New Week Same Humans #43
Tencent has a shocking plan to stop China's children playing late night video games. An astronaut proves that CRISPR gene editing works in space. 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.
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💡 In this week’s Sunday note I wrote about our urgent need for new visions of the human Good Life. Go here to read The Cloud and The Land. 💡
This week, China’s Tencent Games will use a facial recognition system to stop young gamers playing late at night.
Also, Norway says online influencers must be honest about their appearance. And we move a step closer to Mars, thanks to CRISPR and the International Space Station astronaut Christina Koch.
👁️ Just watch me
Two intriguing facial recognition stories this week.
Chinese gaming giant Tencent Games announced that it will start using its facial verification system to prevent children playingvideo games late into the night.
Since 2019 Tencent has been using camera-enabled facial recognition to monitor children who play their games, which include the wildly popular Honor of Kings. Device cameras are auto-enabled during play, and gamers are matched against a national citizen database held by the Ministry of Public Security. Under 12s are kicked off after one hour; 13 to 18-year olds get two hours. The move followed a nationwide moral panic about video game addiction among children.
Now, Tencent says it will expand its surveillance to prevent late night game binges. The new initiative, called ‘Midnight Patrol’, will see minors locked out of all Tencent games between 10pm and 8am.
Meanwhile, Belgian digital artist Dries Depoorter made headlines with a mischievous new AI tool that exposes Flemish politicians who zone out in Parliament.
The Flemish Scrollers monitors a daily YouTube livestream of parliament, and auto-detect politicians who stare at their phone. The tool then shares the moment of screentime shame to Twitter for the world to see.
⚡ NWSH Take: Camera-enabled facial recognition surveillance while you play a video game on your phone? Yes, the Tencent facial verification system is creepy. But it’s also an example of the way the nascent Chinese technostate poses a challenge to liberal democracy. // A full 72% of US parents say they are worried about their children’s screen time. That means the Tencent system solves a problem that people are just as concerned about in the Global North as they are in China. // We inhabitants of the Global North have been conditioned to think of privacy and individual liberty as foundational values. The Chinese technostate is about to pose a difficult question: what if trading away some freedom could buy you some peace of mind, convenience, or security? What if that is better, actually? // As China grows richer, that challenge will grow even more pressing. And judging by the extent to which citizens of the Global North have already traded away privacy to Big Tech in return for convenience, better value, and more, the outcomes are far from clear.
⚖️ July social club
One week, three different takes on the regulation of social media.
On Sunday I mentioned that a US court rejected the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, which aimed to force the tech giant to sell WhatsApp and Instagram. Looks as though the Zuck was pretty happy about that. I know you’ve already seen this, but you need to see it again.
Meanwhile, Norway passed a new law that will force online influencers to let their followers know when they use Photoshop or other tools to enhance their physical appearance. Ads that feature digital alterations to body shape, size, or skin tone – in other words, most Instagram ads – must be accompanied by a standard disclaimer.
And the Indian government is continuing its push to make Twitter executives in the country responsible for any content posted by users. Back in April Twitter was ordered to remove tweets that were critical of prime minister Modi and his handling of the pandemic.
⚡ NWSH Take: Three very different stories, but one simple theme: time lag. // Online, we’re talking excitedly about the emergence of a decentralised Web3 and the rise of the metaverse. Back IRL we’re still grappling with questions that are, in internet terms, ancient history. Should Facebook be allowed to buy WhatsApp? Are Instagram influencers bad for our self-esteem? Who is responsible for the content on social platforms? // It’s like stepping back in time. I don’t say this to make any straightforward criticism of the public sphere, but to make a broader point. The internet is an ongoing, vastly disruptive explosion unlike anything we’ve seen before: how do our IRL institutions cope with it? We have, as yet, no good answer. We need new frameworks that enable us process the challenges posed by online innovation as they arise. New forms of open democracy, in which ordinary citizens participate in decision making, are a promising avenue.
🧑🚀 CRISPR to the Moon
When it comes to genetic technologies, every week seems to bring another significant advance.
Last week I wrote about how scientists had, for the first time, treated disease in a human by injecting CRISPR straight into the bloodstream.
This week we learned that International Space Station astronaut Christina Koch has successfully demonstrated CRISPR gene editing in space. Koch’s experiment used the technique to generate a specific type of damage to DNA in yeast cells; the ability to create that kind of damage will now allow scientists to learn more about how DNA is repaired in space.
There’s a practical reason to get excited about this. One of the big challenges associated with traveling deep into space is that it exposes astronauts to ionizing radiation that greatly increases the risk of DNA damage. If we want to get to Mars and beyond, we need to learn how to shield ourselves from that damage and repair it when it occurs.
CRISPR, and Christina Koch, just brought Mars a little closer.
🗓️ Also this week
🕺 TikTok is selling access to its content recommendation AI to clients. The platform’s ‘For You’ algorithm, which surfaces content to users, is widely credited with its success.
🧑💻 Iceland says many workers in its public sector will move to a four day week on the same pay. The move follows trials of a four day week that showed productivity stayed the same or improved across most participating organisations.
🧬 The UK public approves of whole genome sequencing for all newborn babies. That’s according to a public consultation carried out by government-backed genetics service Genomics England.
😍 Dating app Bumble is opening a restaurant in New York City. There will be an 80-seat dining area, cocktail bar, and private dining area.
🦾 Researchers in Singapore have created a smart foam that can sense nearby objects and repair itself when damaged. The highly elastic polymer is infused with electrode sensors, and could act as a kind of skin for robots.
💊 The US military wants to move to clinical trials of a pill that could delay ageing. The pill is likely to contain proprietary precursor compounds for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+, which is believed to play a key role in the ageing process.
🔥 A bitcoin power plant in upstate New York is heating a 12,000 year-old glacial lake. A private equity firm is using the Greenidge power plant to mine bitcoin, but nearby residents say it has turned the cold water Seneca Lake into a ‘hot tub’.
🐭 A single dose of the psychedelic drug psilocybin spurs new and lasting connections between neurons in mice. Yale scientists say their findings support the idea that psilocybin may be an effective treatment for depression.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,877,781,668
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7878798133
💉 Global population vaccinated: 11.6%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 51.5% complete
📖 On this day: On 7 July 1928 machine-sliced bread is sold for the first time by the Chillicothe Baking Company of Missouri.
Somebody’s Watching Me
Thanks for reading this week.
The challenge posed by facial recognition technologies will continue to evolve. It’s clear that China and the countries of the Global North are set to address that challenge in radically different ways.
A new technology collides with age-old human values: it’s just the kind of story New World Same Humans was set up to track.
This newsletter will be watching closely in the years to come. And there’s one thing you can do to help: share!
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I’ll be back on Sunday. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.