all this watching and collecting is enjoyable and for “our own benefit”, we might as well use it:

“…it is true that the state has merged with corporate interests. But it is also true that the state remains one of the public’s most powerful weapons. If compelled by a powerful social movement, the state could aggressively enforce anti-trust regulations, pass a baseline cross-sector privacy law, enforce labor rights for employees of digital disruptors such as Uber, rein in the financial apparatus that has abetted the latest tech bubble with its massively inflated start-up valuations, and invest in public options such as municipal broadband (paid for, perhaps, with the taxes tech companies are currently dodging by sheltering assets overseas).”

Really thought-provoking, one of the top reads of the week.

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Two things I really enjoyed this week:

Hot Fuzz, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – ridiculously gory and brilliantly hilarious. To be seen to be believed.

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis. I haven’t seen the movie yet, because I wanted to finish the book first so that I can pretentiously announce which I preferred.

The affection economy

Transactions get personal

Those of you econ geeks who follow innovation cycles and get excited over creative destruction are no doubt eagerly watching the development of “new markets” that in theory mop up the displaced workers, consumers and value. I confess that it’s not something that I gave much thought to, until very recently. The sharing economy hype was leading to innovative models and overblown valuations, which I enjoy reading about but which never had much to do with me. And the hipster trend gave us artisan bread so I was happy to overlook the false value applied to inexpensive living.

But then I read about a service that sells hugs.

And suddenly I started seeing it everywhere. A new market, rife with eager consumers and clever marketers, selling us stuff that we always assumed was free. Concepts that were part of what we used to call “life”, that stemmed from our emotional connections and sense of community. We still have those connections and social needs. But business models are encroaching, turning emotions into transactions and favours into products.

by Dmitry Ratushny for Unsplash

by Dmitry Ratushny for Unsplash

We might as well start with the most fraught of social interactions: the pick-up (or hook-up if you’re under 35). Tinder takes care of that for you. For a price, of course. Maybe you’re not paying with cash. But you are paying with your attention, which is monetizable to advertisers. Or if swiping and by-passing small talk isn’t your thing, then any one of the hundreds of dating apps will take care of the stress (excitement?) of meeting someone, of chatting to the guy behind you in line at the coffee shop, of asking the cutie in the book store if they’ve read this one, of discovering a shared dislike of pretentiousness at a wine tasting.

And if dating is not your thing but you still want physical intimacy, the sex economy is firmly online, which makes it easier and safer to pay for it. Apps, directories and review sites add a relative transparency and transactional cleanliness to a historically secret and sordid sector.

What about asking for a ride? Trusting your mates to make sure you get home safely if you’ve drunk too much? Apart from Uber and Lyft, there’s Split which outsources carpooling, Curb which lets you schedule pick-ups ahead of time, and many, many others, depending on your location. Several of the businesses in this relatively new app-based sector are valued at over $1bn, with Uber completing its last round at a staggering $50bn valuation, and Lyft at $5bn.

sprig

As for the satisfaction of cooking dinner for those that you love, Blue Apron, Plated or HelloFresh (and a long list of others) will deliver a box of ingredients to your house to make preparing the meal for your family or friends that much easier. Munchery, Gobble or Sprig (and a long list of others) will send it to you pre-made, so all you have to do is heat it up. On-demand food delivery is one of the hottest sectors in venture capital investment, with approximately $1bn of investment in 2014 and relatively low market penetration.

Taking care of pets, minding the house when the owner’s away, babysitting, spending time with seniorsTaskRabbit will find someone to take your grandmother to the doctor. Instacart will find someone to do your sick friend’s grocery shopping for her.

Remember how you used to ask your friends for restaurant recommendations? TripAdvisor, Yelp or one of the many similar regional versions will take care of that for you. Now it’s more likely that Amazon or GoodReads rather than your friends will recommend your next book.

Even the burgeoning field of the Internet of Things is carving out its place. There are machines that will entertain your dog for you while you’re at work, even dispensing treats every now and then. Huggable the Bear will not only let your kid hug him, he (sorry, it!) will also “nurture” through reassuring phrases and playful banter. And it will report back to you through the cameras in his eyes and the microphones in its ears. According to its website, it is designed to be “an essential member of a triadic interaction” (I have no idea what that means). Paro is a cuddly seal robot that cheers up the elderly in nursing homes.

by Stephen Crowley for The New York Times

by Stephen Crowley for The New York Times

Taking it to an extreme, in Japan actors are often hired by busy grownup children to go and visit their ageing parents in the old people’s home.

