Episode  MSP59  Heads Will Roll [Reasons To Be Cheerful 2019]
Episode  MSP59  Heads Will Roll [Reasons To Be Cheerful 2019]
2018 was a year of stark contrasts in the tech industry. Will 2019 be the year we fight back against the power of the giants?
These shows are dictated to and transcribed by machines, and hurriedly edited by a human. Apologies for the minor typos and grammar flaws.
When you sit back and look at everything that happened in 2018, you might think that there’s not much to look forward to in 2019. Not true, reckons Kulturpop’s Matt Armitage. This is a great time to be alive. It’s time he explained.
Really, you’re full of hope for 2019?
· Yes. I know things look a little dark right now.
· The world economy seems to be blowing up.
· The planet is doing its best to exterminate us.
· We’ve got madmen in charge.
· But look at the postives: we’ve got really small bezels on our smartphones.
The world is going to hell in a handbasket and you’re happy with screen technology?
· On a personal level, no.
· OLED & AMOLED screens give me blinding headaches, so I have to search amongst the small number of LCD screened phones that are still out there.
· Thankfully, Apple, being a generation or two behind most makers, still has a few models but you’re buying less for a lot more money.
· Especially when it comes to working Bluetooth.
Why is this making you happy?
· This is still the greatest time to be alive.
· How many of your relatives died of smallpox or plague last year?
· In fact, we’re so blasé about medicine that preventable deaths from diseases like measles are increasing because we’re too caught up in unfounded conspiracy theories about links to autism.
Still not getting the happiness…
· Because you now have the luxury of not saving the people we love.
· It’s not much more than a few decades ago that we would have given anything we could to a doctor to cure our loved ones.
· Now that so many diseases are treatable, we can actually choose to go to websites selling crystals instead of seeing doctors.
You have a very strange way of looking at things…
· We live in an amazing time.
· We have almost every fact in the world, instantly searchable, at our fingertips.
· We have machines doing most of the hard work for us.
· Transport that is reliable, fast and rarely breaks down.
· In most places there is an abundance of cheap food.
· We have, by all measures of human experience, a wonderful life.
So, why don’t things seem so great?
· We haven’t adapted to all these things yet.
· Our brains are reeling from all that information and trying to figure out what’s true.
· And the things that are true are often really complicated, so it’s easier to believe simple things that are untrue, like the world being flat.
· Or vaccination programmes being part of a secret world conspiracy to make George Soros, the secret Sith Lord in Star Wars, ruler of the world.
· But it’s still incredible that we can believe in nonsense and for the most part, no one’s trying to kill us.
Let’s help everyone see the world through your kaleidoscopic goggles. Let’s start with social media and the big tech companies. Why are their failings a good thing?
· Because the false gods have fallen away from our eyes.
· During the first dot com boom, we venerated companies like Yahoo and AOL and MySpace.
· We weren’t really that focused on the people that ran them.
· Steve Jobs has a lot to do with changing our mindset.
· Suddenly the founder was the company.
Didn’t we do the same with Bill Gates and Microsoft?
· Not to the same degree. And that was largely the public trying to conflate the two.
· Look at how successfully he’s negotiated his post Microsoft phase.
· We wanted him to personify the brand, but really he ran the company.
· And someone else ran the company after.
· Tim Cook has been running Apple for seven years and we still say stuff like, well, that would never have happened with Steve Jobs in charge.
· We don’t look at Satya Nadella and say what would Bill Gates have done.
· Jobs was Apple in most people’s eyes, and that’s become the model of the tech boss in the noughties and teens.
· We can’t think about Facebook without picturing Mark Zuckerberg, or tesla without elon musk.
You’re saying that the scandals are a good thing?
· No. That would mean I was one of the Lords of Chaos that are profiting from this transition period.
· The scandals are a terrible thing.
· But they’re a by-product of lax and lazy law-making, and from us believing the hype,
o that these guys were going to deliver us all from tyranny and oppression and poverty and lead us into a world of leisure and wealth.
