👨‍🚀 The era of private human space flight has officially begun / Humans + Tech - #31

+ Social media mania + Gene-editing trials to cure diseases are underway + An AI that creates music that responds to the listener's feelings

Hi :)

👨‍🚀 The era of private human space flight has officially begun.

I watched NASA’s and SpaceX’s live feed of the Dragon Crew Capsule launch into Space with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on the Falcon 9 rocket on their way to the international space station yesterday. Bad weather scrubbed the Wednesday launch, but they launched successfully yesterday. Bob and Doug still had another 19 hours to go before they arrive at the space station. They should dock later today.

I wish I could have gone too. I think most of us need a break from Earth right now.

The live feed continues until the docking is complete so if you are interested and happen to read this email before they dock, you can watch it live here:

While we await our turns to go to Space, here are this week’s articles.

📱 Social media mania

Facebook and Twitter were both in the spotlight this week. A report by Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman for the Wall Street Journal states that Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisive [WSJ - Paywall].

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” […]

But in the end, Facebook’s interest was fleeting. Mr. Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products.

Casey Newton in his newsletter, The Interface, presents a very balanced analysis of the whole situation including feedback from some of Facebook’s staff overseeing these efforts [The Interface].

Meanwhile, Twitter drew the ire of Trump twice this week. First for adding a fact-checking label on a couple of Trump’s tweets regarding voting claims [TechCrunch], and again for hiding a tweet of his for glorifying violence in regards to the unrest in Minnesota [The New York Times] from protests due to George Floyd’s murder by police officers.

Trump reacted by signing an executive order to revise the interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which protects online sites like Twitter and Facebook from liability for what their users post.

Facebook stayed out of the controversy with Zuckerberg saying in an interview with CNBC:

I don’t think that Facebook or internet platforms, in general, should be arbiters of truth. I think that’s kind of a dangerous line to get down to, in terms of deciding what is true and what isn’t. And I think political speech is one of the most sensitive parts of a democracy. And people should be able to see what politicians say. And there’s tons of scrutiny already—political speech is the most scrutinized speech already by a lot of the media. And I think that that will continue.

Status: It’s complicated

Extremely complicated. Social media is no longer a place to only meet online with friends, family, and strangers to share and converse. It is where we get our news, where we source information, where we shop, where we work, where we play, and where we interact with the world.

Do social media companies have the responsibility to fact-check everything posted on their platforms? How is that even feasible on a global scale with billions of messages shared every day? Should they be held responsible for their users promoting violence or fake news meant to harm others? Is it their job to stop divisiveness? Who draws the line and where?

I don’t have good answers or solutions to any of these questions. But we can control our own behaviour.

The answers lie within you

As all enlightened beings tell us, the answers lie within us. What we need to understand primarily with social media or any free service that we use, is that we are the product. These social media sites are trading our attention, time, interests, likes, and dislikes to advertisers in exchange for money. That money keeps them in business and gives them the ability to provide us with a free platform to interact with the world. They are essentially data brokers.

Their algorithms are designed to maximize the time you spend on their sites and to extract as much information about you so that they can provide a more targetted and engaged audience to their advertisers. And like mainstream media, negative and sensational news draws more interaction, attention, and conversation.

Once you’re aware of how these sites function, you can be more conscious of your behaviour and what you interact with as you use these sites. Stay aware and vigilant. Watch what recommendations are offered to you by these algorithms. The algorithms will try to serve more of the same type of media that you watch or interact with to keep you engaged longer. This is how conspiracy theories gain a foothold and draw you into becoming a believer. Don’t let them shape your worldview. Try to vary your information sources and seek out opposing arguments to issues. Keep the algorithms guessing. Keep your sanity. And be kind in your posts.


🗞 Other interesting news from around the web

🤖 Microsoft is replacing 50 human editors in the US and 27 human editors in the UK with AI [The Verge]. Microsoft’s human editors were curating top stories from a variety of sources to display on Microsoft News, MSN, and Microsoft Edge. I may replace myself with AI soon to curate this newsletter.

🧬 Gene-editing patents have increased tenfold in just four years. Here’s what the technology could cure [Fast Company]. 15 trials are underway to use CRISPR gene-editing technology to treat various diseases. X-Men will walk amongst us very soon.

📸 Surreal Drone Photos Transform America Into a Roller Coaster [WIRED]. Stunningly beautiful and creative pictures. A must see!

👩‍⚕️ Telehealth’s future is bright. Here’s what it’ll look like in 2025 [Fast Company]. A combination of connected medical devices, remote healthcare kits, apps, and AI are going to push Telehealth to a whole new level.

🎻 This AI Maestro Wants to Serenade You [WIRED]. Philip Sheppard has joined forces with the co-creator of Siri, Tom Gruber, to create an AI that can create background music that responds to the listener's feelings.

🦠 This coating makes viruses slide right off fabric [Fast Company]. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a washable textile coating that repels liquids, such as blood and saliva, and also prevents viruses from adhering to its surface. 


💬 Quote of the week

“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.”
― Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

I wish you a brilliant day ahead :)

Neeraj