What caught my attention this week – 01.18.19

Being in Japan for three weeks with really no one to talk to led me to do a lot of introspection.

One realization I had is the importance of being myself in the world, especially in 2019 and moving forward. I know this is a cliche’ that takes us back to our formative years. But, I don’t think we’re ever too old to be reminded of this.

This means communicating with you all more regularly and re-engaging our dialogue on life and technology.

Along the same lines, I’ve been getting back to creating videos and it’s one of those arts where you really are forced to be yourself. Because to be anyone else in the digital world is too exhausting.

Without further ado…

This is what caught my attention in technology:

Self-Lacing Basketball Shoes

The Nike Adapt BB builds upon self-lacing technology they’ve developed, and released, with two other shoes in the past. Except now, the lacing mechanism wraps around the bottom of the foot and back of the heel for more comprehensive squeeze.

What’s particularly interesting is that they have their sights set on the basketball market (hence, BB). This is going to be a tough training ground for this technology since it’s a sport that truly pushes shoes to the limits — with all the sharp cuts and impacts.

Watch the video below for my thoughts on this technology:

Global Internet For All In 2069

Access to the Internet’s unbelievable web of knowledge and services might be the biggest societal differentiator today. Making sure that everyone has a connection to the infinite health advice, education, financial leverage, e-commerce, etc. is practically a human right — it’s a moral duty. However, morality is not the motivator for the half dozen companies bringing the rest of the world online.

Read more of my thoughts on Google, Facebook, and SpaceX’s plans to bring the entire world online.

Tracking Devices Powered By Air

Wiliot has developed a paper-thin bluetooth chip that operates entirely without a battery – harvesting its energy from the ambient radio frequencies around us, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular signals. It’s like a gas station that fills your gas tank as you drive by.

If you’re an Inevitable/Human member, read more on Wiliot here

Instagram Influencers Team Up With Hackers

Hackers have taken notice of how important Instagram accounts are to their owners, many of which entirely rely on their Instagram presence for their income.

Motherboard recently reported on an emerging trend of hackers taking control of Instagram influencers’ accounts and holding them ransom. Now, a wave of fresh attacks and internal Instagram documents obtained by Motherboard provide more detail about the issue. Victims say that Instagram’s process for recovering accounts is so cumbersome that they’ve had to rely on third-party social media experts and, in some cases, white-hat hackers to help them regain access while Instagram itself was largely silent.

Read the entire story here

Computers Can Speak In Your Voice

With just 3.7 seconds of audio, a new AI algorithm developed by Chinese tech giant Baidu can clone a pretty believable fake voice. Much like the rapid development of machine learning software that democratized the creation of fake videos, this research shows why it’s getting harder to believe any piece of media on the internet.

Read the entire story here and I’m sure this will create a new industry of coping mechanisms, as seen here.

Have a nice weekend. And feel free to message me on any of the above topics.

Are algorithms the modern slaves of Internet giants?

A topic that comes up in my conversations a lot is the addictive nature of entertainment technology, specifically YouTube and Netflix. My friends are always curious about how these services designed a craving among hundreds of millions of people.

It’s clear that the culprit is their content recommendation algorithms. However, to truly understand these addictions, you must understand how these AI’s are vastly different in their ways.

At 7 am CST today (Nov. 30), I’m going live with a discussion about how YouTube’s and Netflix’s AIs are fundamentally different, as well as how they’ve become the slaves to our time.

You can tune into the live stream (or watch the replay) here:

🚨 P.S. Medium just featured one of my latest articles – Everything you need to know about Digital Humans – on their homepage!

Facebook Just Created the iPhone of Virtual Reality

Someone’s probably told you before about how massive virtual reality could be. And, you’ve also probably tucked those speeches somewhere alongside the people who claim the end of the world is coming… since neither of them has held true, thus far.

But, that all might be changing. Well, the VR thing. Not the end of the world.

Facebook’s Oculus Go

I realize I sound like every other VR “prophesizer” when I say that “this” is the one. But, after spending a considerable amount of time in the VR space back in 2014-2016 and not seeing much happen since then, Facebook’s launch of their second VR headset, the Oculus Go, is something to finally get me amped about VR again.

So, what makes the Oculus Go so different?

In short, new and exciting ownership possibilities in the digital world. They are expanding on what the iPhone did so well back in 2008 – recreating physical tools in a digital way.

Before iPhones, my family shared one digital camera, one Xbox, one sound system. For a few hundred dollars each, the iPhone gave us all a powerful digital camera, gaming system, and mp3 player. Alongside dozens of other devices that the iPhone made obsolete.

The Oculus Go is poised to have a similar effect.

For instance, Netflix launched an exclusive experience with Oculus Go where you can enjoy streaming Netflix on a 100-inch TV screen in a mountain chalet-type living room. I can invite other Oculus Go users over to my virtual crib to enjoy an episode of Stranger Things. And I’d imagine that it’s in their plans to one day allow users to customize these virtual living rooms to their liking. I for one can’t wait to make my virtual bat cave.

Compare this to a similar experience in the real world and you’re looking at a thousand-dollar weekend getaway. And that’s only thanks to Airbnb. Owning that place would be over a million dollars. All of which comes with my Oculus Go.

What’s important to note, is that the first iPhone didn’t have a robust App Store. We had to use a web browser to access Facebook. But, the massive growth of users spurred all the developers to migrate over to Apple’s ecosystem and begin making apps there.

At a $200 price point, the Oculus Go has a chance to attract massive user base like the iPhone did. Today, there might be Netflix and a few other media experiences to engage users. But, the developers are simultaneously building the virtual worlds of tomorrow.

The Pros at Digital Escape

Previously, a lot of VR initiatives focused on creating intense gaming experiences. But, if we learned anything from the movie Ready, Player One, perhaps the best thing that VR can offer us is an outlet to escape reality. A place where we can not only create a new persona but also embody it.

And if there is any single company that has proven their abilities in that area, well, it’s Facebook.

We’re talking about a company whose average user spends 50 minutes on their platform per day. Facebook understands on a molecular level how to create mental addiction in their users. Seriously, they own people’s attention for 5-15% of their waking hours. And Oculus Go is a chance for them to get even more of it.

But, it’s not going to be that easy.

The Oculus Go doesn’t only compare to the revolutionary nature of the iPhone. It’s also in direct competition with them. Well, all smartphones for that matter. Let me explain.

Yesterday, I was in my Oculus Go for two straight hours. And interestingly, it was the only two hours of my day that I was away from my phone. Completely unplugged.

Not just because watching Netflix in my Swiss-chalet was so nice, but also because physically removing my headset every time my phone vibrated was a nuisance. These two devices aren’t compatible at the moment. You’re either immersed in VR without your phone or you’re not. Plain and simple. In all honesty, I’m completely fine with that too. Phone distractions would only take away from the experience.

Regardless, smartphones aren’t going anywhere. However, let’s not forget that Facebook has already succeeded in capturing the attention of over 2 billion people monthly.

Undoubtedly, there’s a stronger stigma surrounding virtual reality today than there was a stigma surrounding smartphones a decade ago. But, perhaps VR’s stigma of cutting people off from the real world will turn out to be its biggest asset.

Need to Getaway?

Escaping from problems is looked at as a horrible way to deal with issues. But, I believe it’s a necessary first step.

In times of conflict or great stress, we are far too emotionally attached to come to a solution or formulate an effective strategy. That’s why you must first step back from the situation and release the personal ties you have with the problem.

For a simple work dispute, this might mean going for a walk or having a calming cup of tea. For a more complex relationship issue or personal problem, this might mean taking a weekend getaway.

Different situations call for a different degree of emotional release. And I believe that VR may actually be a feasible option to this emotional release since it’s immediate and frictionless.

I might get into an argument with Ryan or a roommate and find it hard to get my needed space. VR could transport me immediately to an island getaway, where I can dive into the ocean, decompress, and collect my thoughts.

I don’t believe VR provides the full solution to our problems, just like driving away from your problems can’t. But, it’s an inexpensive alternative to the first step of dealing with issues, which is decompressing emotionally.

How Smart Home Devices Open Your Door to Unwanted Visitors

We’re in the middle of a war on security and we are sabotaging ourselves for a little bit of convenience. As we bring more connected devices into our homes, we essentially create more windows for “Peeping Toms” to look into our lives – metaphorically speaking.

The connected home is undoubtedly a great concept. But there are many security risks that should be resolved before you dive into it.

Don’t Touch the Thermostat!

Earlier this year, Amazon added Ring’s wifi-enabled Video Doorbells to their lineup of smart home devices. With a Ring doorbell, you can see who’s at your door from anywhere in the world (with internet).

But, there’s a major security flaw. Any time a password is changed, the Ring system doesn’t boot all the connected devices off the system for over an hour. Basically, it’s like changing your school lock combo, yet the old combo (which other people know) still works.

You’d think that once you changed your password, everyone else would have to log in with the new password, right. It’s a pretty big flaw, especially if someone you don’t want gains access to your Ring system.

Actually, this reminds me of a hysterical Amazon review of the Honeywell wifi thermostat, where a divorced husband takes revenge on his ex-wife, who took the house, the dog, and the 401k. But forgot to change the password on the connected thermostat.

On frigid winter nights, from his home far away from hers, he drops the house temperature to 40 degrees. In the middle of June, when sweaty backs have a problem of sticking to bed sheets, he cranks her heat up to 80 degrees. And when she takes long vacations, he hikes up her electric bill by fluctuating the temperature all week.

Talk about a sophisticated kind of evil.

This goes to show a problem of unwanted people accessing connected devices. Both of these seemingly harmless, aforementioned flaws is what leaves a door open for criminals to take advantage of connected devices.

Inviting Unwanted Visitors

Just like any other computer, connected IoT (Internet of Things) devices can be inflicted with malware which cybercriminals can then take advantage of and control.

Back in October 2016, over 100,000 IoT devices – ranging from baby monitors to home security cameras – were infected with Mirai malware and used in a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. Essentially, all the infected IoT devices began simultaneously flooding the internet servers at Dyn, a company that services websites such as GitHub, Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, Airbnb, and many others. As a result, those websites were temporarily out of service for millions of people – potentially causing millions of dollars in lost revenue to those companies.

Although this particular security flaw didn’t directly harm any owners of the IoT devices, this isn’t always the case.

Just months ago, dozens of people came to find out that their wifi-enabled home security cameras were giving one hacker a view into their most private household activities.

Steven Hankers gained access to household cameras, recording unsuspecting homeowners. Authorities found in his possession over 4,000 clips of couples having sex and young kids undressing. Think about the trauma for the families involved in this incident. To find out the device you bought to bring safety into your household had actually backfired.

