New Week Same Humans #7
Meet your new AI-fuelled Zoom puppet. A reckoning draws near for Big Tech. Solar energy is a reason to be cheerful.
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 Big Tech, privacy, and two kinds of human freedom. Go here to read The Tyranny of Convenience. 💡
This week, US regulators eye sweeping reforms that could break up Big Tech. Are the saloon doors finally closing on the silicon Wild West?
Meanwhile, NVIDIA has created a digital puppet that could solve slow, glitchy video calls forever.
Also featuring reports of a Silicon Valley employee secretly working two full time jobs from home. And the best night to enjoy this month’s stunning views of Mars.
A reckoning for Big Tech
Yesterday the US Congress released a long-awaited antitrust report on Big Tech. It blasts Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google for a host of anti-competitive practises, including the relentless acquisition of startups that pose a threat.
But the report is the subject of a fierce argument that runs – no surprise – along party lines. Several Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have refused to endorse its conclusions, which include banning companies from giving themselves preferential treatment on their own platforms.
Also this week in the annals of Big Tech, Facebook finally banned the online conspiracy theory QAnon. The move marks a dramatic escalation in the platform’s fight against misinformation during the US Presidential election.
⚡ NWSH Take: If enacted the House Judiciary Committee’s recommendations will reshape the digital landscape, and could end in the breakup of Facebook. But right now, Washington is hamstrung. // Still, that feels like a temporary reprieve for Zuck et al rather than a permanent settlement. Meanwhile, the EU is moving towards its own anti-trust regulations. // My prediction: regulators will soon shut down the digital Wild West we’ve lived through. It’s not before time. The report’s key contention is right: tech giants have become monopolistic overlords that crush much competition soon after birth. // Big Tech CEOs and some Republicans will fight it all the way, but – as concerns around Facebook’s impact on democracy demonstrates – these platforms have become utilities, and we should regulate them as such.
A shot of positive energy
A good news chart from the brilliant Our World in Data this week. The price of solar energy has fallen five-fold in just nine years.
Almost three-quarters of carbon emissions come from energy use, with just one-fifth from agriculture and land use, and the remaining 8% from industry and waste.
Cheap solar energy, then, is set to have a transformative impact on the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere. Historians may well point to this chart as a key chapter in the story of how we turned the tide on climate change.
No wonder Our World in Data’s Max Roser calls the advent of cheap solar, ‘one of the most important developments in our time.’
A digital puppet for your next Zoom call
Working from home? Broadband struggling with all those video calls? Tech company NVIDIA have the solution.
They’ve invented a kind of digital puppetry that can replace the livestream of your face during video calls.
You simply upload a picture of yourself, and switch on your webcam for the call. Instead of sending live video, the AI Video Compression system transmits data on the position of key points on your face, and uses that data to produce a highly realistic animated version. That means far less information to transmit, and less bandwidth needed. It all relies on a form of machine learning called GAN.
The potential win is clear: perfect video calls, even with slow internet!
But something tells me we’d better think about unintended uses, such as new possibilities for impersonation.
🗓️ Also this week
🔭 Mars will shine brighter this month than at any time until 2035. October 13 will be the best night for views of the Red Planet with the naked eye.
🙈 The UK’s ICO has released its final report on Cambridge Analytica. The report says the British firm, implicated in scandals around 2016’s US election and Brexit vote, could not do many of the things it claimed.
✈️ US startup Boom have rolled out a new commercial supersonic jet called Overture. There has been no commercial supersonic travel since Concorde stopped flying in 2003.
🤑 A designer made over $100k via a single tweet that showcased his minimalist iPhone icon designs. iOS 14, released last month, allows users to change their app icons.
🎢 Super Nintendo World will open at Japan’s Universal Studios in Spring 2021. Universal says they’ll bring the Mario-themed adventure world to their US and Singapore theme parks in future.
👨💻 The founder of TechCrunch says a friend of a friend accepted a new job at Facebook without leaving his current one at Google. He’s doing both from home, and no one has noticed. A new remote work trend?
🧑✈️ Microsoft Flight Simulator is heading for VR. If you have the right gear you can now sign up for a private beta.
🕵️ EU lawmakers want to know if Amazon spies on labour unions and political leaders. The company recently posted, and then deleted, job ads for ‘intelligence analyst’ roles that referred to labour unions as ‘threats’ to be monitored.
🛹 One guy riding a skateboard and drinking cranberry juice set the internet on fire. Nathan Apodaca’s viral video sent Fleetwood Mac racing up the charts and boosted sales of soft drink Ocean Spray. Burn your marketing plan; you can’t compete with the chaos.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋♀️ Global population: 7,816,962,087 and counting
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7691845678
🗓️ 2020 progress bar: 77% complete
📖 On this day: On 7 October 1959 the Soviet probe Luna 3 transmits the first photographs to be taken of the far side of the moon.
You’re the puppet
A digital puppet for Zoom calls is pretty cool. If they could just build an AI puppet that can handle email, too…
We at New World Same Humans can’t help you power through your inbox. But we are busy building a community that can supercharge you. And on that front, stand by for a *big* announcement in next week’s email!
Right now, there’s one thing you can do to help: invite more people inside.
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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.