In mid-May of 2018, an internal video from advertising-technology company Google leaked to the public. Produced by Nick Foster, the design head of Google’s experimental lab X, the video dove into a thought experiment: if all of one’s actions online can be recorded, could they be synthesized to better inform future generations’ own? The video analogized this digital ledger with a genetic organism, which — like the physical gene — may have the inherent drive to reproduce itself. So Google must jump in, ready to guide the digital gene — a supposed template for future digital/physical lives — with advanced tools to point out good behavior in purchasing and daily habits. Essentially, Google may reinvent itself as a morality company, with its advertising division the key to a higher human and better future.

What if the ledger could be given a volition or purpose rather than simply acting as a historical reference? What if we focused on creating a richer ledger by introducing more sources of information? What if we thought of ourselves not as the owners of this information, but as custodians, transient carriers, or caretakers?

Foster appears to ignore that the drive of epistemology and philosophy and betterment is in fact the Historical Reference — that is, the millions of textual and oral histories that are sifted and filtered to produce a certain narrative line, enabling a sequence of events to be intelligible. And doubly ignored: that (the) Historical Reference(s) are ceaselessly given purpose — for better or worse, as we can see in the successes and follies of humankind; the cruelty, breakthroughs, wars, and genius inherent to giving volition to ideas concocted from the Historical Reference. We have never stopped being the custodians, transient carriers, and caretakers of the Purposeful Historical Reference, sweeping away whole histories inconvenient or unintelligible — that we now sit on the Historical Reference, pockmarked with miles-wide and pitch black holes resulting from our faithful — fateful — custodianship over the ugly and bad and beautiful and good.

I find Foster’s willful ignorance admirable and innocent, the musings of an egomaniac that has discovered blessedness in their techno-idealisms. He believes that an advertising-technology company, doing what they do best — selling ads — could unlock the secrets of “depression, health, and poverty.” Who knew that making the Historical Reference — richer — also known as throwing one’s own two cents into the ocean — could finally break open the nut of the silent, the internal afflictions that don’t speak through digital purchases or relationships or movement. With this video, Foster has already contributed a huge insight for future healthcare: depression buys bananas too!


micronotes: On LED and Sodium-Based Lights

Hal Espen for The Atlantic in 2011:

“Mankind is proceeding to envelop itself in a luminous fog,” wrote the authors of a paper on artificial night-sky brightness in 2001. This “perennial moonlight” that we’ve created enhances our safety and security, but it also dims our view of 10,000 stars and destroys the dance of light and dark.

Jeff Hecht for IEEE:

When my city of Newton, Mass., announced plans to install LED streetlights in 2014, I was optimistic. I’m all for energy conservation, and I was happy with the LED bulbs in my home office. But months later, returning from a week’s vacation in rural Maine, I was shocked to find my neighborhood lit by a stark bluish blaze that washed out almost all of the stars in the night sky.

University of Exeter:

Dr. Davies added: “While these approaches helped to reduce the number of ground dwelling spider and beetle species affected by LED lighting to varying degrees, our study also shows that avoiding these impacts may ultimately require avoiding the use of LEDs and night-time lighting more generally.”

Bob King for Universe Today:

To gauge the approximate difference in brightness between the two, I pulled out my camera and took a light meter reading on the pavement beneath an LED lamp and then under a high-pressure sodium lamp. The LED was brighter by more than more than one camera “stop” or more than twice as bright.

Robert Leeming for Lux Review:

The American Medical Association (AMA) sent shockwaves through the industry a few months ago by stating in a report that the blue light emitted from LED street-lighting could cause sleep problems as well as adverse risks when driving, guidelines the respected body has since officially adopted.

It’s hard to imagine that just fifty years ago, the United States was much dimmer, with electrical infrastructure slowly building out since the 1930s or 40s. Baby Boomers through Millenials have been bathed in streetlight their whole lives; do we naturally develop an avoidance of darkened streets?

Right outside my bedroom window is an light that has more than once fooled me into thinking it was still day time at 9 pm. I have issues falling asleep, but I can blame that on bad sleeping practices in general. But what if it’s the light that we’ve built around ourselves? And what is going to happen to future generations as they are bathed in even more light?

micronotes: On Google’s Many Talks and Voices

User aclimatt on Hacker News outlines nearly a dozen ways to communicate through Google services.

Google Duo: And then there’s this thing? I guess it’s almost identical to Hangouts Meet now? Maybe Hangouts Meet is for Business® users and Duo is for your friends and family?

There are ten to be exact. The user provides screenshots on the difference between Talk and Hangouts on Gmail. They are just as confused as I am on whether I’m using one or the other. For a normal “non-tech” type of person, how does this look when messages are centralized? Are people just searching around on each * page for a messaging function, regardless of name or utility?

And then there is the Supersonic Fun Voice Messenger.

John Gruber recently posted a link about the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas bringing almost five thousand hotel rooms with the Amazon Echo.

There’s an argument that we’re still in the very early stages of voice-driven personal computing. That, for example, Apple is not too late in putting out an Echo-like dedicated appliance. But Amazon is running full steam ahead here. 5,000 hotel rooms here, 5,000 hotel rooms there, and all of a sudden Echo is the entrenched market leader.

More recently, Gruber responded to a newer headline where authorities are requesting from Amazon any kind of information that the Echo may have picked up from its always-on microphone that scans the room for “Hey Alexa”. His was response: “This was inevitable.”

It was certainly inevitable, and a position that Apple would not want to be in. The early 2016 fiasco in which Tim Cook had to publicly defend the company’s refusal to unlock an iPhone 5c has the potential to put the brand in less-than-stellar taste to the broader public. To broaden the point, remember that a recent photo of Mark Zuckerberg revealed some tape placed over the laptop camera; a technological paranoia has been propagated against hackers, the government, and against the device manufacturers themselves.

Would a company that rides much of its success from brand perception want to enter a fledgling market that is currently rife with privacy and security issues?

Would a company that has for decades eschewed being the “market leader” in most of its devices now stumble over itself in the fight for dominance in a market that could be quickly surpassed by an even more pervasive computing technology?

Neil Cybart of Above Avalon recently brought up a quote that Steve Jobs adapted for the consumer technology industry:

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

The times that Apple attempted to jump on a fledgling market, it faltered (Apple Watch, iPhone 5c). But when it’s late, that’s usually when the product is ready to take the high-end of the pie; to make the technology not only worth using, but a total delight in using it. The possibilities that Amazon Echo signifies is delightful, but the reality of robotic commands and an always-on microphone are not so much. Amazon can afford these dings: its consumer cloud services, Prime video UI, and Fire Phone are forgivable because the shopping company does not have to rely on any single of those products for its branding.

However, Apple is a company that lives and dies by its patience and understanding of the puck. Today’s puck is technological paranoia. Tomorrow’s puck will be positioned in the intersection of cultural acceptance and technological intuition. Perhaps Apple TV will be the Trojan horse, or perhaps the iPhone will be rejuvenated by an enhanced “Hey Siri” function. But if Apple is still Apple, the Amazon Echo is but a beta test for a far more premium experience.