We all want our homes to be sturdy and safe as a castle. Yet, bringing these devices into our homes is like leaving the drawbridge down.

Every time that you bring another connected device into your home, introducing it to your lifestyle in the name of more convenience, you’re risking your own personal security.

Unconnecting the Connected Home

One of the common first steps in “smartifying” one’s home is buying an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker. Given their abilities to act as a hub or control center for many other smart home devices, these smart speakers are effectively the brains of the operation. And they are also fun to use – asking them to search the internet for you, play music, create shopping lists, etc… They are a total convenience tool.

To date, CIRP estimates that nearly 45 million smart speakers (Amazon Echo and Google Home) have been purchased and installed in US homes. That’s a lot of devices and a lot of security vulnerability.

What worries me about them, though, is that they are designed to always be on – ready for your command – since there’s nothing less convenient about a device you have to turn on in order to use, right.

Well, this is where I think we’re wrong.

There’s just too much security vulnerability presently involved in these devices for you to keep them always on. If they truly are the brains of a connected home, then my message is to shut off this brain occasionally. Give it a break. And give yourself a break from the possible security risk you’ve already brought into your home.

It’s not like the Amazon Echo or Google Home are solving world hunger. Powering them down won’t force insanity upon you.

Besides, is it really alleviating an inconvenience in your life?

Convenient Inconveniences

We’ve become increasingly attached to adopting technology for convenience-sake, when in fact there may not be any inconvenience present at all.

Silicon Valley and tech companies live by the mantra that “customers don’t know what they want, so we have to tell them”. As a result, we get many solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had.

Uber and Lyft on the surface may have solved a problem of easy transportation. But studies are showing that they, in fact, create more citywide congestion by taking people off buses, bicycles, and their feet – placing them in cars.

We’ve exchanged one problem for another, which is a common thread in everyday life.

When we find that our schedule is complex, we add a service that’ll make it simpler. Only to eventually find out that managing this service has created more complexity than before. It’s an endless cycle of exchanging one problem for the next.

In reality, we create many of these inconveniences by looking for the easy solution.

If your schedule is busy, then maybe you should assess your daily routine and better optimize it… instead of looking for a service that’ll do it for you.

The Artificial Influencer That’s Worth Over $6 Million

You are probably already aware of how easy it is to present a fake self on social media. MTV made an entire show out of “catfishing” someone. But, rarely do we reward fakeness… until today. One of the world’s first Artificial Influencers is now a highly sought after marketing product – proving that despite being completely fake, the impact is real.

If you thought this world wasn’t crazy enough, strap on your seatbelt because it’s about to get even more absurd.

THE Artificial Influencer

She’s a 19-year-old fashion model and singer, with a Brazilian background. In a matter of two years, she’s gained over a million followers, modeled the clothes of some of the highest fashion brands, and just raised $6 million to keep it up.

But, she’s not really a “she” at all.

Miquela Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela, is a computer-generated teenager and now the world’s most successful Artificial Influencer.

Born to the parents of Photoshop and a little creativity, Lil Miquela has taken over conversations about what it means to be real on social media.

Everyone has a little bit of artificial-ness when it comes to presenting our best, sometimes false, selves online. But, not quite to the extreme of Lil Miquela.

The only real thing about Lil Miquela is the team of creatives behind her – the robotics startup known as Brud. Caught up in a mix of fantasy and delusion, Brud tells a story of how they saved Lil Miquela from Cain Intelligence – a firm creating robots as sex objects.

And while the story is probably false, the message they are spreading has bits of truth.

A Positive Spark?

For one, the fashion industry makes a living on the human form. And they’ve routinely put the “sexy” on pedestals while ignoring the “unsexy”. In many ways, they mold what is the acceptable body form.

Meanwhile, half the celebrity pictures out there in the world are unattainable without professional Photoshoppers. This is extremely toxic for all those young girls and boys that look at the stars and think “that’s the right body type and mine is wrong”.

In theory, an Artificial Influencer like Lil Miquela could turn the social influence industry on its head. We all know Miquela is not really a person, and therefore, hopefully, people won’t feel shamed by her appearance.

Miquela literally embodies the artificiality that’s overcome the Internet, where something created totally as fantasy can have so much influence. The Brud team has since launched another Artificial Influencer.

One of Brud’s intentions is to “bring about both a more empathetic world and more tolerant future” through the use of these Artificial Influencers. And they have a monumental opportunity to create change.

However, we cannot overlook the fact that in the process Miquela has become a cash crop. And more broadly, a marketers ideal scenario.

An Abundance of Artificiality

Artificial Influencers present a huge potential to corporations and their advertising efforts.

For one, Artificial Influencers are predictable. They do whatever is “asked” of them. They aren’t going to act out crazily. And they don’t have a past history that’ll skew a campaign’s message.

Additionally, they can be grown in-house by a company’s advertising team, thus side-stepping some of the large costs associated with hiring a celebrity.

For these two reasons, we could potentially see a slew of Artificial Influencers pop up in the coming years.

They could be used as figureheads to hide behind polarizing beliefs. Or they could represent momentous change.

Artificial Influencers and their “lives” can literally be created out of thin air with any set of beliefs, looks, or personality that’ll gain a following. And that’s what scares me.

There’s a lot of opportunity in creating these Artificial Influencers. But, the responsibility and consequences are even greater.

Forcing A New You

In navigating the new realms of the digital world, there’s undoubtedly more chances to alter our own identities even create new identities.

A friend’s dad (55 years old) just quit his cushy, high-profile tech job to go back to his high school dreams as a musician. And while most of us won’t make such a drastic change overnight, we still can change bits and pieces of ourselves.

And my message to you comes from Charles Schulz, the legend behind the Peanuts comic strip.

He says, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

No matter your age, there will be people you admire for a certain way they act. Even so much so that you might want to be them.

But, before you go changing aspects of your lifestyle or personality, think about whether or not that change is actually YOU. It’s a tough question that only you can answer.

I believe the pieces that fit will happen easily. Forcing anything new means it probably isn’t YOU.

Is this Artificial Intelligence Church the Way of the Future?

I’ll admit that at times the routine of everyday life can seem bizarre, even a little pointless. Fortunately, we have work, religion, and companionship to give us meaning – something to explain why we wake up every day. But, what happens when two of these explanations begin to fall?

What will we do when work is no longer plentiful because we’ve been replaced by algorithmic machines? And what will we do when religious texts can’t explain why technology is so invasive and overpowering in our lives?

Life will go on, but we’ll still want to explain the unknown. Thus, a new religion is born.

The Way of the Future

Anthony Levandowski is an influential researcher in the self-driving car space, having founded Otto (self-driving trucks), worked at Waymo (Google’s self-driving car division), and at Uber’s self-driving car initiative.

However, after transferring trade secrets from Waymo to Uber he was banned in the space, causing him to start a religion called Way of the Future (WOTF). I know, that transition doesn’t really add up.

However, having worked in the artificial intelligence trenches for years, Levandowski believes that a superintelligent AI is coming. This AI will be able to teach itself anything and come up with solutions to the world’s problems in moments. It could tap into all connected products on the globe from refrigerators to cameras to armed drones. Effectively, it would be all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-controlling of humankind.

The advance of AI is a momentum that nobody can stop. And instead of sitting back and hoping this Superintelligent AI doesn’t harm us, the Way of the Future wants us to prepare.

WOTF proposes we begin worshipping this AI overlord at designated churches. So, when the AI god manifests, it knows that we brought it to life, will view us as its elders, and treat us with respect.

I realize this sounds like pure lunacy, but his prophecy of an “AI god” isn’t completely unwarranted. Tech elite from Elon Musk to Ray Kurzweil warn of The Singularity – the moment when AI becomes far superior to the collective intelligence of mankind.

When it will come; we don’t fully know.

However, the timeline of this machine deity doesn’t have to match up with the Way of the Future. With enough believers, WOTF will come to life.

Is there Merit in WOTF?

First of all, I don’t think Levandowski is proposing we gather around a computer server and chant (although that would be quite comical to witness). Instead, his church would be rooted in education.

There’s a lot of pushback from Society about AI development. But, AI doesn’t have to be threatening. I support anyone that’s educating people on how AI can be used for good… AI deity or not.

Undoubtedly, there are going to be people that see Levandowski as a prophet. And a lot will write him off as a paranoid freak. Regardless, we all need to recognize the significance of the movement he’s attempting here.

Their core beliefs are:

  • Belief in Science
  • Belief in Progress
  • The belief that intelligence isn’t rooted in biology
  • Belief in an inevitable Superintelligent AI
  • Belief that anyone can help

Religion is notoriously behind the times – reading from thousand-year-old texts. A religion that embraces change, even promotes it, is truly different and has a shot at catching on whether it’s WTOF or something else.

Do we have the beginnings of a Scientology-like creation and conspiracy here? I can’t say. I really don’t know how people are going to respond and if anyone is actually interested in something like this.

Nonetheless, people will believe what they want to believe and you can’t take that away from them, no matter how ludicrous it may sound. Because it is the belief in something greater than oneself that gets us through our days on Earth.

Our understanding of reality and the meaning we place on life will undoubtedly be tested with the continual advancement of artificial intelligence. It may take a religious initiative like the WOTF to help us come to terms with the changing times.

Regardless, there’s one thing that must remain unphased…

Belief in Mankind

I believe in the abilities of man, no matter their past or present. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been screwed over by my fair share of jerks. And it’s caused me to put my guard up more than I’d like.

But, the moment we stop believing in our neighbor to do the right thing or our fellow worker to strive for productivity. This is the crumbling of society.

There are evil-doers out there and I’m not suggesting full naivety. However, sometimes people just need to be believed in by others to help them decide to do what’s best for the greater good.

Because the more you perpetuate the opposite – a disbelief in your fellow man – the more it’ll become the reality.

Trust in Government falls to 20%. Is this the opening for an AI Politician?

Would you elect a machine into office? It’s probably a question you’d never think to ask yourself. But, it may be near. According to the Pew Research Center, the general trust in government here in the US has been on a steady decline from 70% in the 1950s to 20% today – a momentum regardless of the party in office.

Now, there’s a variety of factors that caused this distrust. And this isn’t an article about those factors. Rather, it’s a response.

With widespread distrust in the operation of government, people are going to be open to a big political change. Perhaps even a revolutionary moment in politics worldwide. It could be someone like Andrew Yang, a politician with a fresh perspective and futuristic vision. Or it could be technologically assisted – like an AI Politician.

World’s First AI Candidate

In Tama City, Japan, Michito Matsuda ran for the mayoral election with an interesting twist: his decision-making would be deferred to artificial intelligence. Matsuda was proud to announce the world’s first AI Candidate which would bring competence, impartiality, and balance back to politics. The AI Candidate garnered over 4,000 votes, which was just enough for a bronze medal.

Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the pillars he posed.

Competence? Yes, please. An AI Politician would have the power to call upon countless sources of data and truth in the form of surveys, governmental meetings, laws and regulations, and voter feedback all in the matter of moments.

Impartiality? This one is a little more tricky considering that everyone has biases, even the researchers that would develop an AI Politician. We’ve seen partial AI systems in the past. The risk-assessment algorithms courts use to assist in sentencing have been found to support racism. And the image recognition algorithms on Facebook and Google reinforce sexist gender stereotypes. Therefore, there’s a great challenge ahead for an unbiased AI Politician.

And how about balance? Is that even possible in politics? If it is, do we want balance? This is an AI Politician’s greatest test, I believe.

In the bipartisan politics of the United States, would an AI Politician take into account both sides of an argument when making a decision? Or would it operate with a programmed, fixed viewpoint?

Downfall of an AI Politician

Part of what makes politics effective is that compromise is often avoided and you get strong viewpoints battling it out until one side wins.

Compromise may sound nice when sharing sandwiches, but when it comes to important negotiations, compromise is actually a failure among all participants.

Take this classic negotiation fable:

“Two sisters each want a full orange but they have just one orange between them, with nothing of value to trade. In the end, they compromise. Each takes half the orange and goes on her way. One sister happily ate her fruit, throwing away the peel. The other peeled her half, throwing away the fruit and using the peel to garnish a dish. The compromise in this story was completely unnecessary.  Each sister could have had the full value of the orange if they had identified each other’s true interests.”

Yes, this is a fable. But, it shows that compromise may cause us to overlook options that we are neglecting to find.

Even FBI negotiators avoid compromise at all costs. They abide by a cooperative, rapport-building, empathetic approach. The kind that creates a dynamic in which deals can be made. This usually means digging deeper into people’s true intentions.

It’s idealistic to think that an AI Politician could take into account the viewpoints of thousands or millions and find a way to satisfy everyone. It’s a difficult concept to even wrap your mind around because it’s probably impossible.

With this knock against an AI Candidate, is there any place in politics for AI?

AI in Politics

Although we may not be ready for an AI Candidate, I do believe the next logical step is electing politicians that understand artificial intelligence and also are open to bringing it into action in a variety of ways. Thus, executing their job to a higher degree with a level of automation.

For example, Andrew Yang announced his running for the 2020 US Presidential Election. With a background as a tech executive, he accepts the impact that AI is going to have on our jobs and society as a whole.

Yang, among other tech-literate candidates, would bring a lot of fresh ideas to the table. For one, he’s proposed to establish a Department of the Attention Economy in order to regulate social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. He also proposes appointing a cabinet-level secretary of technology, based in Silicon Valley, to study the effects of emerging technologies.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Yang used AI in budget formation, culling some of the waste. Also, adopt AI tools such as SAM — a chatbot application that works to inform and involve voters more. SAM helps alleviate the grandiose, false promises that have created a lot of the political distrust. This shows how AI could help make politics more transparent by engaging in more active dialogue on a personal basis.

Overall, AI has a place in improving politics. At the moment, it just may not be ready to run on the ballot.

Avoid the Compromise

Let’s take a lesson from the best in the biz: FBI negotiators. Next time you find yourself in a negotiation scenario, try avoiding the compromise a little longer. Don’t instantly look for the middle-ground or split the difference.

Instead, take a new approach. Dig for other intentions or desires at play.

You might find something else to add to the negotiation. Perhaps there’s an “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” deal you can make.

I know from experience how tough this is. I used to be the “middle-ground” guy. But, I soon found the power of the counter-offer. Bringing new deals into the mix that offers up additional value without sacrificing my position.

Just give it a shot! You might surprise yourself. Also, if you want inspiration, check out the movie The Negotiator starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. It’s a classic.

Digital Legacy: What will you pass along when you pass away?

No matter how you choose to spend your time on Earth, you will inherently leave behind a legacy. This includes what you’ve created that you will pass along (wealth, assets, knowledge) and what you stood for or represented while you were alive (strong work ethic, humility, etc…). Leaving some sort of legacy to friends and family is partly what makes life worth living.

However, how do the new digital environments which we spend a large amount of our time fit into our legacies? How will one’s Digital Legacy live on?

Leaving a Digital Legacy

Back in October of 2016, I published an article on LinkedIn that spurred someone to comment some hateful things – cursing me out and telling me to stop writing.

I’ve got thick skin so it didn’t bother me. But, it was so uncharacteristic of an executive on LinkedIn (the world’s professional platform) that it got me thinking.

Every action on public platforms contributes to our Digital Legacy. These actions are recorded and archived.

Future kids and grandkids are going to be tech-savvy at a level we may not comprehend right now. A regular Tuesday night might be scraping their grandpa’s Twitter account for all his public Tweets – seeing how he spent his years online.

Tell me, how will that grandparent explain to his grandkid the time he called someone on YouTube a “fat bucket of fried chicken”?

Those precious, “gather round” story-time moments that grandchildren share with their grandparents are soon going to include the actions we take in digital environments.

My grandpa was a fairly secretive man. The few moments that someone got him to open up about his past, we all got quiet and listened because we knew there was a great story coming.

Today, digital environments record many of these great stories for us. Vacations, activities, and everyday pictures are logged on Instagram. Visual conversations are logged on Snapchat. Raw emotions are logged on Twitter rants.

The beauty of a Digital Legacy is that it’s extremely transparent. And also acts as a time capsule.

From here on out, digital environments will provide a lot of clarity to the identity of a person’s life. But, there’s more to a Digital Legacy than stories.

Inheriting a Digital Estate

Over a lifetime, we accumulate “things” and “stuff”. Some of it valuable, some useless, and some priceless. Increasingly, more of these accumulated assets are becoming digital.

You might have dozens of email, social media, and other accounts, a few digital content subscriptions (Netflix, Apple Music, etc.), and hundreds of personal media files (pictures and videos).

These are assets you may want to pass along to family or friends.

For me, I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars building a massive archive of digital music, ebooks, and online movies. No different than a box of records, a shelf of books, and a cabinet of DVDs – I want my Digital Estate to be passed along and enjoyed by others once I pass away.

Unfortunately, there aren’t simple ways of doing so. One proposed law, the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (FADA) aims to make digital asset transfer legal. But, it’s far from being passed.

Additionally, considering a Last Will & Testament eventually becomes publicly available, the last thing you want to do is bequeath your passwords over this public document.

Some of the larger online entities (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram) provide options for people to memorialize the accounts of the deceased. But, it’s somewhat of an arduous process and mostly prevents others from taking over the account.

Also, this doesn’t account for the thousands or millions of other accounts out there that don’t have these options.

Nonetheless, we can agree that our loved ones’ digital assets shouldn’t pass away with them. Preserving social media accounts and other services is a way of preserving great memories.

As we accumulate more digital assets, the need for Digital Estate management will grow. We can expect to see services pop up in the coming decade that makes the process of Digital Inheritance easier.

The Collective Legacy

One of the highest behavioral motivators is wanting to be remembered, to make a lasting accomplishment in the name of society. It’s partially what fuels innovation and economy.

But, it is far from foolproof. And one of the greatest creatives of our time, Kanye West, brings up some very interesting questions:

“What makes us be so selfish and prideful… what keeps us from wanting to help the next man? What makes us be so focused on a personal legacy as opposed to the entire legacy of a race?”

The pride we take in wanting a legacy for our name often forces us to forget about the person standing next to us.

I’m a firm believer that dedicating your time to the goals of others pays huge returns for your own missions… As long as you aren’t helping others to help yourself.

Balance the time you invest in building your legacy and the collective legacy of our race because they are equally important to leading a fulfilling life.

Mind Control? Now Possible with University of Washington Research

I’ve talked previously about brain-computer interfaces and how we could use them to replace the current way of accessing the Internet – discovering new information with a simple thought. But, what if this technology could link two individuals. Thus, sharing consciousness by sending their brain’s electrical impulses between one another.

Connecting Brains via the Internet

The human mind is an extremely complex operating system, especially when you get down to the nitty-gritty of decoding thoughts and intentions.

Which is why researchers at the University of Washington started with one of the more simple processes (muscle movement), testing how they could communicate this behavior between two people. They describe the result below:

“[Rajesh] Rao looked at a computer screen and played a simple video game with his mind. When he was supposed to fire a cannon at a target, he imagined moving his right hand (being careful not to actually move his hand), causing a cursor to hit the “fire” button. Almost instantaneously, [Andrea] Stocco, who wore noise-canceling earbuds and wasn’t looking at a computer screen, involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the spacebar on the keyboard in front of him, as if firing the cannon. Stocco compared the feeling of his hand moving involuntarily to that of a nervous tic.”

How did they achieve this amazing feat?

On one side of campus, Rao wore a cap with electrodes hooked up to an EEG machine, which reads electrical activity in the brain. Across campus, Stocco wore a cap equipped with a TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) coil directly over his left motor cortex, which controls hand movement.

Together, the brains worked in unison. One creating the impulse, while the other acted on the impulse.

We use the Internet to connect computers. But, this is an instance where the Internet connects brains. Is this a massive leap toward mind-control?

Far from it. A Duke University researcher was unimpressed with the experiment since there was no message. It was simply an electrical impulse, not information or thoughts.

However, let’s say that the research continues to advance beyond this basic experiment. How might this muscular control of someone else’s body be used?

Momentary Mind Control

A clear implication would be using this to help the physically disabled. Someone who is paralyzed from the neck down could potentially use this to communicate their wishes. Perhaps controlling the movements of a caretaker, so that nothing is lost in translation.

My mind initially thought about coaching sports. If you’ve ever had a good coach that teaches you certain movements and motions, you know that it usually just takes one perfect replication on your part to get the move down.

Golf lessons would be less about “here’s a video showing you what’s wrong with your swing”. And more about “here, I’ll take over your movements and let you feel what a perfect swing is”.

I, for one, would love if this could be applied to my swimming technique. When it comes to swimming laps, I just can’t figure out how to pace myself properly for long distances. I usually find myself cruising through a lap or two and coming up for big gulps of air. If a teacher could take over my body momentarily, granting me the feeling of what swimming laps should be, then I know that I’d catch on quickly.

From physical activity to arts and crafts, this momentary mind-muscle control could be great for learning.

Of course, the idea of being a mind slave to a puppet master obviously has its dark undertones. And in all the above examples and research that’s what’s happening since it’s a one-way communication stream.

But, the broader spectrum would be two-way communication. Essentially, telepathic communication between people (like Star Trek’s Vulcan mind meld). Or two-way communication between us and the Internet, replacing our action interfaces with cognitive interfaces.

