Google will never buy Kevin Durant

When the Golden State Warriors got Kevin Durant we were impressed.  What was already a super star team just got even …super starier.  The Warriors couldn’t even hide the fact as he single handedly won matches and LeBron tried to defend 2 or even 3 players on his own at times.  As the finals ended today, (4-1 exactly as I had publicly predicted by the way) I find it hard not to draw parallels with Google.  

 

Between Google and Facebook, online advertising has demolished the old names in media.  Hundreds of million of dollars are flowing every day in a new direction.  But only Google has the intelligence to handle it well.  It isn’t wasting time in messaging apps because messaging apps do not contain much useful information from which to figure out what ads to show you.  Facebook has the 4 most resource hungry apps for Android.  Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and of course the Facebook app itself.  For no good reason.  As they integrate Instagram with Facebook more and more, you can’t help but wonder why we even need four separate apps from Facebook.  While they experiment with screwing up your timelines, Google is getting the job done.

 

Google keeps improving Android at such an amazing pace, even now, that Apple only has to copy a few features every time to manage to entertain its audience.  Which is sort of the point.  Nobody was anywhere near Google in Artificial Intelligence.  Yet Google didn’t launch anything magic until it needed to.    It could blow everyone out of social tomorrow.  Some of us remember that day when our Google searches showed us what our friends were doing and what they thought of our Google searches.  It was a freak day, maybe I was on some A/B test.  I saw what Google could do if they used more of what they know about me and my friends.

 

Google will not though.  It is not about having 4 All NBA players on your team.  It is about hiding their talent unless it becomes necessary.  If Golden State blew out the Cavs today by 160-80 everyone would be furious.  Call it sportsmanship if you like, I call it clever business sense.  Basic human understanding.  Nobody likes a freak.  Society does not tolerate outliers.  Business and government tend to target whoever does too well.  Google will never make a fuss about buying a Kevin Durant.  They got Ray Kurzweil and didn’t make a fuss.  He got natural language recognition working way better than everyone else.  Siri is a joke but Google is making sure you don’t feel bad about it.  In fact it is quite likely that Apple and Facebook end up borrowing technology from Google in order not to fail; they are now officially too big to fail.

 

It takes a little bit more to make a Champion.  And more after that if you don’t want everyone to hate the Champion.

Digital storytelling with an inflated piece of leather

You can go to seminars.  Watch inspiring Ted talks.  You can study storytelling from Homer to Homer Simpson until you are yellow in the face.  But we all have plenty to learn from the NBA.  I just spent my best sleeping hours watching Game 3 of the Finals and the storylines are too many to count.

Over here in Europe it is hard to explain to people.  They are used to the pathetic low levels of entertainment that soccer offers.  They don’t mind watching multiple extremely boring games as long as once in a while someone dazzles them for a few minutes or scores a goal once every forty minutes.  They put up with rigged matches and applaud Juventus, happily forgetting the unbelievable scandals that sent that very same team out of the picture a few years ago.

Every sport gets better when you know the storylines, the players, the drama.  The NBA however is the only sport that makes sure you can’t miss them.  Let me illustrate my point with just the most recent posts from the official NBA Instagram account today as I find them:

On the left a pretty straightforward “match up” type story.  LeBron versus Curry.    If some post Jungian psychologist wanted to frame this, we would say it is the anticipation stage of the story.  Dramatic graphics, blue versus red, this is an eternal struggle as a poster.  A black man with white clothes is keeping the ball away from a white man in dark clothes, their bodies locked, their wills at odds.  The two greatest players of our time with the word “AT” between them.

Each player in the NBA has a tiered set of myths.  LeBron is not just about his “legacy” or “Greatest Of All Time”.  He is “chasing the ghost” and “returning to Cleveland” as a modern day Ulysses.  On the right he is flying, the illusion of invincibility of the dream stage in any story as the hero has some success but…not quite.  There is always something more.  Like the endless supply of StormTroopers that Luke Skywalker shoots, the endless levels of a computer game.

The NBA excels in making stories out of older players too.  Here we have LeBron, alive, in colour, next to a faded retro Bill Russel.  Michael Jordan still makes millions from selling shoes on the back of this sort of myth making.  And even much lesser players are kept around contributing to “the big NBA family”.  Today I choked up as with a few simple gestures the NBA made a fuss about a person in charge of TV something or other.  That’s how good they are!

