Umair Haque: How advertising blew its biggest chance since the Mad Men

Umair Haque: How advertising blew its biggest chance since the Mad Men

Media’s in cataclysmic shape these days — publishers closing big and small, newspapers going out of business, consolidation and layoffs everywhere — and it’s easy to blame technology.

There was a war that happened here — and media lost. Who won? Well, the truth is that no one did. The monopolies that Google and Facebook made money, sure — but now they face a steep backlash, social ridicule, oversight, and regulation. A pyrrhic victory, if you ask me.

Who started this war for attention? What was at the heart of it? Who should have ended it? The truth is that the lion’s share of responsibility for a fatally broken media industry lies with advertising, not technology. Let us think about it one step at a time.

Ad agencies had two roads before them, as the digital revolution dawned. One, go on selling the same old ads — nuisances, basically, that people had to put up with, in order to get to what they really valued — only in greater volume, because they would be cheaper. Two, innovate — and turn ads into things that people genuinely benefit from a little bit. Road one was an algorithmic, dehumanized road. Road two was the human, creative one.

Which road did the ad industry choose? The easy one, of course — the first one. It turned billboards into banners and glossy magazine ads into “microsites” and so on — at least at first. But nobody clicked. They tried more variations on the theme. Nothing worked. Ads just kept deflating in value — right down from thousands into pennies.

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James Stanford: Shimmering Zen

James Stanford: Shimmering Zen

Las Vegas-based artist James Stanford has a myriad of interests including religion (and artistic impressions of religion), spirituality, and metaphysical concepts including illusionistic fictive space. With work including photomontages and roles including Arts Commissioner for the city, he has recently come to London to show his most recent work. The series, Shimmering Zen, offers kaleidoscopic, almost hallucinotory, visions of real life, digitally adapted and modified. James reflects on his life, his home city, and his life in his home city, below.

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Web Curios 02/02/18

Crikey. For reasons you really don't want to know about but which can accurately be explained by the first picture in this week's Curios I am slightly up against it this week, timings and deadlines wise. 

So that means NO TIME to say a super-special HELLO to all the people who might have come here on Warren Ellis' very kind recommendation (I promise to buy everything you have ever written and will ever write in triplicate, Warren), no time to talk about Auntie May in China or the State of the Union or the honestly chilling sight last night of the Telegraph's Tim Stanley saying - honestly, he really did - that what this country really needs is Jacob Rees-Mogg as Prime Minister and a return to Thatcherism. NO TIME! Which is a shame. 

Still, there's just enough for me to say an extra WELCOME to all the people reading this on Matt Hancock, and to tell you to strap in tight - no, tighter, TIGHTER, by the time we get to the bottom you will practically RELISH the reduced bloodflow to your extremities. This, as ever, is ALL OF THE INTERNET (or the bits that I saw this week) in the form of Web Curios.

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Rachel Coldicutt: Women, Plandids, Power

Rachel Coldicutt: Women, Plandids, Power

I’m going to talk about clothes and body image and identity, and the way that Instagram and other kinds of new technology are changing and challenging how women are seen, and how we see ourselves. And about the importance of whose gaze we’re looking through: men’s, women’s, or robots.

What I’m going to call “the fashion internet” is interesting to me because it’s mostly out of sight of mainstream technology commentary.

From a technical perspective it’s understood that there is, at the moment, a single Internet — an open network of networks in which everything is connected. But not everyone has the same experience of those networks — there is not a single experience that defines the digital world.

It’s fashionable to call this a filter bubble, but it’s no more or less a bubble than the rest of our lives: the networks we inhabit are constructed by our interests, our backgrounds, the people we know. This isn’t simply a consequence of algorithms or personalisation, it’s also because no one can see everything — there’s no digital omniscience.

Read more (Hacker Noon)

Why many click farm jobs should be understood as digital slavery

Why many click farm jobs should be understood as digital slavery

The digital economy has created new opportunities and ways of working. But it has also created millions of tasks or jobs that involve intense competition, unregulated working conditions and extremely low rates of pay.

Driven by the rapid rise of cloud and algorithmic computing, the “platform economy” is dominated by operators such as Uber, Facebook and Google and Amazon Web services. Airbnb and Uber, for example, use the latest cloud tools like Amazon Web services to drive their dominance and cull competition in a wide range of sectors.