Right now, most research is in very early stages. There’s ample opportunity for dreamers to have fun with these possibilities.

Fiction for Fun

If you’re like many adults, then you can look back at a general time when you stopped using your imagination. When you got serious and realistic about your thinking, probably adhering to a common way of thinking.

But, the imagination is a powerful tool no matter what stage in life or what profession you hold. You can regain those mystical powers from your childhood with a simple “what if” scenario. From “what if”, you’ll find the effects begin falling into place chain-reaction style.

Guillermo Arriaga, the screenwriter of the movie 21 Grams, had the idea for his movie driving home, late for dinner as usual. He thought, “What if I went inside this time and told my wife I was late because I ran over a father and his two daughters.” Yes, this is a dark “what if” scenario. But, it turned into a phenomenal movie about the burden of death and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

If you find that your imagination powers are weak at the moment, then try thinking movie tangents for your favorite flicks.

I find myself thinking about “what if Sonny Corleone wasn’t murdered in The Godfather and he took the reigns as the Don instead of Michael?” The movie would turn into complete carnage.

As you build your imagination muscles back to your pre-teen levels, you’ll find how useful it is in other areas of your life besides just killing the time.

My imagination helps me come up with a lot of fresh ideas for my marketing consulting business. My friend Ryan tells me that he uses his imagination frequently in conversations, turning dull moments into funny jokes.

And it all comes back to “what if”.

Researchers Develop Mind-Reading Machine that Works With 90% Accuracy

The one place you have complete control and safety from the outside world may be under siege. From mind-readers to detectives to your everyday conversation, people have tried to gain access to other people’s thoughts and get in other people’s heads for a long time. And new developments in brain-computer interface technology may provide us with this opportunity.

Is this research of liberating proportions or a nightmare scenario in which we say: Science went too far? Let’s take a look.

Translating Thoughts into Text

Locked-in syndrome or pseudocoma is a condition in which a patient is aware and conscious but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for vertical eye movements and blinking. Aside from technologies such as Dasher, which help people produce text without a keyboard (in this case through eye tracking), communicating with this affliction is extremely difficult, tedious, and nearly impossible.

But, if you can find a way to tap into and decode brain signals at the root of language understanding and creation, you can tap into someone’s thoughts and possibly their speech.

This was the moonshot goal of a group of University of California researchers and they are showing early success.

What some sources refer to as a “mind-reading machine”, the researchers created a device that registers and analyzes the combination of vowels and consonants we use to construct words and sentences in our brain. Simultaneously, the technology interprets and translates these neural signals into text with over 90% accuracy.

Scientists have understood this neurological process for some time, but have lacked hard research results to show its possibilities.

However, with these positive results, the idea of eventually developing a speech neuroprosthetic that restores communication to individuals with locked-in syndrome or other impairments isn’t that far out of the question.

Since we love to ponder the possibilities here at Quick Theories, what’s the grander outlook of brain-computer interfaces for everyday communication?

Mind-Controlled Computers?

Although it may seem like we “use” our devices. We actually communicate with them. As I type this sentence, my brain gathers my ideas and signals my hands to move over the keys. The computer “listens” to my hand’s movements and displays their actions. If my hands miscommunicate (typo), then the computer replies with a red underline to ask me to clarify.

It’s a basic way of looking at how we communicate with our devices. But, this is how it’s done across all user interfaces. However, using physical actions isn’t the only way to communicate with our devices. The keyboard is just the current interface we use.

The above research shows potential for a new type of interface, where the brain communicates directly with the computer, without the need for our hands to slide over a keyboard.

Elon Musk is one of the visionaries that believes we must merge with software, so we aren’t replaced by software. His Neuralink initiative is one of the few brain-computer interfaces leading the charge.

Imagine you’re in a heated debate with a coworker, but you can’t seem to remember who’s quote you’re trying to reference that’ll demolish his argument. By simply thinking about the quote, your brain-computer interface scours the web and matches the quote with the author and voila! You “remembered”.

Or, you’re in your car and hear an incoming call. But, your phone’s not ringing… it’s your head. That’s right, your calls enter right into Broca’s and Wernicke’s Area (the language centers of the brain) and you’re talking to someone across the country… kind of like telepathy.

So, what’s standing in the way of these crazy possibilities?

In the Way of Brain-Computer Interfaces

One limiting factor of a brain-computer interface like this is filtering out all the noise happening in our brains. At any given moment, dozens of thoughts run through our heads. And most of them aren’t focused on the task at hand.

As I’m trying to search for a wallet on Amazon, I see a bird fly by. The search generated by my brainwaves now includes wallets with bird pictures embossed on them. Not what I’m actually looking for. This shows the pitfall of brain-computer interfaces that they may pick up thoughts we don’t actually want to communicate. Think of all those thoughts that sit in your head that you never say.

Another pitfall is the security of a device connected directly to your brain. The pessimists, realists, and conspiracy-theorists worry that a device like Neuralink could cause “Big brother behavior control”. Tapping into our thoughts and our movement control, they could make us act without our permission. Kind of a dystopian, sci-fi concern. But still a concern.

Only time will tell how the larger market for brain-computer interfaces develops. But, if there’s anything we know for certain, it’s that innovation is driven by NEEDS.

Maybe it’s not for you

Providing communication capabilities to those that are neurologically impaired is the driving force of the aforementioned brain-computer interfaces. It’s an inherent NEED for these folks to live better lives.

As far as connecting your brain to the internet so you can retrieve facts at your leisure, well that’s much more of a WANT. Even though Elon Musk would say otherwise.

So, don’t get lost in this narrative of becoming “one with the machine” in the coming years. You probably aren’t the intended target…

Quick Theories is supported by subscriptions to my Digital Identity series.

This Digital Identity series is an exclusive weekly update to help you adapt to technological change and accelerate your digital intelligence by developing a systematic approach to thinking about, communicating, and protecting your digital identity. This weekly series provides resources for both digital novices and savants plus it can be done from any location. If you love my weekly Quick Theories, you’ll love the Digital Identity series.


The app with 938 million users, showing Facebook how it’s done

At face value, you might see Facebook as a social media tool turned advertising platform. Which is why the world was shocked to find out Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of over 50 million of their users. But, once you understand what Facebook is becoming, then you’ll understand how something like Cambridge Analytica could’ve happened.

For that, we’ll look at a company even more influential than Facebook.

WeChat: Ruler of the East

Contrary to the US – where we have dozens of widely used communication tools to choose from (Snapchat, Twitter, Messenger, etc…) – China has streamlined its communication apps down to one: WeChat.

Chances are you’ve never heard of this company, despite having 938 million daily active users.

Essentially, WeChat is a platform much like Facebook, that offers a variety of communication services – messaging, audio, video. However, the real power of WeChat is all the mini-apps they offer, which make it an “app of all apps”.

Inside the app, users can download mini-apps to play games, pay bills, find local hangouts, book doctor appointments, file police reports, hail taxis, hold video conferences, and access bank services. There are literally millions (not thousands) of these apps within the app.

Partly, WeChat has grown in dominance because the Chinese government censors the competition (Facebook, Whatsapp, Line, Google). But also because it’s so dang useful.

Virtually any service that one would take care of digitally can be done through WeChat. Now they are even replacing physical IDs with digital IDs that can be accessed only through the WeChat app.

In the US – where we care deeply about invasive government involvement – this would be considered privacy heresy. But, the Chinese culture has long accepted government overwatch. It’s commonplace.

What’s important to note, though, is that for millions of people, WeChat is their portal to the digital world. Everything that they do digitally, from banking to texting is done on WeChat.

And this is the type of dominance Facebook dreams of having.

The Facebook Portal

With far less success than WeChat’s mini-apps, Facebook has launched many similar services. Facebook Marketplace allows people to exchange goods. Facebook Groups can help you find an apartment, comment on current events, schedule events and much more. They’re also a “key” to other websites – logging into Uber, Spotify, Instagram with your Facebook profile.

Sounds a little like WeChat’s portal to the digital world, right?

Implementing all of these services within the Facebook platform means they had to empower developers with our data. Facebook grants developers access to your interests, likes, connections, religious and political affiliation, work history, and dozens of other things associated with your Facebook profile.

Additionally, when you engage with a developer’s app on Facebook, that developer can harvest data on all your connections. This is how Cambridge Analytica leveraged 270,000 survey respondents to collect the data of over 50 million users.

This data-sharing has outraged a lot of people. But, you need to remember that when a service is free, generally “you” are the product.

It’s the case with Google – a free search engine that makes money from collecting and selling your behaviors. And it’s also the case with Facebook.

Following this Facebook fiasco, we may see data-sharing regulations that crack down on how free services handle user data. We may not.

Regardless, your digital identity is the hottest commodity on the market today. And if you aren’t taking precautions to insulate your digital identity from harm, then you are an easy target.

If this worries you, then you’ll find a lot of value in my Digital Identity Series – a resource to help educate you on how to protect your digital identity from cybercriminals and Big Brother corporations.

Nonetheless, this is digital life.

Dangers of a New Environment

In the grand scheme, the digital world is very nascent. Just a half-century old. We’re all trying to understand how to navigate this digital world without letting it harm us.

Danger is a reality of entering new environments.

Start a new job and there’s a danger of getting let go. Start driving and there’s a danger of crashing.

What’s important is to not enter new environments with your guns blazin’ and panic in your eyes. It’s like driving for the first time and hitting the gas up to 120 mph.

In new environments, you must figure out the lay of the land and devise a strategy. You must learn how to navigate properly to avoid danger.

The digital world is no different. Unfortunately, most people hit the digital world at 120 mph without figuring out the rules first.

Thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories. And don’t be afraid to shoot me an email with any thoughts.

You only have 6 seconds to impress job recruiters. Why I put my resume on a NYC billboard

Often times we take the status quo to be the standard of our actions. Fearing the consequences, we stick to this belief. But going against what’s standard can provide us with unbelievable results.

I believe paper resumes are one of those actions that we accept as the standard. The average recruiter spends just six seconds browsing each resume. Clearly, there’s an opportunity to change this standard action.

And that’s exactly what I wanted to test when I put my resume on a billboard.

Billboard Resume

Recently, I left my Director of Marketing role at Redox. Meaning, I quickly found myself back in the cutthroat world of applying for jobs. After playing the old games for a week – where you tailor your resume for each application – I realized that no matter what I wrote down it could never encapsulate my value as a marketer.

Marketing is about refreshing campaign ideas and execution. A great marketer is only as good as their next campaign idea, so why not give companies a little taste of my ideas?

As Bonnie Raitt once sang, “Let’s give them something to talk about.” And that’s exactly what I did when I plastered my face on a fifty-foot billboard in New York City. In a way, it was like sending my resume to companies in the style of Batman’s bat signal.

Although in an age of Facebook Advertising billboards may be seen as an advertising afterthought. To me, it was a worthwhile investment.

And I didn’t want just any cut-rate billboard on the side of the highway. I wanted exposure and attention. So, I found a place where attention is plentiful in NYC… right above the latest Banksy street mural.

If you aren’t familiar, Banksy is one of the world’s foremost street artists that uses his minimalist style to send clear cultural messages. He’s famously known for being the type of artist that “goes against the grain”, which was exactly the narrative my billboard resume tells.

Nestled right above that Banksy original artwork is an original QuHarrison marketing campaign, which is already paying returns.

However, the goal was greater than landing marketing gigs. I wanted to showcase that paper resumes are going defunct and that there’s a better way to fight for the profession you desire.

The End of Paper Resumes

Paper resumes were a great tool for the paper era. When fax machines were ringing all day long and memos were printed on paper.

But, we’re now in a paperless era. Where the majority of our work will never be printed in ink. Our professions require us to be digital creators 95% of the day. So why are we still using a paper document to show how we’ll fit these roles?

The coming decades will require a new form of resume. Thus, challenging us to find ways to convey our strengths.

If you’re applying for a social media marketer position, then your resume should be a link to a social media account that you’ve fostered around a specific niche – showing the different growth tactics you use.

If you’re applying for a finance position, then go learn how to create data visualizations that surpass anything you’ll find on PowerPoint and put together a visual data presentation of a portfolio you’ve grown on your own (even if it’s worth just a couple hundred dollars).

Better yet, do what I did and buy a bunch of Facebook Ads (instead of billboards) to promote yourself. You can target specific groups within a company and send your face right to their feed.

There are a plethora of ways to do something remarkable that makes you just a little bit different than all the other job candidates. And if the job market really is getting more competitive, then this is the kind of thing that professionals must take to heart.

Perhaps you’ve solidified your job and haven’t touched your resume in years. Which is why the real lesson here is to simply look at things differently and question how they can be done in a unique, refreshing fashion.

Act Different

Steve Jobs famously launched Apple’s “Think Different” campaign and solidified the slogans place in every innovator’s mind. He reminded the world of the abundant value in the kids that doodle in the back of the class, teens that question cultural norms, and tinkerers that can’t help but tinker.

Those two words still resonate with every person trying to make a change. But, I believe it’s only half of the equation.

The second half is to Act Different.

It’s not enough to simply have different, wandering thoughts than others. Making your actions slightly different will lead you to look at the world differently, view problems differently, and find solutions differently.

Next time you’re walking up the stairs, walk up backward. Not only will you get a smirk from a random passerby, but it might spur you to think about a problem you’re having in a new way. Maybe it won’t.

Next time you’re eating a meal, try switching your knife and fork hands. Try buying a newspaper for old times sake to see how the news cycles differ from the smartphone-driven news.

Every day you take hundreds of actions that are all identical to everyone else’s. You’ll find that there’s something refreshing in acting peculiar – against our common cultural programming.

More than 1.2 trillion photos were taken in 2017. What to do with all these memories?

If I were to ask you right now to recall a memory, you might scramble for a minute or two and finally land on a recent trip or party. But, if I showed you a picture you recently took and asked you to tell me the story behind it, you’d instantly paint the scene for me. That’s why we take pictures – to recall interesting, funny, or important moments.

We’ve all amassed thousands visual memories through pictures. But pictures don’t include the words that come with these memories – leaving a massive hole for a service that sells us our conversations.

Buying Your Memories

Every day, we upload over 200 million photos to Facebook and 1.2 billion photos to Google Photos. InfoTrends even estimated that we took a collective 1.2 trillion photos in 2017.

All of these photos and somehow we find a way to forget.

For my grandpa’s 75th birthday, my cousin called upon all the grandkids to send her their favorite family photos. She then spent weeks curating the album, laying out the pictures, and printing them into a calendar.

All of this effort, which Google now has a service to do in minutes.

Google Photo Books empowers users to easily sort through old memories and compile them into printed albums. In a matter of minutes, you can create a photo book that tells the story of your trip to the Mayan ruins, your child’s first birthday, or a memorable day at the beach.

Eventually, this photo book creation is something Google wants to automate using image-recognition algorithms. As people are uploading the billions of images to Google Photos, Google previews a curated photo book for you to purchase – taking all the stress out of your hands.

Imagine having someone on staff at all times to help you remember some of the best times of yesterday. We’ve got so many memories to wade through that having a personal memory curator is a lucrative service.

And visual memories are only part of the possibility.

Audio Records

Whether it’s advice from a friend, an enticing product pitch, or just a funny story – in an average week you might hear a dozen stories or one-liners that really catch your attention. I’m talking about those conversations you really want to remember for later use.

When these moments of conversational genius hit, we usually aren’t in a position to scribble the words down on a piece of paper or repeat the line over and over until it’s in our memory. And unless you’re a journalist it’s hard to get away with carrying a voice recorder everywhere you go.

But, that’s where we will get a little help from our devices.

If you have a smartphone in your pocket, then you are walking around with an active voice recorder. If you have an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod, your house is canvassed with audio recorders. Even your laptop and in some cases smart TV acts as an audio recorder.

These devices are required to latently record your voice, waiting for a wake word such as “Hey Siri, set an alarm”, “Alexa, What’s the weather”, “Ok Google, play some music” to start encoding information to a database. Nonetheless, they’re still recording.

Who’s to say that in the same way Google creates photo book memories, they couldn’t make audio memory books for us. They have the algorithmic potential to compile some of the best conversations of your week or year without adding any stress to your plate. All they need is your permission.

Let’s just think about the possibilities for a moment.

Buying Your Conversations

This last year I’ve seen a tremendous amount of professional growth in strategic partnerships and business development. You better believe that I’d pay a pretty penny to hear a collection of some of my first few meetings accompanied by the recent deals that I’ve closed. It would be a keepsake that I could learn from and also reminisce on in ten years.

Buying conversations may sound bizarre and a little invasive, but that’s just because it’s a foreign concept right now.

Imagine hearing a replay of the joke that had your Thanksgiving dinner hootin’ and hollerin’. Perhaps you’d like to settle an argument by replaying exactly what the other person said in your conversation – no more of this “he said”, “she said” game. Maybe you’d like to hear the last words your relative said to you before they passed or the first words your child uttered.

There are countless conversations that define our paths, bring smiles to our faces, and tears to our eyes which we often forget. Or worse, we remember small snippets and then fill in the gaps with mumbo-jumbo that didn’t happen.

Mainstream media generally portrays these “always recording” devices as invasive and incriminating data collectors. But their potential is so much more. Unfortunately, we may never get the opportunity to purchase a curated playlist of our seminal conversations if we can’t get past the fact that our devices are always recording.

We have the technological capability to relive precious conversational moments in the same way we relive our memories through pictures. Are there not audio memories you’d like to revisit?

Make A Memory Today

Sometimes I catch myself thinking, “Wow, it was just October, what happened to the last five months?” Time flies at an overwhelming pace.

In these moments of realization, the only thing that brings me out of the sadness is reminiscing about all the great memories I’ve made. I spend every Saturday morning looking through countless pictures and videos from my past.

This act never fails to inspire me to make more memories and push further.

Popular life advice often tells us to never look back and that nostalgia is the enemy of change. But, this neglects the importance of reminiscing about the past.

When you look back, not only do you take time to take a breath and enjoy what you’ve accomplished but you also can assess your choices and learn from your own experiences.

Even leading marathon racers look back occasionally to see where the competition is at. Of course, spend too much time looking back and everyone is going to pass you.

Your future self is looking back on you through the memories you make. So go make a memory today.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s Quick Theories. And feel free to shoot me an email with your thoughts on buying conversations.

75% of workplace harassment goes unreported, but AI may fix this

An ugly issue exists in workplaces worldwide that is undermining people’s ability to be positive and productive at work. I’m referring to workplace harassment. Too often, these wicked acts go unspoken and thus unpunished. Yes, we’ve recently seen a massive purge in the entertainment industry. But, this doesn’t even begin to chip away at what’s happening in the rest of corporate America.

Can artificial intelligence be a remedy for this problem?

The Ugly Truth

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported. Even in the technology space, where you’d expect people to be forward-thinking, these issues are present.

For instance, Uber’s HR department systematically swept harassment claims under the rug to protect their “brilliant jerks”. But, the bravery of Susan Fowler to come forward opened the entire lid on workplace discrimination and harassment at Uber. Ultimately, leading to the firing of 20 people, including their CEO Travis Kalanick.

Workplace harassment comes in a variety of forms. And in many cases, the aggressor gets away scot-free because they threaten the victim (Harvey Weinstein) or their co-workers vouch for them (Uber).

In other words, workplace harassment victims generally find themselves in a situation where they have absolutely no leverage. Fortunately, technology might balance these scales.

Reporting Harassment with Spot

In classic Silicon Valley fashion, artificial intelligence is being applied to this workplace harassment problem as a hopeful remedy. The app is called Spot and it is designed to help people open up about workplace incidents.

Spot differs from biased HR reps because it is designed to ask open-ended, neutral questions. For example, they’d never ask someone if their outfit could be a potential cause of sexual harassment.

By using natural language processing, a form of AI, Spot follows the flow of responses and tailors the questions real-time. This way, it feels more like writing in a diary than getting interrogated.

Once the questions are finished, Spot compiles the responses into a time-stamped, encrypted PDF report that the user can do with as they please.

Their creators believe that this should not only increase people’s likelihood of reporting incidents, but also make the reports more accurate and effective. In theory, this will make it more likely that action is actually taken against aggressors and not ignored.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen AI chatbots designed to help people open up about themselves. Replika is a chatbot that acts as a friend to hundreds of thousands of people. That’s why I have a lot of faith in Spot’s potential of lessening this issue.

When it comes to workplace harassment, making the victim feel safe and empowered is very important. And that’s exactly what Spot is accomplishing.

Once again, here’s a great example of artificial intelligence that is helping people in a simple, yet profound way. As I alluded to in last week’s Quick Theories, the AI narrative is one of joblessness and hopelessness. It’s a toxic narrative that needs changing if we want AI to actually do good for us.

The Power of Narrative

Every moment of every day your mind is creating a narrative. This narrative encompasses your actions, your interactions, and your surroundings.

Perhaps you saw a Nike ad on TV that inspired a narrative of motivation. As a result, you start hitting the gym a bit more. One day, you look in the mirror and realize that you aren’t getting any results, thus your narrative becomes one of despair. As a result, you quit your workout routine and fall back into your old eating habits.

This is a very basic example where the narrative in your head created two completely opposite reactions. This is the power of narrative.