· As history has shown, and as Malaysia proved in 2018, other people aren’t going to give you freedom
· People deliver themselves from tyranny when they reject the lies
o and discard the people that treated them with contempt.
What’s the upside of everything that’s going on at Facebook?
· It’s been a while since I got onto my high horse about how we pay for these sites.
· I think a lot of people are starting to see that the free-to-user, ad funded model doesn’t work.
People won’t pay…
· They don’t want to pay.
· TV was traditionally one of those things that people didn’t want to pay for.
· Now, most of us hardly watch free-to-air stations anymore.
· We have cable, and Netflix and Amazon and HBO.
· Music services like Spotify and Apple Music are chipping away at our resistance towards paying for content.
There’s still a lot of resistance…
· If you said to someone in the 1970s that they would have to pay not only for a TV set but for the content they watched, they would probably have laughed in your face.
· Because the business model was free to air.
· It isn’t anymore. Is it more difficult to change our mindset to social media than it was to change our mindset to TV?
· Facebook is free to use because that was the prevailing Internet model at the time, the idea of the longtail and the belief that we would be able to fly around the world FOC as long as we watched enough ads on the inflight TV screens.
You think the mood is changing?
· Yes, because people have finally woken up to the value of the data they produce.
· Look at the generation of kids that isn’t signing up to FB and other SM sites.
· They know their worth. They keep their data behind encrypted walls and only share a vision of their lives that they want the world to see.
· Older generations are finally getting it too.
· Facebook is free to use but that doesn’t make it good value.
· You are worth more to them, and waking up to that value is fundamental to forcing the site to change its models.
What would you like to see them do in 2019?
· I want them to introduce a paid-tier which is free of advertising and algorithm focused incentives.
· Right now, FB has to keep us on the site as much as possible. Otherwise they won’t make money.
· More time on the site means the more ads and the more targeted content we consume.
· They should be treating it like a gym membership - give us enough bait that we sign up and keep paying, but not so much that we want to spend more time there than is strictly necessary.
· Increasingly with LI there isn’t much you can do without paying them some money.
· I’m not a big fan of the site – it isn’t fun enough, and I guess it isn’t supposed to be, but at the same time it doesn’t lend itself to content creation the way a site like Medium does.
· But as a business model it works. You pay for what you need and spend only as much time there as necessary.
· LI is a business site, so it’s right that we treat it like work.
You write on Medium, don’t you?
· Yes, and I deliver most of my content there behind the paywall.
· Not because I’ve got such a huge audience that I’m raking it in,
· But because I think the things I write and the other authors I read there have value.
· Even if it doesn’t really benefit me, yet anyway.
How do you deal with the cost aspect? Surely we can’t afford to pay for absolutely everything?
· It’s weird isn’t it. When we talk about going online we say we can’t afford everything.
· You would never dream of walking up to the register in a supermarket, with a jam-packed trolley and telling the cashier you were taking everything but could only afford to pay for a box of teabags.
You’re so English…
· Ok, a packet of Maggi, then.
· No one would do that but it’s what we do on the Internet everyday.
· What this Facebook nonsense has done is reintroduce that concept of value.
· It’s made people to wake up to the fact they aren’t Facebook’s customers.
· That Facebook isn’t working in their interests.
· That they’re getting a bad deal. Gosh - I sound like Donald Trump.
· People aren’t happy that their personal information is being turned over to third parties to use who knows how?
· That their feeds are being manipulated by intermediaries of foreign governments.
· Those things impose a high social cost on users, but that realisation will probably have a much more consequential financial impact on Facebook,
o one that should nudge it towards models that will protect us or we do what the kids are doing and desert it for encrypted private messaging services.
It’s a strange reason to be cheerful as we head into the break.
· But that change is necessary.
· You can think of 2017 and 2018 as being a bit like lying in bed with food poisoning or a migraine.
· 2019 is when we start feeling a bit better, we open the curtains and see the blue sky shining through and start thinking about what we’re going to do with such a lovely day.
