Voices

Artificial Intelligence’s Future, and 5 Other Stories You Should Read

Here’s what you missed while you weren’t proving Darwin’s theory of evolution like this guy

Harvard Business Review: Bad Writing Is Destroying Your Company’s Productivity

Selected by Jess Black, head of events

Spoiler alert: Writing well is an important business skill. Everyone knows that, but somehow even high-powered executives like Marissa Mayer are still sending out gobbledygook company announcements and punctuating their emails with nonsensical parentheticals and sloppy copy.

Many misattribute the death spiral of the English language to texting culture (lol, u up, etc.), but the real problem is the Trumpian style of communicating in half-baked sentences and inane asides that show up everywhere from our political debates to mass corporate communications. If I get one more emails that reads like it was written by an 11th grader desperately trying to hit 500 words, I’m quitting the English language.

Aeon: You don’t have to be stupid to work here, but it helps

Selected by Sam Slaughter, VP of content

This article starts off with an amazing headline and just keeps on getting better from there, with such quotable gems as “the most important thing is not coming up with a well thought-out solution; it’s to keep clients happy with impressive PowerPoint shows.”

This piece is fundamentally about how companies like to hire smart people but don’t want them to actually make decisions, which makes sense in some cases. Even smaller companies will fall apart if everyone tries to figure things out on their own. On the other hand, why hire smart people if you don’t want them to use their brains?

As a person in management, I hope there’s a happy medium where the people who work for me feel empowered enough to disagree if they think management is doing something dumb. After all, to quote this piece, “another significant source of stupidity we came across was a deep faith in leadership.”

Adweek: Who Is Louise Delage? The Troubling Truth Behind an Overnight Instagram Success

Selected by Amanda Weatherhead, sales strategist

I subscribe to the Coco Chanel school of marketing: Before you release an ad, you should strip away any unnecessary (or tacky) branding. The Parisian agency BETC did just that with its latest “Like My Addiction” campaign. (Let’s be honest, who is surprised that a French agency has mastered this concept? Not moi.)

The agency created an Instagram account for an attractive young girl, Louise Delage, to raise awareness for alcoholism, copying the tactics and strategies that have helped other women amass large followings on the platform. In every picture, the girl holds some sort of drink in her hand.

But here’s the kicker: Almost no one saw Louise Delage as a sad, lonely boozehound. In fact, people were liking her pictures and commenting things like “très jolie” and “fantastic!”  Addict Aide eventually revealed that the entire account was a ruse after some astute journalists started doubting the veracity of the account.

We all know that the lives of Instagram celebs (and most of our friends) are staged, tinged with a fabulous veneer that isn’t aligned with the real world. I think that this campaign was revelatory in emphasizing how Instagram can help people mask their addictions and make their problems seem glamorous.

The Atlantic: America’s Monopoly Problem

Selected by Dillon Baker, associate editor

There’s a disconcerting amount of market domination in today’s business world. Technology is a great example; only three companies dominate operating system software (Microsoft and Apple, plus Google on mobile). Only two companies dominate display advertising, especially on mobile (Google and Facebook). Only one company dominates e-commerce (Amazon). Ride-sharing is dominated by one, with only one competitor (Uber, Lyft). And Airbnb is still the only viable company in its fledgling industry.

But is that a problem for consumers, the economy, and labor? Traditional economic thought says yes, it’s a huge problem, and that seems to be the argument The Atlantic’s headline writer is grasping at here. Yet the actual contents of Derek Thompson’s piece paint a more muddled picture. People generally love tech giants like Amazon, Apple, and Google, all of which still innovate plenty. Yet people hate borderline monopolistic firms in other industries, such as finance (see: Occupy Wall Street), retail (Walmart), and cable companies (Comcast, Time Warner).

Perhaps we haven’t seen the stagnation and price gauging that normally comes with monopolies in tech because it’s such a young industry, or perhaps tech is fundamentally different (or perhaps we’re all just not realizing the negative effects these monopolistic firms have). Whichever it is, there’s no denying that America has experienced the rise of a new corporate oligarchy. What effects that has, and how regulators will tackle the issue, will be a huge trend to watch.

The Economist Intelligence Unit: Genesis of the data-driven bug

Selected by Noah Waldman, editorial intern

In Meditations on First Philosophies, Descartes uses the idea of perfection to “prove” the existence of god. According to Descartes, an imperfect being—like a human—is incapable of understanding perfection because perfection is unattainable. The concept of something greater than us must have come from a being that is greater than us, so the human conception of god must have come from a god that created us.

Philosophers have spent hundreds of years arguing against it, but the core idea that an imperfect being cannot conceive a perfect one is interesting, especially in the context of artificial intelligence and machine learning. We are an imperfect intelligence attempting to create a perfect one. As Stewart Brand wrote in the introduction to his Whole Earth Catalog, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Thus far, though, our attempts are lacking. While teaching machines to simulate our intelligence, we’ve also taught them to simulate our biases and quirks. Even as we strive to develop perfect AI, perhaps it will just be blind to the imperfections of the humans who created it.

Wired: Tech Giants Team Up to Keep AI From Getting Out of Hand

Selected by Brian Maehl, talent development manager

Unlike one of the candidates during the first presidential debate, technology companies seem to be appeasing fear instead of inciting it. Perhaps sensing the public’s restlessness when it comes to artificial intelligence, Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft have formed an alliance to ensure there’s transparency in the rapidly improving field.

The partnership is expected to create lines of communication between the different AI divisions, invite the opinions of academia, and inform the public on technological progress. Keep in mind, however, that these are businesses that have a knack for not leaving money on the table. While the collaboration is encouraging (and fun—I would pay top dollar to watch Bezos and Zuckerberg in the same meeting ), communicating the latest developments isn’t the same as policing them.

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