New Week Same Humans #33
Scientists reveal what video calls do to your brain. Toyota are building the future at the foothills of Mount Fuji. Plus more news and analysis from this week.
Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet subscribed, then join 16,000+ curious souls on a journey to build a better shared future 🚀🔮
💡 In this week’s Sunday note I wrote about an experimental vaccine for malaria, and what it tells us about the human story. Go here to read How We Make Progress.💡
This week, a furore inside software company Basecamp is a sign of the times.
Also, new research from Microsoft visualises your brain on video calls. And Lyft pass the baton on their dream of on-demand autonomous cars.
⛰️ Starting at Basecamp
You’ve probably been reading the name Jason Fried a lot this week. On Monday, the Basecamp CEO published a memo announcing that his company had banned discussion of political or social issues at work:
Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant…People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can't happen where the work happens anymore.
Back in 2010 Fried and his co-founder wrote Rework, a book that captured the mood of the decade with its vision of business as rebellious, scrappy, and fun.
No surprise, then, that many saw Fried’s announcement as a volte-face. Reaction on Twitter was powerful and near-universally negative, including among Basecamp staff:
But Fried’s announcement wasn’t the only story this week that navigated issues around acceptable speech in and outside shared spaces.
The US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving Pennsylvania high school cheerleader Brandi Levy, who was thrown off her school cheer team after an expletive-laden Snapchat post that took aim at the school. The Mahanoy Area High School say the post was clearly disruptive. But Levy is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, who argue that the punishment infringed on her First Amendment right to free speech.
⚡ NWSH Take: Basecamp has always positioned itself as an enlightened business: we’re not like The Man. But company insiders say Fried grew frustrated as staff became – in his eyes – obsessed with social justice issues. Now he faces a solemn charge: that he’s a rich white man demanding others accept the status quo. // The underlying lesson? A culture war wages around us, and it will leave no organisation untouched. Fried won’t be the last leader to ask staff to focus more on work, less on politics. But that request is itself, and inevitably, political. And wherever you stand, tone is crucial here. Fried’s announcement – a summary ban – was spectacularly tone deaf. // How does The Mahanoy School story fit? It exposes new questions about the boundaries between public and private speech. If I tweet about politics and colleagues see it, does that count as talk at work? What about if I message co-workers from home in a large WhatsApp group? A connected world erases the old public/private distinctions, and we’re still figuring out what that means. // In short: this week it was Basecamp. But expect many businesses to go through a similar convulsion sooner rather than later.
🧑💻 This is your brain on video calls
It’s official: video calls are stressful.
Research conducted at the Microsoft Human Factors Lab saw trial participants take video calls while wearing an EEG headset to measure brain activity. The results were clear: back-to-back video calls taken without breaks caused spikes in beta activity, which are associated with stress and decreased ability to focus.
The answer? Take a 10 minute break between meetings, to reset beta activity.
The trial included just 14 people; not the most robust study ever conducted. But we need all the evidence we can get on this new age of remote knowledge work, and this is a start.
🚗 We have Lyft off
On-demand taxi firm Lyft will sell their autonomous car division, Level 5, to Toyota for $550 million.
In February Toyota broke ground on Woven City, a prototype city of the future to be built at the base of Mount Fuji.
Built on the site of a former car factory, Woven City will be powered by Toyota’s new hydrogen fuel cell technology. The company plan to use the city to test other experimental tech – including self-driving cars – on a population of 2,000, which will include Toyota staff.
Check out this video from last year:
⚡ NWSH Take: A wave of consolidation is sweeping through the AV industry. Last year Uber sold its autonomous division to self-driving startup Aurora. // Lyft once promised that by 2021 most of their rides would take place in self-driving cars; they didn’t make it, and this sale is an admission that they can’t get there any time soon. All this comes in the wake of the Tesla crash earlier this month, in which Tesla’s Autopilot feature is implicated. The takeaway? Building self-driving cars is harder than we thought; we’re still nowhere close to the dream of ubiquitous, on-demand AVs. // Woven City is an intriguing project: a smart city where real inhabitants are the guinea pigs for a corporate-imagined prototype version of the future. Back in Charter City Dreams I wrote about the rising movement for a new wave of quasi-independent city states. Could the corporate city state be the next evolution of this trend?
🗓️ Also this week
🔍 A deepfake hoax saw European MPs fooled into believing they were speaking to a well-known member of the Russian opposition. Several senior politicians thought they were speaking to Leonid Volkov, an ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
✉️ The UK Post Office apologised for faulty software that saw hundreds of staff members wrongly accused of theft, and several jailed. The flawed Horizon software was responsible for the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.
👀 A new tool will shield your photographs from online facial recognition, while barely changing the way they appear to the naked eye. Photo Ninja is part of a new suite of features offered by robot lawyer DoNotPay.
₿ An Australian computer scientist says he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin. Craig Wright is suing the crypto website bitcoin.org, and says he’ll prove that he is Nakamoto in a UK court.
🤦 Google’s coronavirus contact tracing app is not private after all. Researchers say other apps on Android devices can access sensitive data inside the contact tracing app.
📜 Researchers are using AI to unlock the secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Pattern-recognition tech reveals that one part of the Scrolls, which date back to the third century BC, were written by two scribes, rather than one as previously thought.
🇮🇳 Twitter blocked tweets critical of the Indian government’s handling of the pandemic. It did so at the request of the Indian government. Twitter says it blocks tweets that violate local law.
⚽ Spotify founder Daniel Ek wants to buy UK football club Arsenal. The club is mired in scandal over its involvement in the abortive European Super League.
🪐 NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover made breathable oxygen on Mars. NASA say the technique could one day be used to manufacture oxygen for astronauts on the Red Planet.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,862,199,071
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7830899273
💉 Global population vaccinated: 3.2%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 32% complete
📖 On this day: On 30 April 1803 The United States purchases the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million.
Fully autonomous luxury future
Thanks for reading this week.
Toyota wants to build our future at their Woven City, in the shadow of Mount Fuji.
New World Same Humans will be watching closely. After all, this community has gathered around the belief that we shouldn’t leave our shared future to the powers that be. And that includes giant car corporations.
In the meantime, there’s one thing you can do to help with the NWSH mission: share!
Now that you’ve made it to the end of this week’s instalment, why not forward the email to someone who’d also enjoy it? Or share it across one of your social networks, with a note on why you found it valuable. Remember: the larger and more diverse the NWSH community becomes, the better for all of us.
I’ll be back on Sunday. Until then, be well,
P.S Thanks to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.