What we choose to tell ourselves is what we choose to pursue. It’s what we believe.

The very wise Kung-Fu philosopher Bruce Lee once said, “The mind is like a fertile garden in which anything that is planted, flowers or weeds, will grow.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather plant flowers in my garden.

Thanks for reading this week’s Quick Theories. And if you have any thoughts on Spot or our personal narratives, feel free to shoot me an email.

22,000 People Agreed to Clean Human Waste in a WiFi Privacy Policy

As I sat down to write this Quick Theories at a coffee shop, I accepted their WiFi’s Privacy Policy, without fully knowing what was written in the fine print. And I’d venture to guess that you’ve accepted many Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policies, and Service Agreements without knowing at all what you were accepting.

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, ranked his top worries for the future of the Internet. His number one concern was that we’ve come to blindly accept the labyrinth terms of service for most technologies. Additionally, giving away control of our personal data.

It’s a major problem that only Artificial Intelligence may be able to solve.

The Problem with Privacy Policy

Honestly, we don’t read Privacy Policies because they aren’t made for us. They’re created for their authors – the companies. Packed with legal jargon to save their butts in case of emergency and also grant them access to our data.

For instance, Apple is famous for their behemoth 20,699-word iTunes Terms and Conditions. Millions of people have accepted their terms without the slightest clue what it entailed.

In part, that’s why R. Sikoryak turned the iTunes Terms and Conditions into a 94-page graphic novel. As a result, thousands bought the novel and learned about the contract they once signed.

Perhaps what’s most concerning about these marathon-length contracts is that literally anything can be slid into them without our knowing.

Purple, a UK WiFi hotspot provider, hid a “Community Service Clause” into its service agreements. 22,000 people at coffee shops and restaurants across the UK agreed to 1,000 hours of menial labor (this includes cleaning local parks of animal waste, cleaning portable lavatories at local festivals and events, scraping chewing gum off the streets, and more) when they checked the box to use Purple’s WiFi. Thankfully it was a gimmicky ad campaign meant to spread awareness of the power of these public contracts.

The moral of the story is that many of the terms of service we agree to on a weekly basis require a high-level of legal knowledge and lots of time to understand. For this reason, companies easily get the upper hand of the deal.

Agreeing to Facebook’s Terms of Service grants them permission to track your activity across the entire Internet. Agreeing to Gmail’s Terms and Conditions allows them to read all of your emails and deliver ads based on your conversations. You’re giving away your identity in the Terms of Service.

Ideally, if more of us understood the terms, we could band together and demand better terms. And that’s where AI is coming in.

Policing Policies with Polisis

Researchers at Switzerland’s EPFL, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan announced the release of Polisis. Short for “privacy policy analysis”, Polisis is a website and browser extension that uses machine learning to automatically read and make sense of any online service’s privacy policy, so you don’t have to.

In just 30-seconds, Polisis extracts a readable summary of a privacy policy it’s never seen before. Best of all, the summary is displayed in a graphic flowchart outlining what kind of data a service collects, where that data could be sent, and whether a user can opt out of that collection or sharing.

Here’s what the Polisis AI pieced together for Pokemon Go’s terms of use:

Just like Tim Berners-Lee, the researchers at Polisis want us to at least know what we’re giving away in technology service agreements. Especially since most people don’t understand the magnitude of this problem.

There are potentially hundreds of apps, services, and websites you’ve used or visited that required you to check a Terms and Conditions box. More likely than not, they had a clause in there allowing them to invade your privacy, track your activity, collect information, and use your data for their benefit.

Your Digital Identity, which encompasses all the data of your online activity, may be one of the most valuable assets to your future.

If you’re just now coming to terms with this fact, it’s all right. There’s never been a better time to begin protecting your Digital Identity. That’s why I’ve built a resource to help you, which you can check out here: Digital Identity Series.

With your ambition and tools like Polisis, we can regain control of our own data.

Dwell on the Good for Once

Thanks to the media and our craving for fearful stories, we all tend to focus on the negative AI narratives. Honestly, most Artificial Intelligence initiatives that make it to the mainstream media are “job-threatening” or “life-as-we-know-it-altering” technologies.

However, this isn’t the whole story. Polisis is a great example of AI that will augment our lives in a positive way. It’s a tangible, beneficial resource that isn’t killing jobs or changing life forever. And I think this is great commentary on general human behavior.

So often we allow our days to be ruined by something bad. Seems like we are always dwelling on the negative. The waitress that took forever to serve our food. The co-worker that screwed up an assignment and inconvenienced our perfectly planned day.

But, why don’t we ever let something good ruin our day?

Why not dwell on the person that kindly let you change lanes ahead of them? How about the coffee barista that took your order with a great big smile?

These occurrences are just as “insignificant” in size as the negative occurrences. However, we routinely allow the negative to control our mental space.

Make a change and dwell on something good that happened today. Your mind could use the uplift.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s Quick Theories. Please shoot me your thoughts on Privacy Policies, AI, or anything in your head that you can’t wait to get out.

Why you need to take control of your Digital Identity

Growing up, you probably had a set of chores your parent(s) expected you to finish every day or week. Some chores paid an allowance while others didn’t. I, unfortunately, lived in a house where chores were expected to be done pro bono (free) and with a smile on your face. Cleaning dishes, mowing the lawn, and folding laundry were my areas of expertise.

By the time I was 12 years old, though, all my friends had allowance money they were spending on video games and movies. I felt left out and realized that I needed to find a way to get paid. I couldn’t continue down this non-lucrative path of pro bono work (even though it was fulfilling, mom).

In many ways, I’ve reached this same crossroads in my twenties with Quick Theories.

For the past 18 months, the Quick Theories weekly newsletter has been my pro bono chore. Over the course of 79 Quick Theories, I’ve helped over 3 million people navigate and understand emerging technologies, without asking to be paid.

And I don’t mind. In fact, this pro bono work is some of the most exciting work I do all week. It’s a labor of love that brings out a lot of great conversations.

However, this side-work is becoming a large brand that needs resources (money) to help sustain its production and growth.

Now, just as it would’ve been foolish for me to ask my mom to start paying me to mow the lawn – a chore I’d done free of charge for five years – it would be foolish for me to ask you to pay for Quick Theories, which has been free forever.

So, I drafted a proposition.

Inevitable Human

In the era of Big Brother and Big Data, corporations, governments, and individual hackers can buy or collect anything they want to know about you and your digital behaviors. And they can use this information to control you.

Safeguarding oneself from hacks and exploits should be top-of-mind for everyone’s 2018 plans. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to protect their Digital Identity.

That’s why I’ve created the Digital Identity Series.

This series is an exclusive weekly resource to help you accelerate your digital intelligence and adapt to technological change. Through intuitive videos and engaging articles, I’ll help you develop a systematic approach to thinking about, communicating, and protecting your digital identity in these digitally dangerous times.

This is the most common vulnerability facing everyone – including you and Tom from Timbuktu. And the Digital Identity Series is a proactive way of fighting this vulnerability.

In exchange for this resource, I’m asking you for a meager allowance of $10 / month (or $100 for the year).

Unlike the allowance I needed in my teens to buy things, this allowance is going to be reinvested right back into the Inevitable Human brand to create better experiences and products for your benefit.

You should know that my mom accepted my teenage allowance proposition to assist her with the long, boring Saturday errands. And I hope that you’ll consider accepting my allowance proposition which is going to help you take control of your Digital Identity.

If you’d like to start building your defense against digital dangers, click below to learn more and possibly become a member.

Access the Digital Identity Series

One in three kids use an iPad before they can speak. This is the emergence of Digital Intelligence

We all have varying mixes of IQ and EQ – academic intelligence and emotional intelligence. For many years, scholars and “people-persons” have debated which is a better indicator of success in life. These debates may finally come to an end as a new form of intelligence takes shape: digital intelligence. Abbreviated as DQ, digital intelligence may take precedence over both IQ and EQ as it affects all facets of our social, emotional, cognitive, and professional lives.

We’re bringing more and more devices into our daily environments and as a result, our behaviors evolve with them. Children are teaching their parents how to use smartphones and babies are learning to use iPads before they speak. These are obvious indicators of the importance of digital intelligence.

DQ Basics

Whether you know it or not, digital intelligence is a growing part of our cultural identity. And adapting to this growth is quite challenging. I have a friend who’s digital communication skills (texting) are lacking so badly that it affects the strength of his friendships. One of my relatives just lost all their photos because they weren’t uploading them to the cloud.

But, understanding how to text, backup your photos, or troubleshoot a computer error message is just a small sliver of digital intelligence. DQ is a massive layer of our identity that can be divided into 8 parts:

  1. Usage – Managing the amount of time spent on devices, as well as balancing productivity and distractions.
  2. Identity – Developing as a Digital Citizen by building an identity around interests, creating content with integrity, and spreading messages one cares about.
  3. Rights – Understanding how to handle personal and public information with discretion.
  4. Literacy – Enhancing one’s technical abilities by navigating available learning resources. And, distinguishing between trustworthy and fake content, contacts, and information.
  5. Communication – Understanding the lasting permanence of all forms of data collection (posting, messaging, searching), and the consequences associated with leaving a digital footprint that doesn’t positively reflect on an individual.
  6. Emotional Intelligence – Overcoming the digital divide between individuals, being cognizant of other people’s feelings, and bringing empathy into online communication.
  7. Security – Protecting one’s data by creating strong passwords, updating protective software, and recognizing possible cybersecurity threats.
  8. Safety – Detecting cyberbullying situations and handling hateful situations wisely.

We pay close attention to our identities in the real world, shading our flaws and shining our advantages. However, technology has created an entirely new environment in which we must manicure our lifestyle.

The formal definition of DQ is the sum of technical, mental and social competencies essential to digital life. It encompasses the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that are needed to thrive as responsible members of the online world and to be confident in handling the challenges and demands of the digital era.

Doesn’t that sound like the mix of IQ and EQ that helps us navigate the physical world?

We’ve all spent a considerable amount of time doing similar “lifestyle manicuring” in the real world, ranging from how we spend our time to how we present ourselves in certain environments. For instance, I’ve changed up my vernacular to better present myself in the professional world.

Lifestyle manicuring again with our digital selves is a lot to take in. Especially considering most of us have fairly rock-solid habits. So, because managing one’s digital intelligence is such a complex undertaking for adults, most of the DQ initiatives available are about focused on the youth.

Uncharted Territory

A study by Common Sense Media found that 38 percent of kids under age 2 are using tablets or smartphones before they can even string together a sentence. Nursery rhymes and baby rattles are being replaced by YouTube videos and trending apps.

Undoubtedly, molding our youth with technology’s helping hand leaves a lot of unknowns. There’s so much technological potential in the child that learns to use an iPad before they can even speak. But, there’s also a lot of negative paths this can lead down.

