Top Heroes of the Year

  1. Elon Musk – For being one of the few people in Silicon Valley, or in all of the US really, to think big enough. He earns the top spot just for saying that he hopes to die on Mars.
  2. Thomas Piketty – For providing this data-eager media climate a much-needed data infusion showing how the post-WWII period was a blip, and we have reverted to historical levels of inequality.
  3. Lawrence Lessig – For trying to tackle campaign finance reform through the Mayday Super PAC.
  4. Maria Popova – For her untiring work compiling the most interesting articles and links of the week in her Brain Pickings newsletter.
  5. Tim Ferriss – For being the guinea pig of experiments in self-improvement and bio-hacking, so that the rest of us don’t have to test everything on ourselves, but can just follow his shining example instead.
  6. Nick Bostrom – For starting the debate on how we should build an AI that will not destroy humankind in his brilliant book Superintelligence.
  7. Yuval Harari Noah – For eloquently and innovatively summarizing the rise of humans in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
  8. Peter Thiel – For investing in business that can create 10x improvements instead of incremental change, and for supporting potentially society-changing ideas such as Seasteading.
  9. Richard Linklater – For one of the most innovative movies of the last years in Boyhood.
  10. Max Tegmark – For his work on multiverses, for example in this year’s book Our Mathematical Universe.

Top 10 Media Trends of the Year

  1. Recycle Journalism – This was the year that recycle journalism came to the fore. It’s been a trend for a long time, already when I was writing for the magazine Space in the 90’s, I was experimenting with it, and Sweden’s Nojesguiden had a fun tradition of creating interviews using questions from other magazines’ interviews, but this year, it was everywhere. New media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Gawker are in large parts based on recycling and reshuffling material, but this year even more traditional magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek had pieces which were made up of lists of articles from other outlets, such as their year-end jealousy list. Slate capped the year by doing a list of (social) media outrages for each day of the year. This trend is perhaps inevitable given the vast and increasing amount of content creation, which means that not all of it can be original content (as with this article itself!). Perhaps it can even be useful given the impossibility of keeping up with everything (unless you’re Jason Hirschhorn of Media Redef who seems to have 25 hours in his day!)
  2. Snowdenification – One of the outcomes from the NSA leaks has been the rise of apps that promise anonymity or not storing data. Two of the most talked about apps of the year were Secret and Whisper, which lets users share sentiments anonymously. Snapchat, with its self-destructing photos, continued to gain in popularity, and recently, we saw the launch of Confide, which lets users send self-destructing text messages.
  3. Long tail in analog – The creation of digital content was supposed to enable the long tail, i.e. with a distribution cost of zero, we could all enjoy whatever niche content we wanted. That ended up not being the case, with mainstream music/films/videos still dominating digital. Instead, it’s in the analog space that we are seeing extremely niche products, with the success of magazines like Brot (a German magazine dedicated only to bread!) and Modern Farmer (which I can only imagine is, as its name suggests, for modern farmers). Likewise, we saw Serial blow up and reach mass audiences that podcasts earlier could only dream of.
  4. Fights for digital distribution and pricing rights – Taylor Swift picked a fight with Spotify, and Hachette picked a fight with Amazon, and all over, music labels, artists and film studios were worrying about how to price their products for digital distribution and how to maintain control.
  5. Algorithms beats curation – Another highly visible fight this year took place between Spotify, the reigning master in the algorithm corner, and Beats Music, the newcomer in the curation corner. We’ll have to see how much focus is given to curation when Beats is relaunched by Apple next year, but for now Spotify has the lead, with steadily improving algorithms.
  6. Corporate Content – Benetton has long had its own magazine, Colors, which received praise this year for its World Cup issue, but this year, corporate content has become one of the main trends. One aspect of this is native advertising, which has become the buzzword du jour in digital advertising. Other advertisers took it even further and launched their own magazines with quite limited branding, such as GE.
  7. Data journalism – Big data is making its mark on all industries, and the news industry is no exception. The launch of Nate Silver’s 538 heralded an onslaught of data journalism, and there were suddenly infographics wherever you looked. The belief in data as the ultimate objective source was quickly questioned, however, and it turned out that data journalism has biases just like regular journalism, it just has more graphs to back it up with. That’s not to say that some of it wasn’t great, though, NYT’s The Upshot did great work around the US midterm elections.
  8. Explanatory journalism. The other surprising trend this year was explanatory journalism. Alain de Botton published his book News: A Manual, where he called for news to be kinder to the reader and function more like an oracle helping the reader navigate life. Whether or not as a response to Alain, Ezra Klein this year left Washington Post and launched Vox, which became the torch-bearer for explanatory journalism. Again, it was a worthwhile aim, and some of the pieces served to provide much-needed background, but in order to maintain the 24/7 flow of a digital news site, some explanations proved a bit silly, and “Vox explains” could seemingly be attached to anything from ISIS to Easter Eggs.
  9. Drone journalism – The rise of affordable drones and cameras provided journalists, and especially photographers, with a fantastic new tool to investigate and report. There are still many question marks, not least around FAA regulations, but this is clearly something that will only grow. A related phenomenon is the launch of mini-satellites which can be used to provide high-definition images in close to real-time.
  10. Google’s Right to be Forgotten – A scary trend in Europe was for Google to remove links to websites under the court ruling dubbed “Right to be forgotten”. This could potentially be admissible for individual websites that are defamatory, or simply out-of-date, but it was applied to stories on many news sites, such as BBC stories about specific CEOs, etc, where it has no right at all. That is called editing history, and has no place in a modern society.

