A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 26, 2020

The Reason the Smartphone Is Changing the Way History Is Written

 It is permitting the processing of far more information faster, which will mean more detail and different subjects are likely to illuminate what actually happened, by - and to - whom. JL

Alexis Madrigal reports in The Atlantic:

Enter the smartphone, and cheap digital photography. Instead of reading papers during an archival visit, historians can snap pictures of the documents and look at them later. Digital photos drive down the cost of archival research, allowing an individual to capture far more documents per hour. So an archival visit becomes a process of standing over documents, snapping pictures as quickly as possible. Digitization has “democratised historical research for people to interrogate their own communities’ histories,” (which) could allow people outside the Western historical tradition to do history.

How AI Provided Early Warning Of the Wuhan Coronavirus

As revelatory and encouraging as this may be, it underscores an age-old problem with information which persists to this day: it is one thing to identify a threat, it is another thing to get authorities to do something about it. JL

Steve Mollman reports in Quartz:

A startup whose AI-driven health monitoring platform analyzes billions of data points alerted its clients to the outbreak on Dec. 31, well ahead of notifications from the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control. Natural-language processing and machine-learning techniques sift global news reports, airline data, and reports of animal disease outbreaks. Epidemiologists look over the automated results. (It) tries to track and move information faster than the disease can travel. It correctly predicted where the virus would land, Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, after its initial appearance.

The 'Most Silicon Valley Job Posting' Goes Viral For Its Pretentiousness

Catching the zeitgeist. Nanny wanted: Advanced skill in math and facility with vegan recipes essential...JL

Matt Charnock reports in SF-ist:

Are you something of a self-knighted travel agent, one who’s also gifted at long division? Do you possess buckets of athleticism? Can you both bake and ice a (vegan) cake with ease? If you've nodded to all the above, then this Menlo Park-based nanny gig might just be right for you. "Assist 10-year old’s with homework in long division, subtraction and writing. Play math games. Conduct research into vegan recipes and make modifications to regular recipes. Learn about alternatives to milk and butter." The mother is a CEO who needs to relax on weekends and pass along her offspring to someone else.

Google Backtracks On Ads Indistinguisable From Search Results After Criticism

What may be most interesting about this is not that Google was considering taking an action that would be financially and competitively advantageous to it versus to its customers, but that it would even consider, let alone retract, that decision due to criticism from outsiders. Which suggests how seriously it takes threats of regulation. JL

Jonathan Shieber reports in Yahoo :

Google announced that it would be redesigning the redesign of its search results as a response to withering criticism from politicians, consumers and the press over the way in which search results displays were made to look like ads. Google makes money when users of its search service click on ads. It doesn't make money when people click on an unpaid search result. Making ads look like search results makes Google more money.It's also a pretty unethical business decision. 

Why New Tech Startups Love Old Industrial Buildings

The light, air and space needed by early 20th century manufacturers are also what collaborative technology startups need and want. JL

Winnie Hu and Matthew Haag report in the New York Times:

Technology executives say loft buildings are versatile, provide more space and character for less cost than cookie-cutter office towers, and better reflect their collaborative work culture. A loft is “a more collaborative atmosphere, and that’s the kind of creative space we want." The buildings themselves have a past that can be irresistible for companies with so little history of their own. “Loft buildings offer the open, creative and fun spaces of Silicon Valley, combined with the New York City urban industrial feel."

Has Tech-Driven Meritocracy Worsened Inequality?

Yes, because the advent of a technologically dependent economy rewards the skills obtained in elite universities, making it harder for those who do not possess the financial and social resources to gain admittance.

This has created a vicious circle of reward and denial for those who do - and do not - have the wherewithal to crack the system, thereby substituting a new elite for an old one. JL

Ben Mattison interviews Daniel Markovits in Yale Insights:

“Although meritocracy did open up the elite in its early years, it now stifles rather than fosters social mobility. The avenues that once carried people from modest circumstances into the American elite are narrowing. Middle-class families cannot afford the schooling that rich families buy, and ordinary schools lag farther behind elite ones.” Technological changes transformed the labor market to increase the economic returns to the skills the meritocratic universities produced.(But) even those benefiting from meritocracy aren’t happy. Meritocratic elites must work long hours, in law, business, medicine, or consulting, in order to maintain their status and pass it on to their children.

Jan 25, 2020

Why Google Actually Called For AI Regulation

Because as market leader, it is likely to benefit more from regulation which it will lobby hard to help design will benefit Google more than its competitors. JL

Emil Protalinski reports in Venture Beat:

Yes, Google wants “AI regulation.” But it’s not for the same reasons you or I might. Pichai’s motivations are the same as any CEO of a large corporation: He simply wants what is best for his company. GDPR has has been a boon for Google. In tech, rules and regulations can help market leaders. In AI, Google is undoubtedly a market leader. And AI regulation, which many see as inevitable anyway, is what’s best for Google. Or at least, it certainly can be shaped to be. Google’s lobbying dollars will ensure any upcoming “AI regulation” helps Google more than anything else.