As we see with teens today that were the first to really grow up with smartphones, unrestricted use of the internet is a Catch 22. Devices and digital environments provide a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of harm.

Jean Twenge’s essay “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” made a case against social media, saying it’s the culprit for stark rises in loneliness, depression, and suicidal thinking among teens today. On the contrary, the introduction notes that this generation has sharply lower rates of alcohol use, teen pregnancies, unprotected sex, smoking, and car accidents than previous generations.

So, is that what a “destroyed generation” looks like?

Realistically, the dangers teens must face are transitioning from physical pressures to digital hardships. Reduced digital empathy, excessive screen time, digital addiction, cyber-bullying, online grooming, digital identity theft, online privacy mismanagement, exposure to digital misinformation operations, etc… These are the problems facing our youth.

The New D.A.R.E.

Born out of a World Economic Forum workshop, the DQ Institute may be the remedy for many of these problems. The DQ Institute is building a global coalition of stakeholders to bring digital intelligence education to every child through interactive video games, workshops, and activities.

In just nine short months, the movement has mushroomed into a 100+ member coalition that has reached over 600,000 children in more than 30 countries, across 15 different languages. Child DQ was increased by 10% on average, which translated into a 15% reduction in online-related threats.

In many ways, the DQ Institute is the 21st-century D.A.R.E. program. Let’s just hope the DQ Institute is more effective than the nationwide “Dare to resist drugs” in-school movement.

Even though most attention is on developing the youth’s DQ, that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones that need help.

Digital Intelligence for Adults

Digital intelligence is a complex and emerging part of all our identities. We all can benefit from an understanding and improvement of our DQ.

While many of us may take pride in the “street smarts” we’ve developed to get ahead – the behaviors we’ve used to navigate our professional and social relationships. “Street smarts” in the 21st-century refers to the streets of Facebook, LinkedIn, and your Email Inbox. These are the places where people are getting ahead.

Getting ahead in life now means getting ahead of technology. Or at least being up to date on your digital self. Improving both professionally and socially comes down to improving your digital intelligence regarding your digital identity.

Perhaps you’ve gotten along just fine up to this point without assessing your DQ. Maybe you’ve thought about Internet privacy, security, and safety. But, a conscious consideration of all areas of DQ is needed to excel in the future. Conscious attention to our DQs is what will ensure a functioning, healthy society.

It doesn’t hurt to do a little self-reflection and see where you may be able to improve. But, take it slow. Since there are eight different components to Digital Intelligence, reflect on one at a time.

Upstanding Digital Citizens

We all strive to be honest, functioning members of society by taking on responsibility and fighting for causes. The profession we work at every day, the charities we donate our time and money toward, the discussions we have about ideas. In the physical world, we hold ourselves and each other accountable to a certain standard of contribution. This is all part of being a citizen.

How are you bringing this level of contribution to the digital world?

The discussions you have through email and social media should reflect your values and the work you do. The articles you share and the groups you join should reflect the causes you care about. As a Digital Citizen, it’s your duty to uphold the same standards you have in the physical world.

How are you aligning your identity with your actions as a Digital Citizen?

Often times, we interact in the digital world with far less inhibition. It’s much easier to release our heightened emotions (anger, disgust, surprise) on the Internet. But, does this actually reflect the identity you’ve carefully crafted in the physical world?

What level of integrity do you hold your online interactions to and how does it differ from your physical interactions?

The collective activity and emotion you display in the digital world has an impact in the same way that your actions at work, at home, or in public have. The digital world is developing and it’s your duty to contribute as a Digital Citizen.

Take a look at a guy like Gary Vaynerchuk who understands what it means to be an upstanding Digital Citizen. He’s reflected on what he wants to contribute and carefully translated his identity into his digital actions. By most standards, he’s a model Digital Citizen.

What are you doing to help mold the digital world into a pleasant environment, as you do in the physical world?

The people that choose to care about being an upstanding Digital Citizen and dig deep in improving their Digital Intelligence are the ones that will find great success in the growing digital environment. Yesterday will always be the best day to start improving yourself. But, the second best day is today.

I put together an exclusive Digital Identity series to help you adapt to technological change and accelerate your digital intelligence by developing a systematic approach to thinking about, communicating, and protecting your digital identity.

This Digital Identity series provides resources for both digital novices and savants plus it can be done from any location.

HQ Trivia Inspires a New Industry of Online Communities

We flock to concert venues and sports arenas to watch something magical happen on stage or on the field. But, the real magic is in the stands. It’s astounding that 40,000+ people pay top dollar for this massive shared experience – strangers simultaneously spending their time in search of similar rewards (joy, thrill, awe, etc…).

There are a plethora of massively shared experiences that happen every day in the physical world: graduation ceremonies, fundraisers, movie theatre showings, concerts, sports, marathons, etc…

But, where are the massively shared experiences of the digital world?

Massively Shared Experiences

Massively shared experiences in the digital realm are extremely rare. This is because most digital experiences aren’t limited to a timeframe and also exist on platforms that seclude each individual from the group.

Ten million people may see the same tweet from Kim Kardashian, but they all experience it on their own time when they choose to be on Twitter. One hundred thousand people may stream the new episode of The Crown. But, they have no way of feeling the energy of the thousands of other people experiencing the same episode.

Yes, primetime TV shows such as The Bachelor and The Amazing Race require you to “tune-in” at a certain time to enjoy them, and millions of people simultaneously do so. But, there’s no unity in the shared experience. You cannot feel the emotional energy of the crowd.

A big part of a shared experience is in connecting with the rest of the audience. There’s an indescribable feeling when you sigh alongside 30,000 fans after a dropped touchdown pass. Or the crowd’s uplifting excitement after hearing the first note of a band’s hit song.

When I was a live DJ, I used to read the collective energy of the crowd to figure out which music was fit for the environment. You cannot put into words what it feels like to be tapped into the energy of an entire crowd, but that’s the power of a massive shared experience.

This is something that TV simply can’t replicate because there’s no way of engaging with the thousands of others that are sharing that moment. However, this doesn’t make the digital world a lost cause for massively shared experiences.

First of its Kind

Perhaps the first widespread example was the release of the Pokemon Go app in 2016, which garnered over 25 million downloads in the first week and 750 million downloads to date. What made this location-based game so unique is that it got people off their couches (the usual place to play games) and into their environments to catch wild Pokemon with their cell phones.

By strategically releasing rare Pokemon at certain times and locations, huge masses of players gathered around “points-of-interest”, thus getting involved in a massive shared experience. For instance, when a Charizard appeared in Long Beach, this happened. And when a Snorlax appeared in Taiwan, this happened.

We can’t quite consider Pokemon Go groups as fully digital shared experiences, considering the groups formed in the physical world. However, they were a step in the right direction.

Trivia with a Crowd

A purely digital environment that is providing massively shared experiences is the HQ app. HQ is a live trivia game show with cash prizes. Every day, at 9 pm EDT and weekdays at 3 pm EDT, contestants must answer 12 questions correctly to split a cash prize. Since it’s “live”, HQ requires contestants to “tune-in” to participate, thus fulfilling the simultaneous requirement of a shared experience.

During Super Bowl Sunday’s halftime, while most people were preoccupied with commercials, snacks, and bathroom breaks, over 1.9 million people tuned-in to the HQ app for a chance at $20,000.

At first glance, HQ may seem like a classic quiz game where it’s you against the question. But, it’s really a game of “you against the crowd”, since HQ displays how many people participate. Half the fun is watching the number of contestants dwindle the further you go.

It’s an exhilarating twist to the game that also connects you to the rest of the audience. You are playing the questions just as much as the crowd. Especially when you get a question right and watch 100k people get kicked out for the wrong answer. This is what makes it a simultaneous shared experience. And HQ is the first of its digital kind.

Similar to how Uber spurred the entire sharing economy, HQ is birthing an entire industry known as Massive Simultaneous Online Social Communities (MSOCs).

Massive Simultaneous Online Social Communities

When compared to the practically infinite number of physical hobbies, the digital world seems to be pretty bland. Streaming video, researching information, playing games, and blogging are among the very limited number of digital hobbies. But, MSOCs are going to change this stigma by encouraging the creation of interactive social communities revolved around hobbies.

Digital clubs for improv, pottery, woodworking, yoga, photography, quilting, drama, drawing, cooking, collecting, card playing are all in the realm of possibility for MSOCs.

Currently, hardware limits these potential digital hobbies. It’s kind of hard to have an interactive woodworking club through smartphones and computers. But, AR and VR hardware are going to be the platforms where MSOC experiences thrive.

In particular, Intel’s AR smart glasses, Vaunt, could be used to foster a massive online cooking community. Vaunt glasses project a non-invasive display onto your retina, which could allow chefs to engage with one another in remote kitchens – just like a cooking class.

As for VR, well it doesn’t take much imagination to realize how MSOCs could exist in these virtual worlds. I know the HQ app could benefit from a VR platform so contestants could engage with each other’s digital avatars. Perhaps digital trap doors open for contestants that guess the wrong answer. Another example of MSOCs in VR is seen in the upcoming major motion picture, Ready, Player One.

Yes, AR and VR have been pretty disappointing technologies over the past few years when compared to the hype they received. However, they’ve just been missing the software that gets people interested.

HQ isn’t a fad. It’s an early look into MSOCs. And one of the next half-trillion-dollar companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google) is going to emerge within this MSOC era.

Affecting Connectedness

Undoubtedly, MSOCs bring a refreshing twist to hobbies. However, the question persists whether or not MSOCs will actually be a positive social transition. Yes, they remove the friction of escaping to a hobby. But, are digitally shared experiences as powerful as physical? Are they as fulfilling?

We engage in group experiences for the satisfaction and comradery of being a part of something bigger than ourselves. The universe can feel both massive and tiny when we are alone. Yet, shared experiences dilute this loneliness and make us feel connected.

For instance, running 26.2 miles at the gym on any given Tuesday will never compare to finishing alongside thousands of others at the Boston Marathon.

So, how will the rise of digital shared experiences affect our connectedness?

I don’t know whether this social transition will be positive or negative for our culture. But, I do know that we must never lose our desire to gather together. Because in groups we remind ourselves that we aren’t alone in this. And that’s something we cannot forget.

Thanks for tuning in to this week’s Quick Theories. Shoot me an email with what MSOCs you’d like to join someday.

Digital Identity Theft is a Growing Problem with Video Manipulation Technology

For the past 10-20 years, we’ve uploaded our identities to the internet without a second thought. Every day, we upload over 1.2 billion photos to Google Photos, tweet over 500 million thoughts on Twitter, send over 3 billion snaps on Snapchat, and watch over 5 billion YouTube videos. With all this personal information, only now are we beginning to realize a new form of digital identity theft taking shape.

