Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

A (brief) history of memes

Anne says: Disclaimer: I love memes (wink) – particularly LOLCats.

What is a meme? Do you know that the term meme originated in evolutionary biology when Richard Dawkins defined the term in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. He talked about the transmission of culture, like song melodies or art styles. Then along came the internet – now the word refers to internet culture that uses media forms such as images (think LOLCats), hashtags (think #METOO), GIFs (short animated clips), or videos (think Hitler parodies).

Angela Watercutter, culture editor and one of the coauthors of Wired magazines guide to memes, describes the characteristics of a winning meme: “A good meme has to be incisive, funny, and very, very timely.

I started paying attention to memes – as more than just enjoying the humour so many of them play on – after reading Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus in 2010. (Watch a TEDTalk where he explains the concept). Immediately, the brilliance of these creative communication contributions was revealed for me! For me, this opened a whole new approach to memes. Now I could see the effort and consideration that goes into their creation – I used them in developing online learning activities, applying new language skills and demonstrating the power of memes to communicate like nothing else we’d had access to previously.

Having now read further and taken the perspective from Angela Watercutter, I see the potential of memes to reflect the culture of society and perhaps we could use memes to develop or represent organisational culture.

And yesterday, as we prepared our Friday Faves, I noted the use of a meme in Sweden by an advertising agency – with a twist. The meme, the distracted boyfriend, has been deemed degrading and demeaning to women. Is this where we see the line between cognitive surplus and advertising collide?

Explore a brief history of memes in the article from Wired Magazine and admire the creativity of people and use of humour to reflect the culture of the time. Then consider the clash: when the culture of memes is used by advertising, does this stop being a meme?


Leave no dark corner

Helen says: This article reads like a dystopian novel and sent shivers down my spine. When big brother combines with big data, and a social credit system is born, the meaning of digital footprint is taken to a whole new and scarier level. China has its sights set on being the world leader in AI technology and is developing a social credit system and will impose it on their citizens. By 2020 the State plans to go national leaving people nowhere to hide.

China already has 200,000,000 smart cameras in operation. Using facial recognition, body scanning and geo-tracking technology, citizens will be monitored and allocated credits in real time based on a person’s actions, personal data and online behaviour. What they purchase, who they engage with, their credit rating, their academic and medical records, all this data will feed into a score that becomes their social credit. The higher your credit, the more privileges you have such as access to schools and health services. Credits also translate into a type of inheritance, if your parents are high scorers, you have a distinct advantage. However, if you are a low scorer you will find yourself with restrictions on what you can do and where you can travel and there is no apparent recourse if you are incorrectly blacklisted.

A supporter of the system interviewed clearly wears utopian glasses, and believes a credit system will help deliver the “rich, democratic, cultural, harmonious and beautiful” society President Xi has promised. The author, on the other hand, describes it as high tech social engineering and political extremism at its best. Such government control is regressive and undermines individuality, freedom of expression, freedom of choice, privacy, innovation and diversity.


Can you tell a fake video from a real one?

Source: ABC

Joel says: Artificial intelligence is emerging as the next frontier in fake news — and it just might make you second-guess everything you see. Back in May Nat shared a piece on what deepfakes are and why people are ‘freaking out’ about them, and now, in an informative and interactive piece over at the ABC, you can learn about how machine learning is being used to develop this new kind of video known on the internet as a deepfake. You’ll also be able to put yourself to the test and see if you are able to correctly guess if a video you see is legitimate or created using the deepfake method.

Can you imagine a world where you see a video of a world leader engaged in some kind of damning act, but you can’t tell whether it’s real or a completely computer-generated fake? What about a world where pretty much anyone could make that fake video on a regular computer using free tools?

Take a look at the video of Donald Trump embedded in the article. It’s not a photograph, it’s not manipulated footage, it’s a wholesale computer-generated creation of his face. This is what’s known as a deepfake. All you have to do to make one is feed the computer a series of portraits of Trump’s face and it figures out how to swap it onto someone else.

We’re used to being able to rely on footage like this to navigate the world, we’re used to turning on the TV or looking on Facebook and seeing footage of someone saying something and not having to question it. Imagine having to apply scrutiny to every piece of video you see. Is what you’re seeing real or is it a deepfake created by an AI system?

It’s a really great piece, so give it a read and put yourself to the test.


Drawing is the best way to learn, even if you’re no Leonardo da Vinci

“I just can’t draw.” It’s a refrain most adults say when confronted with a blank piece of paper.

Jakkii says: Have you ever said ‘I can’t draw?’ I know I have! But one thing I have learned over time is that, despite our beliefs to the contrary, drawing is not about art – or at least, not always. As such, you don’t need to be an artist, and your drawing doesn’t need to be something fit to hang in a gallery! Drawing is a great method for getting ideas onto paper, for explanations, and for quickly providing visual cues and mechanisms to get your point across to others.

But we’ve been thinking about drawing all wrong, says the design historian D.B. Dowd. In his illuminating new book, titled Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice, Dowd argues that putting a pencil to paper shouldn’t be about making art at all.

“We have misfiled the significance of drawing because we see it as a professional skill instead of a personal capacity,” he writes. “This essential confusion has stunted our understanding of drawing and kept it from being seen as a tool for learning above all else.”

It was great to come across this article and find not only does design historian D.B. Dowd agree, but the article goes on to argue that drawing is, in fact, an important learning tool. It suggests that drawing makes us think “better,” provides an alternative to “Google-based learning,” and even that drawing makes us better humans.

Do you draw, sketch or doodle? At work? For pleasure? What about for learning? If drawing hasn’t been something you do with reasonable regularity, perhaps it’s time to grab some paper & a pencil next time you need to learn, understand or even explain something to someone else. It’s a good habit to have in my opinion – and it would seem this article agrees!


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: selling privacy, for good measure, and automated advertising poetry. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week:

Apple’s best product is now privacy

We’re measuring the economy all wrong

Other stories we bring up:

‘The West Wing’ Season 1, episode 9 ‘The Short List’

West Wing Short List

More on Apple’s privacy

The metadata society

Google’s prototype search engine for China

The gadget that can sit in one spot and track everything

Measuring the Australian labour force

Measuring the Australian GDP

The Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force numbers and Characteristics of Employment Survey 

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

Gabriel Zucman, Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty ‘s version of GDP

Our previous discussion of privacy and Facebook/Cambridge Analytica

Our previous discussion of privacy and open DNA databases

Our previous discussion of the role of science fiction in understanding the impacts of technology

Robot of the week:

Alimama the AI copywriter


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