AI therapy, the new tech giants, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#52)

Bye bye 2021, crossing fingers for a better 2022. This week I had the chance to catch up with my reading list (I had a feed of news that was more than 2 months old, lol), so there might be a few old links in here…

MIT tech review pictures of the year

Last week I shared the photography recap from Nature, and this week I saw the one from the MIT tech review, which is also quite good. Transhumanism, RNA vaccines, and the algorithms behind social media are just a few of the news in the link. Cool reads for the holidays.

Our favorite photographs from 2021, on the MIT technology review

The list gets bigger and bigger

This is not a very big news, but I cannot help but notice all the big tech companies bending the knee during the past few years to the Chinese government. Not long ago I posted about Apple and Amazon, and now we see Intel letting forced labour pass in order to increase benefits.

Intel Apologizes After Asking Suppliers to Avoid China’s Xinjiang Region, on the wall street journal
Intel facing China backlash after Xinjiang statement, on reuters

All hail our new overlords

Very interesting article comparing old industry leaders (car, health, and technological manufacturers) to the biggest companies around today (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook). It is cool to see some of the parallelisms, such as the general trend to expand their business into new markets and services. However, a relevant difference is how the current giants are managed. Most of the new giant conglomerates have been built around some kind of ecosystem that started small, but increased in capabilities over time. Take Apple for example. They started building computers, but later introduced music players (and digital music stores), smartphones, and tablets. Of course, they also introduced devices around those, such as headphones and other peripherals. During the past decade or so, they also expanded the software they provide: you have the OS, but also a streaming service to watch series and films, listening to music, a cloud service to store your files and pictures, etc.

This makes an enormous difference with old conglomerates. When a giant such as Toshiba launches a new product line that has nothing to do with their core activity, its survival depends on the economical success of that small company. They might have the patience to wait for a couple years if things do not go well, but sooner or later they will terminate the business. On the other hand, Google can maintain YouTube forever even if its a losing money machine, because it is part of a rich ecosystem of services on the web. The money they lose there, they earn in other services that profit from its existence. The same applies for other products from Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook.

One point that I missed in the article is how the old conglomerates helped shape the world we live in right now. Cars completely modified how we build cities (for worse, in my opinion). They influenced society in a way that provoked huge ecological impact, an impact we are seeing nowadays and we have not fixed yet. Modern tech giants have done similar things. Social media has changed how people interact, how we see ourselves, and how we show our life to others. Nowadays, everyone is a personal brand, and getting likes on a social network is more important than having a good life for many (in fact, getting likes equals a good life for many). Manufacturing everyday electronics (computers, smartphones, autonomous cars) keeps polluting at an alarming rate, and its based on materials such as rare earths, that are only available in a bunch of locations around the globe. Most of those devices are built in countries where human rights are second, and cheap labour is first. We see how legislation is years behind (if not decades) concerning the services these companies offer «for free», which attacks our privacy in multiple ways. Furthermore, these giants have so much power that changing that legislation has become extremely difficult, either because they openly oppose it, or just by the fact that they can escape from it in almost infinite ways. It seems to me that we do things because we can, not because we actually need them, which has proved to be quite dangerous in the past.

We started rebuilding our cities with people in mind, not cars, not long ago. Let’s see how much time do we have to wait for our society to reconsider the use we make of technology.

Move Over, GE. The Tech Conglomerates Are the New Leaders of Industry, on the wall street journal

art + alchemy = science?

Amazing piece on the MIT technology review about how the use of machine learning is providing new tools to improve how psychotherapists help their patients. I’ve always been amazed about psychotherapy, because it just feels million light years away from any medical science. It is extremely dependent on the relationship between patient and doctor. Each therapist has its own arsenal of tools and techniques, with different therapy modalities depending on the person seeking help. This makes mental health problems extremely hard to cure, and people tend to desist going into therapy if their first experience is not good. What really puzzles me is how by adding machine learning, which is another kind of black box, you can improve the results of therapy. It seems that we are not that far away from machines to identify that personal touch or je ne sais quoi from exceptional psychotherapists, after all.

The therapists using AI to make therapy better, on the MIT technology review

No sir, our model is the trapezoid

And the last one this year, another NFT joke. Removing the uniqueness of tokens for the sake of making money.

Two NFT copycats are fighting over which is the real fake Bored Ape Yacht Club, on the verge

And that’s it for the year. Stay safe!

Featured image from Karolin Schnoor

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