Software gets smarter, the growth of link rot, architectural flourishes and disasters and taking a critical look at diversity in culture

Jean Dubuffet painting from the Brutal Beauty exhibition at the Barbican

Find some of the stories that have caught my eye over the last fews weeks below reflecting current events and wider trends and changes:

This demonstration from OpenAI provides an exciting glimpse int how software will increasingly be able to translate our ideas into code:

There’s growing talk around privacy as Google and Apple put barriers up to the use of tracking by online advertising networks. Benedict Evans takes a closer look and looks at some of the impacts and unintended consequences:

The consumer internet industry spent two decades building a huge, complex, chaotic pile of tools and systems to track and analyse what people do on the internet, and we’ve spent the last half-decade arguing about that, sometimes for very good reasons, and sometimes with strong doses of panic and opportunism. Now that’s mostly going to change, between unilateral decisions by some big tech platforms and waves of regulation from all around the world. But we don’t have any clarity on what that would mean, or even quite what we’re trying to achieve, and there are lots of unresolved questions. We are confused.

Jonathan Zittrain takes a critical look at the internet and how link rot and content drift is undermining this otherwise invaluable resource:

This absence of central control, or even easy central monitoring, has long been celebrated as an instrument of grassroots democracy and freedom. It’s not trivial to censor a network as organic and decentralized as the internet. But more recently, these features have been understood to facilitate vectors for individual harassment and societal destabilization, with no easy gating points through which to remove or label malicious work not under the umbrellas of the major social-media platforms, or to quickly identify their sources. While both assessments have power to them, they each gloss over a key feature of the distributed web and internet: Their designs naturally create gaps of responsibility for maintaining valuable content that others rely on. Links work seamlessly until they don’t. And as tangible counterparts to online work fade, these gaps represent actual holes in humanity’s knowledge.

Fadeke Adegbuyi explores the online phenomenon of anti-fans, providing the flipside to the adoring stans.

This hater-fan mirror is at the heart of understanding anti-fandom or “hatedom.” Anti-fans are possessed with the same passion as fans: they follow, they discuss, they obsess. But rather than blind worship, they’re immersed in blind hatred. Instead of a positive bond characterized by affection for a creator, it’s a negative one characterized by obsession for an online influencer.

The last ten years has seen relatively limited changes in productivity compared to the previous years despite the increasingly digital nature of the economy. Austin Vernon explores the trend and the emerging technologies which could make a significant impact on future productivity:

Interpersonal dynamics can provide a fascinating area of study. Halfbrick Studios experiment with a game prototype provides an interesting example of where things can go wrong as colleague is turned against colleague in a seemingly low stakes situation:

The collapse of the Surfside condo building in Florida earlier in the year highlighted some of the potential flaws in our built infrastructure’s reliance on steel reinforced concrete. Spencer Wright takes a closer look at our love for this seemingly ubiquitous drawing material using crayfish as an interesting starting point:

Like symbioses, composite materials can be incredibly productive: two things coming together to create something stronger. But like crayfish and barbarae, their outcomes can also be tragic. Rarely are two materials a perfect match for each other, and as the environment changes their relationship can turn destructive. And when composites turn destructive – as was evident in the reinforced concrete when the Champlain Towers North were inspected back in 2018 – the fallout can be catastrophic.

One of things I really love about London in September is Open House providing me with the opportunity it provides to look inside normally out of the way corners. This year I’ve attempted to be a bit more organised with bookings for Antony Gormley’s Room and Abbey Mills Pumping Station.

Providing a valuable companion to Open House is the New York Times’ look at the most significant works of post war architecture (no London buildings make the cut…).

I can remember first coming across an ebike on the road and being a dyed in the wool cyclist, I inevitably saw this as not being “cricket.” My attitudes softened considerably after hearing the Danish Cycling Federation’s Klaus Bondam speak where he talked about how ebikes enabled people to commute further and continue to ride till much later in life – something which is supported by recent research from Norway.

Bertrand Cooper looks at how moves to broaden the diversity of voices in popular culture havent necessarly helped those voices least heard:

Though obviously class-blind and constrained by racist stereotypes regarding poverty and Black identity, some portion of the racial progress that has occurred in popular culture over the last decade has been motivated, I hope, by a genuine empathy for the Black poor. There is still time to use that energy to direct popular culture towards policies that recognize class within race. But this will require that the privilege of acting as public representatives for all Black people be taken away from the Black middle- and upper- classes. Black Americans fortunate enough to be born outside of poverty need to establish identities that do not depend on erasing class differences or falsifying connections to poor black oppression. And white Americans will need to accept Black identities not based in poverty as perfectly “real” too—just not authoritative on Black poverty.

I recently caught Summer of Soul which gave a taste of festival life for someone starved of live music and also a window into race relations in late 1960s New York. Making an interesting companion to the documentary is Henry Wong’s look at Frank William Miller Jr.’s work on the film’s visual identity for the documentary.