New Week Same Humans #6

A new machine learning platform wants to judge your face. Crypto platform Coinbase decides to stay neutral. K-pop conquers Fortnite.

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

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💡 This week’s Sunday essay was about a the search for justice between nations in a heated world. Go here to read The Great Migration. 💡

This week, Coinbase and TikTok take opposing sides on a vexed question: should businesses take a stand on social and political issues?

Also, a new machine learning platform wants to tell you whether you have a normal face.

K-pop takes on Fortnite. Estee Lauder send ten bottles of their new serum into space. And Amazon have designs on your palm print.

Let’s do this thing.

🤐 Coinbase can see both sides

The CEO of cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, made headlines this week via an open letter to his staff, in which he stressed that the company would from now on stay neutral on political issues. Taking a position, said Armstrong, ends up, ‘being a distraction and creating internal division’. And instead Coinbase must prioritise an internal culture that is, ‘intense and apolitical’.

The letter drew praise from some high-profile Silicon Valley figures including Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, and ire from some Coinbase employees and others. Back in June some Coinbase employees staged a walkout when Armstrong initially refused to issue a statement supporting Black Lives Matter; he later did so.

Meanwhile, TikTok this week moved further in the opposite direction, launching a new in-app guide to the 2020 US Presidential election, as part of its wider attempts to fight QAnon and other forms of disinformation on the platform.

⚡ NWSH Take: Just two glimpses here of a growing issue: the proper relationship of business to our collective lives. // What do consumers think? That’s a vexed subject. In a 2019 survey, 70% of respondents said they want brands to take a stand on social issues. But the same study found that 53% believe brands only do so to generate good PR. // What’s more clear is that in an increasingly polarised political landscape, the neutral ground is narrowing out of existence. Many now see a neutral position on, say, BLM, as itself a political statement. On contentious issues, brands are going to be perceived as holding a position whether they like it or not. // If your business is asking ‘what’s the playbook’, it’s thinking about this the wrong way. Think authenticity, not playbooks. Identify your brand’s core values. Act to support them. Talk, but not more than you act. Be prepared to lose customers who don’t agree.

🔮 Metaverse musical interlude

The global cultural phenomenon that is K-pop boyband BTS debuted their latest video inside Fortnite this week.

Whatever you think of the song (BTS fans, do not write to me), there’s no denying that music has moved into the metaverse.

🤖 This AI wants to judge your face

Law students in the US have been taking exams via an online platform called ExamSoft. They have to do so with their webcam open, and their face in full view at all times. Some have raised privacy issues. And then there’s the fact that the platform’s AI often doesn’t recognise the faces of black people. More than 30,000 students are set to take their bar exam on the ExamSoft next week.

Another reminder, if one were needed, of the way algorithms are insinuating their way into the lives of millions. And the risks that come with this.

Meanwhile, this new platform uses machine learning algorithms to answer the question: how normal is your face? It will judge your age, gender, mood and beauty(!), before giving a final score. It’s the creation of Dutch technologist Tijmen Schep, and forms part of an EU-funded project to explore ethical issues around technology. No data is collected; and it’s a pretty wild experience.

⚡ NWSH Take: My face scored 56%, which apparently makes it ‘averagely normal’. Having started with low expectations, I’m happy with this result. // The experience is a powerful insight into what is nothing less than a strange new form of politico-social power: the power of algorithmic judgement. // As the pandemic accelerates trends towards remote working, learning and shopping, the prevalence and power of facial recognition tech will soar. Will future online job interviews see machine learning judge applicants for trustworthiness and attractiveness? There’s no doubt we need new forms of regulation for this new world.

📖 Time for The Great Redesign?

New World Same Humans features in a new book!

It’s called The Great Redesign, and it’s all about the special opportunity this moment affords to build new ways of living, working, and being.

There are chapters from a host of great thinkers, including analyst Benedict Evans on Covid and new technology trends, Professor Payal Arora on making global supply chains more human, and leading futurist Professor Sohail Inayatullah on how we can glimpse what lies ahead.

My chapter is an extended version of a New World Same Humans Sunday essay on algorithms and politics. You can learn more about the book here.

📢 NWSH is now also in Spanish

A quick announcement: from this week onwards, the NWSH Sunday essays will be available in Spanish translation.

This is all thanks to NWSH community member Lara Fernández Gutiérrez, who will be writing the translations: thank you Lara!

The Spanish version will be published on the NWSH homepage each Tuesday morning. And I’ll also share the link on Twitter, so follow me there to make sure you don’t miss out.

🗓️ Also this week

🕵️ Amazon announced an autonomous flying security camera drone for the home. The Ring Always Home will zoom around your house, and dock itself when it needs to recharge. It will be available in 2021 for $250.

Amazon also announced Amazon One, a palm recognition system intended to make payment and location services seamless. A big week for Bezos and company! As for Amazon owning our palm prints, that’s not creepy at all.

👨‍🚀 Beauty brand Estee Lauder is paying NASA $128,000 for a photoshoot in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station will take part in a shoot with ten bottles of the brand’s Advanced Night Repair serum.

🚗 A UK judge ruled Uber is allowed to continue operating in London. Regulator Transport for London refused to renew Uber’s license back in 2017, kickstarting a long-running legal battle.

Big employers in Amsterdam have agreed to spread their working hours and adopt more remote work to help end the morning and evening rush hour (article is in Dutch, but Google will translate). The move will impact almost 40,000 employees.

📱 Facebook is bringing Instagram and Messenger closer together. Select users can now send direct messages to one another across the two apps.

🇨🇳 Oxford University is taking steps to protect students from China and Hong Kong against Beijing’s sweeping new security law. Students studying China will be asked to submit some essays anonymously.

🤦‍♂️ The QAnon conspiracy theory is sweeping into local Facebook groups. I wrote about what we need to do to take down QAnon in NWSH #33.

🦸 Paramedics in the UK’s Lake District are trialling jet pack suits to help them navigate the mountainous terrain. Maybe we really are living in the future.

🌍 Humans of Earth

Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.

🙋‍♀️ Global population: 7,815,411,297 and counting
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7687078595

🗓️ 2020 progress bar: 75% complete

📖 On this day: On 30 September 1968 the Boeing 747 is first unveiled to the world’s press and the 26 airlines that had pre-ordered the plane.

Let’s build the new normal

Thanks for reading this week.

Hope you enjoy having your face rated for its degree of normality, or otherwise, by Tijmen Schep’s new platform!

We all know that it’s what is unique about a person that does most to shape what they bring to the world. And here at New World Same Humans, we’ve building a community of 12,000+ individuals dedicated to bringing their unique talents to the challenge of building a better shared future.

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I’ll be back on Sunday. Until then, be well,


P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.

David Mattin sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumption.