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  1. i lettori in Italia stanno sparendo, letteralmente, e a una velocità degna di una estinzione di massa ad opera di qualche sciagura catastrofica interstellare. La percentuale dei lettori in Italia, ovvero di quelle persone sopra i 6 anni di età che hanno aperto almeno un libro nel corso dell'anno si è attestata al 40,5%.

    40,5 per cento. Significa che in un tram su cui ci sono 20 persone, statisticamente solo in 8, durante i 365 giorni precedenti, hanno avuto per le mani un libro. È un numero imbarazzante, sul serio, su cui c'è bisogno di riflettere talmente tanto che sarebbe da dichiarare lo stato di emergenza, come dopo che esplodono i vulcani o le autobombe. Emergenza. Questo è il termine da usare, prima di sostituirlo, l'anno prossimo o quello dopo ancora, con il termine catastrofe.

    L'esatta dimensione della debacle culturale del nostro paese la potevamo già supporre dal crollo verticale della qualità del dibattito in ogni luogo, ad ogni livello, da Facebook al parlamento, dal bar alle aule di università.

    Sapete a quanto ammonta il numero dei lettori altrove? In Spagna siamo al 62 per cento. In Germania quasi 68. Negli Stati Uniti 73. In Canada 83. in Francia 84. E, ehm, in Norvegia il 90 per cento. E quasi dovunque, negli ultimi anni, queste percentuali sono cresciute.
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  2. Since Islam instructs followers to pray 5x daily at specific times, I wondered if one could identify devout Muslim hacks solely from their trip data. For drivers that do pray regularly, there are surely difficulties finding a place to park, wash up and pray at the exact time, but in many cases banding near prayer times is quite clear. I plotted a few examples.
    Each image shows fares for one cabbie in 2013. Yellow=active fare (carrying passengers). A minute is 1 pixel wide; a day is 2 pixels tall. Blue stripes indicate the 5 daily prayer start times which vary with the sun’s position throughout the year.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-17)
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  3. Speaking as a statistician, it is quite easy to identify people in anonymous datasets. There are only so many 5'4" jews living in San Francisco with chronic back pain. Every bit of information we reveal about ourselves will be one more disease that we can track, and another life saved.

    If I want to know whether I will suffer a heart attack, I will have to release my data for public research. In the end, privacy will be an early death sentence.

    Already, health insurers are beginning to offer discounts for people who wear health trackers and let others analyze their personal movements. Many, if not most, consumers in the next generation will choose cash and a longer life in exchange for publicizing their most intimate details.

    What can we tell with basic health information, such as calories burned throughout the day? Pretty much everything.

    With a rudimentary step and calorie counter, I was able to distinguish whether I was having sex or at the gym, since the minute-by-minute calorie burn profile of sex is quite distinct (the image below from my health tracker shows lots of energy expended at the beginning and end, with few steps taken. Few activities besides sex have this distinct shape)
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  4. notification technology also enabled a hundred unsolicited interruptions into millions of lives, accelerating the arms race for people’s attention. Santamaria, 36, who now runs a startup after a stint as the head of mobile at Airbnb, says the technology he developed at Apple was not “inherently good or bad”. “This is a larger discussion for society,” he says. “Is it OK to shut off my phone when I leave work? Is it OK if I don’t get right back to you? Is it OK that I’m not ‘liking’ everything that goes through my Instagram screen?”

    His then colleague, Marcellino, agrees. “Honestly, at no point was I sitting there thinking: let’s hook people,” he says. “It was all about the positives: these apps connect people, they have all these uses – ESPN telling you the game has ended, or WhatsApp giving you a message for free from your family member in Iran who doesn’t have a message plan.”

    A few years ago Marcellino, 33, left the Bay Area, and is now in the final stages of retraining to be a neurosurgeon. He stresses he is no expert on addiction, but says he has picked up enough in his medical training to know that technologies can affect the same neurological pathways as gambling and drug use. “These are the same circuits that make people seek out food, comfort, heat, sex,” he says.

    All of it, he says, is reward-based behaviour that activates the brain’s dopamine pathways. He sometimes finds himself clicking on the red icons beside his apps “to make them go away”, but is conflicted about the ethics of exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities. “It is not inherently evil to bring people back to your product,” he says. “It’s capitalism.”

    That, perhaps, is the problem. Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist who benefited from hugely profitable investments in Google and Facebook, has grown disenchanted with both companies, arguing that their early missions have been distorted by the fortunes they have been able to earn through advertising.

    It’s changing our democracy, and it's changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships we want
    Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google

    He identifies the advent of the smartphone as a turning point, raising the stakes in an arms race for people’s attention. “Facebook and Google assert with merit that they are giving users what they want,” McNamee says. “The same can be said about tobacco companies and drug dealers.”