In fact today as we watched, the sportscaster said “wow, those two are setting the stage to take a role in the future here”.  He was referring to two players with microphones, another NBA first whereby we can listen to the players during the game.  It really brings the action, the passion and the human stories to life.  These two players, according to the sportscaster, will likely take a place as commentators.  Indeed there are many great players now entertaining us, analyzing moves and making sure we understand what is happening.  Shaq a prime case study of such a transition.   On the left “4XMagic, legends reunited”.  Players don’t drift off and disappear as happens in other sports and other leagues.  If you make it to the NBA, you can be here for life, simply changing roles in the story.  It is like DC or Marvel characters, ever weaving narratives along the way.  The Warriors’ coach was a sportscaster before becoming a champion.  Before that he was a champion with the Bulls as a player.  It never ends.

In fact the NBA is so amazingly good at making stories of everything that all the social responsibility things they do seem relatively “normal”.  LeBron can donate a hundred million for children from rough areas to study and we don’t even flinch.  After all he is himself David Copperfield or Aladdin or some other mythological hero in his own story of rags to riches.  You can watch a feature film about it.  He produced it.  And that was before the unbelievable way he brought the title to Cleveland after so many years.  Rocky Balboa revisited with a very real “local boy” aspect, he deserves the statue even more than the one erected for Stallone’s film hero.

The NBA hardly allows a single bit of information to flow to social media or any other media without making sure it can be framed within stories.  Steph Curry, the amazing little boy that nobody took seriously, like the Lord of the Rings bringing a title to a team which was at the bottom of the league for so many years.

The NBA produces so much content that fans can produce their own mini movies simply repurposing video.  Some of them are quite good actually.  Other fans produce short films with “footage” from games they edit together into a story or a video clip.

But they do so much more.  I was amazed at the insightful comments of my younger son until I discovered the source of his basketball wisdom: short clips on Instagram which are converted with graphics reminiscent of NBA 2K showing how a team or a player executed a particular play.  And it’s not just the spectacular stuff.  Any and every aspect of the game are brought to the forefront.  A particularly good example is the replay.  While other sports like soccer avoided it like the plague (probably so that they could more easily rig matches), replay became integral to the NBA.  They branded it, they gave it a story.  Much like the frustration stage in a good story, when the hero struggles, is treated unfairly or is confronted with a seemingly unbeatable enemy.  The referees go to the monitor.  They wear big headphones so they can concentrate.  We see it all, nothing is secret or vague.  In fact now in the TV coverage they added a new character;  the wise man who knows the rules and explains what is at stake.  Again branded, this mini story within the main narrative ;the replay center brings a happy end to that particular scene with justice.  We all saw that LeBron wasn’t stepping on the three throw line so here is one extra point for you retrospectively.

Most of what the NBA does is then copied in other sports.  Only it is hardly ever quite as good.  A large part of this has to do with the sport itself, the rules and the setup from its beginnings.  An even larger part has to do with the fact that the players actually enjoy these roles we assign them.  They participate. They embellish.  They have their own marketing teams adding and playing with the themes.  Some of the most creative adverts and brands around them are constantly building on the story lines.

If you have seen Space Jam or don’t know the story of Michael Jordan, his foray into baseball and his triumphant return, you have seen  the Odyssey, Orpheus or the Ramayana.  It is a classic story, a true story, an amazing story where the rise is followed by the frustration stage.  His invincibility was lost, nightmarish enemies and threats appear and in the climax of the plot all hope is apparently lost.  Like LeBron’s Cavaliers losing 3-1 in the finals.  I lost good money betting against my Cav-fan son that they couldn’t turn it around.  It had never been done by any team, let alone against the most amazing super team of all time.  But in the resolution, Jordan, LeBron and the other NBA heroes get out there and overcome the odds.  They are super heroes and we have witnessed and felt what ancient Greeks felt in a good tragedy.

A lot of people try to copy the NBA.  And so they should.  So we all should when our job is communicating.  This is ten adults in shorts bouncing around an inflated piece of leather after all.  If you don’t watch it, if you don’t take in a little of the plot, you will just say it is “boring”.  The fact that they have me awake at 4am enjoying the drama shows I am hooked.  The fact that the TV ratings are through the roof and revenue from all NBA related goods above the roof prove I am not alone.

