Friday Five: robots, music and digital feminism

As I mentioned last week, I’m going back to the Friday round-up instead of the Sunday round-up. It just feels right – Friday seems like a better day for a round-up. And that way I can also go back to throwing some digital art at you over the weekend. I hope that you like it.

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Why Quartz’s news app is so much bigger than news – by Tom Popomaronis, for TechCrunch

quartz-app-featured-image

image via TechCrunch

I am a fan of the Quartz app. And the Quartz news site, the newsletter, and the events. And I’m sad that The Atlantic are considering selling them, as it may affect their independence and/or style. The app is the only news app I haven’t gotten bored of. It delivers the news in chat format, informal, with gifs and emojis. You control the flow of the conversation.

The author seems to share my opinion on the app. And in this riveting article, takes the inference a step further.

“In other words, I was engaged in large part because I knew an immediate response would follow. It satisfies the “instant gratification” check box. And the medium is familiar — it mimics texting, which is how we spend much of our modern lives.

That’s when it hit me: The magnitude of what I was experiencing was much bigger than simply news-based interactive texts. In fact, it’s likely just the beginning. Here’s why:

It’s poised to send shock waves through the live-chat industry.”

It would be amazing to connect or dial in for support, and be greeted with an amusing, personable “conversation”. Or, imagine the now-boring FAQ page format enlivened by a bot chat.

image via TechCrunch

image via TechCrunch

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What is a robot? – by Adrienne LaFrance, for The Atlantic

Speaking of live chat support: the land line at our apartment has been out for a few days now. Each time I call the phone company to report it, I am asked to choose a series of paths (“please press 1 if you are calling about a technical difficulty”) and to perform a series of tasks (“please input the number you are calling about”). I file the complaint, and I get a reassuring message on my mobile. I have not spoken to a human.

In this article, Adrienne LaFrance points out that we interact with machines more often than ever, sometimes without even realising. Which begs the question, what is a robot, anyway?

“Just as “robot” was used [in the past] as a metaphor to describe a vast array of automation in the material world, it’s now often used to describe—wrongly, many roboticists told me—various automated tasks in computing. The web is crawling with robots programmed to perform tasks online, including chatbots, scraper bots, shopbots, and twitter bots. But those are bots, not robots. And there’s a difference.”

The difference is important, because it represents the growing “disappearance” of robots in our lives. “Robots have a tendency to recede into the background of ordinary life.” Technically, a washing machine is a robot. But, it doesn’t look like what we think a robot should look like.

Which is what, exactly?

““When you ask most people what a robot is, they’re going to describe a humanoid robot,” Wilson, the novelist, told me. “They’ll describe a person made out of metal. Which is essentially a mirror for humanity. To some extent a robot is just a very handy embodiment of all of these complex emotions that are triggered by the rate of technological change.””

Would we find it easier to tolerate the presence of robots that are cute? Or would their cuteness evolve into their control over us? Could you bring yourself to dismantle a robot that seemed “humanoid”? I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t. And if you can’t, isn’t that the same as giving them control?

“Robots are everywhere now. They share our physical spaces, keep us company, complete difficult and dangerous jobs for us, and populate a world that would seem, to many, unimaginable without them. Whether we will end up losing a piece of our humanity because they are here is unknowable today. But such a loss may prove worthwhile in the evolution of our species. In the end, robots may expand what it means to be human. After all, they are machines, but humans are the ones who built them.”

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Tell me you don’t have some sort of sympathy for this robot…

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In Shift to Streaming, Music Business Has Lost Billions – by Ben Sisario and Karl Russell, for The New York Times

Finding music seems to be easier than ever. Discovery and access is getting more creative almost by the day. And more and more musicians seem to be making a living outside the traditional label scene. Income is down, though. Does this mean the end of the industry as a viable business proposition? Or is this the next stage of the revolution?

“There is plenty of good news in the music industry’s latest sales report released this week. Streaming is up. Vinyl has continued its unlikely renaissance. And did we mention that streaming is up?

But a closer look shows that the big sales numbers that have sustained the recorded music business for years are way down, and it is hard to see how they could ever return to where they were even a decade ago.”

Get this: vinyl records earn more money for the music industry, today, than music on YouTube. That’s crazy. Vinyl?? It’s all about the margins.

“CDs and downloads have been gradually abandoned as streaming has become the platform of choice. The result is that the music industry finds itself fighting over pennies while waving goodbye to dollars.”

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The trigger for electronic cash comes from the Underbanked – by Bernard Lunn, for Daily Fintech

A fairly good explanation of why electronic cash will find its way into the western psyche, via the developing world.

“Electronic cash is simply the venerable stored value card gone to a mobile phone. Mobile wallets are just electronic Fiat cash with no regulatory issue (unlike Bitcoin) and no single company like Vodafone calling the shots (like Mpesa). Sometimes simple is best. Expect this to reach the West via Refugees who cannot use ATMs or Credit Cards.”

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Feminism is in the details – by Nogah Senecky, for TechCrunch

Could the subliminal gender divide in tech be blurring? The hacking of “traditional” games such as Zelda, a subtle change in Facebook’s friends logo, the unrealistic portrayal of women in stock photos, and the sass of the (female) virtual assistants Cortana and Siri are taking small steps towards levelling the reinforcement of stereotypes and cultural tropes.

Tech feminism is not just about getting females to stay in tech jobs, in spite of harassment and ceilings.

“The topic of women in tech … is also about developing technology that can help us make this world kinder to women, by offering solutions to problems that have to do with women’s health, safety and career dilemmas. And not last nor least, it is about how the information we consume and are exposed to influences the representation (or, once again, the lack thereof) of women everywhere.”

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Have an amazing Spring weekend!

spring weekend

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