“Are You Really the Product?” Will Oremus asks on Slate, and hints at his answer with the subtitle for his piece: “The history of a dangerous idea.” Before getting to the meat of the argument, he gives an unexpected history of the phrase “If you aren’t paying for it, you aren’t the customer, you’re the product.” …


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We must renew trust in our institutions!

I spoke a few months ago with Philip Howard, the head of the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute. In the course of our conversation about the use of bots and fake social media profiles to game Facebook’s algorithms in order to influence the US election, I asked him whether the US intelligence agencies were asleep about the possibilities of the Internet to spread micro-targeted disinformation.

Not all, he replied. They were well aware of the techniques the Russians had used, and even had used them themselves against other countries. They just never imagined, he said, that they would be turned on the US. They were the kind of thing that were used against banana republics, with corrupt institutions and low trust in government. …


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There’s a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton in which Thomas Jefferson, who has been away as ambassador to France after the American Revolution, comes home and sings, “What’d I miss?”

We all have “What’d I miss?” moments, and authors of books most of all. Unlike the real-time publishing platforms of the web, where the act of writing and the act of publishing are nearly contemporaneous, months or even years can pass between the time a book is written and the time it is published. …


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W e are all fools in one way or another. Fools for love, fools for vanity, fools for greed and arrogance, laziness and envy.

In the fourth century AD, the Egyptian hermit Evagrius the Solitary classified human failings into eight major groups. In 590, Pope Gregory I revised Evagrius’ list to create the canonical seven deadly sins of the Catholic Church: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride, which were to be defeated by the cultivation of the corresponding virtues of chastity, temperance, generosity (charity), diligence, patience, gratitude, and humility.

The struggle against vice and for virtue — what Aristotle called “the control of the appetites by reason” — is a constant. Laws punish, or at least threaten, our most egregious failings, and the cultivation of virtue of one kind or another thrives in venues as distinct as churches, diet and addiction programs, meditation studios, and CrossFit gyms. There are entire industries of self-improvement designed to help us overcome our real or perceived failings. …


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That’s the title of my new book, due out on October 10 from Harper Business in the US, and on October 17 from Penguin Random House in the UK. The book won’t be on sale till October 10, but you can pre-order on Amazon now!

WTF? can be an expression of amazement or an expression of dismay. In today’s economy, we have far too much dismay along with our amazement, and technology bears some of the blame.

In the book, I share some of the techniques we’ve used at O’Reilly Media to make sense of and predict past innovation waves such as the commercialization of the internet, open source software, the internet as a platform, big data, open government, and the maker movement. I apply those same techniques to provide a framework for thinking about how today’s world-spanning platforms and networks, on-demand services, and artificial intelligence are changing the nature of business, education, government, financial markets, and the economy as a whole. I give tools for understanding how all the parts of modern digital businesses work together to create marketplace advantage and customer value, and why ultimately, they cannot succeed unless their ecosystem succeeds along with them. …


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We hear again and again that AI and robots are going to take away human jobs. My broken kettle says otherwise.

Yesterday, I set my electric kettle down awkwardly on the edge of the sink. Crash! It toppled over and smashed. I searched Amazon for a replacement, found several that were highly rated, and within minutes had placed an order. As a Prime customer, I had the option for same day delivery, by 6 pm, and so I brewed this morning’s tea without interruption or inconvenience.

Remember when it was amazing that Amazon offered free two-day shipping? Then free one-day shipping? Now for many products, it’s a matter of hours before your order is on your doorstep. …


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How I traced the falsity of one internet meme, and what that teaches us about how an algorithm might do it

I have a brother who is a big Donald Trump fan, and he frequently sends me articles from various right-wing media sources. Last week, he sent me a variant of the image above.

I immediately consulted Snopes, the fact checking site for internet hoaxes, and discovered that it was, as I expected, fake. According to Snopes, these are actually both electoral maps. Per Snopes, “On 11 November 2016, the Facebook page “Subject Politics” published two maps purportedly comparing the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election with the 2013 crime rate in in the U.S…. The map pictured on the bottom actually shows a 2012 electoral map that was created by Mark Newman from the Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan.” …


I was really struck by the coverage of the Hamilton cast statement last night. The video is above. Please watch it before reading.

Donald Trump, of course, described the cast’s statement in the worst possible light.

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I am sad that Trump’s reaction to a polite and respectful expression of First Amendment rights, a public statement on an important issue, should be to cast it as rudeness. It is even more sad that he has found time to say next to nothing in response to actual rudeness or far worse by his own followers. But I also wonder whether he actually watched the statement, or just read the coverage of it. …


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We have to change the incentives that encourage companies to choose boosting their stock price over investing in people and the real economy!

Can Trump Save Their Jobs?” the headline in today’s New York Times Sunday Business section trumpets, below a photo of two disgruntled workers from a Carrier factory that is leaving Indianapolis for Monterrey, Mexico. The subtitle adds “The president-elect predicted he would stop a Carrier factory from moving to Mexico. Workers at the plant expect him to follow through.”

The focus of the article was the difficulties that Trump may face in coming through on his campaign promises. But that wasn’t the most interesting part of the article. I was struck once again, as I was when I first heard the story of Carrier closing their Indianapolis plant and moving the jobs to Mexico, by a major false note in the…


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Since Tuesday’s election, there’s been a lot of finger pointing, and many of those fingers are pointing at Facebook, arguing that their newsfeed algorithms played a major role in spreading misinformation and magnifying polarization. Some of the articles are thoughtful in their criticism, others thoughtful in their defense of Facebook, while others are full of the very misinformation and polarization that they hope will get them to the top of everyone’s newsfeed. But all of them seem to me to make a fundamental error in how they are thinking about media in the age of algorithms.

Consider Jessica Lessin’s argument in The…

About

Tim O'Reilly

Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media. Watching the alpha geeks, sharing their stories, helping the future unfold.

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