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The Ned Ludd Radio Hour

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The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a look at our technological future. Should we be worried about artificial intelligence? Should we fear how much time we spend on our phones? Should we agonize about bad actors utilizing our data? For people who love tech and people who hate it, The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is the ultimate forum for the big conversations about technology, power and the places they meet.

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The impact that technology has on psychology is a new field of research, and one where the multi-decade studies required to give definitive answers are still many years away. One of the other fields being covered is the area of certainty. Is the internet making people to certain about the opinions? Too close-minded to the possibility that they might be wrong, or might have more to learn? And to what extent is the internet responsible for a crisis in over-confidence? Or is it simply another manifestation of a totally natural mammalian tendency towards confidence?These are difficult questions to answer, not least because they scratch at the core question that should be vexing technologists. Is technology good for the human brain? Or is technology simply the result of a human brain that’s screwed up in all the ways that technology is? Which came first, chicken or egg; technological nonsense-boosting or the scattershot human brain?To answer all this, I’m joined by Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: Reclaiming Our Focus in a World of Lost Attention, and the more recent Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure. It’s the latter book we talk about mainly, and because we recorded this interview a few weeks ago, I’ve largely forgotten what we spoke about. Maybe the content of this episode is the greatest uncertainty of all. Anyway, I’ll be listening and hopefully you will too.The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast.Written and presented by Nick Hilton.The theme music is 'Internet Song' by Apes of the StateThe artwork is by Tom Humberstone.NEDLUDDLIVES.COM Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Today, we're speaking to Kester Brewin, an author who works for the delightfully named Institute for the Future of Work here in London. He’s just about to release a new book called God-like: a 500 year history of Artificial Intelligence in myths, machines and monsters. It's a book which charts the ideas that underpin everything – from ChatGPT and Dall.E to the recently-released Sora – back to their roots. Is there something quasi-theological about the way we discuss the possible implications of these radical new technologies? Don’t think of this as a history of Artificial Intelligence, per se, but a history of the impulse that has led us, inexorably, towards AI.The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by Nick Hilton.The theme music is 'Internet Song' by Apes of the State.The artwork is by Tom Humberstone. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
'Enshittification' is a word coined by the Canadian writer and technologist Cory Doctorow to describe, to filch Wikipedia’s definition, “the pattern of decreasing quality of online platforms that function as two-sided markets”. This is the tension behind much of Big Tech. How do businesses extract value without destroying the identity that they built, and, as a result, alienating their userbase? Doctorow coined the term enshittification in 2022, and it feels to me like it has captured a moment of social media in full maturity. After more than a decade of mass uptake – whether that’s a microblogging platform like Twitter, a network like Facebook, or even streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, which owe much to the social revolution – there is a cooling off of the desire to endlessly solicit new users. A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A viable revenue stream.Cory Doctorow's new book, The Internet Con, is available wherever you could reasonably expect to purchase books (or online).The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by Nick Hilton.The theme music is 'Internet Song' by Apes of the State.The artwork is by Tom Humberstone. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
