Sunday Seven: teams, timing and terror

An abbreviated list of the most interesting articles of the week:

What’s Next in Computing? – by Chris Dixon, via Medium

Venture capitalist Chris Dixon gives us a concise overview of technology product evolution over the past few decades, and a glimpse of what is just down the road…

“If the 10–15 year pattern repeats itself, the next computing era should enter its growth phase in the next few years. In that scenario, we should already be in the gestation phase. There are a number of important trends in both hardware and software that give us a glimpse into what the next era of computing might be.”

Gestation phase advances in both hardware and software will soon make car technology, drones, the Internet of Things, wearables, virtual and augmented reality a part of our daily life, each giving rise to further innovation.

“I tend to think we are on the cusp of not one but multiple new eras. The “peace dividend of the smartphone war” created a Cambrian explosion of new devices, and developments in software, especially AI, will make those devices smart and useful. Many of the futuristic technologies discussed above exist today, and will be broadly accessible in the near future.”

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Take a look at the finalists for this year’s Smithsonian Annual Photo Contest:… Amazing…

by Wan Shun Luk for The Smithsonian

by Wan Shun Luk for The Smithsonian

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What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – by Charles Duhigg, for The New York Times

This article is not as much about Google as the title would have you believe. It’s actually a fascinating psychological profile of team dynamics, which highlights the complex layers of interaction and personality. I promise you, it’ll make you re-think how you work.

“We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

And who you work with. While there seems to be no “formula” for successful teams, the research stresses that psychological safety is an essential factor. Look around you, and back at your work history, and you’ll be amazed at how often this is overlooked.

“Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.”

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The Deactivation of the American Worker – by Carter Maness, for The Awl

I do seem to be focussing on the workforce this week… Here Carter Maness takes on the role of social media and work tools in our relationship with work. Especially in the termination of that relationship. New platforms – Slack, Zenefits, any of the “market economy” apps – make it easier than ever for employers to sever agreements, and for employees to move somewhere else.

““Is my Slack down or am I fired?” is a good joke in a Freudian sense because it reveals a deeper truth about how tenuous jobs have become… As the open office, with its cacophonous lack of privacy and false promise of improved collaboration, is replaced by a virtual one running on labor and benefits platforms like Slack and Zenefits (lol), the American employee is increasingly no longer an employee at all, but someone granted the privilege to work by a network administrator, an opportunity just as easily revoked.”

Platforms are streamlining a firm’s relationship with an employee. Or, an employee’s relationship with his or her firm. Employees are easier to hire, and certainly to fire, which pushes them closer to commodities in terms of flexibility. Replace, re-assign, remove – it’s almost as if employees themselves are becoming apps, to be slotted in where applicable.

“Job security will be left to decay in the supply closets of skyscrapers. The future office space is within a chat application; future departments are virtual rooms where work is transparently archived for future versions of you. This means job roles take on a more concrete meaning while the person doing the job is less important than ever.”

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I dared two expert hackers to destroy my life. Here’s what happened. – by Kevin Roose, for Fusion

This is very frightening. Deep respect to the author for putting himself through this. Read it, and tighten up your passwords.

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Google Unveils Neural Network with “Superhuman” Ability to Determine the Location of Almost Any Image – from MIT Technology Review


Have you ever played Geoguessr? Huge amounts of fun, and an ideal way to armchair travel. I’ve seen quite a bit of the world, and I’m terrible at it, but I love the guessing and the imagining. So with interest I clicked on the above headline…

…and read about how PlaNet, the neural network developed by a Google team, can predict with “superhuman accuracy” the location of any image. It gets the location correct to city-level accuracy 10% of the time, and to country-level accuracy 28% of the time.

“In total, PlaNet won 28 of the 50 rounds with a median localization error of 1131.7 km, while the median human localization error was 2320.75 km.”

Wait a minute… So the PlaNet won just over half the games? With a standard margin of error, that’s almost a draw. And it gets 70% of country locations wrong? Apparently it gets the continent right 48% of the time… That’s the same as saying that it gets it wrong more often than it gets it right. And they call that superhuman? Really? I’m confused.

Ok, I get it, it’s a start. And with each iteration, the machines will get smarter. The neural net’s search function is pretty impressive. We don’t know what it can be used for yet (other than to play Geoguessr), but that’s not important. We had no idea what computers would be used for when they hit the shelves.

But I take issue with the misleading headline. And the fact that no author was cited for the article is suspicious. Marketing is important, but overstating and partial reporting in a scientific technology publication doesn’t help anyone.

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LinkedIn and the Golden Age of American Eduction – by Ryan Craig, for TechCrunch

Yet another article touting the advantages of online education. It’s accessible to anyone, real time. It enables a more in-depth focus on result. It’s quantifiable.

“It is a fair bet that employers will be enthusiastic at the prospect of data-driven-based hiring, rather than relying on opaque degrees in order to qualify candidates.”

I am a self-confessed (and happy) MOOC addict. Yet I strongly disagree that online education solves hiring difficulties.Treating us as widgets with numbers attached to our profile does not solve the problem, or the necessity, of pulling together a team that works well, that can get things done and can solve problems. Scores don’t help with that. As we say from the article on Google teams above, the psychological profile of candidates is very, very important. For most jobs, anyway. If all we need to do is perform a function, then a score should be good enough to indicate whether or not we can fulfil the requirement. But if we are expected to be part of a team, to react and to create, then much more than a score is in play. Employers know this, which is why I doubt very much that they will eagerly embrace data-based hiring. I don’t think they ever relied on opaque degrees, either.

“Employees will celebrate, as well. For the first time, they will have a GPS for their own human capital development. Students will be able to ascertain which educational programs are likely to pay off. Those that don’t, will fail.”

Just because you’ve taken an online course, doesn’t mean that you know the stuff. Online exams are SO much easier than classroom, no-textbooks-or-calculators-allowed ones.

And while online courses are making huge advances in the class interaction component, it is still sorely lacking compared to the physical equivalent. No-one can argue that your classmates aren’t an important part of the learning experience.

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Two things I enjoyed this week:

· A crazy but beautiful video of a crazy man creating beautiful patterns in the snow. Why? No idea. But it’s amazing.

· The Geoguessr game I mentioned above. It’s an ideal time waster, because you come back to the now with the feeling that you’ve travelled the world.


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