The following New York Times article by Nicholas Confessore et al. outlined the scandal:

“The real Jessica Rychly is a Minnesota teenager with a broad smile and wavy hair. She likes reading and the rapper Post Malone. When she goes on Facebook or Twitter, she sometimes muses about being bored or trades jokes with friends. Occasionally, like many teenagers, she posts a duck-face selfie.

But on Twitter, there is a version of Jessica that none of her friends or family would recognize. While the two Jessicas share a name, photograph and whimsical bio — “I have issues” — the other Jessica promoted accounts hawking Canadian real estate investments, cryptocurrency and a radio station in Ghana. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak. While she was a 17-year-old high school senior, her fake counterpart frequently promoted graphic pornography, retweeting accounts called Squirtamania and Porno Dan.

All these accounts belong to customers of an obscure American company named Devumi that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found.”

It seems like a harmless crime considering friends and family will know it’s not her. But, imagine the consequences it could have on finding an employer that doesn’t know her. Or, online communities that see this and begin to think she’s someone that she really isn’t – sending her slimy investment opportunities among other junk.

This may sound absurd to you now, but it’s happened to thousands of people on Twitter. Even worse, this slanderous identity theft is taking a visual form.

Video FaceSwap with FakeApp

It all began on “the front page of the Internet” – Reddit  – when a bored technologist decided to place Nic Cage’s face on familiar film moments. Taking Harrison Ford’s place in Raiders of the Lost Ark, once in Game of Thrones, and potentially as every character in Lord of the Rings.

It was a harmless Internet trick that’s now taking a turn for the worst.

Using the same technology, fittingly named FakeApp (research at your own discretion), Redditors began replacing the faces of pornographic film stars with the faces of respectable celebrities. Jessica Alba, Emma Watson, and Daisy Ridley are among the dozens of victims. You can’t reverse this defamation of character. I can’t fathom how awful they feel.

Imagine if someone took your son or daughter’s Snapchat video data and did something horrible like they did to these celebrities? How does one recover from this?

Although there are barriers to using FakeApp, such as running a high-powered GPU accompanied by CUDA support. Realistically, anyone with a little time and interest can learn to create these slanderous fake videos. And that’s a huge problem.

FakeApp’s creator, among other digital media technologists, believe that we may be just a year or two away from this becoming a tool with almost no barrier to use. As simple as choosing a video you’d like to swap and selecting a face from an archive that you believe belongs in that video. We’re talking about video manipulation as easy as Snapchat’s FaceSwap feature.

A powerful video editing tool like this could do wonders for the creative industry. It also could spell disaster for all forms of trust and reliability (Imagine TMZ or your angry neighbor getting a hold of it).

So, how can we safeguard ourselves?

Spurring Public Interest

I’m painting a scenario where you don’t want to wait until it’s too late. Once the damage is done, well, it’s done. You can’t take away the public impressions from a slanderous faceswap experiment or a scandalous identity theft situation.

It’s time we all take control of our digital identities by putting a safety lock on the digital media we put in the public domain. This means adopting tools that prevent machine learning algorithms from “crawling” your online images.

D-ID (short for Deidentification) is an emerging startup that wants to create tools that process images to make them unrecognizable to face recognition algorithms, but still look similar to the original picture.

They call it creating a firewall for your identity. By slightly altering your image at the binary level (1s and 0s), D-ID prevent algorithms such as FakeApp from contextualizing your image. Thus making faceswap virtually impossible.

More than likely, an invaluable technology such as D-ID would be bought up by a major tech company to license and distribute. It’s a collective mission to begin thinking about protecting our digital assets on the web.

Finding privacy in this invasive world is a trillion dollar problem. That’s why digital disguising and altering your style will be an integral way of avoiding facial recognition algorithms.

Of course, there’s always the sure-fire way of finding privacy in being alone.

Finding Peace in Solitude

One of the largest deficits we have is silence and solitude. It may only account for the last ten minutes of the day as we are dozing off or the seven minutes in the shower. For many of us, solitude may as well be a trip to the insane asylum – alone with our cruelest thoughts.

I’ll admit, silence scares me. Mostly because it’s a mixture of stagnancy and loneliness. In silence, I quickly search for a source of music, calling a friend, or flipping on the TV. And every time I do this, I’m further distancing myself from dealing with silence.

However, a good friend told me that he overcame this fear by communicating with himself during silence. Instead of allowing his consciousness to replay regretful conversations or compare himself to others that “were way further along in life”, he used the time to talk through his own problems.

He imagined his problems were objective, pretending someone came to him with his problems – giving advice to himself.

This is a man that spends large amounts of his day alone and enjoys those moments dearly. Instead of grasping for others during silence, he found himself.

Accompany yourself in loneliness, and solitude will become a comfortable space for reflection and improvement.

I’m glad you made it through this Quick Theories in one piece! Also, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this emerging dilemma, so shoot me an email.

How Amazon Thrives on our Impatience as Consumers

Amazon has flourished by making it extremely easy for their customers to give them money. So much so, that over 90 million Americans are Amazon Prime members. They continue to push the envelope with retail spaces such as Amazon Go powered by their Just Walk Out technology. This accumulates into a simple, yet defensible moat that solidifies their place at the top of everyone’s shopping minds. But, how did they get here and how will they dig a deeper moat?

1-Click Ordering

19 years ago, Amazon introduced shoppers to an entirely new way of online shopping known as 1-click ordering. By saving a customer’s payment method and shipping preferences, Amazon empowered impulsive shoppers by allowing any item to be bought with one simple click of the mouse.

Although it doesn’t seem like a very advanced idea, their swift patenting of the digital shopping method in 1999 helped create an e-commerce moat that couldn’t be beaten.

You see, e-commerce’s biggest enemy is the abandoned shopping-cart, which is basically talking yourself out of a purchase midway through the checkout process. Several studies claim that the average shopping cart abandonment rate is around 70 percent!

Amazon’s 1-click ordering button leaves shoppers little opportunity to “get cold feet” with their purchase. It’s harder to turn back once that button has been clicked.

I’m guilty of overusing that 1-click ordering button from time to time. Just a couple months ago I bought an unnecessary laptop bag on a whim because Amazon recommended it and I liked the way it looked. Not more than fifteen minutes later I had buyers remorse since I didn’t really need another laptop bag.

Right or wrong, Amazon exploits impulsivity with 1-click ordering, which basically eliminates the online shopping equivalent of standing in checkout lines. Now, they are bringing the technology to the physical shopping world.

Amazon believes that checkout lines should be a thing of the past. That we shouldn’t have to read People Magazine’s Kardashian headlines as we wait three people deep in the checkout line or frustratingly watch the new cashier struggle to type in the correct produce codes.

And they are solving this issue with the Just Walk Out Shopping experience.

Grab and Amazon Go

Using the same computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep-learning technology as self-driving cars, Just Walk Out is a smart-store technology that charges your account as you pick an item off the shelf (subtracting it if you put it back, too). The moment you walk into the store, it recognizes your Amazon Go account and begins billing you accordingly.

This simultaneous choosing and paying for an item alleviates us from shopping carts and checkout lines since you can literally Just Walk Out without seeing a cashier.

Taking a trip to the grocery store will feel more like walking into your own pantry than it does running errands.

In many ways, it’s like being a member of a country club. “Country clubbers” never worry about taking out their wallet to pay the bill since everything is charged directly to their member account. It’s an intimate experience where you feel important and known – not just another person buying something. For this reason, I believe it’s a shopping evolution that will quickly catch on with other brick-and-mortars.

If Amazon decides to license the Just Walk Out Shopping experience, it could easily be applied to a retail store like Macy’s. Shopping for clothes with Just Walk Out technology would be as easy as going into your closet for an outfit. Whichever scarf you chose to carry out of the store would be charged to your account.

Nearly every brick-and-mortar store is afflicted with the cashier conundrum. Employ too many cashiers and they lose money. Employ too few cashiers and the customers have a horrible experience.

Amazon Go technology sidesteps this problem altogether by relinquishing cashiers from the registers to serve us in better ways. And this solution could potentially deepen Amazon’s shopping moat.

A Tax on Traditional Commerce

Essentially, Amazon is creating the retail brick and mortar Point of Sale (POS) system of the future. Walk into any store, grab what you need, and walk out. Rather than spend resources on cashiers that are confined to the front of a store, those employees could roam the aisles, providing customer assistance.

As the POS system of brick and mortar commerce, Amazon capitalizes on the profits of others. They get to “wet their beaks” with 1-5% of all sales (or whatever they’d charge to license it) while allowing stores to sidestep the cashier conundrum. Thus, providing value for all parties.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Amazon pulled a move like this.

Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of User Growth at Facebook, eloquently described the position that Amazon created with Amazon Web Services (AWS):

“AWS is a tax on the computing economy. Whether you care about mobile apps, consumer apps, IoT, SaaS, etc, more companies than not will be using AWS [rather than] building their own infrastructure. E-commerce was Amazon's way to “dogfood” AWS, and continue to do so so that it was mission grade. If you believe that over time the software industry is a multi, deca-trillion [dollar] industry, then ask yourself how valuable a company would be who taxes the majority of that industry. 1%, 2%, 5% - it doesn't matter because the numbers are so huge - the revenues, profits, profit margins etc.”

What Amazon did with AWS, they could potentially do with Just Walk Out technology. Thus, creating a “tax” on traditional commerce, shifting future behaviors, and digging a deeper moat.

I applaud Amazon’s understanding of human behavior as it relates to the shopping experience and how they are making it easier and more convenient. However, the main reason we can even discuss the possibility of Just Walk Out technology is our collective impatience.

An Era of Impatience

Convenience is an effective business plan because we’ve become increasingly impatient. We fill our days with so much angst for the next thing we have to do, that waiting for mere minutes is a trillion-dollar problem.

But, I’m more curious as to why we are always in such a hurry? Can we really not handle standing idle for a few minutes here and there?

Perhaps this is a larger problem among my generation, the Millennials. Regardless, we should all learn to enjoy the monotonous moments of waiting.

Frustration appears when you are in a hurry. In all honesty, most of the time we are just in a hurry to get home and relax.

Why not relax while you’re waiting?

It’s a simple mindset shift to realize that the slow cashier or the slow car ahead of you is going at their comfortable pace. Just because it’s not comfortable to you doesn’t mean they should adapt to your needs. In fact, you can learn from them.

“The calm and balanced mind is the strong mind. The hurried and agitated mind is the weak one.” – Wallace D. Wattles

Thanks for tuning in to this week’s Quick Theories. Please feel free to shoot me an email with your thoughts on Amazon Go.