I’m not saying that any of this is bad. We do need to expand the service sector to pick up some of the jobs that are being automated away. And businesses that make life easier improve productivity and free up time to invest in other activities, which could also generate new services. And the economic cycle churns on. McKinsey’s 2015 report “Connecting Talent with Opportunity” estimates that by 2026, online platforms will boost global GDP by $2.7 trillion, even if they touch only a fraction of the global workforce, although it’s not clear if that estimate takes into account the upcoming contraction in more traditional sectors.

But it’s interesting to ask ourselves: how far will this go? Will my friends start charging me for the counselling sessions that used to only cost a couple of glasses of wine? Should I set some tariffs for when my neighbour wants to borrow my serving plate? How many cents should I debit from my kids’ allowance for each push of the swings? These are obviously hypothetical examples that make no emotional sense whatsoever. And the concern itself is exaggerated. The services provided fill human needs. Not everyone is blessed with a large family willing to help out or even a strong network of friends to count on. With an increasing number of people moving around for work or study, social support structures shrink. Business fulfilling those roles help with quality of life.

It’s not even that “new”. Kids earn money by mowing neighbours’ lawns or babysitting. And the favours that my friends and I do for each other may not be quantifiable, but they have always been part of the theoretical “invisible” economy. You have given me your friendship and/or love which is valuable to me, so of course I will pick up some groceries for you. There’s emotion attached, obviously: if I love you, making you happy makes me happy. But often favours are done on an investment (I’d like to be your friend so I’ll do this for you now) or payback (I’m grateful for what I’ve been given so I’d like to give back to society) plan, however subliminal.

Yet it is a shift, one that is increasingly moving affections and emotions from the invisible to the quantifiable. And also one that makes life easier, helps others be more efficient and provides a new economic outlet. The affection economy can help to build relationships and foster positive emotions, by reducing the associated costs. It makes it easier to give a pet a home even if you can’t always be the one to take care of it. It helps those that have just relocated to put up a bookshelf without incurring a favour debt from someone they barely know. Inviting friends over for dinner is no longer the big production it once was.

And the economic shift is huge. The new markets that the cycle needs to absorb capital, labour and consumption are laden with feel-good emotions and life-affirming services. However, it’s important that we realise what’s going on, and that we are aware of our own personal lines-that-we-shall-not-cross. I applaud the services that fill unmet demands in this free market economy. Yet if I like you, I’ll give you a hug for free.

Sunday Seven: feelings, gifs and bitcoin

Some articles and ideas found over the past week that I either enjoyed or that moved me:

The Tinderization of feeling – by Alicia Eler and Eve Peyser, for The New Inquiry

“Living with a sense of overwhelming choice means exerting an insane amount of emotional energy in making the most banal decisions. What should you watch on Hulu tonight? Make a Facebook status asking for recommendations. Tweet the question to your followers. After perusing for an hour, settle comfortably into Seinfeld, which you’ve seen a million times before. Wonder whether you made the wrong choice. Do it again anyway. There is some comfort in sameness.”

In an article packed with bracingly familiar observations that surprise you and at the same time make you think “Oh. Right.”, warning flares go off about superficiality vs. insight, freedom vs. investment.

“Dating apps facilitate rapid connection and constant communication, but trusting someone still takes as long as it ever did. So Tinder demands a certain amount of emotional dissociation — to distance oneself from emotions by treating connecting to others as a game. The only criteria is to choose and choose fast, choose as many as you want, choose so many you’re not even making a choice. This simplicity can provide sweet relief.”

Tinder is more than a dating app, claim the authors. It is turning us into binary creatures that trivialize choice and make all decisions on a left-swipe/right-swipe basis. Complex decisions become easy, shorn of emotional involvement. And easy decisions become complex, in the search for something better.

“Tinderizing can surpass romantic relationships, and if you get sucked in, you can find yourself living in a yes/no, chill/ignore, 0110101011 existence. You’ll find yourself stuck on Amazon or Yelp for hours, looking for the perfect dustbuster or the best Japanese restaurant in your area, unwilling to choose because there could be a better option ahead in the information stream.”

