The Free-Range Technologist #20 🔌
It wasn’t my fault….
Every fall, I have the delight of teaching an interdisciplinary course, “Exploring the Digital Globe.” A more accurate title would be: “Things Prof C thinks are interesting.” Tom J gave a great talk about energy arbitrage, demand pricing, and energy markets this semester. To prepare, we visited the University power plant to learn about how the power, cooling, and water systems work on campus. While I will not admit to touching any buttons, Facebook did go offline for 8 hours after our tour…..
⭕The Circle by Dave Eggers (Fiction)👍
Don't be put off by the lousy movie adaptation of The Circle (16% on Rotten Tomatoes despite a cast that includes Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Karen Gillan, John Boyega). The Circle is a page-turner, especially for those who have been following the rise of social media and its influence on our culture and lives. While not technical, this book does an excellent job of educating the reader on the techniques these large firms deploy to make us click, buy, and like.
The story is set at a large social media company (The Circle, aka Facebook in disguise) where a young woman, Mae Holland, goes to work. As she learns more about how The Circle manipulates people, uses their data, and The Circle’s plan for global dominance in everyone’s life, we are led to believe that we see a revolution starting to foment in Mae’s mind. But perhaps she has a different plan.....
The Circle also does an excellent job of illustrating and making fun of the gravity that we give to our opinions on social media and the possibility that we are doing anything that matters by being on these platforms; platforms like Facebook certainly want us to think our time spend it is important! Consider the following passages:
And, with the tools the Circle made available, Mae felt able to influence global events, to save lives even, halfway across the world. That very morning, a message from a college friend, Tania Schwartz, came through, pleading for help with an initiative her brother was spearheading. There was a paramilitary group in Guatemala, some resurrection of the terrorizing forces of the eighties, and they had been attacking villages and taking women captive. One woman, Ana Marfa Herrera, had escaped and told of ritual rapes, of teenage girls being made concubines, and the murders of those who would not cooperate. Mae's friend Tania, never an activist in school, said she had been compelled to action by these atrocities, and she was asking everyone she knew to join in an initiative called We Hear You Ana Marfa. "Let's make sure she knows she has friends all over the world who will not accept this," Tania's message said.
Mae saw a picture of Ana Marfa, sitting in a white room on a folding chair, looking up, expressionless, an unnamed child in her lap. Next to her picture was a smile button that said "I hear you Ana Marfa," which, when clicked on, would add Mae's name to a list of those lending their support to Ana Marfa. Mae clicked the button. Just as important, Tania wrote, is that we send a message to the Paramilitaries that we denounce their actions. Below the picture of Ana Marfa was a blurry photo of a group of men in mismatched military garb, walking through dense jungle. Next to the photo was a frown button that said "We denounce the Central Guatemalan Security Forces." Mae hesitated briefly, knowing the gravity of what she was about to do—to come out against these rapists and murderers—but she needed to make a stand. She pushed the button. An autoresponse thanked her, noting that she was the 24,726th person to send a smile to Ana Marfa and the 19,282nd to send a frown to the paramilitaries. Tania noted that while the smiles were sent directly to Ana Marfa's phone, Tania's brother was still working on a way to get the frowns to the Central Guatemalan Forces."
Highly Recommend. Amazon link: The Circle
🍱The Every by Dave Eggers (Fiction) 👍
The Every is the sequel to The Circle. The Every is the name of the company that is formed when The Circle merges with the jungle (Amazon in disguise). The Every provides everything you would ever want or desire. In fact, The Every’s algorithms are so good that you don’t even need to have desires. The computer will decide your desires for you!
This novel once again follows a young woman, Delaney Well, who has solid revolutionary intent and wants to destroy The Every. I will not give much away, but I enjoyed this book and the writing.
I know that no book is easy to write, having co-authored three, but Eggers does have a formula. He takes something outrageous that Facebook or Google has done to manipulate us or to invade our privacy and turns the situation up to 11. Or in the case of smart speakers, just re-tells what actually happened. I am sure that many people will think this is all a fictional dystopia, but no. It is our current dystopia. Case in point:
Didn't we (the smart speaker manufacturers) reveal, ... after we were caught, that our smart speakers were turning themselves off and on at their own behest? And didn't we admit, after we were caught, that we were listening to and recording anything we wanted at any time, anything that was said in the private homes of hundreds of millions of users? And didn't we reveal, after we were caught, that we were recording all the private conversations every user had in the privacy of their own homes?