2014 Top 10 Things that make me pessimistic for the future

A few days ago, we covered the top things in 2014 that made me optimistic, but unfortunately, there were also many things that left me more pessimistic for the future. Here are the top 10 of pessimistic events and trends.
  1. Internet balkanization – One of the unfortunate effects of the Snowden leaks has been previously democratic countries such as Germany and Brazil wanting to join Iran and China in creating their own walled-in pockets of the internet. Add the increased efforts of Russia and Turkey to crack down on internet freedoms in their countries, and the future for an open internet is starting to look bleak.
  2. 5,000 deaths to jihadi terrorism in November – Already before the awful Taliban attack on the school in Pakistan, new statistics had just been released saying that there had been 5,000 deaths due to jihadi terrorism in November alone, a trend that doesn’t seem likely to stop anytime soon. Many of these are perpetrated by Boko Haram, and get much less attention in Western media than similar attacks by ISIS/Al Qaeda offshoots.
  3. Lone wolf attacks – This year has seen an uptick in lone wolf attacks, such as the Sydney cafe hostage situation recently. These kind of lone wolf attacks, which might be inspired by ISIS, but not affiliated with them, are very hard for security agencies to intercept, and seem to be on the increase.
  4. Failure to punish anyone for the financial crisis – The moment for punishing anyone for the financial crisis and making any substantial changes to the unstable parts of the financial system seems now to have passed. It is also striking to see how fines for manipulating interest rates or currency rates, as seen with this year’s Libor and FX scandals, are now seen almost just as an expected cost of doing business.
  5. Europe’s Google war – Instead of trying to stimulate innovation within Europe, several countries in Europe and members of the European Parliament seem instead set on counterproductive measures such as calling for the breakup of Google and implementing “the Google tax”. Not to mention the whole Right to be Forgotten-fiasco. The European Parliament should focus instead of creating local competitors.
  6. 23 and me ban – The US is not immune to putting in place bans on innovative companies, as we have seen with the ban on 23 and me to continue their revolutionary genome mapping service. We are just in the beginning of the genomics revolution, but it seems backward by the FDA to ban 23 and me from continuing their service.
  7. Crime as a service – As everything goes on-demand over the internet, apparently a new trend is crime as a service, where teams of hackers can be hired for a cheap sum to perform cybercrimes. This might even have been the case in the Sony hack.
  8. Antibiotic super-resistance – This year has seen a continue uptick in hospital cases of antibiotic resistance, due to over usage for livestock and over-prescription to unnecessary illnesses. This risks setting us back to the middle ages. The recent acquisition by Merck of Cubist shows the huge need in this area.
  9. The Third Industrial Revolution from a global equality perspective – While 3d-printing and additive manufacturing techniques seem set to bring about massive productivity gains in developed countries, there is also a fear that this means that the next set of countries won’t see the uptick in living standards that the last set of production countries (China, East Asia) saw by being the factories for the world.
  10. Technological innovation driving returns to capital rather than labor – It is an unfortunate side effect of technological innovation that, while the service benefits might be shared among the many, the financial benefits tend to accrue only to existing capital, due to the tendency of new innovations to create monopolies and lower the cost of inputs such as labor.

Top 10 Things in 2014 that made me optimistic for the future

In 2014, we witnessed many tragic events, from Ebola deaths to the attacks on schools in Nigeria and Pakistan, but there were also glimmers of hope for the future. Some of the events that spelled the most promise for the future were the following:
  1. Medical 3D-printing – With the breakthroughs in the use of 3D-printing for medical purposes, the potential for breakthroughs in healthcare is huge, and could radically lower healthcare costs over time.
  2. Rosetta’s Philae comet landing – The landing of the small Philae probe on its moving target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, was a nice step forward for space exploration, and gave us some much needed hope in terms of how we can start to explore space again.
  3. Big data silver lining in Ebola outbreak – With all the terrible news coming out of the Ebola-affected countries, it was nice to see at least a little bit of silver lining from this outbreak – a number of organizations were able to use big data from e.g. mobiles to help map the outbreak. This kind of use case will hopefully help stem future outbreaks.
  4. VR Tech – After decades of false promises, the advent this year of Oculus Rift and Magic Leap seems to suggest that we are finally seeing breakthroughs in the field of virtual reality. Having tested the first version of Oculus Rift, it’s easy to see why Mark Zuckerberg was so excited about non-gaming uses of Oculus for all kinds of purposes, from social interactions, to travel and medicine.
  5. Modi – The election of Narendra Modi this year has potentially the highest multiplier effect of any elected politician. Given the enormous population of India and the large percentage of them that live in extreme poverty, if Modi can change their lives just with a sliver, the resulting effect would be the largest upgrade of human quality of living since the early days of China’s rise under Deng Xiaoping.
  6. Climate deals – Recently emboldened President Obama’s climate deal with China, and the global deal that it facilitated are reasons to cheer. They are not enough, but it is still a huge step forward for the world to have a global deal in place. Although it is not enough to prevent temperature rises that will affect millions of people, the fact that there is a framework in place gives me hope that it can be built upon, and have measures added to it, both for climate change prevention, and climate change reversal.
  7. Google’s self-driving cars – With the success of Google’s experiments with autonomous vehicles, and those of other car manufacturers joining the fray, such as Sweden’s Volvo, a future where we can read books while being driven to our location of choice seems just a matter of time.
  8. Tesla – The huge success of Tesla this year gives me hope that electric cars can become mainstream, they just need the right branding and performance. Hopefully the new battery factory can help spread the revolution.
  9. Disruptive technology in the universe of atoms as well as bits – For most of the digital revolution, disruption has happened in the universe of bits only, i.e. it has been only digital functions that have seen change. Now, however, we are increasingly seeing the application of data in real life, changing the functions of analogue, tangible functions. For example, Waze is revolutionizing how we navigate traffic, based on vast amounts of data and payments are becoming digitized with Bitcoin and Apple Pay. This will change our lives to an even greater degree than the bits disruptions.
  10. Sleep Science – More and more studies from sleep scientists are coming out that show that the circadian rhythms of most people would be better suited for a workday that starts and ends later. I don’t expect to see a change soon, but these kinds of recommendations, long seen as mumbo jumbo, are finally getting  some traction. Perhaps we can all soon sleep in just a little bit longer, which would add tremendously to our cumulative world happiness.

Top Words of 2014

This year has seen unparalleled word creation, given the potent combination of rapid technological change which creates the need for new words with the meme-generating powers of the internet. This list contains interesting words that were created, or became an inextricable part of culture this year.
  1. Algocracy – To be ruled by algorithm. These days, so much of our activity, both online and offline, is ruled by algorithms, whose existence we normally don’t question or even consider, that we can be said to be on our way to living in an algocracy.
  2. Clicktivism – On the internet, everyone is an activist, but most activism only goes as far as liking a post or forwarding a tweet.
  3. Biohacking – As the digital revolution moves further and further into biology, everyone these days is a biohacker, from the Fitbit user who tracks his steps to the people who embed microchips under their skin.
  4. Microcolleges – As the needs for today’s workforce continue to change more and more rapidly, it is becoming clear that a four-year university education followed by 40 years of working is no longer a relevant option. Online education, especially in terms of micro colleges that focus on a specific skill, might be able to help bridge the gap.
  5. Gastrophysics – As field after field benefits from a more scientific approach, gastrophysics, also known as molecular gastronomy, is spreading all over the world.
  6. Data Literacy – The must have in tomorrow’s job market. As the benefits of big data spread to more and more areas, the need to be data literate will become as basic as normal literacy for most white-collar jobs.
  7. Jerktech – As startups continue disrupting industries, there was a growing sensation this year that they were being too aggressive about it, whether in business methods (Uber) or in the assets they were commoditized (MonkeyParking). This became known as jerktech.
  8. Rainbow ceiling – As LGBT marriages become more and more accepted, the next barrier for gay and lesbians is the rainbow ceiling, the inability to be promoted to the highest positions in business and society. If it will follow the same path as women’s rights, this looks set to remain in place for a long time.
  9. Normcore – As the internet enabled the long tail of fashion, creating the possibility of finding like-minded members of every potential subculture online, the new thing became to dress as normal as possible. At least for five minutes.
  10. Dronie – With the combination of two of this year’s biggest trends – the ubiquity of the selfie and the rapidly sinking cost of consumer drones – enter the drone – selfie by drone.

Top 10 Most Fun Uber for X of 2014

There have been gazillions of startups launched during the year, in the current VC frenzy. Given the many pitches VC firms get, the simplest way to make a one-minute pitch for your startup idea has always been the “it’s like Y, but for X” formula. Given the runaway success of Uber, with its recent $40 billion valuation, it has become the simplest “X” to refer to. Here are some of the most fun Uber for X that we’ve seen this year. While some of these can surely be useful, some are completely ridiculous, and only really beg the question of what comes after first-world problems? 1% problems?
  1. Washio – Uber for laundry
  2. Zeel – Uber for massages
  3. Blackjet – Uber for private planes
  4. Shuddle – Uber for your kids
  5. SkyCatch – Uber for drones
  6. Citymani – Uber for manicures
  7. Minibar – Uber for booze
  8. Nimbl – Uber for cash
  9. Greenpal – Uber for lawn-moving
  10. Swifto – Uber for dog walking