A brilliant wake-up call to the sobering consequences of delightful convenience and the fast-paced appification of our social and commercial lives, the article offers a suggestions for a potential remedy: share the experience, invest emotionally in the binary decision, and keep it all in perspective.

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The digital materiality of gifs – by Sha

A fascinating romp through the history and future of .gifs – love them or hate them, they are increasingly a part of our media language, so you might as well learn something about where they are and where they’re going. There’s some weird stuff going on in the “meme economy”.

gifs

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A Bitcoin Believer’s Crisis of Faith – by Nathaniel Popper, for The New York Times

Has Bitcoin failed? Mike Hearn thinks so. In a long, somewhat bitter and worrying piece, he announces his resignation from Bitcoin activity.

Here you have Nathaniel Popper’s gripping summary of Mike’s decision and the tension that led to it.

“The current dispute… is a reminder that the Bitcoin software — like all computer code — is an evolving product of the human mind, and its deployment is vulnerable to human frailties and divergent ideals.”

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How SnapChat is targeting the over-35 crowd – by Paresh Dave, for the LA Times

snapchat billboard

“Almost everyone I talk to, it’s their niece that shows them Snapchat.”

Yup, it was my niece that showed me SnapChat. And yup, I find it fascinating. I’m still trying to figure out how it works, but the immediacy of it grabs you. And the fact that you only get to see the message, image or video once makes it so much more like a conversation. It also, strangely, easier – no need to carefully craft anything at all, because it’s there for a fleeting moment and then it’s gone. Much more “genuine”. And I totally understand how it would lower inhibitions and raise expectations.

Sure, there’s the seamy side. But it’s so much easier to “connect” than on Facebook or even Whatsapp. And there’s charm: National Geographic videos, Sweet, The Food Network…

Even the Wall Street Journal (not so charming, but you know what I mean.)

“Business reasons also are fueling other types of interest in Snapchat. New York magazine reported that Wall Street bankers like Snapchat’s self-destructing chat feature. University admissions officers have used it as a recruiting tool. Marketers, of course, are trying it.”

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How to use search like a pro – via The Guardian

One of the most useful tip sheets I’ve read in ages, I didn’t know some of this stuff.

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Some weird cool stuff from CES 2016

… which will no doubt soon be must-haves.

An alarm clock that wakes you up, not with beeps and trills, but with the smell of brewed coffee or freshly baked croissants.

sensorwake

An app and coffee machine that reproduces any photo on the surface of your latte.

photo on latte

Video games for dogs.

cleverpet

And a whole lot more. There’s a lot of ingenuity going on out there. Whether there’s a business case to back it up, that’s a different story.

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A sad week

My favourite… eulogies is not the right word… for two greats who passed away this week:

Thank you Mr. Bowie – full of heart-warming anecdotes that make you feel grateful to have been witness to a little piece of the impact he had

My favourite Alan Rickman role – totally agree, Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility is my favourite of his performances, too.

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Smoke and bottles – via Bored Panda

smoked bottles 3

smoked bottles 2

Wow. Artist Jim Dingilian fills empty glass bottles with black smoke, and then using brushes and small tools attached to dowels, erases the smoke to leave haunting and misty images.

“When found by the sides of roads or in the weeds near the edges of parking lots, empty liquor bottles are artifacts of consumption, delight, or dread. As art objects, they become hourglasses of sorts, their drained interiors now inhabited by dim memories.” Beautiful.

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Two things I enjoyed this week:

  • The web app Coffitivity – it provides the stimulating (geddit?) background buzz of a coffeeshop. Ideal for when you’re feeling really tired and about to doze off but you have to finish an article. You can even choose between morning coffee shop, lunchtime murmur, and university adrenalin. Soothing and addictive. A bit like coffee, really.

coffitivity

  • The podcast Note to Self – about the “human” side of the internet. Manoush Zomorodi provides interesting anecdotes and insight into how being always connected affects our lives, our choices, our habits. This week I listened to her painful elimination of the game Two Dots from her phone. And the exhilaration of keeping it off. Been there, done that.

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Have a great, sunny (even if only metaphorically) weekend!