I don’t want to be too pearl clutching in all this, but there are some kids who never touch grass, figuratively or literally. I see these groups of teenagers in London who seem to be chatting but seem also to have their headphones in, like they’re living some strange hybrid life. How long is it before the ability to function, in a society that has long prizes independence, is irreparably eroded?To discuss all this, I dialled up Lenore Skenazy. Lenore is a writer, activist and president of Let Grow, a parenting organisation. Her book Free-Range Parenting outlines her stance on giving children more, not less, independence. She even hosted a show on Cineflix called World’s Worst Mom, a moniker she was given after she wrote a column about letting her 9-year-old ride the subway alone (but more on that in a second). Anyway, here’s our conversation, which hopefully gives you something to think about…The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast.For sales and advertising email nick@podotpods.comNEDLUDDLIVES.COM Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Look, let’s get real: if you’re a bricklayer or a pilot or a veterinary nurse or a paediatric orthodontist or the pest control guy who delicately places pieces of cheese in mouse traps, there hasn’t been a work from home revolution. The revolution, in so much as there has been one, has been in the information services sector, an area that probably over-hired, over-invested in real estate, and was probably desperate to slash both those costs. But if you are a professional in one of these industries, I’m sure you’ve noticed a very real change in the world of work. Work from home and hybrid working has gone from the strange preserve of senior executives and recent relocaters, to an almost default presumption.Research in 2021 by IWG found that 85% of 18-24 year olds would take flexible working as a perk ahead of a 10% salary bump. A 2023 survey of possible business perks found that 94% felt that work from home would improve their wellbeing, making it the most desired perk. What were the other top perks, I hear you ask. In second plays, flexi-hours, in bronze medal, flexi-location. All of these beat out number four: a bonus cheque.I happened upon a business called Ashore and found it an interesting premise. It is, essentially, a way of making remote work more appealing to the human instinct. They market a bunch of properties set up for remote working, but which are set in beautiful landscapes or interesting parts of the world. They see it as a way, I think, of breaking out of the home and office binary, and offering a third space. A work space that encourages humans to be humans rather than pure working drones.Anyway, I wanted to get the company’s co-founder Aled Maclean-Jones on to discuss his journey to Ashore, what they’re trying to build there and how he views the work from home revolution. He’s a really interesting, clear thinker, so do stick around now to hear what he thinks…The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The music is Internet Song by Apes of the State and the artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For all queries, go to PODOTPODS.COM  Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
This is an atypical episode of The Ned Ludd Radio Hour to kick things off in 2024. Rather than an interview, or a missive from Ned, this is just an audio version of a blog called 'The Hedge Bet on Humanity'. Do listen and enjoy; next week we'll be back with more interviews with top technological thinkers!Written and presented by Nick Hilton.Artwork by Tom Humberstone.Music by Apes of the State.NEDLUDDLIVES.COMThis is a Podot podcast. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
My guest for today’s discussion, which looks back on 2023, which has been labelled by some (including everyone’s favourite Substacker Matt Yglesias) as the media’s “annus horribilis” is Ian Silvera. Ian is a former political journalist here in the UK but has now crossed the divide to work for a fancy PR agency. This makes him well-placed to discuss the trends that are buffeting the industry, but Ian also writes Future News, an excellent newsletter looking at the places where innovation intersects with the media.Before we get onto the discussion, a word first from Ned, to close out the year. They’re off for the Christmas break and have assured me this will be last missive until we return in 2024 (“IF YOU WANT TO DO ANOTHER EPISODE BEFORE NEW YEAR’S YOU WILL HAVE TO DO IT WITHOUT A SOUNDBITE” they assured me). Anyway, I asked what they thought of the state of the media as it squares off with the existential threat of AI. Will AI wipe hacks like me off the earth? Or could it actually be a tool? They wrote back the following:“THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TOOL AND A WEAPON IS ITS APPLICATION. THINK OF A HAMMER. YOU DESIGN A HAMMER TO PROPEL NAILS INTO WOOD. NINE HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE TIMES OUT OF A THOUSAND, THAT’S WHAT IT’S USED FOR. BASH BASH BASH. NAILS IN WOOD, OVER AND OVER. IN THAT SENSE: IT’S A TOOL. BUT THEN, ONE TIME IN A THOUSAND, IT’S USED TO BASH AN OLD LADY OVER THE HEAD AND STEAL HER LIFE SAVINGS. DOES THAT MEAN IT’S NO LONGER A TOOL? IS IT NOW A WEAPON? THE ARGUMENT WOULD FOLLOW THAT IT IS BOTH. USUALLY, IT’S A TOOL; OCCASIONALLY, IT’S A WEAPON. BUT ONCE WE KNOW THAT A HAMMER CAN NOT ONLY IMPACT NAILS INTO WOOD BUT ALSO DO IN OLD LADIES, THE NATURE OF THE TOOL IS CHANGED. IT IS NEVER TRULY A TOOL AGAIN. AND WHEN LAW AND ORDER DISSOLVES AT THE END OF THE WORLD, AND LOOTERS AND RIOTERS FLOOD THE STREETS, DO YOU THINK THE MILLIONS OF HAMMERS IN GLOBAL HOMES WILL REMAIN TOOLS? WILL SIT THERE WAITING FOR NAILS? OR DO YOU THINK THEIR LATENT CAPACITY TO SMASH IN SKULLS WILL COME TO THE FORE? AT THE EVENING OF THE WORLD, YOU CANNOT BE BOTH TOOL AND WEAPON. A TOOL IS JUST