What we read this week (17 May)

Skepticism about Big Data, the hiccups that come with replacing employees with robots, “social lasers of cruelty,” Google’s new cutting-edge toy and the bizarre story of a con man and government collaborator.

Quote of the week

Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Articles of the week

  • Foreign Policy: Think Again: Big Data
    Kate Crawford, prinicipal researcher at Microsoft, makes the case for curbing our enthusiasm when it comes to Big Data and instead employing more caution and forethought. Most of the concerns she highlights here stem from the fact that data out of context can be misconstrued, and can therefore be a liability.
  • Caixin Online: Why Foxconn’s Switch to Robots Hasn’t Been Automatic
    Johannes’ recent talk at re:publica discussed what happens when machines replace us at work. Foxconn is an interesting example of a company in the midst of just such a transition, and demonstrates many of the social and logistic difficulties that come with the territory.
  • Smithsonian Magazine: What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?
    Jaron Lanier is another voice advocating caution to the techno-utopians – a group he used to belong to. He’s especially critical of the notion of the “wisdom of the crowd”: “This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant.”
  • New York Times Bits Blog: Google Buys a Quantum Computer
    The D-Wave quantum computer that was in the news a while back has been bought by Google and NASA, who are collaborating to work on AI and machine learning. Take note of the other companies and organizations mentioned in this article – it’s an interesting crew.
  • Wired Threat Level: Drugstore Cowboy
    A long read and a crazy story about a con man who cooperated with the US government to nab Google for supporting illegal drug sales through AdWords.