Sunday Seven: Reading, reality and inequality

For the first Sunday Seven of the year, I’ve tried to stay away from the typical “best of” and “trends for” lists, there are so many of them, and few are worth more than a passing glance (the ones I’ve most enjoyed so far are this one from Wired on upcoming TV, games and music, and this engrossing one from Longreads on the best longform journalism of 2015). Here are some links to articles and ideas I’ve enjoyed this week:

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The deep space of digital reading – by Paul La Farge, for Nautilus

by Irene Rinaldi for Nautilus

by Irene Rinaldi for Nautilus

Paul La Farge gives us an eye-opening stroll through the history of reading that debunks the accusation that technology is making us dumber.

“The fear of technology is not new. In the fifth century B.C., Socrates worried that writing would weaken human memory, and stifle judgment.”

Tackling Nicholas Carr’s accusation that we’ve lost the ability to “deep read”, as in to read a book from cover to cover without getting distracted, Lafarge points out that we never really had it. The table of contents, the index and footnotes are there to distract us, to add side texts, to make it easier to weave in and out of a narrative. The only books that we enthusiastically read from beginning to end are novels, for we don’t want to miss part of the plot.

“The Internet may cause our minds to wander off, and yet a quick look at the history of books suggests that we have been wandering off all along. When we read, the eye does not progress steadily along the line of text; it alternates between saccades—little jumps—and brief stops, not unlike the movement of the mouse’s cursor across a screen of hypertext. From the invention of papyrus around 3000 B.C., until about 300 A.D., most written documents were scrolls, which had to be rolled up by one hand as they were unrolled by the other: a truly linear presentation. Since then, though, most reading has involved codices, bound books or pamphlets, a major advantage of which (at least compared to the scroll) is that you can jump around in them, from chapter to chapter (the table of contents had been around since roughly the first century B.C.); from text to marginal gloss, and, later, to footnote.”

And the overwhelming flood of stuff to read is not new, either. Ever since the printing press was invented, mankind has been churning out more books than anyone can read in a lifetime. The scale is completely different now. But then again, more people than ever are readers.

Lafarge also brings up the intriguing question of why we find scrambled texts, disjointed ideas and general absurdity more fun. As education experts can tell you, we learn more when we’re having fun. So, surely text riddled with hyperlinks, and fractured reading, help us to learn more, not less? It could well be that our lower learning scores are because of haste imposed by expectations, both ours and society’s, rather than the style of the text. That is not (directly, anyway) technology’s fault.

This also hints at the success of the new literary media of video games. Apart from the technological wizardry and fantastic art, the interrupted story lines that wait for our input make us part of the narrative, increasing our emotional investment and empowering our search for more.

After reading this article you’ll feel more relaxed about the digital encroachment, and more of a participant in a fundamental cultural and even biological shift. Our brains are being rewired, yes, but not as a shocked response to sudden changes in media. Rather, we are all part of a continuous rewiring that is and always has been necessary to adapt to the technological evolution that propels us forward.

In lamenting the impact of new technologies, we join the ranks of great philosophers throughout history. But an open mind presents opportunities, and some historical perspective gives confidence, opens up curiosity and hands us better questions.

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The Value In Virtual And Augmented Reality – by  Linc Gasking, for TechCrunch

I’m excited about virtual reality, and augmented reality, and how it will change the experience of watching, learning, playing and doing. This article nimbly skips across the surface of the potential, and in so doing conveys an understanding of why so much is being written in the tech press about the developments. Skeptics say that it’s a “flash in the pan”, that the enthusiasm will die out as we discover that the headsets are too clunky, too expensive and/or too isolating. I don’t agree, I believe that the genie is out of the bottle as far as the technology is concerned. The emotional impact is real, and thoughout time we have shown that we are willing to pay for that. If the headsets aren’t comfortable enough, we will come up with something better.

It’s a concept that is hard to understand without experiencing it, and I speak as someone who has not yet tried out “the real thing” and who doesn’t yet fully grasp the impact beyond the “cool” factor. But that doesn’t mean that I’m unable to imagine the implications. Articles like this struggle to do it justice. As Chris Milk said in an entertaining TED talk about the subject: “Talking about virtual reality is like dancing about architecture.”

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The Victoria & Albert’s Design-A-Wig

From those masters of silliness, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, this is crazy fun.

design a wig

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Who controls your Facebook feed – by Will Oremus, for Slate

As Facebook has grown from a way of keeping in touch to a global newspaper, it’s important to have a think about the control it has over what we see. You may think that you’re seeing updates from your friends and from the companies and media that you follow, but you’re wrong. You’re seeing a very limited selection. And who selects? Glad you asked.