While workers in the “app-driven economy” do often make a decent wage, with some measure of legal protection, many others who do “crowdwork” or “micro-tasking” on platforms can find themselves being paid below the minimum wage and without the basic, ethical protections provided by mainstream employers. A growing body of research shows that large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled virtual workers routinely offer their services on such platforms for extremely low pay, with no recourse to the rights and protections accorded to “mainstream” workers and with little hope for alternative ways of making ends meet.

There is also evidence that a majority of these workers are young, relatively skilled and unable, for many reasons, to find decent work that pays a living wage. Sometimes called the “cybertariat”, these workers are unseen, unheard and paid very small amounts of money to do things like write a book or edit a document or manufacture “likes” on a web page.

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Google’s Arts and Culture app and the damaging bias of technology

Google’s Arts and Culture app and the damaging bias of technology

Just a few months ago, Ava Berkofsky explained something that shouldn't have been revelatory, but was: how to properly film black skin. Ms. Berkofsky is the director of photography on the HBO show Insecure and she used a number of lighting and makeup techniques specifically to make sure the black cast looked their best.

The fact that she needed to delve into the topic at all is a result of how film developed. Since the 1940s, Kodak used a system called Shirley Cards that featured white models to adjust the colour accuracy of its film. Consequently, film was always slanted to help white actors look good, while dark-skinned performers were poorly lit.

In one sense, the nature of colour and light on film stemmed from obscure technical decisions. But as a result, dark-skinned people watching film and television have for decades never seen themselves depicted with the same care and range as their fair-skinned counterparts. It is just one more way in which minorities are denied seeing themselves with the fullness and richness of their lives intact.

We often think of technology as a tool or a means to an end. But it is better understood as something that helps us mediate a relationship to the broader world. And if anything, the digital era has exacerbated how tech shapes the way in which we see the world and ourselves. Another recent example: Google's once-obscure Arts and Culture app suddenly went viral after users discovered its ability to match the likeness of selfies they took with famous works of art. It was fun and spread quickly, as everyone posted their matches with various paintings, marvelling at how much they did or did not look like the figures in the paintings chosen by the app.

Read more (The Globe and Mail)

European Union Ethics Advisory Group report 2018: Towards a digital ethics

European Union Ethics Advisory Group report 2018: Towards a digital ethics

The EDPS Ethics Advisory Group (EAG) has carried out its work against the backdrop of two significant social-political moments: a growing interest in ethical issues, both in the public and in the private spheres and the imminent entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018.

For some, this may nourish a perception that the work of the EAG represents a challenge to data protection professionals, particularly to lawyers in the field, as well as to companies struggling to adapt their processes and routines to the requirements of the GDPR. What is the purpose of a report on digital ethics, if the GDPR already provides all regulatory requirements to protect European citizens with regard to the processing of their personal data? Does the existence of this EAG mean that a new normative ethics of data protection will be expected to fill regulatory gaps in data protection law with more flexible, and thus less easily enforceable ethical rules? Does the work of the EAG signal a weakening of the foundation of legal doctrine, such as the rule of law, the theory of justice, or the fundamental values supporting human rights, and a strengthening of a more cultural approach to data protection?

Not at all. The reflections of the EAG contained in this report are not intended as the continuation of policy by other means. It neither supersedes nor supplements the law or the work of legal practitioners. Its aims and means are different. On the one hand, the report seeks to map and analyse current and future paradigm shifts which are characterised by a general shift from analogue experience of human life to a digital one. On the other hand, and in light of this shift, it seeks to re-evaluate our understanding of the fundamental values most crucial to the well-being of people, those taken for granted in a data-driven society and those most at risk.

The objective of this report is thus not to generate definitive answers, nor to articulate new norms for present and future digital societies but to identify and describe the most crucial questions for the urgent conversation to come. This requires a conversation between legislators and data protection experts, but also society at large - because the issues identified in this report concern us all, not only as citizens but also as individuals. They concern us in our daily lives, whether at home or at work and there isn’t a place we could travel to where they would cease to concern us as members of the human species.

Read more (Ethics Advisory Group, PDF)

The looming digital meltdown

The looming digital meltdown

For computer security professionals, 2018 started with a bang. A new class of security vulnerability — a variety of flaws that affect almost all major microprocessor chips, and that could enable hackers to steal information from personal computers as well as cloud computing services — was announced on Wednesday. The news prompted a rush of fixes, ruining the holiday vacations of system administrators worldwide.