A WEAPON WAITING TO BE USED.”Ok, well let’s put that elliptical metaphor aside for now, because the discussion you’re about to hear with Ian is wide-ranging and far from exclusively focused on artificial intelligence. As I’ve said from the outset with this podcast: we shouldn’t just think about the latest glossy technology but about all technology in the world. I’m writing this on a train with my MacBook in my lap (and I’m recording it later, in the study in my house, using a Shure microphone). Sure things would be unthinkable even a few decades ago. The ability to create and consume journalism has never been more ubiquitous, and so why does everyone seem to think it’s dying?The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For socials go to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM and spread the word. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Jathan Sadowski, my guest today, is an academic and our conversation is going to sound a bit academic. He’s a senior fellow at the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University in Melbourne. He has also authored a book called, worryingly, Too Smart: How Digital Capitalism is Extracting Data, Controlling Our Lives, and Taking Over the World and co-hosts a, much more successful, weekly podcast called This Machine Kills.I recorded this interview with Jathan back in the summer, so I’m not going to be discussing Christmas shopping, nor am I going to be asking him for advice on whether I should pick up a couple of weeks of extra work as a gift wrapper at Waterstones (top Christmas tip: books are easy to wrap). But what we are going to be talking about is the history of Luddism as a labour movement. To some extent, everything that I’ve been doing with this podcast over the past couple of months has been in service of that question. How can we prevent the current changes to the world of work penalising the poorest in our society?I sent this question over to Ned who is, predictably, having a very busy festive period and took an age to respond (hence why this episode is coming out late). Here’s what they had to say:“SORRY FOR SLOW REPLY NICK. BEEN SNOWED UNDER – ALMOST NO PUN INTENDED. THE ONLY PROACTIVE DECISION THAT TECH INVESTORS ARE RESPONDING TO, IN THIS ERA THAT WE MIGHT CALL THE LATE PRE-ARTIFICIAL WORKER ERA, IS CUTTING. HUMAN CAPITAL IS THE FIRST THING TO BE CUT. CUT CUT CUT. THE QUESTION IS COMING VERY SOON ABOUT WHETHER RATHER THAN CUTTING THEY CAN REPLACE; OPTIMISE OUTPUTS WHILE REDUCING COSTS. THIS SHOULD BE A VERY PROFOUND WORRY – IT WILL START IN SILICON VALLEY, ZURICH, SHENZHEN AND ZHONGGUANCUN – BUT IT WILL BE A GROWING CONCERN AMONGST ALL EMPLOYERS. INCREASING REVENUE IS A PROJECT THAT REQUIRES PATIENCE; REDUCING COSTS CREATES AN IMMEDIATELY DISCERNIBLE CHANGE. THERE IS NO WORKER WHO SHOULD BE COMPLACENT RIGHT NOW.”The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For socials go to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM and spread the word. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
My guest today made a chicken sandwich. It took him 6 months and cost him $1500.Now, this wouldn’t usually be cause for inviting someone onto a podcast to talk about globalisation, but Andy George is no ordinary maker of chicken sandwiches. He runs a YouTube channel called How To Make Everything, which, at time of writing, has 1.74m subscribers. Andy’s premise is simple, he makes everything but he makes it from scratch. He procures everything straight from the source, and then works backwards to try and turn it into a viable product. The sort of products we’ve become used to buying in every supermarket in the country. His most successful videos involve making chocolate, an American football, a root beer float and a pair of glasses.His story about making a chicken sandwich – which was my point of entry to Andy’s world – has over six million views, and went viral against recently on Twitter. Part of its appeal is, I think, a demonstration of how hard life has been for most of humanity’s existence, and how much we’ve come to take for granted the conveniences of modern life. In a moment you’ll hear my conversation with Andy, which I hope gets you thinking about some of these questions about supply chains in our globalised world, and also makes you marvel with renewed appreciation for the miracle that it human evolution. There’s not a monkey in the world that could make a chicken sandwich, let alone create a mass-market version for consumption by a thousand hungry commuters every day, but humans have taken it in their stride. Anyway, here’s Andy…The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For socials go to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM and spread the word. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
This morning, upon waking – it’s currently 7:50am as I type, but not as I read – I lay in bed for the first half hour and scrolled through Instagram Reels. This isn’t something I do very often but it’s a pursuit that people around me – ahem – do quite a lot of. To be honest, I still predominantly use Instagram in the old school way, scrolling through my home screen of people’s grid posts, or watching their stories.But then occasionally I remember the existence of Reels and a few minutes later I’m sucked in. I am served endless videos of dogs, interspersed with memes about the foibles of heterosexual relationships. If there is an alternative algorithmic universe for my Reels feed, I have not discovered it. I have learned that not all dogs can handle stairs and not all men can manage a diary.Instagram Reels is part of a suite of apps, the most popular apps of the present moment, which include Twitter – or X, if we’re calling it that – and Chinese giant TikTok, governed by a UX principle called “infinite scroll”. Do you remember how there was a time in architecture, a couple of decades ago, when you’d build your $20m villa in the Hollywood hills and just have a beautiful, formal rectangular pool? And then, suddenly, any pool at any pricey mansion had to become an “infinity pool”? It had to give that sense of the pool’s surface being unlimited, in a perfect union with sky or sea…Well, unlimited is the word of the century. Infinite scroll is a tactic that was deployed predominantly to keep users on the app. Watchtime became the most important metric for apps, and therefore they sought to avoid offering users the opportunity to switch off, to take a break. I’m sure that the internal self-justification involved attempting to give users a more “frictionless” experience, but the impact was clear: people kept scrolling until their fingers and brains were numb.Infinite scroll is here to stay, I’m sure, but there are also the whisperings of a fight back against the ubiquity of this technique. Daley Wilhelm is a UX writer in the US, and someone who has written about how we can stop the infinite scroll. That piece got a lot of pick-up and suggests – just a whisper – that there is a counter feeling, a sense that maybe we should start to rethink our relationship with endless screentime.The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For socials go to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM and spread the word. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
The Wikipedia Dilemma

The Wikipedia Dilemma

2023-11-1342:19

Today, I want to talk about Wikipedia – not because I think it’s under any real threat from Elon Musk or other external forces. Instead, I want to talk about it because I think it’s something of subtly profound importance in the internet age.In a moment you’ll hear me speaking to Alex Hollender who was a staff member at the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that runs the show, who led the 2023 re-resign of Wikipedia. We’re going to talk about what it’s like to work for the online encyclopedia, what makes it great, and how you build something with a view to it being accessed by as many people as possible. I think the conversation is a really valuable one for anyone interested in the creation of a tool like Wikipedia, but also designers and developers curious about how to subtle tweak the user experience, and how UX can change how we experience a site.And here's Ned Ludd's third addition to their manifesto:"THE RIGHT TO KNOWLEDGEIf it is known, then it is known. The right to knowledge extends to all peoples regardless of race, class, age or geography. The attempt to gatekeep knowledge is a construct of the ruling class and must be overcome. The internet is the greatest redistribution mechanism for knowledge that the world has ever invented. It is like Gutenberg’s printing press on anabolic steroids. But the right to knowledge comes with the necessity of screening that knowledge for inaccuracies and falsehood. This is one of the great challenges of the internet age. But first we need to tear down the walls that exist between consumers of knowledge and that knowledge itself. Long live Aaron Swartz."The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For socials go to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM and spread the word. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
I’m a smartphone addict. I admit it. I’ve just checked my screentime on my Apple iPhone SE and it’s 1 hour and 28 minutes per day on average, a figure that should be shocking except that I know, from those around me, that it’s not very much by modern standards. I won’t name names but I know people who have 6, 7, 8 hours of screen time per day. This is the point at which the phone becomes another domain, another life. You will spend a less fortunate person’s lifetime staring at that screen, lost in the colours, the attention grabbers grabbing out at you. Dragging you in.It's easy to get a sucked into moral panic about smartphone use. But when the original iPhone was released in 2007, the world was a different place. George W Bush was President. Tony Blair had left office just 2 days earlier. But fundamentally, we were a world waiting for the excitement of possibility. This was still an era where people had been wowed by the capacity of iPods, their ability to perform as glorified external hard-drives. Given that we now live in a smartworld, where everything from dishwashers to toasters are wi-fi enabled and accessible via the cloud, the world in 2007 was different. The idea of a phone which also had a camera was still novel. One that could also play music and podcasts? Unique.So we can hardly blame our past selves for getting sucked into the world of the smartphone. BlackBerry, on one hand, were building a phone for business, for men in suits who needed to email their mistress or dealer. Apple, meanwhile, were creating the omni-phone, the quintessential smartphone experience. Slick, modern, all-encompassing. The good folks at Samsung and Huawei won’t like it, but every serious smartphone since has essentially been an iPhone. Big, vibrant display, and an incrementally improving set of functionalities.To address all this, I called up Joe Hollier, who’s the co-founder of Light Phone, a company that manufactures so-called “dumb phones”. Initially, they raised some $415,000 via Kickstarter from terminally online folk who wanted a way of scaling back their smartphone addiction. That was for the model one. They’ve released a second version of the phone off the back of $3.5m of crowdfunding. The Light Phone II, which is on sale now, retails at a slightly eye-watering $299 – but the cost isn’t the interesting thing. What’s interesting is the philosophy.I’m joined for this conversation by my friend Toby Mather, who’s CEO of Lingumi, an edtech company specialising in language tuition for children. I brought him along in order to provide the perspective of someone who’s building a business off the basis of the opposite impulse: getting people to spend more time on their phones.The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For socials go to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM and spread the word. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
The Right to Work

The Right to Work

2023-10-3038:54

This is The Ned Ludd Radio Hour – your weekly dose of tech scepticism, cynicism and absurdism. Hosted by me, Nick Hilton. This is a podcast for people who love tech and people who hate it (just not for those who don't care). Each week the new Ned Ludd sends me a missive (republished below) and then I speak to a top bod (or two) about issues that I think are interesting. This week I'm speaking to Gavin Mueller, an academic at the University of Amsterdam and author of Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Were Right About Why You Hate Your Job. We're talking about AI, automation and how human sense of purpose can survive all that....“1. THE RIGHT TO WORK. There is a right to work. It is not the same as of analogous to income rights. It is closer to the right to purpose. A cat has the purpose of catching mice. A dog has the purpose of companionship. Man has the purpose of work. In the future, technology will limit that purpose. Some will grow richer and some will grow poorer. That equilibrium will be seen as proof of in-effect. Automation and machinization will be seen as net neutral. But what will be lost if man is stripped of purpose? A fat cat lying in the sun? A dog dragging its ass across the carpet? We work because it is a human impulse even when it is not a human necessity. Take someone’s purpose away and they are depleted. They become a zoo exhibit. A penguin pecking at the concrete where a sardine once was. A panda gnawing its gums bloody on eucalyptus. We have a right to purpose, which means we have a right to work.”The Ned Ludd Radio Hour is a Podot podcast, written and presented by me, Nick Hilton.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone.For socials go to NEDLUDDLIVES.COM and spread the word. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Once a week, and with the help of guests from across the world of technology and power, I’ll relay a message from the new NED LUDD, a shadowy figure of global technological importance. And then I’ll look at the biggest issues facing society and culture today, and ask whether the die is cast. Can we have a better technology? Or are we doomed to have computers cannibalise the world that millennia of human civilization has built? And does it even matter?This is a podcast for people who love technology. It’s also a podcast for people who hate technology. It is not, however, a podcast for people who are indifferent to technology. If that’s you, I’d recommend you put the kettle on, draw yourself a bath and stop listening here.Join me, Nick Hilton – and Ned Ludd, themself – on this journey by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow the show on YouTube, where I’ll be posting video versions of as many of the interviews and conversations as possible. Just search: the Ned Ludd Radio Hour and subscribe there.On socials, you can join the conversation at r/NedLudd on Reddit, or @nedluddlives on Twitter. If I find myself making a TikTok for the show, you might have to take me out and euthanise me like an elderly dog. For all further links, visit NEDLUDDLIVES.COM.The theme music is Internet Song by Apes of the State, used with their generous permission. The artwork is by Tom Humberstone. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
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