You no doubt already know that it’s an algorithm. This gripping article goes deep on how the algorithm works, why, and how it came to be. It is relevant even if you don’t use the social platform, as it speaks to the increasing control that algorithms have over what we see. The author is actually present at an algorithm tweak.

For now, we can put aside our fears of a Facebook-friendly artificial intelligence:

“Facebook’s algorithm, I learned, isn’t flawed because of some glitch in the system. It’s flawed because, unlike the perfectly realized, sentient algorithms of our sci-fi fever dreams, the intelligence behind Facebook’s software is fundamentally human.”

On the ingenuity of the Like button:

“The like button wasn’t just a new way for users to interact on the site. It was a way for Facebook to enlist its users in solving the problem of how best to filter their own news feeds. That users didn’t realize they were doing this was perhaps the most ingenious part. If Facebook had told users they had to rank and review their friends’ posts to help the company determine how many other people should see them, we would have found the process tedious and distracting. Facebook’s news feed algorithm was one of the first to surreptitiously enlist users in personalizing their experience—and influencing everyone else’s.”

I came out of reading this both worried and relieved. Worried that so much information and power is in the hands of a computer program. And relieved that we won’t be depending on it any time soon, either for controlling our feed with intent, or for accurate filtering. It turns out that the algorithm is still very dependent on us humans, and we are a confusing and unpredictable bunch.

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The triumph of email – by Adrienne Lafrance, for The Atlantic

I love the opening:

“Email, ughhhh. There is too much of it, and the wrong kind of it, from the wrong people. When people aren’t hating their inboxes out loud, they are quietly emailing to say that they’re sorry for replying so late, and for all the typos, and for missing your earlier note, and for forgetting to turn off auto-reply, and for sending this from their mobile device, and for writing too long, and for bothering you at all.”

Given how important email is in (most of) our lives, it’s surprising that more isn’t written about it, more studies aren’t done, more philosophical analysis is not performed. Or maybe it is but we just don’t hear about it, and that’s surprising, too. This article is an illuminating and at times discomforting look at an intimate part of our lives: our relationship with the barrage and the variety of the messages arriving daily in our inbox.

Here’s the crux of the problem:

“Email works just the way it’s supposed to, and better than it used to, but people seem to hate it more than ever.”

Why do we hate it? Because of the hijacking of our attention and our time. I get at least 100 emails a day, many of which I absolutely have to read, a good chunk of which I’d like to read, and a big chunk of which are automatic notifications from sites I don’t even remember looking at. Stuart Butterfield, the founder of email-killer Slack (which I use for one of my projects, and it works, email relating to that project is way down) tells us that 80% of the email we receive was not even generated by a human being. Glancing at my inbox, I have a feeling that it’s even more.

And the outlook is not good:

“If email represents one kind of “notification hell,” push notifications are the next circle of it… Push notifications are the natural extension of email, and with the rise of wearables and Internet-connected-everything, it’s only going to get worse.”

Help. I would be so happy if I got much less email. Or would I? Most of the email I receive is because I asked to receive it. Newsletters, curated lists, notifications… I asked for them. If I didn’t get them, I’d feel less informed. But probably less overwhelmed, too. My project for the rest of the day is to reduce my inbox from 1300 emails to just 700. And to watch the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks film “You’ve Got Mail” with my 13-year-old daughter, at her request. She’s entranced by the bookshop. She won’t even recognize their courtship medium as being close to what we still use today.

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52 places to go in 2016 – via The New York Times

I invested wasted so much time fantasising my way through this list. My top 3: Malta, Japan and San Sebastián. Yours?

sansebastian-landscape-1800

by Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

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Economic inequality – by Paul Graham

Paul Graham’s meandering response to the “economic inequality is bad” argument reads as a self-absorbed overreaction, which assumes that we all are against all inequality, and that we don’t understand economics at all. While I assume that he has his reasons for taking this so personally, I am confused as to the logic.

Mr. Graham is one of the founders of startup incubator Y Combinator, and as he himself says:

“I’ve become an expert on how to increase economic inequality, and I’ve spent the past decade working hard to do it. Not just by helping the 2500 founders YC has funded. I’ve also written essays encouraging people to increase economic inequality and giving them detailed instructions showing how.

