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broadstuff"broadstuff" - 5 new articles

  1. Dawkins, Memetics and Social Media
  2. UK needs to fund Innovation, not Entrepreneurs
  3. The Cambrian Era of Robotics
  4. Yo! Its the Bubbletime
  5. Twitter Soap Opera - we told ya so
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search broadstuff
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Dawkins, Memetics and Social Media

Richard Dawkins (respected/hated Evolutionary Biologist and loved/hated Atheist) has touched off yet another Twittestorm, via that unfortunate habit Evolutionary Biologists (and Vulcans) have of looking at humans from a viewpoint of mass mathematical game theory participants, rather than as - well, humans. Cue yet another Twitterstorm du Jour. (Huffington Post summaries it best):

To prepare you for the inevitable repeat here are the 12 stages of any Richard Dawkins Twitter scandal:

1. The eminent biologist will employ the rigid rationalism of his discipline to a highly emotive issue – the lack of Nobel prizes for Muslims or how some types of rape are worse than others. Dawkins will then share this insight with his one million followers on Twitter.

2. A cluster of Dawkins’ devotees will debate the professor’s contention in a reasoned and scientific fashion.

3. Someone negatively affected by Dawkins’ clinical assertion will spot the tweet and take issue with his post, replying "really?? #twat".

4. A Twitter user with Jesus/crescent moon as their profile picture will call Dawkins a "c*nt", likening the biologist to Josef Mengele and/or Harold Shipman. Soon thereafter Herr Hitler will be invoked.

5. A journalist will spot the reaction, read Dawkins' original tweet and pen a quick article highlighting the "prominent atheist’s latest Twitter storm".

6. A member of the blue tick Twitter elite – a newsreader or "social commenter" – will pick up on the rumpus, tweeting how the professor’s original post was "indefensible" and how these comments are "the worst yet".

7. Twitter users with #reason, #doubt and #MissTheHitch in their profile will distance themselves from Dawkins, telling their 73 followers that The God Delusion author no longer speaks for "atheists/anti-theists”.

8. Dawkins will continue to defend his position, while other media outlets pen similar hit-focused articles on the brouhaha, many highlighting his past Twitter indiscretions. Right-wing media in the US will pick up on the tempest, decrying Dawkins as the emblem of a world "abandoned by God".

9. People personally affected by the issue of Dawkins’ original post will pen angry responses to Independent Voices and the Huffington Post, many concluding with the line: "How can such a clever man can be so stupid?"

10. Dawkins will issue an apology via his website for the "misunderstanding" and though he will concede his "phraseology" was wrong he will maintain his "logic" was sound.

The irony of Dawkins being called "immoral" by religious and various other "strong beliefs" based groups often proposing far worse things is piquant, but there is an even bigger irony here with Mr Dawkins doing this. He actually was the first person to coin the term "meme" and to postulate how they work. So, depending on your point of view on Mr D, he is either a master memeticist or a complete c*nt who has been hoisted on his own memetic petard by the #Offended on Social Media.

Oh yes - there were 12 points to the Huffpo article, and these are the clinchers I think:

11. Attempting to squeeze a few last hits out of the now-subsiding "outrage", a journalist will write a meta-piece attempting to explain the anatomy of a Dawkins Twitter scandal*.

12. Wait 90 days and repeat.

He is clearly a master memetic tactician therefore, meta-pieces being the sign of memetic success - but whether continuing to offend large numbers of people in exchange for viral Twitter publicity is a good strategic memetic play is less clear. Wildean theory says it is effective, but in a Social Media Age where everything you say remains online to be held against you, it may not be. After all, one of the first lessons of social game theory is being nice wins - eventually...

*13. Attempting to extract the last ounces of traffic, a blogger writes a snarky piece on the whole affaire...

