Osmosis Weekly #0004: Technophobes, Pokimane, & Pelicans

• 9 min read

Hey Osmotics,

Inside today's Osmosis Weekly...

  • Featured Story: The real danger of A.I.
  • Worth Checking Out: 7-Figure Twitch Streamer Business
  • Dumb Things to Share: How Pelicans Yawn

In the early days of the telephone, there was serious research into how you could use this new technology to talk with the dead.

You might laugh, but let's put you in the shoes of someone in the 1890s...

Up until this point in history (for thousands of years), when you heard a voice, you also saw the source of said voice, the speaker.

But then! All of a sudden... as if by magic... we were able to...

Snatch invisible electromagnetic waves out of the sky for radio broadcasts... talk to someone across the ocean on copper wires... and play recorded voices via wax cylinders...

If all that was possible... if, with technology, we could now hear things that we couldn't before... what else were we missing?

Which brings us to this week's rabbit hole...

How technology sneaks into our lives, becomes this magical thing 99% of the population doesn't understand... leaving us with a sense of wonder, bewilderment and irrational fears.

Do You Have Computerphobia?

It wasn't that long ago, in recent living memory, that we had strange ideas about a new technology.

When the personal computer was introduced in the 1980s, "computerphobia" was a real thing.

From the 1996 book "Women and Computers":

...a range of resistances, fears, anxieties, and hostilities. These can take such forms as fear of physically touching the computer or of damaging it and what's inside it, a reluctance to read or talk about computers, feeling threatened by those who do know something about them, feeling that you can be replaced by a machine, become a slave to it, or feeling aggressive towards computers.

As per the linked Atlantic article, Adrienne LaFrance talks about how magazines, newspapers, training manuals, psychology studies, and advertising copy talked about this "computerphobia" and how to treat it.

And in the same token, we've had fears about the Internet, smartphones, and social media as well.

In a 2010 Slate article, Vaughan Bell compiles some of the more absurd headlines of the day...  

None of these things actually happened, and have since been debunked as pseudoscience or simply false... but the truth is --

We Suck At Predicting How Technology Hurts Us

François Chollet, a Google engineer working on A.I. wrote in a 2018 essay on Medium, "What Worries Me About A.I.":

Most of us react to technological shifts with unease at best, panic at worst. Maybe that is true of any change at all. But remarkably, most of what we worry about ends up never happening.

Computers did not replace us and trigger mass unemployment — and nowadays we couldn’t imagine life without our laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

But at the same time as our fears failed to materialize, computers and the internet have enabled threats that almost no one was warning us about in the 1980s and 1990s. Ubiquitous mass surveillance. Hackers going after our infrastructure or our personal data. Psychological alienation on social media. The loss of our patience and our ability to focus. The political or religious radicalization of easily-influenced minds online. Hostile foreign powers hijacking social networks to disrupt Western democracies.

Here are other things Chollet mentions that are 20/20 in hindsight, but were myopic at the time of their invention...

  • Transportation and manufacturing technologies led to industrial warfare...
  • Radio led to mass propaganda and rise of 20th C. fascism...
  • And nobody thought theoretical physics in the 1930s would lead to nuclear bombs...

His basic premise is...

As a civilization, we seem to be really bad at correctly identifying future threats and rightfully worrying about them, just as we seem to be extremely prone to panic due to irrational fears.

So as one of the leading minds of artificial intelligence, what anxieties and worries does Chollet have for this technology?

The Singularity Might Not Happen

Now, Chollet's not saying A.I. won't cause mass unemployment, or become super-intelligent and make killer robots...

But what's more likely to happen is slow, boring and harmful in low-spectacle ways... until it's too late. (Like climate change...)

With the amount of data that social media has collected on us (to feed into their neural networks)... it's more likely that corporations, think tanks, and governments will flip the switch on manipulating what (and how) we think.

It's already happening at the platform level. It takes 227 likes for Facebook to know you better than your spouse. Facebook can also predict when you're about to break up with someone. And the GPS on your phone can tell when you're depressed.

Now, that's all passive data collection. Question is – what are they doing actively to manipulate how we think, feel and make decisions on?

Chollet writes:

If Facebook gets to decide, over the span of many years, which news you will see (real or fake), whose political status updates you’ll see, and who will see yours, then Facebook is in effect in control of your worldview and your political beliefs.

And as we've seen over the last five years, it doesn't take much to manipulate people on social media.

How To Use Algos For Mind Control

Chollet lists off five tools in which algorithms can shape our worldview...

  • Identity reinforcement: You only see stuff (news and friend posts) on things you agree with.
  • Negative social reinforcement: If you post something the algorithm doesn't want you to believe... it will show that post to people who disagree with it and you get hateful comments. Over time, the backlash makes you move away from that view.
  • Positive social reinforcement: The above, but inverse. If you post something the algorithms like, it will show it to people who agree with you. You get a treat, cause you're a good boy. 🐕
  • Sampling bias: The algorithm only shows you news and posts that it wants you to believe in.
  • Argument personalization: The algorithm gets a sense of people you like, respect and trust. It then selectively chooses posts from those people... that might slowly shift your view... to ultimately what the algorithm wants you to believe.