2014 Top 10 Historic Moments Echoing During the Year

2014 has been a year when the wings of history have been unusually prevalent throughout. Here are the historic events that perhaps reverberated the most during the year:
  1. The onset of World War I, given its hundred-year anniversary this year, and the many apt comparisons that can be made between the declining empire of the time (Britain) and now (the US), and the path of the rising power then (Germany) and now (China).
  2. The French Revolution, given the rising levels of inequality in the world and the many unfinished or unstarted revolutions that we are seeing.
  3. The Westphalian peace of 1648, given the annexation of Ukraine and the feeling among many that this spells the end of the Westphalian system, and the decline of the nation state.
  4. The dawn of the space age in the 60’s, as the debate over the value of space missions heats up again, new space powers are created in India and China, and Elon Musk stresses the necessity of taking the human race to Mars (and saying he wants to do die there)
  5. The fall of the Berlin Wall, given its 25 year anniversary this year, and with the sensation in Europe of a new Cold War brewing, and new kinds of walls being created
  6. Tiananmen Square, given its 25 year anniversary this year and the fear held for a while that Hong Kong protests might face a similarly tragical ending.
  7. The Victorian Era, given that it was the time of the second industrial revolution, the last time that history was speeding up to the same extent that we are seeing now, with exponential growth in the dawn of the third industrial revolution.
  8. Pre-World Wars era of rising wealth concentration, as per Piketty’s analysis of how 1930-1975 was an aberration in terms of falling inequality and wealth-wage gap.
  9. Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 – the time when colonial powers drew up random borders in the Middle East, borders that are now crumbling as ISIS wreaks havoc and captures territory based on sectarian belonging rather than national.
  10. Selma 1965 – With Ferguson burning, we looked back at Selma and mourned the slow pace of change.

Top countries of 2014 that we didn’t see coming

Iran, China, North Korea, Greece, Syria, blah blah. These are the usual suspects, countries that everyone knew would be interesting this year. But there are 196 countries in the world, most of which don’t get mentioned in the global media. This year, however, a few unsuspected countries, countries that no one expected to be on the map, did get the world’s attention. Not always for good reasons, of course, but then again, unfortunately, it’s the bad news that gets our attention. Here are some of the most interesting ones:
  1. Guinea – Ebola put this African country on the map. I use the word map loosely, as most Americans assumed that all Africans had Ebola and started discriminating against all Africans.
  2. Ukraine – Putin’s antics made Ukraine the new keyword for geopolitical tension.
  3. Estonia – This little Baltic country launched the revolutionary e-Identity concept, where foreigners can get digital citizenship in the country without living there.
  4. Malta – This little European country had less tech-savvy citizens than Estonia, so instead just tried to sell traditional passports to rich foreigners, to EU’s chagrin.
  5. Romania – This Eastern European country also had tech-savvy citizens, but used its powers for evil instead, and became the cybercrime capital of the world.
  6. Luxembourg – This little sleepy European country was shaken by the world’s big countries suddenly cracking down on tax havens, a few decades too late.
  7. Qatar – Hey, let’s have the World Cup in the Gulf summer! It’s only 50 degrees celsius in the shade! And hey, while we’re at it, let’s get tens of thousands of illegal migrant laborers and work them to death to build the stadia! Thanks, Qatar.
  8. Colombia – This former murder capital of the world had a more positive turnaround and became one of the start-up capitals of the world.
  9. Tunisia – Suddenly, there was only one country left standing after the Arab Spring. Tunisia holds the torch as the only hope of the Middle East.
  10. Mongolia – For five seconds, this was the fastest growing economy in the world. Then, they succumbed to the usual resource curse.

