New Week Same Humans #23

Researchers teach an AI how to manipulate our choices. Google and News Corp thrash out the deal that could save journalism. Plus more news and analysis from this week.

Welcome to the Wednesday update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet subscribed, then join 14,000+ curious souls on a journey to build a better shared future 🚀🔮

💡 This week’s Sunday instalment was about truth, media, deepfakes and conspiracy theories; go here to read The Reality Crisis and How To Fix It.💡

This week, Australia called Google’s bluff over payment for news content. It worked.

Researchers teach an AI to head fake humans. Maybe that wasn’t wise.

Plus, find out how Los Angeles police officers are using copyrighted music to frustrate activists. And which two billionaires are joining forces on a new Bitcoin fund.

Let’s go!

📰 Rupert and Sundar eye a news revolution

Two weeks ago, Google threatened to withdraw from Australia if the country enacted a new law that will force online platforms to pay for the news content they display.

The bill passed Australia’s House of Representatives today. And it seems Google CEO Sundar Pichai has had a change of heart: the company has just cut massive deals with content providers including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which dominates the Australian media landscape. That deal covers content from The Australian newspaper, as well as international titles such as The Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook, not so much. In fact, they’ve gone for the nuclear no deal option: an announcement today says the platform will now block Australian users from sharing links to any news articles and related content.

⚡ NWSH Take: It’s been 15 years since I worked at The Times in London. Even back then, Murdoch was complaining about the way Google was taking a free ride on his content. The big platforms always said they’d exit markets that forced them to pay. Turns out – at least in Google’s case – it was an empty threat. EU regulators will have watched events in Australia closely, and Google knows that. The News Corp Australia arrangement could prove a template for similar deals worldwide. // Proper journalism – the kind that can hold power to account – is expensive. Our democracies rely on it. The internet has smashed old media business models. If this deal marks the beginnings of a new settlement, that’s huge.

👋 Tell me your truth

On Thursday NWSH will take to Clubhouse to discuss this week’s Sunday essay.

I’ll be joined by the brilliant Monique van Dusseldorp to discuss media, conspiracy theories, deep fakes, and the future of truth.

But most of all, we want to hear from you, the NWSH community; come and have your say!

We’ll be live on Thursday 18 (that’s today for most of you reading this) at 18:30 CET. You can learn more and add the event to your calendar here.

🤖 AI mind control: creepy or cool?

Researchers at Australia’s National Science Agency (Australia is having a big week) have taught a neural network to manipulate human decision making.

In one simple experiment, participants were repeatedly asked to guess which button they should press, blue or red, to win a reward. By learning their choice patterns the AI was able to predict their answer 70% of the time.

In another, humans played the role of an investor who repeatedly has to decide whether to give money to a trustee to invest. The AI was able to build trust with participants by returning them high profits early in the game, only to rinse them at the end.

Also this week in the annals of creepy or cool, a Los Angeles startup called YOV (You, Only Virtual) claims to have built the first app that allows users to continue talking to loved ones who have died. The idea is that you loop friends and loved ones into the app while they’re still alive. YOV’s proprietary technology will analyse your message threads and other data, and then create convincing AI versions of your friends and relatives when they’re gone.

I hope they spent more on the technology than they did on this teaser video:

⚡ NWSH Take: Something about YOV feels off. A cutting-edge AI-fuelled app that will recreate my dead loved one; a website straight out of 2003. But take this startup as a signal of where innovation – and consumer expectations – are heading. The nature of our relationship with AI conversational agents is changing, and higher-order human needs including happiness, social connection, and even love, are on the agenda. The tech giants know this: we’ve talked before about how Microsoft are working on the very same idea. // The National Science Agency research is a reminder that before we see mainstream AI-fuelled virtual humans, we’d better ask some pretty searching questions about power, control, and trust. If we’re worried that content on social media platforms manipulated voter behaviour in the 2016 elections, just wait until a billion and more people are emotionally invested in a relationship with an AI created by Microsoft or DeepMind.

🗓️ Also this week

💰 Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Jay Z are joining forces on mission to push bitcoin development in Africa and India. The pair say their new $24 million endowment fund, ₿trust, is intended to help ‘bitcoin become the currency of the internet.’

🧬 Researchers in Estonia have used a GAN to create fake genome sequences that are indistinguishable from that of real human DNA. GANs are the same AI technologies used to create deepfake videos. The technique could play a big role in future DNA research.

👮 Los Angeles police officers are using copyrighted music to avoid being livestreamed while on patrol. The music triggers copyright filters on platforms such as Instagram, and so shuts any livestream down.

🌬️ Amazon are to buy half the energy produced by a huge new Dutch offshore wind farm. The farm is expected to be operational in 2023, and Amazon says the energy will bring it closer to its goal of being net-zero carbon by 2040.

🗑️ Dublin is using an Internet of Bins to monitor foot traffic around the city during the pandemic. A network of 350 smart bins sent alerts when anyone deposits rubbish.

🤦 A mysterious new disinformation network is targeting the QAnon community on messaging app Telegram. The network is pushing a novel quasi-religious narrative that blends ancient mythology and New Age spirituality.

🚗 Ford says its European product range will be all-electric by 2030. The automaker say they plan to release a mass-market electric vehicle by 2023.

📱 Tiny graphene microchips could make our devices thousands of times faster in future. Researcher’s at the UK’s University of Sussex say folding graphene can unlock new properties in the material.

🇨🇳 The Chinese government will start regulating bloggers and online influencers. New rules say online creators must seek a government license before publishing content on certain subjects.

The iconic All Your Base Are Belong To Us meme has turned 20. Either you feel old right now, or you have no idea what I’m talking about.

🌍 Humans of Earth

Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.

🙋‍♀️ Global population: 7,846,614,575
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7782994086

💉 Global population vaccinated: 0.39%

🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 13% complete

📖 On this day: On 17th February 1867 the first ship sailed through the Suez Canal. The canal opened, under French control, in 1869.

Mind games

Thanks for reading this week.

AI decision manipulation is a scary prospect. Thankfully, we’re still a long way from a mass market virtual companion who can trick us into selling our possessions and ploughing all the money into Dogecoin.

For the time being, the human brain remains at the top of the intelligence heap.

Who knows how long that will last? But if we’re about to be demoted, New World Same Humans will be bringing you the story and asking what it all means for our shared future.

In the meantime, there’s one thing you can do to help: share!

Remember, our community becomes smarter, more creative, and more useful as it becomes larger and more diverse. To help, why not take a second to forward this email to one person – a friend, relative, or colleague – who’d also enjoy it? Or share New World Same Humans across one of your social networks, and let others know why you think it’s worth their time.

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Your membership of this community is valued. I’ll be back on Sunday. Until then, be well,


P.S Thanks to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.

David Mattin is the founder of the Strategy and Futures Research Unit. He sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumption.