Advice in the time of algorithmic warfare

FFFUTURES #4, September 7, 2020

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One of my mentors was a Senior Client Partner at one of the big three consulting firms (I can't share her name here, but I'll call her D). When I met D she was in her mid-50s. She had the energy of a fresh graduate and the temperament of a general on the battlefield: steady, sharp, focused, and with zero patience for bullshit.

Her biggest contribution to my professional development is that she revealed to me the true efficient nature of a consultant's mindset.

"Forget about chasing trends, Natalie," she used to say to me every time I brought up something I considered a breakout technology or the potential rise of a new industry. "Instead of bringing up these topics as if they were things we need to prepare for, describe them as common things that are already happening. Make me feel I already got left behind." 

D never gave me more than 30 minutes of her time a month. But every time we spoke, she remembered what we had discussed before and was able to pick up the conversation right where we had left off. No time got wasted. 

She never shared anything about her personal life, but she was 100% open about sharing her thought process. The first time we spoke, when I wanted to make small talk, she said, "That's not where you'll get value out of me, Natalie," and continued right forward, challenging me about something related to work. If you didn't challenge D, she would challenge you. And if you didn't come prepared for the meeting, she would make you see how you were wasting both your time and hers. (I know because it happened to me once, and I never repeated that mistake.)

To this day, I don't know whether D really knew about all the things she was capable of discussing. Does that sound weird? What I mean is that she was capable of talking about any topic with confidence and precision, but I suspect that she was great at improvising. And I don't mean to say that D would lie. On the very rare occasions she didn't know something, she would say it. But I do believe she had a (strong) foundation on top of which she used her improv skills.

D made me feel good about not knowing everything, and gave me the habit to strive to learn as much as possible, and provide advice as an expert on any field I decided to jump in.

About building partnerships with potential clients, she used to say: "If you tell me I need to prepare for the future, then I don't need you. I can prepare on my own. But if you are the one who makes me realize I'm already behind, then I need to partner with you and make up for the time I've lost." Make them realize the new shiny thing that is news to them is old news to you.

Our relationship lasted for almost three years. In total, we spoke 16 hours and 30 minutes, 33 meetings. I haven't heard from D since she started to work with the DoD last December. But the meeting invite is still on the calendar, so I keep joining the call in case she can make it. Our next sync is scheduled for the 15th of next month. 


👁️ Omnirealities

The Real Reality of Augmented Reality – Cognizant Report

Sometimes I go down a rabbit hole downloading reports from consulting firms to find what they’re focusing on, how they’re framing certain scenarios, and how they’re selling their services. Most of the time these reports are just one more way to advertise their services, and that’s OK, but there are also times in which the people behind the report did their homework and offer valuable metrics, quotes from clients, and operational insights. This report from Cognizant is a bit mixed but is worth taking a look.

The Deceptively Simple Design Process That Made ‘Half-Life: Alyx’ Excellent

Interview with Half-Life: Alyx game designer Robin Walker, who shares insights on their approach building one of the best-rated experiences in VR.

When we build Half-Life, we just build it one piece at a time… conceptually one ‘room’ at a time. […] ‘what happens in this room that hasn’t happened in any of the previous rooms and fits into where we’re going with the next room?’

🔮 Future Scenarios

Tech execs urge Washington to accelerate AI adoption for national security

Back in July, the National Security Commission on AI released a set of 35 recommendations to speed up the Pentagon applications of AI. The objective of this group is to provide advice on how the United States can maintain AI supremacy over other nations. This is an intriguing look at what may be the future of algorithmic warfare.

  • Train U.S. State Department employees in emerging technologies like AI

  • Build a certified AI software repository for the U.S. military to accelerate creation of AI and support research and development.

  • Invest in research and development for testing AI systems for compliance and verify results.

Phantom Auto

Phantom Auto is a company building technology to remotely operate and monitor vehicles from anywhere. They’re focused on solutions related to telemonitoring and tele-driving.

Einride teleoperator controlling a truck remotely

💀 Not a Cylon

malditoperrito, @malditoperrito

malditoperrito, @malditoperrito

malditoperrito, @malditoperrito

🧠 Common Enemy

Common Voice at Mozilla

Common Voice is a Mozilla initiative to help teach machines how real people speak. They offer an open dataset of voices that anyone can use to train speech-enabled applications. You can participate by providing your voice, or by helping validate audios provided by the community.

It’s not that clear how the recent round of layoffs at Mozilla will impact this initiative. Here’s what they said on their forums:

We know this is a time of great uncertainty and you likely have many questions about the future that we currently don’t have the answer to. The team you’ve come to know is working hard to find a way to sustain Common Voice in the long term. The platform is still available for you, our trusted community, to continue to contribute to, and the dataset for download.


Animal mummies unwrapped with hi-res 3-D X-rays

A snake, a bird, and a cat from ancient Egypt have been digitally unwrapped and dissected by researchers. The ancient Egyptians mummified animals and sometimes they were buried with their owner. The article shows these high-resolution 3D scans.


For those who enjoy getting lost in Wikipedia, here’s a good starting point that can get you down many different roads, depending on where your interest makes you click. This article is about the postmodern concept of Hyperreality, the inability to have a clear distinction between what is the real world and what is a fictionalized version.

The Disneyland imaginary is neither true or false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It's meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the "real" world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real childishness

Are you hacking with futures and other realities? Do you have comments, stories, or suggestions? I’d like to hear from you. Reach out:

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