A Blog by Jonathan Low


Mar 22, 2019

'The Matrix' Movie Turns 20 This Year. Did Humanity Take the Blue Pill?

All the evidence suggests that humanity, given the choice between the red pill of resistance to digital domination and the blue pill of acquiescence, has gone blue.JL

Jessica Baron reports in Forbes:

Remember the plot: Thomas Anderson is a computer programmer by day and hacker called Neo by night. He’s recruited to join the “real world” by Morpheus, the leader of the human resistance against their AI overlords. He gives Neo the choice to take a red pill and become part of the resistance or take the blue pill and forget he ever knew there was a real world out there so he can rejoin the rest of humanity in serving as an organic power source for the machines.

The Future of Sports Is Interactive, Immersive and Intense

The couch potato may still be sitting, but she is likely to be armed with controllers, live feeds and up-to-the-minute data, all of which may be used to participate in everything from fantasy leagues to betting to esports. JL

David Pierce reports in the Wall Street Journal:

The future of sports is interactive. You’ll be able to join fans in the chat section, or offer real-time feedback on every play. Fantasy games will get bigger, as broadcasters of different sports try to copy features like the March Madness bracket. Traditional leagues will learn by watching esports, as gamers gain recognition as a new breed of professional athlete. The most popular videogamer teamed up with other streamers to offer his take on a football game. You might be able to jump into the virtual booth. Or, in the age of analytics, you want to know is how fast your guy is running, or to be afraid of an opposing player rising up for the last-second shot.

Does the Market Really Need So Many Messaging Apps?

No, of course not. But it is a key feature keeping customers locked in to a profitable electronic ecosystem so providers are loathe to tender that competitive advantage.

As for the alternative, Facebook is talking about making some of the services interoperable. But does anyone want one company to control all their messaging, especially if that company is Facebook...? JL

Owen Williams reports in Motherboard:

Messaging apps have become the ultimate walled garden: nobody plays nice: you can’t message between tools because each uses its own proprietary technology. Facebook is working to unify Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp into a single backend, so users can message their friends without switching. Unlike the majority of the technology sector where near-monopolies have gobbled up control, messaging, historically, has been difficult to establish a monopoly because it’s so fragmented

Data Becomes A Cash Crop For Big Agriculture

The data may not yet be worth more than the crop, but by improving quality while managing costs, it enhances harvests' value. JL

Andrew Noel reports in Bloomberg:

Information collected by farmers - yields, fertilizer use, crop rotation, rainfall - is catnip to Bayer, Syngenta, DowDuPont, and BASF. The companies feed it into software that predicts combinations of seeds, fertilizers, and sprays to maximize yields. That boosts sales of their products while padding the bottom line from subscription fees for recommendations on what to sow and when to spray. As more farmers supply data in exchange for tailored advice, computers combine that, then apply artificial intelligence to make better predictions. “Before, there was just keeping notes and making field observations.Now we have digital tools.”

How Apple Makes Billions Selling Services

Most customers only buy a new device every couple of years. But they can buy services multiple times a day. JL

Chaim Gartenberg reports in The Verge:

Apple’s services business brought in $10.9 billion during the most recent quarter, setting records in “every geographic segment." Apple is on track to double its services business from 2016 to 2020. One of the biggest contributors to revenue is the App Store, estimated to have seen170 billion downloads in its 10-year history. Apple takes a cut of each in-app purchase and subscription. iCloud is the only way to back up iPhones and iPads. And that storage counts toward everything on your phone. Apple Pay receives a fee from each transaction. Apple takes part of the sale price of every iPhone, iPad, and Mac and converts it into money for services

Why Data Says the US Is the Unhappiest It's Ever Been

Yes, technology plays a significant role.

The happiest countries are mostly small, mono-cultural and affluent. Which may serve to emphasize in larger, more diverse nations the importance of social cohesion brought on by mass education and communications introduced in the 19th or 20th centuries and remaining dominant into the first decade of the 21st.

The concern this raises is whether the targeted, individualized marketing tactics employed to enhance sales of products, services, ideologies (and the candidates who back them) may now be undermining that sense of shared purpose crucial to high performing companies and societies. The question is whether there is sufficient will to change this trajectory without destroying the gains that have been built around that digital economy but before the deleterious social influences cause longer lasting sub-optimal outcomes. JL

Grace Dobush reports in Fortune:

Finland remains the happiest country on Earth for the second year in the row, while the U.S. drops to its worst ranking ever. In the U.S., where prosperity is on the rise, researchers blame declines in social capital and support. Changes in how Americans spend their leisure time are also to blame, pointing at the rise of digital media and the decline of face-to-face interactions. The report calls the US a “mass-addiction society.” The prevalence of addictions - including gambling, social media use, video gaming and shopping - "suggests individuals may be lured into self-destructive behaviors by businesses boosting sales of their goods and services.”

Mar 21, 2019

What Causes Humans To Regard Robots As Weird and Creepy?

It may be that the assignment of humanoid features is disturbing to humans - and that robots speaking, well,  robotically - further emphasizes the differences that people find offputting.

Matt Simon reports in Wired:

Robots' creepiness is not only in the face and in the gaze. It's also in the voice, the way it speaks. Tonality is very important. Linking semantics with tonality goes wrong, poorly integrated in a way that never happens with humans.The chatbot that also had an avatar was annoying to people.It gave the same response as the text one, but in the case of the text chatbot, the participants found it competent. But to (the) one that had a face and gaze, the response was negative. Conversations with the text-based chatbot were twice as long.