So when I hear people saying that economic inequality is bad and should be decreased, I feel rather like a wild animal overhearing a conversation between hunters.”

Without even going into the implication that if only we were all capable of following his “detailed instructions” we too would be able to contribute to economic equality, let’s go straight to why his comments are an overreaction.

People are not against economic inequality per se. We enjoy the choice that our economic system gives us, and accept that full equality is not a feature. Yet, that does not mean that we are comfortable with the economic equality excesses that we see around us all the time. Most of us are against extreme inequality that weakens our communities, tugs at our heartstrings and makes us question what it means to be a human being. We see extravagant waste, and we see children go hungry. We see narcissistic splurging, and we see people unable to pay for medical treatment. Very few of us are comfortable with that. That does not mean that we want a complete redistribution of wealth. Incentive is good, and success, talent, hard work, and even luck should be rewarded. But fairness, backed up by the fiscal system, judicial support and social benefit is good, too.

Most of us are not at all against startups. Sure, there may be some complaints against startup excess and resulting price bumps (not to mention the hype). But startups aren’t what causes inequality. Successful startup founders create value, employment and technological advances, and deserve the wealth they accumulate. Several of them have taken significant and admirable steps to redistribute a good portion of that.

And the rambling about the pie fallacy and how kids grow up believing in the zero-sum game stretches credibility. Really, children do not grow up believing that for them to do well, someone else has to do badly. Their social instincts are generally more advanced than that, even at a very young age.

But it’s ok, because Mr. Graham isn’t defending all types of wealth:

“I’m all for shutting down the crooked ways to get rich. But that won’t eliminate great variations in wealth, because as long as you leave open the option of getting rich by creating wealth, people who want to get rich will do that instead.”

Ah, so the rich criminals are really all just startup founders who chose an easier way? And if that way is closed off to them, they’ll just go and set up a few companies? Got it.

Mr. Graham’s conclusion is perplexing, somewhat incoherent, and not particularly sensitive, coming from a white male working in Silicon Valley:

“If our goal is to decrease economic inequality, then it is equally important to prevent people from becoming rich and to prevent them becoming poor. I believe it’s far more important to prevent people becoming poor. And that therefore decreasing economic inequality should not be our goal.”

Um.

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Two things I’ve really enjoyed this week:

  • A Christmas present from my husband: Laphroaig 10-year-old Scotch whisky. An ideal end to a blustery day.

Laphroaig

  • Building a Lego Minecraft house with my daughter. I think I enjoyed it more than she did, and all I did was hand her the pieces. If anyone wants to know what to get me for my birthday, a Lego spaceship, please.

lego minecraft

Quantum computing

We might as well start the year with a really big, game-changing subject. Something that will bump productivity onto a completely different level, that will get us rethinking our relationship to things, and will either ensure our survival, or make it even less likely. Something that gets your head spinning enough to reach for an aspirin or a whisky, or at least encourages you to tie on your trainers and go for a stress-reducing run (New Year’s resolutions and all). Something out of science fiction that is very, very real. Quantum computing.

quantum computing

by Greg Rakozy for Unsplash

“Quantum” is itself an extraordinary word that implies both small and immense simultaneously. Quantum physics is about sub-atomic particles. Think of teensy hyper-microscopic atoms, and then divide that into its sub-parts. That’s quantum. Now, imagine a quantum leap, a huge advance or a big step forward, as in “a quantum leap forward for equality”, or “a quantum leap in the fight against cancer”. That’s also quantum. Like the word itself, quantum computing manages to straddle both extremes of the size spectrum while completely skipping the middle. It works at the teensy sub-atomic level. But its impact is almost of unimaginable size.

I promise to not get too technical, but some description of computing mechanics is required. Computers run on bits, that can be either 1 or 0. Put several bits together, and the resulting combination of 1s and 0s translates to a letter, number or symbol. A few of those gives you a word, an equation or a programming instruction.

Quantum computers don’t run on bits, they run on qubits. A qubit can also be 1 or 0. But it also can be both at the same time. This is the equivalent of encoding two classical bits into one qubit. However, this does not double computing power. It increases it exponentially. If one qubit contains the information of two classical bits, two qubits has four classical bits’ worth, three qubits has eight bits, four has sixteen, and so on. Exponential. That’s the exciting/scary part.