Human beings try to assign meaning to puffs of clouds, to random numbers and to events in their lives related to the stars.  Some say that is what God is.  Our desperation to add meaning to the mystery of life.  I’m not sure about all that.  If there is a God, I am starting to suspect he too is copying storytelling techniques from the NBA.

 

 

 

Good cop – bad cop: why only Facebook is evil

In a lot of our discussion about the future we tend to bunch Facebook and Google together.  After all they are two Goliaths that rely on advertising.  Unlike Microsoft that has spread its income sources, or Amazon who is in a different arena all together.  Grouping them together however is unfair, misleading and dangerous.

“….the great organ of social life, the prime element of civilization, the channel through which native talent, native genius, and native power may bubble up daily…”  The quote is not from a recent Zuckerberg motivational speech but from James Gordon Bennett, who published the Morning Herald in 1835, one of the first newspapers which tried to sell an audience to advertisers.

Facebook has a simple and similar target.  To get us to spend more time on their platform.  Wasting time?  Sure.  With fake news?  Of course.  It is the newspaper of our time and it is a tabloid newspaper for sure.  Facebook will do anything to get you to stay.  It will interrupt you and make sure you get no work done.   It will buy out other platforms like Instagram only to gradually turn them into…Facebook.  It will copy features from Snapchat with no shame if Snapchat or any future smaller company isn’t willing to be bought by Facebook.  Facebook has no purpose by definition.  Mark Zuckerberg has excelled since his college days in dreaming up new ways for people to waste time.  There is no purpose.   He simply thrives on studying your time wasting habits per se, whether it is flicking up and down a timeline, looking at photos of friends or creating controversy.  (Which his systems always reward in one way or another.)

The opportunistic approach is best illustrated in the erratic way it deals with its customers.  Advertising on Facebook is not a science.  It can’t be.  Because they are always changing it in order to make whatever worked yesterday not work tomorrow unless you pay more.  The scandals about false video impression numbers and all the other scams Facebook has got caught for so far are just the tip of the iceberg.  The elephant in the room is that Facebook ads simply do not work as well as they want you to think they work.  Why?  Because people shop much less when they are simply wasting time.   Nobody will tell you because digital marketers are too busy taking the money you are no longer spending on “old media” and giving you fancy stats that impress you.

Contrast that with Google.  You know, that place you go when you actually want to get things done.  When you research a product purchase.  Where you find out useful stuff about your world.  Google has a much tougher job.  They have to give you services like Google Maps which are simply so useful and so much better than any other option and then find ways to monetize them without losing the title.   Advertisers that understand the difference are much more effective for their customers.  Lazy advertisers simply give in to the marketing director who only understands Facebook ads because that is what they use every day.  A Facebook ad “impression” is in no way similar to a Google Ads “impression”.  Facebook reminds me of Nazi Germany radio wardens, people that walked the streets to corral citizens all together and force them to listen to Adolf Hitler speak on the radio.  We need shared experiences and Zuckerberg is going to give you the ones he can sell.  While Google figures out machine learning, automatic translation and organizing the world’s knowledge for everyone Facebook adds smiley faces, dislike buttons and the amazing new way to say something with a colored background.

The way Facebook treats fake news is a wonderful illustration of its hypocrisy.  Much like the first tabloid newspapers almost two hundred years ago, it seeks out and promotes anything lurid and boisterous.  In the old days newspapers based on advertising for revenue had people in courts looking for scandal or even reported on the slave trade for effect.  Facebook today pretends to be politically correct but makes sure similar content reaches you.  And plenty of it.  It is a bit like newspapers pretending not to control the classifieds section or not carrying blame for readers’ letter in “opinion” pieces.

In the mid 19th century, the first “trolls” were in fact journalists working for cheap newspapers in a constant effort to increase circulation so that they could sell advertising.  Some things never change…

Your social media “strategy” is a pile of steaming… social media

Do you remember SEO?  Some people went around “optimising” websites.  Others sold courses on  search engine optimisation.  No, please, try to remember exactly what went on then.  You were a bit vague how “those Google things” worked.   So you outsourced.  Something worked more or less, you didn’t get fired over low rankings.  Probably because your boss didn’t understand SEO fully either.

There is a good reason why this happened.  It is that nobody fully understands how Google works.  It is secret, personalised, it changes often and Google spends a great amount of time and effort making sure it is difficult to reverse engineer what they do.  Through it all, some of us had an attitude that is more pragmatic.  I always said “if you can tweak it that easily, Google will take it into account automatically.”  All those silly tags, the time wasted adding fields, alt texts and gobbledegook for what?  Google does a better job at figuring out which content should be shown to who than you could even imagine.  From phone usage, to browser habits, email content and million of other signals, Google’s algorithms are simply astounding.  And useful.  Yet still some people pay good money learning about SEO.  Which brings me to the current fashion:  social media training.

A whole industry has been built around teaching you “how to succeed on Instagram” or “how to promote your business on a Facebook page”.  Friendly, trendy, graphic heavy sites, emailings, courses and videos with gurus full of a burning desire to help you “get ahead”.  Training in technology was always a challenge methodologically.  In times of rapid change such as these it is damn near impossible to stay current.  Taking a “course in social media” is essentially admission of a handicap.  You have no real projects to learn from, you lack the drive and bravery to put yourself out.   Sure, you can’t improvise with the facebook account of a Fortune 500 company, but you sure as hell can experiment with any number of other ones.  From the school committee Instagram feed to a blog about your kids’ basketball team.  The cost is zero and the experimental opportunities infinite.  Don’t read about it.  Do it!

I started writing this article after seeing a scary directive in a pretty large corporation defining – among other things – the “correct time for Facebook posts” on their official page.  This is an excellent illustration of just how stupid “social media gurus” have made people.  Google it and you will find loads of scientific looking “papers” by “data scientists” claiming to have crunched millions of data points to “prove” when you get maximum traction.  At first it seems clear or even “obvious”.  You want to post when most people are online, more likely to see what you posted.  But wait a minute.  Those two statements aren’t even connected!

You want to post when most people that are interested in your message are likely to see it.  Not even that.  When some people which might actually react in a way that will have a beneficial impact to your brand will somehow see your social media post.  The more you think about it, the more disclaimers you would need in order to even make sense of what exactly you are trying to achieve.  What is your brand?  Which parts of the audience do you think you will reach?  What mood will they be in at one time versus another?  How will Facebook’s algorithms react to your message at that time in relation to everything else going on when potential message recipients log in?  There is only one way to learn and – you guessed  it – that is not by going to a seminar or reading my articles.  Even if you hire me to experiment and measure for your company, as I propose you do yourself, my fine conclusions will have a very limited shelf life.  If anyone discovers a “silver bullet” for getting great traction in social media, by their very design, social media will have killed the opportunity in days or weeks at best.

Thinking, reading, talking to people and going to seminars are all useful idea generators.  I often discover new tools from the fantastic people around me in the real and virtual world.  We all need training and we all need mechanisms to make us rethink what we do.  People like me should be paid vast amounts of money to help others in this noble cause.  We can all improve in ways to test our hypotheses. But there is only one way to take responsibility and that is directly.  Don’t hide behind management gurus for things you can quite easily test out and know yourselves.   Until Facebook, Google and everyone else change the parameters that is.  Which they have probably done 5-6 times in the time it took you to read this article.

My point precisely!

 

 

A horse designed by a European Committee

I take offence to the expression ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee’.  Camels are incredible animals, possibly ideally suited to the desert.   They have been instrumental in thriving civilizations and commercial breakthroughs which changed mankind forever.  A camel is in fact an animal no European committee could ever imagine.  Someone would argue it doesn’t look right, another would object to it’s saliva based on some european health guideline or other, for sure we would bicker for years about whether or not we can eat its meat; and with more than 100% certainty, the number of humps would become the bone of contention between heads of State for decades.   In total, we would probably spend millions of euro in meetings, public hearings, research and other pleasantries and end up with …a horse.

An excellent recent example is that completely stupid button you have to “accept” when visiting websites.  It is of course completely useless.  A bit like making a sign reading “attention! If you get on this camel, a lot of people will see you because you will be higher up than before“.  A paper sign.  Which camel owners will have to put on the camel everytime a “new” rider comes along.

Perhaps the best illustration of the futility of approaching technology is carrier neutrality.  To put it simply, this is the notion that Facebook has to “deal” with hate talk or sexism on its platform.  Or that it is Twitter’s “fault” that some people spread false rumours via tweets or bots.  In practical terms, this is like asking the telephone company to interfere if two or three of us start talking about building a bomb one day on our phones.  Completely and utterly ludicrous.  In fact, we could make telephone companies completely ban profanity on the telephone.  All calls could go through voice recognition systems and when a swear word was recognised it could cut off the line or send you a fine.

There are two reasons we don’t do this and both are interesting.  The first is that despite spending billions on automatic translation research, Europe still lags far behind in terms of real time machine translation.  Things you can do for free on any Android phone, simply can’t be handled by any European infrastructure in technical terms to handle the task.  Much like no French company could serve videos as well as YouTube.  The second reason is of course that we could never all agree on what constitutes “profanity”.  A French man’s “merd” is not exactly the same as a British “oh, poo!” or even a German “scheisse!”

In the same time Europeans would take to “initiate a working group to deliberate the need for a committee to address the issue”, Google staff would have solved it.  In fact they did.  Not for ethical reasons, but for commercial reasons, YouTube made video channels with profanity inelligible to take adverts.  Problem more or less solved.    Air BnB had a similar problem with users of their platform who refused tenants based on race or ethnicity.  This is no easy problem to solve.  It is virtually impossible to find a solution talking about it around a table.  Air BnB didn’t “initiate research”.  They tried, tested, improved and made it work.

Essentially the problem is one of friction.  Technological networks operate on the premise that less friction is better.  You want your phone to serve instantly.  Search results at a the blink of an eye.  What Silicon Valley does when presented with a challenge is usually to actuall add friction.  That ludicrous european website button informing us about cookies is in essence an added step.  It is meant to ensure we all understand cookies.  Except it doesn’t.  Compare it to Facebook trying to teach us about privacy.  They constantly change the way messages pop up, the content of the messages, the way they try to make sure we are all on the same page concerning who sees what when we post on their platform.  Other platforms have online mini lessons about hate speech.  You start to post something and it pops up saying “hey!  Do you know that this word you are using is considered negative in some parts of the world?  Would you rather use one of the following suggestions:……”  They even give mini history lessons relating to words or uses of words to help make sure you say what you want in a way which will actually get the message across.

Europe will never, ever catch up with Silicon Valley like this.  Artificial intelligence is not about installing a “kill” button.  I read through the blurb and it is a bit like bad French or Italian academic literature.  Too much theory and mostly outdated.  Impressive for headlines, useless in practice.  In this particular phase of technological development we need to be building infrastructure and platforms.   We need millions of experiments and we need to learn much faster.

Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the legendary Mini, is often credited with coining the expression about horses, camels and committees.  The question is whether today he would be enticed by a cushy university job, doing European research and enjoying European committees and funding, rather than building the iconic Mini car.  I think he would prefer to work for Google and just get things done.

In praise of fake profiles

If you are in sales or marketing and above 25 years of age, you are probably wrong.  The assumptions you base your decisions on are severely limited.  We often thank our kids for ideas, for keeping us “in touch”, but it is much much more complicated a matter.  And extremely important.   I have hundreds of fake profiles.   Not sure if “fake” is the correct term.  I pretend to be someone I am not as a form of market research.  In fact it is often the first thing I do when presented with a new project.

It starts with a fake Google account.  This is vital.  Search results are personalized.  You will never get it all perfect, but if you at least persuade it that you live wherever you are researching and then make sure you do Google searches logged in from this fake Google profile, the world you are seeing will be a little more like your target.  Sign up for whatever products and services you are looking for from this signed in Chrome browser.    You have to try and live the part.

With Facebook things are even more dangerous.  That person in marketing you think is “up to speed with all this new stuff”, well, just isn’t.   If I have a really successful Instagram account, or a very active personal Facebook profile I only see what that particular profile’s take on the world is.   Some days I might whiz through multiple profiles to check up on them, just housekeeping.  Hard to describe just how different it feels to be in each newsfeed.  Some are simply based in different locations, with friends from a particular island or city.  Age differences are even more stunning.  The same political event which fills your friends’ timelines when you are 50, doesn’t even appear when you are 16.

It isn’t fashionable anymore, but I always make sure my fake people have a website, blog or other public trove of information on whatever topic I am researching.   This gives me unique insights into what people are looking for.   It is the “honeypot” approach.  In content marketing it is easier to just start testing ideas like this.  And when the first organic google searches land my way, it is like Christmas day!  Somebody wrote what they wanted to know in Google and came to me, fake me, this particular person.  Why?  How?  What cyberspace hole did I fill with what I just did?

If anything, building a fake profile is a humbling experience.  Because you realize just how complex a web social beings like humans create.  We earn trust.  Slowly.   A “follow” by a 13 year old is a very, very, very different action to a “follow” by a 60 year old.  He then posts what he just had for breakfast without thinking about it, while the senior citizen is carefully crafting a comment as if he is writing to the Economist.

Marketing people are often fooled by their own brand.  In the case of social media they are also sidetracked by their personal profiles and habits.  These are extremely dynamic, immature new mediums, still jostling for position, changing architecture and interfaces.   There is no agreed way to assess them, no specific assigned meaning to what we all do with them.  So get off your high horse and mingle with the natives.

My friend Jason is smarter than me and 99% wrong about social media monitoring

My friend Jason is very clever.  He has taught me a lot about advanced tech geeky stuff concerning metrics, social media and monitoring services.  He knows all the AI and Natural Language Processing stuff.  He has a company which is sure to be bought by Google or someone like that.  And he wrote a fantastic post which I thoroughly recommend if you want “the short version of the future of media monitoring for business” here.

He is also 99% wrong.  Not in what he writes.  I am pretty sure that – as usual – he can see what is coming better than I can in his area of expertise.  But in tech, that is not what it’s about for your business.  In tech, I am the best futurologist because I now the timing of what is coming.   And throwing away dashboards or whatever else Jason describes is far, far away.

If you live in Silicon Valley and all your friends use Slack, sure, be my guest.  The rest of the planet, read on.  Your country’s internet is not as rich as the guys over there.   Every day I look through analytics for customers’ sites and blogs and I am amazed.  “Seriously!  Has nobody written anything better on this topic and we are getting 50 Google organic search results for this???!!!”  Every day.  All the time.    It is not just in Greek.  I have run projects in other languages, heck, languages I don’t even understand, and still got fantastic response with content.  You can even just Google translate a page, stick it on your website and it will work.  Not talking about spammy tricks here.  People coming from a Google search for something also read longer and click on more pages afterwards.

The main reason most small and medium sized companies want media monitoring, or social media monitoring is not for fancy sentiment analysis or crisis management.  It is to sell.  We want customers.  Every word I write here is designed to make you want to hire me.  Every word I write for a customer selling shoes is thought out so as to honeypot the right kind of consumer to buy those shoes.  I love Jason’s new tool, you can try it for free at http://qualia.ai/  Sure it’s not the most simple thing to make Boolean queries, most of you clicked away just reading the words.  But it is much, much better than Google alerts or whatever other freemium, crapium you are currently using.  And if you use Jason’s smart company, it will get even more useful.

For what?  Well, as Jason correctly says in his post, we need “actionable” data.  We need to integrate it with business workflows.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, that is what I always say to customers, just before they say “you are right, but let’s just do the quick and dirty thing now to get this project done.”  Your average one-man-show marketing person struggling to prioritise social media posts and measure what the hell is going on, wants a tool to find stuff and help create stuff for repurposing content.  Very few companies bother to optimise a system, any system, enough so that it automates such decisions.  “Hey, Marketing division, you are all fired!  We have an advanced AI which can figure out better than you the trends!”  Fantastic, let’s get that in here asap.

Of course I am biased.  I loved content marketing.  I am struggling to write this paragraph without consulting some data to decide which words to use to best attract Google but since it is the last paragraph, the weighting here is not as important as the opening paragraph and I will just say what I mean: the world’s internet has not got enough content.  Google is getting better at making sense of content.   If you are not operating in English have a party, you have an enormous opportunity to easily get customers like that.  Go make better content than what is available.

If you don’t know how, hire me or hire Jason.

 

The fallacy of collective brainpower

I was 12 or 13 years old when I came across “The crowd”.  It was in Greek and must have belonged to one of my many intellectual cousins.  The subtitle reads “a study of the popular mind” and I couldn’t put it down.  We were guests at my aunt’s house and I read it all before we left.   No matter it was written in the late 19th century; this was fresh and relevant!   While other kids listened to Simon LeBon of Duran Duran, I thought of Gustave LeBon’s amazingly relevant book.  Had never seen it again until recently when I got a copy in English.   And I juxtaposed it with “the Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki written more than a hundred years later and full of examples about Wikipedia and crowdsourcing and how 100 bricklayers can make a better decision than a consultant that gets paid 20,000 per hour.

But Gustave was right.  I grew up checking his conclusions against my reality.  I could see it at my school.  When enough kids get together, they turn into animals.   I could see it across the street in the early 80’s, as Andreas Papandreou, that master of deception, spoke with simple slogans while stealing billions.  When you get enough people together, they lose their capacity for critical thinking, they “go down several rungs in terms of civilization” as he says.  There is no sense of personal responsibility.  Simple slogans, repeated again and again.  Music, images, emotion.  There is no wisdom in this sort of crowd.

I love what companies like Google are doing with our collective data.     I gladly give them access to almost everything I think and do in exchange for their amazing tools.  They make my life much much better.  Yet it is clear that this is not the product of evolution in our civilisation, nor the inevitable course in technology developing.  It is a fortunate respite from a kind dictator.   All these great ideas about the collective wisdom we could develop with technology depend on a kind central hub allowing them to work.  Or, as Surowiecki puts it, we need independence of opinion, decentralization and diversity before we even get to the matter of aggregation.

Our current tech boom is to a large extent an acceptance of failure.   Companies that establish massive followings define the terms, give away stuff and up the ante in terms of infrastructure.    You reward them by buying their stock.  Or by making small companies whose sole aim is to be bought out by the giants.  In the words of LeBon ” every civilisation is the outcome of a small number of fundamental ideas that are very rarely renewed. (…) At the present day the great fundamental ideas which were the mainstay of our fathers are tottering more and more. They have lost all solidity, and at the same time the institutions resting upon them are severely shaken.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Where is what I am looking for?

Λόγω αλλαγής στον server, όλα τα ελληνικά άρθρα είναι πλέον μαζί στη διεύθυνση http://greekinter.net/

 

I moved my server so if you are looking for that previous site with my shiny bald head, look no further.  All the content from that is now here.  I also threw in some other sites for good measure, various projects from the past with information people search for.  Being a good Samaritan, I saved it.

If you are looking for Greek content, it is all together at www.greekinter.net  And I mean “all together” as in “fifty different topics all together!”  You will need to use the search function if you are looking for something specific.  As far as I can tell, Google has managed to follow my instructions and should point directly to the right content most of the time.  There are quite a few internal dead links which I will work on when I find time.

There are bound to be some loose ends here and there, it is more than ten thousand articles to tidy.  Hopefully the content is worth your trouble!

English uber alles: the language digital divide

Google assistant is fantastic.  Unless you don’t speak English.  In which case it is almost useless.  The whole “Artificial Intelligence” vogue is rather misleading.  Because when I speak to Google Allo I am still using all my experience in computing.  It works great for me because I think like a computer.  I break down my questions into chunks the way I think the computer wants to hear it.  I add qualifiers, words to help the machine understand with more accuracy.  I use terms that are more likely to work.  When we say “natural language” hey, there are classifications.  I use “natural language more likely to be understood by Google”.  It drives others crazy.  They blame my perfect accent.  “But I said the same thing!  Why doesn’t it work for me?”  

 

Here’s the problem.  Google and pretty much everyone else in Silicon Valley, they are all only thinking in English.  Your Amazon Echo is designed for native English speakers.  (Pun intended.)  All your gadgets are.  Worse still, the intelligence is designed around people thinking  in English.  All the structure, the concepts, the way it is set up.  It is rather entertaining how some people get caught up with the fact that slang and tech words are conquering the world.  That is the tip of the iceberg.

 

Silicon Valley is moving ahead of the rest of the planet with leaps and bounds.  Light years ahead.  We don’t have local information.  We can’t use amazon like you do.   We can’t pay for stuff or call a self driving car.  Amazon will not be able to deliver to the trunk of my car either.  The United States are a test bed for new tech and the gap with everyone else will grow exponentially.  And only in 2030, when computers are smarter than humans, maybe, just maybe, those computers may decide to develop all these wonderful tools for the rest of the earthlings.    And even then it will take a lot of work.  Because English is the language that provides the structure and concepts.  More likely that you will have all learnt to think like Google by then. 

 

2030 is still material for science fiction.  Today, now, it is clear that we all have to move to the Valley or fall behind.  We have neither the data with which to develop such advanced tools, nor the number crunching power.   The entire planet sends their thoughts to Google every day  Out position, habits and preferences.  It is no conspiracy theory, it is simple mathematics.  Not impossible to catch up, just really really hard.