DataDownload: Change Is In The Air… A weekly summary of all things Media, Data, Emerging Tech View this email in your browser
Change is in the air. Tim Berners-Lee is working on a platform called Solid that lets people control their data. Apple announced plans for its $100M Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. And COVID-19 has fueled a new era of Scientific Discovery and Collaboration. These are all good things.
The Media Lab celebrated the 20th anniversary of Wikipedia, hosting a conversation with Manoush Zomorodi and Wikimedia Foundation CEO Katherine Maher, which was fantastic. And, of course — the fallout from the Presidential De-Platforming… with Signal growing like a weed.
And CES, replacing its football field-sized exhibit halls with a virtual one, provided a digital launch to the tech-gizmo year. Overall — it was a good week. Thoughts, feedback, suggestions always appreciated.
The NYC Media Lab
Steve@NYCMediaLab.org Must-Read He Created the Web. Now He’s Out to Remake the Digital World.
You’re looking at the world’s first web page above. In the early 90s, Tim Berners-Lee ushered in the era of the World Wide Web with standards for global information sharing. Like fellow tech pioneer Jaron Lanier, Berners-Lee now sees the optimistic promise of the early internet — giving power to the people — shattered by data hoarding tech giants, which he calls “silos”. These silos have become “surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation,” taking power away from individuals.
To help “fix” this paradigm, Berners-Lee is working on Solid, an open-source web standard to let people control their data, and his company Inrupt, which makes server software that uses Solid for enterprises and government agencies.
Inrupt already has a few pilots in the works. For example, the company teamed up with the NHS for the care of dementia patients: “The early goal is to give caregivers access to a broader view of patients’ health, needs and preferences. Each patient has a Solid [personal online data store] with an ‘All About Me’ form with information submitted by the patient or an authorized relative, supplementing the person’s electronic health record. The pod might list that the patient needs help for daily tasks like getting out of bed, tying shoelaces or going to the bathroom.”
NY Times / 8 min read Read More Signal’s Brian Acton Talks About Exploding Growth, Monetization and WhatsApp Data-Sharing Outrage
“The smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes.” — Brian Acton, co-founder at WhatsApp, Signal
Acton had a bad breakup with Facebook in 2017, when he left before his final tranche of stock grants vested over a (clearly) divergent philosophy. His next move was to found Signal, a chat app that’s pretty much the antithesis of what most tech giants stand for — free, open-source, peer-reviewed, with an intense focus on privacy.
Acron describes Signal’s first three years as a “slow burn,” but a few high-profile endorsements and global outrage at WhatsApp over increased data sharing with Facebook rocketed the app’s user base. Signal is now at the top of the App Store in 40 countries and on Google Play Store in 18 countries.
TechCrunch / 4 min read
Back in June 2020, Apple launched a $100M Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, with a focus on “education, economic equality, and criminal justice reform” (you can see Tim Cook’s initial tweet here).
This week, the company made three major announcements on where it’s going next with the Initiative: “The launch of an Apple Developer Academy in Detroit; founding support for an Atlanta tech hub for historically Black colleges and universities; and new grants, scholarships, and investments for Black and brown students and entrepreneurs.” Apple expects the academy to open later in 2021 and teach 1,000 students per year.
The Verge / 2 min read Read More Slouch or Slack Off, This ‘Smart’ Office Chair Cushion Will Record It
For a product study, Hangzhou-based Health Boost offered a tech company a number of smart cushions to employees to “monitor their health, note bad posture as a sign of possible fatigue, measure heart rates,” and… “tally minutes spent at work stations.”
That latter feature put participants in an uncomfortable position: one employee said she “had been threatened with reductions to her annual bonus for supposedly slacking off,” because management noticed her time away from the chair. “Going to work is like being in jail,” she vented in a forum.
NY Times / 5 min read Read More Want a Divorce? Try Cameo to Break the News
Cameo, the app that lets you pay B and C-list celebrities and athletes to make personalized video messages, has been a hit during the pandemic. In 2019, comedian Caldwell Tidicue — aka Bob the Drag Queen, and former contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race — thought it would be funny to deliver the news of a breakup on the app. The staged video went viral, and soon people began commissioning pseudo-stars for breakups and divorces — most of them (probably) pranks at the time.
But as COVID-19 hit, people started paying celebrities to deliver the bad news for real. Mark McGrath, the Sugar Ray frontman, “estimates that he has announced 15 breakups since the original viral video, many of them during the coronavirus health crisis.”
NY Times / 6 min
Read More What We’re Watching 2021 CES: New Products Revealed at This Year’s All-Virtual Tech Conference
CNET’s Brian Cooley joins CBS This Morning to talk wine-pouring robots, telehealth gadgets, and TV-based devices that… charge you ticket prices based on how many people are watching a movie.
CBS This Morning (YouTube) / 4 min watch
Watch Now What We’re Listening To Podcast: How the Pandemic Fueled Scientific Discovery and Collaboration
“When Chinese researchers published the draft genome of the virus that causes COVID-19 early last January, it altered the course of the pandemic — and possibly changed science forever. Will this spirit of information-sharing and collaboration persist beyond the current crisis?”
Spotify / 34 min listen
Listen Now Virtual Events Free Event: Fireside Chat with Waze CPO, Rapha Cohen
Date: January 18, 1PM -1:30PM EST
Rapha will discuss what it’s like to work in this dynamic role and what it takes to get your foot in the door. You’ll also get the inside scoop on the day-to-day work as a CPO. Register Here.
Free Event: JP Morgan Health Week in Review
Date: January 21, 11AM-2PM EST
In addition to panel discussions and keynotes from leading digital health experts, attendees can expect major announcements from digital health founders and venture funds. Register Here. A Deeper Look Microsoft Patented Technology Able to Talk to the Dead
Last month, Protocol took a look at a fringe-y Microsoft patent that basically aims to resurrect your dead loved ones as chatbots (maybe this has been the company’s dastardly plan for GPT-3 all along). Using all types of recorded media (including social media posts) as training data, the chatbot would chat and even sound like the real person — and yes, that was a Black Mirror episode back in 2013. Microsoft doesn’t limit its hypothetical chatbot to the dead: it could be “a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical figure, an entity,” and so on.
Infinity Explorers / 3 min read