Disinformation wars, robot uprisings and differential privacy

Posted by Mike Walsh

Oct 8, 2020 8:15:47 AM



A US election is far more than just a struggle for the most powerful job in the world; it also provides a glimpse into consumer attitudes and emerging technologies designed to influence opinion. It was during the 2012 US election, for instance, that social media, online data and e-commerce profiling was leveraged for the first time to create a hyper-targeted, digital political campaign, that ultimately swept the Democrats into power. My guest this week, Harper Reed, was intimately involved in that strategy, having served as CTO of the Obama 2012 campaign, where he was the first to bring the mentality and connective capabilities of the tech industry to the political stage.


I’ve known Harper for a number of years now. We met on the technology speaking circuit, and stayed in touch with a common passion for Leica rangefinders and film photography. Harper has a unique perspective - especially on those shadowy areas where disruptive tech intersects with society, culture and economics.


Prior to his current (stealth) startup, he worked at PayPal, as Head of Commerce and as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence. The technology he developed as co-founder at his business Modest Inc. had garnered the attention of PayPal, which led them to acquire Modest only a few years after launch. He was also the CTO of Threadless.com, where he pioneered crowdsourcing and grew the company from a 12 person startup to a multi-million dollar enterprise. Harper is an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, sits on the advisory boards for IIT Computer Science and the Royal United Service Institute, and is on the Cornell College Board of Trustees.



In this episode you will learn:


0:00 Living in the dystopia we deserve

05:58 Lessons from the 2012 election

18:33 The 2020 political tech stack

21:58 The rise of the robots

28:23 Differential privacy

38:26 The ethics of unintended consequences


CATEGORY: Technology

Using AI in the war against fake news

Posted by Mike Walsh

Aug 27, 2020 8:41:39 AM



Professor Tim Tangherlini calls himself a computational folklorist. Like many fields of research lately, folklore is a field where both the tools and objects of study are being profoundly reimagined by AI. I came across Professor Tangherlini's work after reading a research paper that he and his team published on using AI to study the structure and dissemination of conspiracy theories. Their research points the way to strategies that might defeat fake news by explaining how the elements of a conspiracy narrative come together and how they can also quickly fragment if some key parts are removed or challenged. 


Professor Tangherlini is currently in the Department of Scandinavian at UC Berkeley, where he also serves as graduate advisor in the Folklore program. He has worked on computational approaches to stories and storytelling over the past three decades. Under the auspices of the NSF's Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics, he co-directed a program on Culture Analytics, as well as an NEH Institute on Network Analysis for the Humanities. He is the author of several books, and dozens of articles. He has done extensive fieldwork on storytelling among paramedics, and shamanism in South Korea, as well as archival work on rural 19th century Denmark. His current work focuses on generative models of common story genres such as legend, rumor, personal experience narratives, and conspiracy theories.



In this episode, you will learn


  1. How has technology is changing the way we think about stories, mythology, and culture (00.06)
  2. What Tim and his team learned from using AI to study the Pizzagate and Bridgegate conspiracies (09:40)
  3. Why crowdsourcing and conspiracy may be two sides of the same coin (21:11)
  4. The dangers of using AI to weaponize misinformation (23:41)
  5. The future of culture analytics, computational folkloristics, and how algorithmic feeds shape our consensual reality (25:31)

CATEGORY: Technology

The future of open source in an AI-powered world

Posted by Mike Walsh

Aug 13, 2020 4:04:10 AM

Rodrigo Mendoza


Open source technology is at the heart of everything we do. When we browse the Web, use our smartphones, or share content on social media - open software and systems are silently working behind the scenes. How did open source go from being a community of hobbyists and something that Steve Ballmer famously branded ‘a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches’, to a sophisticated economy of value and the basis of our Algorithmic Age?

To explore this question and others, I spoke with Rodrigo Mendoza. Rodrigo is co-founder and CEO of Quine, a company building hyper-fluid interfaces between software developers and the labour markets. Previous to Quine, Rodrigo was an academic, a venture capital professional, and a freelance data-scientist. Rodrigo holds a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Oxford, where he was also a postdoctoral researcher in Machine Learning.

I came across Rodrigo from a fascinating article he wrote on the open source community, which I highly recommend that you read. As he writes, ‘Developers have eaten the world. Their work has not only become a main driver for economic expansion, but a key supporting vector for civilization.’



In this episode, you will learn

  1. The origins of the open source movement and why software has eaten the world(2:07)
  2. The software economy and how open source produces economic value at scale (07:24)
  3. The rise of GitHub and marketplaces for coding talent (09:55)
  4. Why open source has become the new battle-ground where companies signal influence, creativity, and innovation (13:16)
  5. How ideas from open source like version control will influence other areas of work and collaboration, other than coding (21:48)

CATEGORY: Technology

How to run a remote company

Posted by Mike Walsh

Jul 16, 2020 6:08:40 AM

Wade Foster


While for many of us ‘working from home’ has been a new and unexpected challenge, for some companies, remote is how they were designed from the beginning. Zapier, a leading software automation platform, is one such of these. However, what makes Zapier a fascinating case study is not just their lack of physical offices, but the systems, workflows and practices that they have evolved to make their distributed organization function effectively. In this interview, I chat with Zapier’s CEO and co-founder, Wade Foster. Prior to Zapier, Wade worked as a customer development lead for The Idea Works, Inc. in Missouri. He is an alumni of Y Combinator and has degrees in industrial engineering and business administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia.



CATEGORY: Culture, Technology

Frozen heads, multidimensional interfaces and the everyday challenges of living forever

Posted by Mike Walsh

Jan 20, 2020 2:26:58 AM

Danila Medvedev-1


If freezing your severed head is part of your plan to live forever, then Danila Medvedev is one of the few people on the planet who may be able to help you. In 2005, he founded KrioRus, a cryonics company, and has also worked as Vice-President of the Science for Life Extension Foundation, based in Moscow. Bringing back the deceased, or as Medvedev prefers to call them, ‘the temporarily dead’ is only one of many things the founder of the Russian Transhumanist Movement is passionate about. Aside from life extension, we had a fascinating chat about Douglas Engelbart’s unfulfilled vision for interfaces, the Incan system of multidimensional record keeping, the Russian Cosmism movement and what went wrong with the nanotech revolution.



CATEGORY: Technology