Before the break, we were looking at some of Matt’s stranger reasons for being cheerful in 2018.
Why else are you happy with the world of technology as we head into a new year?
· Amazon, actually.
· Another one of our popular episodes was Ep31, Amazon’s Age of Empire.
· Another one where people thought I was making a bit of a fuss.
· And then, with their HQ2 proposal, hundreds of US cities started competing with each other to build Amazon a campus.
· I framed it as Game of Thrones – because Amazon was always going to be the winner, while a lot of other pundits compared it to the Hunger Games, making cities fight to the death for the chance of some food from the retail giant.
You’re happy that Amazon turned the US on its head?
· Again, this is another one of those pulling the wool from the eyes type moments.
· We hear about the sweetheart deals that big companies extract from governments, councils or municipal bodies when they offer to build a plant or a campus.
· This is especially common in the tech industry where the staff are often highly skilled and highly paid.
· The idea is that money will flood into the surrounding area and more than pay for the sugar lumps the company received.
These deals aren’t a secret…
· They most certainly aren’t.
· Everyone likes to think of these things as conspiracies and plots.
· And they aren’t. They’re there, in plain sight. Nothing underhand about them.
· But that doesn’t make them unethical or amoral.
· So it was good that the Amazon deal become a national news item, with the media even reporting where Jeff Bezos plane was headed next.
· That exposure has brought more awareness of the enormous sums of money big companies are given that effectively subsidise their cost of business.
Exposure is one thing, but why should this make us happy? How will it change anything?
· People often ask how companies like Amazon manage to sell stuff, so cheaply.
· We see the glamourous campus in a prestigious location, the slick websites and the customer friendly AI.
· We don’t look at the flipside that make some of those companies so profitable.
· The tax breaks, the offshoring, questionable working conditions and minimum wage payments.
· HQ2 lifted another part of the lid into that world.
· People want to know why their taxes are subsidising big companies to the tune of billions of dollars.
· It’s not just a few well-meaning journalists howling at the wind any more.
· People are starting to understand how much the low prices are costing them in the long run.
Doesn’t that just mean fewer jobs and more automation? Or are you cheerful about that too?
· One of the few things about the rise of populism, whether it’s techno populism or political populism is that it holds people to account.
· Look at the US government shutdown…
You can’t find much to be happy about there…
· These are very strange times.
· And I’m precisely the kind of person very strange times were made for.
· Media was reporting that a deal had been reached and a shutdown would be averted.
· But there was an outcry from President trump’s base that he was caving with no money for his wall.
· That base is the reason for the shutdown.
I’m not seeing the happy…
· This isn’t a show about populism or its inherent dangers.
· But in a way it is about participatory democracy and the will of the people, if only a smallish bunch of them.
· What we’re seeing across the spectrum is a realisation by people that they have power and agency.
· That the people they elect or the companies they use work for them.
· Are we heading for somewhere more cheerful?
I think we can see where you’re heading. I’m not sure if the happy ever after is guaranteed though…
· Younger listeners might not remember this from the end of the Looney Tunes cartoons…
· PLAY CLIP That’s All Folks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9434BoGkNQ
· That’s All Folks kinda sums up our relationship with the tech companies over the last 20 years.
· They invent it, release it and tell us how it’s going to be.
· They forgot that we’re the ones who tell them how it is.
· Part of the backlash a lot of companies are feeling right now is that realisation that ‘That’s All Folks’ doesn’t work on us anymore.
· And that the folks who have been happy are the wrong folks.
· Yes. A lot of companies seem to have considered there share price to be the holy grail.
· That the shareholders needs come first.
· They forget that the money they give to those shareholders comes from people like us.
This is your farm analogy?
· Yes. The idea of social media companies being a farm, and rather than us being the customers, we’re the cattle that are looked after and fed so that we can be sold on to the real customers, the data mining companies and their clients and shareholders.
· The thing is, we aren’t cattle.
· And those companies haven’t done enough to take care of us.