UK needs to fund Innovation, not Entrepreneurs

Very interesting article in the Economist about "Entrepreneurial" vs "Innovation" economics. the whole article is well worth reading as it is one of those very rare items in the UK "Tech Startup" space - a systemic analysis with actual numbers. There are 3 key points dealing with the UK's current Startup / "Every Person is an Entrepreneur" craze:

Firstly, State money is wasted on funding too many entrpreneurial SMES with too little money, they do nothing for the economy overall:

....once you take into account the number of SME jobs lost after the first three years of their creation, there is very little net job creation by these firms. Only 1% of new enterprises have sales of more than £1 million six years after they start. Research at the University of Sussex shows that median sales of a six-year-old firm is less than £23,000 (Storey, 2006). These firms also tend to be the least productive and least innovative (R&D spending—the best measure we have for inputs in the innovation process—in Tech City is not higher than in other parts of London or Britain). Indeed, the few high growth innovative firms (about 6% of the total SME group, Nesta, 2011)—those that really should be supported—do not directly benefit from the hype that surrounds SMEs and startups: once they get the funds these are too diluted to make a difference.

Secondly, what the State should be funding is an Innovation ecosystem, not an Entrepreneurial/Startup one per se

Innovation-led “smart” growth has occurred mainly in countries with a big group of medium to large companies, and a small group of SMEs that is spun out from some of those large companies or from universities. These firms have benefited immensely from government funded research. Indeed, in my book I show how many firms in Silicon Valley have benefitted directly from early-stage funding by government, as well as the ability to build their products on top of government funded technologies.

The author points out that nearly every "entrepreneurial startup" in Silicon Valley today would not exist without huge US government funded projects that underpin it's technology, and direct low cost (aka non VC) early days investment - Apple is a case in point:

Every technology that makes the iPhone smart was government-funded (internet, GPS, touch-screen display, SIRI). Apple spends relatively little on R&D compared with other IT firms precisely because it uses existing technology. It applies its remarkable design skills to these technologies, effectively surfing on a government-funded wave. Apple, Compaq and Intel also all enjoyed the benefits of early-stage public funds (SBIC in the case of Apple, SBIR in the case of Compaq and Intel).

Thirdly the UK's state spend on innovation and pull through is small by competitive standards. Silicon Valley was largely built on the huge government backed spendiing, not the VC community - and it is probably still the real case:

Silicon Valley firms were initially not funded mainly by venture capital. It came in after the ball had got rolling thanks to funding by the Department of Defence, the Department of Health and, more recently, the Department of Energy. In fact, there is increasing evidence that many startups are told by venture-capital firms to go first to SBIR and then come back (Block and Keller, 2013).Venture-capital funds are not providing the kind of patient long-term finance needed for radical innovations. They are too focused on a profitable “exit”—usually through an IPO or a sale to a bigger company—within 3-5 years. But innovation often takes 15-20 years.

This sort of state pull through is what China is using too, and the numbers are measured in $ Trillions. In fact even in Europe, the UK underperforms hugely on this sort of state investment:

In Germany such links are created by well-funded Fraunhofer Institutes. In Britain these are being imitated through the Catapult centres, which in theory should be linked to Tech City-type projects, either through procurement policy or via learning. Currently there are no links between these. And whereas the Fraunhofer system has an annual research budget of €1.8 billion ($2.4 billion) and a network of 20,000 staff across 60 centres (in 2010), Britain’s Catapult centres were given just £200m to spend over 4 years. When the Tech-City gurus in Number 10 Downing Street criticise the Technology Strategy Board, which is in charge of the Catapult strategy, for not being more like Darpa, they ignore the very different size of TSB’s budget in comparison with Darpa—and even more the fact that the TSB does not have the market creating potential that Darpa does.

Leads to a fourth point, about the competence of No 10's "Tech City Gurus" and advisors - but that's for another post. To end though, the observation is if small beer is what the government is willing to put into the game, its better to spend it on tertiary education and R&D, where impacts are proven, rather than launch a million underfunded startups:

Research at the University of Cambridge (Hughes 2008) suggests that the British government spends (directly and indirectly) close to £8 billion ($13 billion) annually on SMEs—more than it spends on the police and close to the amount it spends on universities. Is this warranted? How do we know it would not be better to simply direct that money to teachers where there is plenty of evidence that quality education raises human capital and growth.