For an ordinary computer user, there is not much to panic about right now. Just keep your software updated so you receive the fixes. And consider installing an ad-blocker like uBlock Origin to protect against ads that carry malware that could exploit these vulnerabilities. That is about all you can do.

However, as a citizen of a world in which digital technology is increasingly integrated into all objects — not just phones but also cars, baby monitors and so on — it is past time to panic.

We have built the digital world too rapidly. It was constructed layer upon layer, and many of the early layers were never meant to guard so many valuable things: our personal correspondence, our finances, the very infrastructure of our lives. Design shortcuts and other techniques for optimization — in particular, sacrificing security for speed or memory space — may have made sense when computers played a relatively small role in our lives. But those early layers are now emerging as enormous liabilities. The vulnerabilities announced last week have been around for decades, perhaps lurking unnoticed by anyone or perhaps long exploited.

Read more (NYT)

Web Curios 26/01/18

Web Curios 26/01/18

Whilst ordinarily following a week like that we've just seen I'd be fully entitled to go FULL DYSTOPIAN HOWL, you're spared that specific horror this week - so you'll have to imagine all my white-hot takes on the Presidents Club and the rest, as I am running LATE. 

That said, for the few new people who might have come to Curios in the past few weeks or months, I thought it might be useful to do a quick recap of, well, what this is. So:

  • What is this?: It's Web Curios, the longest and least-selectively edited weekly linkdump on the web! Delivered every week (well, ish) to your inboxes and to Imperica around about 1230 on a Friday, give or take a few minutes. 
  • Who are you?: I'm Matt, nice to meet you.
  • Why is this so LONG?: Two main reasons; there is a LOT of webspaff produced every week, and I have appalling quality control
  • Who do you do this for?: Charming. Myself, mainly - I tend to find that if I don't do this almost weekly I get what feels basically like a fatberg of information building up between my ears (insert your own 'that's your BRAIN ahaha' gag here, but know that I judge you for so doing). 
  • What's in Curios?: Depends on the weekly link harvest, but the top section is always about social media platform news and stuff about advermarketingpr; the second and third are MISCELLANEOUS LINKS, the fourth is Tumblrs, the sixth is the best of the longreads I've consumed that week, and the final one is new videos music or otherwise. 
  • Why the desperately unfunny section headings?: I am a sucker for a running gag, even if the only person who recognises it as such is me
  • How do you DO this every week?: I have a very, very limited 'social' 'life'.
  • Can I nick all this great insight and pass it off as my own each week, thereby making myself look better to my agency colleagues and piggybacking shamelessly on your effort and curiosity?: I am your humble servant. 
  • Must you do the shouty caps thing?: YES.

GREAT! Well, now we're all caught up, and as we wait for Donald In Davos - and, on that note, the spectacle of a billionaire idiot, in his role as 'most immediately powerful man in the world', delivering a barely coherent address about why he is great to a roomful of other billionaires, some idiots, some possibly geniuses, who will then all get together and decide, based on their collective wills and whims, how the world is going to work for the rest of us, is enough to make even me, a reasonably rational person, start to get a bit BILDERBERG BILDERBERG LIZARDS ILLUMINATIE EYES AND PYRAMIDS OH MY DAYS about everything - let's CRACK ON WITH THE LINKS! It's another 8,000 word hit of web, RIGHT IN THE MAIN VEIN. This, as ever, is Web Curios!

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Artificial Intelligence – ethics essential

Artificial Intelligence – ethics essential

As data pools get bigger and ever more complex, we increasingly use artificial intelligence to make sense of it all and inform decisions. That creates an ethical need to demonstrate those decisions are fair.

Street Bump, an app used by the City of Boston to extrapolate the state of roads from mobile phone data, ran into such ethical problems. The poorest people in the more run down parts of the city made the fewest trips, so collected the least data. That meant resources were naturally funnelled to wealthier areas where there was more information.

In this case the problem was identified and solved, but it’s easy to see how AI could create a big ethical dilemma.

But if ethical considerations in AI programmes are to be of use, they must be built in by design rather than bolted on.

That’s why we have three questions for organisations to ask themselves before implementing AI systems.

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New trend report: elastic generation – the female edit

New trend report: elastic generation – the female edit

Women in their 50s, 60s and early 70s are active, engaged and involved. Pillars of family, community and society, nothing they do is motivated by their age. It’s time for brands to take age out of the equation.