After all this openness and contrition, they said, it stings to think that customers would wonder aloud if other shoes might drop. No more shoes, said the manufacturers, would be dropping. We stand before you barefoot and humbled. When it was revealed that the manufacturers had in fact hired 10,000 humans, whose only purpose was to listen to, transcribe and analyze the private conversations that had been recorded by these smart speakers, the manufacturers were amazed at the outrage, as muted as it was.
Yes, they said, we have all along been recording and listening to your conversations, they said to their customers, but none of these 10,000 workers know your names, so what possible difference would it make that we have all of your private conversations recorded, and that we could with one or two keystrokes de-anonymize your conversations at any time? And, given the fact that every database ever created has been hacked, these recordings could be accessed by anyone at any time who had will enough to get them? What, the manufacturers asked, are you getting so worked up about?
In fact, no one got worked up at all. Lawmakers were mute, regulators invisible, and sales skyrocketed. And so when the Every… created a next-level smart speaker, privacy was not promised or expected.
Highly recommend. Amazon Link: The Every
📜The History of Money by Jack Weatherford (Non-Fiction)👍
“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ― Michael Crichton
For anyone interested in the future of money and cryptocurrencies, The History of Money by Jack Weatherford is the most accessible text I have found on this subject. It tells the history of money and busts a lot of myths along the way. For example, there was probably never a pure barter system: one goat is not equally divisible by five chickens; you need something to even out the trade unless you are willing to start splitting chickens (or hares I guess🤣). And if you don’t already know about the symbolism of the Emerald City and yellow brick road, he will let you in on another way to think of Dorothy's adventures.
Even though this book was written in 1998, Weatherford does a great job of predicting the rise of digital dollars and cryptocurrencies.
Highly recommend. Amazon Link: The History of Money.
👨🏫 Featured Talks and Articles
It is always an honor to teach and share, and I was given the opportunity to share what I know/think in several venues this month. Below are some of my most recent articles, talks, and interviews.
I gave a talk with Professor Matteo B. on November 10th about the Future of Money. We had over 300 people attend! Below is a recording of my talk, and Professor B’s is here.
I talked with Paul Pepper about AI and Creativity (and got in a mention of Lady Ada of Lovelace).
Earlier this week, I did a train the trainer session on the blockchain game during the first Sri Lankin Blockchain Summit. TAn archive of all the speakers will be available here.
My article Planetary-scale ISPs require a policy Rethink of Global Proportions was published by Predict, a medium publication.
📆 Upcoming Talks and Articles
I will be presenting a short course for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Mizzou: The Future of Money: Central Bank Digital Currencies. Monday, January 10, and Monday, 24 from 1-2:30 pm. Registration details will be available at: https://extension.missouri.edu/programs/osher-lifelong-learning-institute
I will be presenting a brown-bag session for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Mizzou: Deepfakes and the future of content creation, society, and business: January 21 from 11:30 - 1:00. Registration details will be available at: https://extension.missouri.edu/programs/osher-lifelong-learning-institute
I will be presenting a lecture at the College of Business International Week: Balkanization and Borders in Cyberspace on Monday, February 21st at 1 pm in Room 205. Let me know if you are interested in attending and I will get you the details (and perhaps even free parking!).
Products and Services
🎯OKR Journal and Planner
A new edition of my Objects and Key Results Journal and Planner is out for 2022 and available on Amazon. Let me know if you want to see a pdf of the interior pages before you buy, and I would be happy to send it over to you. Positive reviews are always appreciated as well as any feedback to make it better.
₿ Course: The Crypto Investor’s Guide to Death and Taxes
There is so much that people don’t understand about the tax and estate planning implications for Crypto investors. The IRS is now targeting Crypto investors, and I don’t want people to learn the hard way! So I made this course on Udemy to educate crypto investors on all the details. All students get lifetime access to the course materials and updates! You can check it out here and use this coupon (88C27B241EDE86908509) to get an ~50% discount through the end of the year.
And of course, positive reviews are always appreciated as well as any feedback to make it better.
Links of the Week
Important and/or fascinating stories about technology and fun stuff. (Share your must-reads. Just drop me a line or tweet them to me.)
Podcast: In Machines We Trust: How pricing algorithms learn to collude.
Starbase | Gateway to Mars
The World’s First “Living” Robots Just Got an Upgrade, Meet Xenobot 2.0
I have watched this video about 17,953,744 times and I am still laughing.
As always, be sure to hit reply and tell me what you have been up to, what you are reading, and what neat stuff you have discovered lately! I always look forward to getting responses from you all, hearing about what you have been creating recently, and the resources/lifehacks you are using!! And thanks to the 900+ colleagues and friends who read my monthly emails!