· So even if you subscribe to the idea of benevolent patricianship, those companies have failed in their duty of care.
· And the people that aren’t their customers are starting to realise that they should be the customers.
· That makes me optimistic about 2019.
If I’ve got this right, you’re even happy about the DNA modded babies that were announced in China last month?
· Yeah. DNA hacking is something we’ve covered on the show a fair bit this year.
· And it’s ferociously hard to understand the science behind it, which is one of the reasons that most people don’t think about it too much.
· However, it’s tremendously easy to do, even without much background knowledge.
· It’s a bit like following the recipe for a particularly difficult cake.
Your first few times you’re going to mess it up…
· But you’ll make a passable, or at least edible, version at some point.
· I’m not happy that we have designer babies.
· Not I’m pleased that we’re finally having the conversations.
· With technology – this whole social media and fake news nonsense – part of the reason is that we have our heads in the sand.
· The technology zips along but we refuse to talk about its implications.
That really annoys you, doesn’t it?
· A bit. Because I’m so focused on the future.
· I’m trying to imagine what the world will look like with all these competing technologies in it, and of course, trying to figure out what technologies come next.
· So, yeah, it does feel like I’m playing a game of I told you so a lot of the time.
· And I’m happy to say I’m often wrong, especially about some of the darker stuff.
· But that’s what today is about.
People choosing to pull back from the darker stuff?
· So earlier you asked me, am I happy about automation?
· Yes I am. I’m happy about automation. I’m happy about AI.
· I’m happy about gene research. Quantum computing.
· Nano tech. blockchain. The collapse of cry[to currencies. Renewable energy.
· What I’m not happy about are the politicians who regulate those industries or the companies trying to control them.
· Or the people who think it’s too hard to think or talk about these subjects.
You think we’re ready for these conversations?
· No. I think we’ve realised that we have to have the conversations, whether we’re ready or not.
· And that we need political or social leaders who are up to the task of having those conversations.
I think we’ve all seen the huge gap between some lawmakers and the tech they are supposed to regulate…
· A couple of weeks ago, one US Congressman seriously asked Google’s CEO about a game on his grand-daughter’s iphone and had to be told they were made by a different company.
· He then admitted that he didn’t know if his granddaughter’s phone was an apple or android device.
· We laugh but these people pass laws that affect hundreds of millions, even billions of people.
· This year saw the introduction of the most sweeping data laws and controls the world has ever seen…
The GDPR in the EU?
· Yes, And because so many companies trade globally, pretty much everyone who’s online is GDPR compliant.
· But those regulations haven’t protected us at all.
· As I’ve said before: GDPR is best set of technology regulations that the year 2014 could have had.
· But they’re not up to the task of governing 2018, the of their introduction.
Again, struggling to see the silver lining there…
· Up until now, we didn’t care.
· Would it have been better if these regulations had been put in place years ago? Without doubt.
· At least now we can all see the gap between the world of law and the world of technology.
· And as troubling as that is, it’s the essential step that’s needed to get them fixed.
· Ask political candidates to explain the difference between Android and IOS. Make them tell you how the Internet works.
· If they can’t, give your vote to someone who can.
· We don’t owe politicians a living.
It’s all that simple?
· It’s not simple at all.
· But I’ve been talking on the show the last couple of years that we’ve been waltzing into the dark.
· The future isn’t set. It isn’t certain. We have to be able to trust the people who are working to secure that future for us.
· Automation again – if robots put us out of work, then we have to have societies and economic systems that enable us to have a sense of purpose and a decent standard of living.
· Those systems will be radically new and unlike anything we’ve seen before.
That’s a very strange reason to be cheerful…
· No. Because until now we’ve trusted other people to make those decisions for us.
· For companies, it’s far more profitable – in the short terms at least – to ignore what we need and want, while selling us the lie that they are user focused.
· I’m cheerful because we’re making them listen to us.
· It’s not exactly storming the Bastille, but at the top of tech, some heads are starting to roll.