But It's Not All Cyberpunk...

Those five tools we just talked about above are not inherently evil... or good. They're just tools.

Imagine – for a second – if you could train the A.I. to serve you content that you want, the way you want, without interference from Facebook or similar platforms. Instead of being influenced by someone else's agenda... you choose your own... and by controlling what shows up in your feed, you can grow as a person and decide on what (and from whom) you learn from.

As Chollet concludes: The issue is not AI itself. The issue is control.

In an ideal world, platforms would be transparent about "what objectives the feed algorithm is currently optimizing for." And furthermore, users would get intuitive tools to set new goals if they disagree with the algorithm's goals.

Whether this happens or not is the $64,000 question. As long as platforms work on a "free" ad-driven model, it will be in their best interest to manipulate you for the ad dollars.

My take? Riffing on Scott Galloway's A2 Matrix... there will be paid subscription services that let you control your feed the way you want it (for those who can afford it)... And for everyone else?

Ad-driven ones whose entire business model is to enrage you, make you anxious, and put you in a never-ending state of insecurity. Because that's what makes you buy more stuff you don't need...

So yeah, "information inequality" basically. :/  +


Worth Checking Out...

This week: Inside the 7-figure empire of a Twitch Streamer, where to launch your business, and reclusive Simpsons writer speaks out

Inside a 7-Figure Twitch Streamer's Business

Have you ever wondered what life is like as a full-time streamer? Imane Anys, known online as Pokimane (the #1 female Twitch streamer in the world)... reveals quite a lot in this video interview. Some of my favorite takeaways...

  • She's not relying on the uncertainty of donations and subscriptions. It's projects with brands (sponsorships) that create a reliable deal flow and income stream.
  • She has a huge team behind her: a talent manager at UTA, a social media manager, a video editor manager (with a team of editors), a general manager, a business manager, and an investment advisor
  • This isn't a 9-5 job. There's no work-life balance. She's on call almost 24/7. In her words, "Work, self, friends. Pick two." 20% of the time, she doesn't feel like streaming and still pushes through.
  • She's fiscally responsible and saves the majority of her income. 40% goes into investments. 30% just sits in the bank. Last 30% is business expense and living.
  • She's been doing this since she was seventeen. Audiences don't appear out of nowhere. They take time to build. Pokimane is 24 now.

You can watch the interview here:

Where to Launch that's Not Product Hunt

Bryan Sanders shares seven places to launch your business that's not Product Hunt in this Twitter thread. For the lazy...

I'll throw in a couple others...

Reclusive Simpsons Writer Gives Interview

John Swartzwelder wrote 59 episodes of The Simpsons, more than any other writer in the history of the show. He is notoriously reclusive, but gave his first major interview to The New Yorker earlier this month. If you are a creator of any sort, regardless if you write, design, or code... this is very much worth reading. Here are my two favorite snippets...

RE: The writer's room at The Simpsons

This is the way we did it when I was there. A writer is assigned a story, often a story he originally came up with himself, though not always. Two days are spent in the writers’ room, with everyone helping flesh out the story, adding jokes, and so on. Then the writer writes an outline. Then everybody gets back in the room and pitches more changes, additions, and jokes. The writer writes the first draft, and then it’s back to the room for more rewriting. The script is rewritten again after the read-through and after the screening of the animatic, with additional possible rewrites at the recording session itself and after the finished animation comes back from Korea. There might be other rewrites I’ve forgotten. If a joke survives all that, it’s probably pretty good.

RE: How Swartzwelder writes an episode

All of my time and all of my attention. It’s the only way I know how to write, darn it. But I do have a trick that makes things easier for me. Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. And be sure to send me a small royalty every time you do it.

Check out the full interview below:

John Swartzwelder, Sage of “The Simpsons”
Mike Sacks interviews John Swartzwelder, one of the most revered writers who has ever worked on the TV show “The Simpsons,” about his career.

Dumb Things to Share With Loved Ones

Because everyone is already looking at their device anyway...

  • Brenè Brown, Naomi Klein and Sarah Polley walk into a bar... only on Twitter can this happen. What a great line from Brenè: "I think we’re so bad at accountability that when we do it, we often call it shame. But the constructs are not synonymous. In many ways they’re opposites."

  • Have you ever wondered how Pelicans yawn? Wonder no more...
  • Here is the world's smallest inhabitable island. You're welcome.

Coming Soon(ish)...

Book summaries go through seven stages at Osmosis: Reading, Raw Notes, First Draft, Editor Review, Revisions, Gif Hunting, and Publishing. Here's a status report of what's in the queue...
  • Breakthrough Advertising (1966) by Eugene Schwartz : 25% First Draft
  • Trusted Advisor (1998) by David H. Maister : 0% Raw Notes
  • The Hard Things About Hard Things (2014) by Ben Horowitz : 50% Read

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