    Williams and Harris left Google around the same time, and co-founded an advocacy group, Time Well Spent, that seeks to build public momentum for a change in the way big tech companies think about design. Williams finds it hard to comprehend why this issue is not “on the front page of every newspaper every day.

    “Eighty-seven percent of people wake up and go to sleep with their smartphones,” he says. The entire world now has a new prism through which to understand politics, and Williams worries the consequences are profound.

    The same forces that led tech firms to hook users with design tricks, he says, also encourage those companies to depict the world in a way that makes for compulsive, irresistible viewing. “The attention economy incentivises the design of technologies that grab our attention,” he says. “In so doing, it privileges our impulses over our intentions.”

    That means privileging what is sensational over what is nuanced, appealing to emotion, anger and outrage. The news media is increasingly working in service to tech companies, Williams adds, and must play by the rules of the attention economy to “sensationalise, bait and entertain in order to survive”.
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  5. One aspect of the novel technology it is talking about for the first time is image matching.

    If someone tries to upload a terrorist photo or video, the systems look to see if this matches previous known extremist content to stop it going up in the first place.

    A second area is experimenting with AI to understand text that might be advocating terrorism.

    This is analysing text previously removed for praising or supporting a group such as IS and trying to work out text-based signals that such content may be terrorist propaganda.

    That analysis goes into an algorithm learning how to detect similar posts.

    Machine learning should mean that this process will improve over time.

    The company says it is also using algorithms to detect "clusters" of accounts or images relating to support for terrorism.
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  6. Boston - Drone technology is more often associated with outside activities. However, drones can also be used internally to a business, such as in a warehouse. Technologists have developed a system that allows aerial drones to read RFID tags tens of meters away.
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  7. As things stand at the moment, eighteen months from now the UK will leave the EU without any agreement on trade regulation or tariffs, either with the EU or any of the other countries with which it currently has trade agreements. The arrangements which assure the smooth running of 60 percent of our goods trade will disappear. Once we are outside the regulatory framework, many products, particularly in highly regulated areas like agriculture and pharmaceuticals, will no longer be accredited for sale in Europe. Aeroplanes will be unable to fly to and from the EU to the UK. Those goods which can still legally be traded with the EU will face lengthy customs checks. Integrated supply chains and just-in-time manufacturing processes will be severely disrupted and, in some cases, damaged beyond repair. Unless politicians do something, that’s where we are heading.
    Tags: by M. Fioretti (2017-10-15)
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  8. Se gli fai notare la loro incapacità di staccarsi dal telefono ti guardano sciocciati, ti rispondono male. E il loro modo di farti notare che sei out perché col tuo telefono giocattolo (del quale in fondo si vergognano) non puoi postare le foto delle vacanze, perché non sei raggiungibile tramite Whatsapp è la prova che non riuscirebbero mai e poi mai a farne a meno. E al pari di un alcolizzato o un cocainomane negano la propria dipendenza.

    Così ti rimetti in strada, eroe senz’armi, continuando a osservare il mondo scorrerti davanti, in attesa di incontrare un tuo simile o qualche converso del web con cui dare vita a una pratica ormai in via di estinzione: guardarsi negli occhi e intavolare una conversazione.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-14)
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  9. 3D printing is a rising threat for world trade. According to a new ING report, world trade will be 23% lower in 2060 if the growth of investments in 3D printers continues at the current pace. If investments accelerate domestically printed goods could already wipe out 40% of world imports in 2040.
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  10. Babu Rahman, a top research analyst at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), gave some commendably clear advice on what government officials need:

    ‘What we want from research is not ‘it’s complicated’ or ‘here’s the answer’, but comparative work highlighting a range of possible solutions, showing how particular tools and approaches have worked out. Most useful is understanding where something has/hasn’t worked and why. Then we can apply that to a new situation.

    Statistical surveys alone are not that useful – they can generate false confidence or aversion. Multi-disciplinary approaches can be very helpful – even in helping government break down internal siloes. Case studies are really helpful, but limited in generating transferrable lessons – there is a perennial risk of recreate experiences from one place in another, as if they’re templates.

    Three quick points on how to make research more useful to officials. All within the broad paradox that civil servants are assessed on their ability to simplify complex issues down to the key components necessary to make a decision, whereas academics’ value lies in illuminating complexity:

    Make written work short but not dumb. That requires significant intellectual athleticism.
    Avoid jargon and assumed knowledge. We don’t need lots of text on methodology
    Structure is really important – go straight to your point in headlines and bullets.
    Tags: by M. Fioretti (2017-10-14)
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