With quantum computing, calculations that today would take millions of years can be done in minutes. A quantum computer with even a modest number of qubits would be more powerful than anything that we currently have in existence. Chips with exponentially greater power will obviously give us a speed of computation that will make our current super-fast information highways seem positively clunky. And the limitations of computing power that hold back huge leaps forward will be blown away. The time required to sequence a genome, for example, could shrink to seconds, and make designer drugs affordable. Rapid analysis of the vast amount of information generated by ubiquitous sensors will lead to surprising insights and actionable conclusions about human motivation. Powerful sifting of data from outer space will make it easier to identify other bodies that could support life. Efficient and fast predictive behavioural analysis could decode stock market movements, ushering in a new form of finance and possibly even a new economic system.

With that much computing power on the horizon, the race is on to build the first working quantum computer. The front-runners in the corporate world are the usual suspects: Google, Microsoft, IBM and the recent addition of Intel. Outside the corporate world, the main superpowers are not sitting on the sidelines. Both the Chinese and the US governments are throwing vast amounts of money at the problem, and the UK, Dutch, Canadian, Australian and no doubt several other governments are also investing heavily.

A lot is at stake. The spoils of victory will be huge. But it’s not all good news.

Quantum computing raises the threat of artificial intelligence. Programming conversation and common sense becomes much more “human” at that level of power. The number of potential patterns in any exchange increases exponentially, along with the capacity to adapt the patterns to new inputs. Now, machine learning is based on drawing conclusions from vast amounts of data. With a quantum computer, the same conclusions could be drawn in a fraction of the time from a fraction of the data. Some see the development of artificial intelligence as an exciting tool. Many see it as a threat to our existence.

Modern cryptography would have to be completely re-written. The most widely used systems today rely on the difficulty of factorization of large numbers. Quantum computers could make those calculations in a matter of seconds, or even less. These cryptographic systems protect your emails, your online banking, your virtual currency wallets. They protect connected infrastructure installations, sensitive communications and military information. Obviously encryption would need to evolve along with the computing power. But such a fundamental shift will usher in a period of uncertainty as to how secure our online information is. The US National Security Agency is already warning businesses and institutions to get ready for the quantum threat.

The opportunity and the threat are not immediate, though. The most realistically optimistic predictions are a working quantum computer in 10 years or so. The most advanced quantum computer (that we know about) is the D-Wave, which some argue is technically not a quantum computer.

If we know how it works, why don’t we have working quantum models? In part because we don’t actually know how it works, we’re still figuring it out. But mainly because it’s very difficult. First, it’s expensive. Quantum computer prototypes are costly to build and maintain. For the superimposed quantum state (where both states of 1 or 0 are present at the same time) to appear and hold, the chip needs to be very, very cold, almost at absolute 0. And in total isolation, free from noise, light, or any other wave-like or atomic interference.

quantum computing

the D-Wave computer, photo by Kim Stallknecht for The New York Times

Then, there’s the problem of proving the results. In the classical world, we can measure things without affecting their state. In the quantum world, the act of measurement changes the measurement. The ways we observe and measure, which use light, an electronic charge or some other invasive instrument, affect the results. And even if we could interpret the results, how would we verify? Using a slow classical computer?

And once we’ve solved all those huge issues, having a working quantum computer will not be enough. New infrastructure, new operating systems and new algorithms will need to be deployed. Just the concept of writing code to harness the power of quantum magic in itself stretches the imagination beyond recognizable limits.

It does seem like magic. To grasp the idea of two opposite states existing at the same time, and giving us mind-bendingly fast computation power, requires a leap of faith in the gap between what we know to be true and what we observe. Just like any good magic act. We know that the dove was in the box, but look, there it is in the hat. As science fiction write Arthur C. Clarke presciently said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is be indistinguishable from magic.” In this case, he couldn’t be more right.

In spite of the difficulties and the threats, the goal is worthwhile. What we could achieve is worth the risk. Getting there will push our collective intelligence into a new era. And the journey itself will open up tiny worlds. Going deeper into sub-microscopic matter will not only unleash the power that holds everything together. It will teach us more about the physics of the world we inhabit. And in so doing, we will not only reach new levels of information and insight. We will understand ourselves better.