We need to ditch the tired stereotypes. These women are living according to how they feel rather than how they ought, pushing the boundaries of expectation and upending the status quo. Ever the generation of rebels, they are reinventing life past fifty, as they forge the path others will follow.

Our macro trend report covered the period May 2017 to December 2017 and comprised several methodologies including:

A survey of 248 UK women aged 53-72 conducted using SONAR™, J. Walter Thompson’s proprietary online tool. We also surveyed 276 UK men for comparison.UK data from the JWT Women’s Index Study, a global quantitative survey speaking to a nationally representative sample of women aged 17-70 years.A week-long online community of 24 UK-based respondents that answered questions about their own behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyles.In-depth interviews with experts and influencers across sectors including beauty, fashion, wellness, and art.

Read more (JWT)

Ben Eine's letters go large

Ben Eine's letters go large

Those of you familiar with Shoreditch would have seen the big single letters of the alphabet, in a Victorian-esque font, adorning doors and shutters throughout the area. They are the work of Ben Eine, whose latest work is 17,000 square metres in size.

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Evgeny Morozov: digital intermediation of everything - the intersection of politics, technology and finance

Evgeny Morozov: digital intermediation of everything - the intersection of politics, technology and finance

The reason why most of contemporary reflections on the digital condition fail to excite is simple: one can only understand today’s digital world by seeing it as the intersection of complex logics driving the worlds of politics, technology, and finance. Grasping a phenomenon such as the rise of Uber, for example, is next to impossible without understanding where its funds — raised from sovereign wealth funds and investment powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs — come from.

Likewise, Uber's ability to cheaply draw on a large pool of supposedly autonomous and independent drivers can only be understood in the context of the liberalisation of labour markets and the growing precarity of service work in general.

The conventional fairy tales that we tell ourselves about digital technology — they usually involve a bunch of hoody-wearing twenty-somethings barricaded in the proverbial garage praying to the

Schumpeterian god of creative destruction — end up glorifying the entrepreneurial heroes while concealing the broader historical forces at play. Trying not to abandon various political and historical dimensions to the rise of Big Tech, this essay will attempt to elucidate five major features of today’s digital society that bear some relevance for struggles against anti-democratic, extremist, and xenophobic forces that appear to be on the rise worldwide.

This essay will proceed in two parts. The first, more descriptive part will summarise the five trends and explain their broader political and cultural significance; for the sake of convenience, I will address each trend in a dedicated subsection. The second, more normative part, will discuss the kinds of cultural, artistic, and scientific interventions that could address the numerous problems raised earlier.

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Galeria Jaqueline Martins comes to London

Galeria Jaqueline Martins comes to London

Galeria Jaqueline Martins in São Paulo has come to London as part of Condo, a collective exhibition by 46 galleries across 17 London spaces. König London in Marylebone is currently showing the Galeria's works, including those shown below.

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Inside Britain’s meme factory

Inside Britain’s meme factory

On a high wall in the corner of Social Chain’s Manchester office, with a look of serene exasperation, Jesus Christ looks down on the sea of millennials and Generation Zedders (or whatever the dominant term is for the under-20s this month) tapping out tweets and social media stories. The mural, which stretches across the width of the office, is a riff on Leonardo’s The Last Supper. The faces of the disciples at the table, however, are not dipped towards plates of food, but into glowing screens. There’s Luke, gawping at an Instagram story on his phone. There’s Judas, tittering into an iPad. Christ, meanwhile, stands at the centre of the table, flanked by his inattentive followers, shoulders shrugged, palms upturned in part vexation, part resignation.

It’s a fitting mural for this three-year-old startup, not because of the implication that social media turns our gaze from higher thoughts, but because it is, to use a term often heard in Social Chain’s office, relatable. Who hasn’t, at one time or another, played the role of either Jesus and Judas at the dinner table, distracted by the buzzing of their Twitter or Facebook notifications, or silently fuming at a sibling’s unending fascination with the world inside their phone?

Read more (Guardian)

Web Curios 19/01/18

BUILD A BRIDGE TO FRANCE! I'll tell you an other way to cement our ties with continental Europe, Johnson, you colossal ballsac...ah, no, no negativity! Let's be positive! Let's SMILE! Web Curios' resolution to ensnare new readers with a sunnier, more positive outlook has lasted into the third week of 2018 which is, frankly, longer than I expected - such an achieve, and it's only January!

