QUANTech #25: Q3 stats, Facebook and gene editing


Digital information technology is increasingly becoming entrenched into the fabric of our society, and it will not be long before we all permanently connect via the Internet. As the extensive digitisation of society is set to radically change practically all aspects of our lives, QUANTech (#QTech) aims at helping you stay in the know about the rapidly changing landscape of both organisations and society alike in the digital age.

#QTech is brought to you by Denys Malengreau (@D_MLG), digital advisor to QUANT.

Reading time: 7-9 minutes

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Q3 stats, Facebook and gene editing

We now are over 4 billion people online whose 3.3 are active social media users. Even more striking: over 5 billion people own a mobile phone, either smart or not. The world is quickly shifting toward the onlife (online + offline).

These are a few of the latest figures from Hootsuite and We Are Social’s global digital statshot for the third quarter of 2018. You will find a deeper analysis by reviewing the following slides:

With Q3 stats came figures platform by platform. We will note results shared by Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg (whose personal protection spending will reach $10 million this year). Two noteworthy lessons are to be highlighted here: the social network lost a whopping 20% in ad clicks and three million active users in Europe. Whether Cambridge Analytica, GDPR, summer slowing or anything else, such results had direct impact on the Facebook share with the company losing $119 billion in Wall Street in a blink of an eye. Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth valuation was worth $15.9 billion less, too.

One thing is for sure: 2018 is a crucial year for the social network and the crisis it went through has forced it to really rethink the way it operates. The company’s outgoing chief security officer Alex Stamos had wise words back about what the company should do back in March:

« We need to change the metrics we measure and the goals we shoot for. We need to adjust PSC to reward not shipping when that is the wiser decision. We need to think adversarially in every process, product and engineering decision we make. We need to build a user experience that conveys honesty and respect, not one optimized to get people to click yes to giving us more access. We need to intentionally not collect data where possible, and to keep it only as long as we are using it to serve people. We need to find and stop adversaries who will be copying the playbook they saw in 2016. We need to listen to people (including internally) when they tell us a feature is creepy or point out a negative impact we are having in the world. We need to deprioritze short-term growth and revenue and to explain to Wall Street why that is ok. We need to be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues. And we need to be open, honest and transparent about challenges and what we are doing to fix them. »

Meanwhile and more recently, Facebook’s « We’re sorry » video was spoofed by John Oliver in a way that was both funny and truly questioning at the same time.

All in all, this whole Facebook thing shows how ingrained the social network has become in people’s life worldwide even though it keeps struggling with China (failing again, in Hangzhou this time). On the topic, I came across a very interesting article from The Atlantic this week, which asked the question of whether Facebook is here stay as a key (digital) element of the social fabric. A few quotes are worth putting forward.

« I think the only possibility of Facebook becoming less meaningful and important in people’s lives would occur among elites in North America and Western Europe. People who read The Atlantic or read long academic books about Facebook might reduce their usage. But I see nothing but growth and more dependence on Facebook and WhatsApp and Instagram in the rest of the world. Every day in so many ways, the United States matters less in the world. That’s not just Trump’s fault. It’s been a long-term process. Look, if at some point, Facebook is allowed to compete with WeChat in China, then we’ve got a totally different game and what Americans think of Facebook will matter very little. »

Another long piece published by We Are Social this week asks what social will look like in 2028. Some thinking to go with to envision the role Facebook is to play in tomorrow’s society.

I focused on gene editing in last week’s QUANTech. The thing is that relevant stories are worth reporting about the topic this week. The Pew Research Center released the results of a survey they carried out lately about how comfortable Americans feel about gene-editing embryos to create healthier babies. The results are supporting more than cautious.

The so-called CRISPR could be massively used for gene-edited crops or transplant organs from human-pig hybrids. The ethical debate has just started. And the question is: will there be any consensus as the West and China may share different views on the matter.

IN SHORT (reading time)

 How big is China’s tech industry? Here are the latest stats. (4-5m)
 DARPA has an ambitious $1.5 billion plan to reinvent electronics. (5-6m)
 Ford bets $4 billion on its self-driving future. (1-2m)
 Google Glass is back with artificial intelligence. (5-6m)
 Google will roll out 200 WiFi hotspots in Nigeria by 2020. (4-5m)
 Lenovo delivers the first Google Assistant smart display. (2-3m)
 WikiLeaks' Julian Assange could soon face embassy expulsion. (5-6m)
 Telegram Passport stores your real-world IDs in the cloud. (1-2m)
 Magic Leap details what its mixed reality OS will look like. (4-5m)
 Blockchain company Tron buys BitTorrent. (2-3m)
 Twitter plunges most in four years on drop in monthly users. (6-7m)
 Alibaba doubles down on facial recognition. (1-2m)
 The incredible rise of Pinduoduo, Tencent's most powerful Taobao rival. (11-14m)

IN CONTEXT: tech for good

Among all the articles I read this week, one of them specifically caught my attention: « The first ‘blockchain baby’ is here » —huh wait, what? There you have it, another use case showing how good tech can be.

If there is one never-ending debate to keep us busy for a long time, it is whether tech is good or bad for society. It simply is none of them. It is both, what French philosopher Bernard Stiegler describes as a pharmakon: a Greek word which means remedy and poison at the same time. Technology is a pharmakon. It is what we make it that makes it. And all new technology will always bring about its batch of concerns and challenges as innovation, which is inherent to human history, shakes up the status quo.

Technology will always have desirable and undesirable outcomes whose the latter must be anticipated as much as possible in the early days of development. It is not all black or white. Technology simply is imperfect, so are we. All in all, the problems caused by today's technology will only be fixed by tomorrow’s technology.

Talk soon!

Denys Malengreau