This post is just a summary, I recommend reading the article.


The Cambrian Era of Robotics

Robobuzz (Source: NESTA - see link in text)

As readers of this blog may know, we started watching Robotics again in about 2008* when it became clear to us that the advance of Moore's Law meant that finally enough computer power and battery life made it possible to build robots with all their systems onboard, so they could become self-mobile and (to an extent) self directing. This change was labelled "3rd Generation" robotics (as always it was hyped long before it became reality, but over the last 5 years or so there has been a tipping point), and heralded a "Cambrian Explosion" in new robot design. This happens in every new technology, see here re: ships, steel and steam for example, and a plethora of ideas (and companies) start up up in the Darwinian ooze of the startup ecosystem, until eventually the category killers emerge.

Anyway, you know the robobuzz is well and truly ringing the bells of the early mass mind when someone like NESTA produces a 100+ page book on Robotics, it is called "Our Work Here is Done", and I read it over the weekend. It's a series of essays by various people on the topics of robot evolution, robot economics, robots and society, and of course What is To Become Of Humanity.

As to the individual papers - as you'd imagine, they're a bit curate's eggy, but there is a lot of good stuff, and some real nuggets in just about every paper. There are 4 main sections:

1. The Economics of a Robot Future (Has a lot of Social impact thrown in)

2. Technology Possibilities

3. Robots of the Past & Future

4. Robots and Justice (which has a whole 'nother slew of Socio-Economics)

Overall though it is a good introductory overview to all the emerging socio-economic issues. My two critiques overall are that:

- it is light on the actual technologies and how it all works, IMO its useful to have a grasp of the basic emergent technologies - stops the flights of the the fanciful.

- there is a bit of Panglossing over the downsides. Who owns these automated means of production for example? To whom will the newly liberated labour productivity wealth flow?. Promises of a leisure-filled and abundant future for a happy humanity should be put in the same bin that the self same predictions in the 1930's and 1970's were.

But with those caveats, its a cracking read.

I'm sorry I missed the launch, as one of Broadstuff Towers' all time heroes, Carlota Perez,, gave a keynote talk and it was excellent (see here). She would be the first to note there is usually quite a bit of Destruction before the happy Creation phase. I suspect that will also be the case for robot futures - take longer to happen, be nastier while happening, and take longer to get better. As one grounded participant (Ben Russell, Curator of Mechanical Engineering at the Science Museum) tweeted:

"The cry of forthcoming robot revolution won't be "I'll be back" or Exterminate, but 'Unexpected item in bagging area"

No one knows what to do with those who will be displaced by this industrial revolution, but at least this time round most of the writers note the displacement will happen...

(*Bit of background - my Honours dissertation & design project was on Robotics, years ago when they were very 1st generation - I reckoned robots were at least 30 years away from being more than auto-Waldos and went on to d other stuff, but now things are getting very interesting again).

Yo! Its the Bubbletime

People Invested $1 Million In An App That Just Says ‘Yo’

"It’s not just an app that says Yo,” says Mr Arbel. “It’s a whole new means of communication"

'nuff said... are we getting to an age when every startup gets $1m just for existing? Will tomorrow see $1m for an App that says Ni! ?

As was noted by James Surowiecki* in the New Yorker, the problem is increasingly not getting started and seeded these days, its finding a way out the Darwinian stew of all the other crap ideas encouraged to start up - and this ain't the way to fix that.

* Author of Wisdom of Crowds

Twitter Soap Opera - we told ya so

When the Twitter IPO was mooted, we believed that although the company has potential, one of the major risks to its future valuation was its management - see here for example, where we wrote :

6. As always though, realizing potential comes down to execution.

- The FB team are very focussed, Twitter is harder to judge - lots of change at the top over the years, we wouldn't be at all surprised if they bring in an "Eric Schmidt" figure.

The fun and games this week was totally predictable (see above...), now we await part 2 of our prediction - an Eric Schmidt type character brought in to reassure investors.

Who's your money on?


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