This edition of Web Curios is dedicated to all the poor buggers at Buzzfeed who've spent the past week sending 'last day at Buzzfeed' tweets and by so doing painting the picture of a company that really has managed to spaff an astonishing amount of VC cash up the wall with nothing approaching a business model to show for it. Good luck in the content farms, everyone, and thanks for all the words. 

But you're not here for (surprisingly sincere, on reflection) goodbyes to journalists - you're here for LINKS! And oh my DAYS do we have links for you here at Curios - fat links, skinny links, funny links, scary links, and links which, should you click them, will forever give you the scarred and haunted air of One Who Has Seen Too Much. Roll up, roll up, step inside the tent, adjust your eyes to the gloom and CLICK YOUR LIFE AWAY. 

This, as ever, is Web Curios.

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Is paying for art with Bitcoin the future?

Is paying for art with Bitcoin the future?

Cryptocurrencies have been generating quite a buzz these past couple of years, causing massive disruptions to various industries by changing the way things are being done. These disruptions are evident in banking, trading, finance, commerce, and technology. Now, it seems like cryptocurrencies are making a beeline for the unlikeliest of worlds—the art world.

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Malware specifically designed to compromise nuclear and industrial facilities is leaked

Malware specifically designed to compromise nuclear and industrial facilities is leaked

Multinational industrial services company Schneider Electric recently uncovered malware which was purposefully designed to shut down its safety controllers... you know, the types of control boxes used in nuclear power plants.

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Could AI be the cure for workplace gender inequality?

Could AI be the cure for workplace gender inequality?

Artificial intelligence is beginning to replace many of the workplace roles that men dominate. The parts of those jobs that will have staying power are those that rely more heavily on emotional intelligence — skills in which women typically excel.

Many researchers are reporting, and our research confirms, that artificial intelligence (AI) will reshape our economy — and the roles of workers and leaders along with it. Jobs that don’t disappear will see a significant shift as the tasks that are easily and inexpensively accomplished by robots become automated. The work that remains will very likely focus on relating. To adapt and prosper, the smart worker will invest in “human relating” skills — empathy, compassion, influence, and engagement. For simplicity, let’s call these emotional quotient (EQ) skills. These are skills in which women commonly excel.

Gender differences are a sensitive topic and we address them in this article with trepidation. There is a fine line between understanding commonalities and stereotyping, and the debate about nature versus nurture is robust. But whether you believe that men and women, on average, have different types of brains (as Simon Baron-Cohen, a British clinical psychologist and professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, has theorized) or that gender differences are a result of cultural norms and conditioning (as numerous other studies have explored), the real-world results are similar: Men and women, on average, excel in different dimensions and take on different roles in the workforce. By no means does that suggest that men and women are not equal — just different.

It is clear that men have quite an advantage in the working world — just check out the latest research by McKinsey & Co. on gender equality in the workplace. Men have greater representation among leadership roles, greater presence in higher-paid industries, hold nearly 80% of board seats, and earn higher compensation on average, even for the same jobs.

We believe that AI has the ability to help level the playing field. It will do so, we think, by replacing many roles and functions where men typically dominate.

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Don't be evil: Fred Turner on utopias, frontiers, and brogrammers

Don't be evil: Fred Turner on utopias, frontiers, and brogrammers

Fred Turner is one of the world’s leading authorities on Silicon Valley. A professor at Stanford and a former journalist, he has written extensively on the politics and culture of tech. We sat down with him to discuss how Silicon Valley sees itself, and what it means when the tech industry says it wants to save the world.

Let’s start with the idea that technology is always a force for good. This strain of thought is pervasive in Silicon Valley. Where does it come from? What are its origins?

It owes its origins to 1960s communalism. A brief primer on the counterculture: there were actually two countercultures. One, the New Left, did politics to change politics. It was very much focused on institutions, and not really afraid of hierarchy.

The other—and this is where the tech world gets its mojo—is what I've called the New Communalists. Between 1966 and 1973, we had the largest wave of commune building in American history. These people were involved in turning away from politics, away from bureaucracy, and toward a world in which they could change their consciousness. They believed small-scale technologies would help them do that. They wanted to change the world by creating new tools for consciousness transformation.

This is the tradition that drives claims by companies like Google and Facebook that they are making the world a better place by connecting people. It's a kind of connectionist politics. Like the New Communalists, they are imagining a world that’s completely leveled, in which hierarchy has been dissolved. They’re imagining a world that’s fundamentally without politics.

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