Top 10 Fails of the Year

  1. Google Glass – Very disappointingly, Google Glass seems to have become a failure. There are still a few reports of it getting new usage in various industrial settings, but Google seems to have stopped promoting it. But then again, it’s early days for this kind of revolutionary technology, so we don’t know yet if this was a Newton or an iPhone 1.
  2. Twitter changes – In their new shape as a public company, Twitter has been forced to make a number of moves that potentially can bring in more revenue. Unfortunately, most of these changes also tend to upset the existing core users, as Twitter becomes more and more like Facebook and loses a bit of its individual identity.
  3. Abenomics – Japan’s GDP figures are just getting worse and worse, and it’s now back in recession. This is hardly the outcome that Abe was envisioning, and the reason can’t be as simple as the consumption tax or his failure to shoot his third arrow (the regulatory one), it must speak to the momentous task of turning around a moribund economy with an aging population (while turning off nuclear power)
  4. Hedge Funds – Hedge Funds have underperformed significantly this year (again). It seems the old idea that hedge funds would benefit from volatility does not apply to volatility that is actually unpredictable.
  5. Chuck Hagel – Chuck Hagel failed to make a dent in the enormous behemoth that is the Department of Defense and failed to deliver a succinct Middle East policy. Hopefully Carter can improve on his performance.
  6. Iran nuclear deal – The extension to the Iran nuclear deal feels like a cop-out. It goes to show that the negotiators do not actually represent the actual power bases in their respective countries (Congress, Khomeini).
  7. The New Republic – I actually admired Chris Hughes when he bought the failing classic title that is The New Republic, but it seems that was shortsighted of me, he did not seem to have the best of the magazine at heart. Yes, it’s great to be a vertically integrated digital media business, and yes, it is hard, nigh impossible to run a traditional media business these days, but still…TNR is TNR. Or was.
  8. Facebook’s psychology experiments – This year, Facebook’s users learned that they are indeed the product, as Facebook revealed running large-scale tests designed to impact users’ moods. On the one hand, the necessary A/B testing of a data company, on the other hand, never felt more like a guinea pig.
  9. Brazil’s World Cup performance – Rarely, even including England’s constant self-flagellating pre-tournament hubris, has there been such a disconnect between the performance of a team forecasted to win the tournament by everyone and their dog before the tournament, and the actual performance in a game.
  10. Failing itself – This year, we were inundated with a flurry of articles proclaiming the necessity of failure itself. Most of this Silicon Valley-led effort, which might as well have been funded by a SuperPAC-equivalent of VC firms, failed to mention the difficulties of failure and the low success rates.

Top 10 Trends of 2014

Some of the key trends that shaped 2014:
  1. Inequality – The growth in inequality, both within countries and between countries, was one of the key themes of the year, from Obama’s speech in the beginning of the year to Thomas Piketty’s book which defined large parts of the academic debate.
  2. Commoditization of all assets – This was the year that the sharing economy really took hold, with all its many positive effects, but also giving a feeling that there is an ongoing commoditization of all assets – from the car you drive (Uber), to your apartment (Airbnb), to your time (Taskrabbit).
  3. Mindfulness – This was the year that mindfulness and meditation became huge, with the increased popularity of smartphone apps like Buddhify and Silicon Valley companies all competing to offer the most mindfulness-friendly environment.
  4. U.S. Energy independence – OPEC’s decision to not take action on their production the other week feels like a defining moment for the shale revolution and the US energy independence.
  5. Payments finally going mobile – There have been many promising mobile payment solutions, but now with the launch of Apple Pay, it feels like this might finally be about to take off. A group in Sweden have already implanted chips into their bodies, in order to not even have to whip out their smartphone.
  6. Robotics – Robotics is on the verge of a breakthrough, perhaps not yet in terms of consumer robots, but at least in terms of manufacturing and automation. Nowhere was this more clear than with Google buying up robotics companies left, right and center this year, like Boston Dynamics and DeepMind.
  7. Miniaturization – Another interesting Google announcement this year was the Google smart contact lens, a contact lens with sensors that can measure health stats, showing the enormous potential of miniaturization and sensors in everything.
  8. The rise of a Sino-centric Asia – With China forming its own development banks to rival the World Bank and IMF, it has thrown down the gauntlet to start shaping Asia in its image. The ADIZ in the East China Sea was put up last year, and one in the South China Sea seems to be just a matter of time.
  9. Immortality – This year saw a steady rise in the use of health-tracking devices, techniques to extend human lives, and not to mention diets with less calorie consumption meant to extend life.
  10. Smart Urbanization – The world is getting more and more urbanized, with more than 50% of the world’s population in cities since a few years back. The need is therefore for smart urban solutions. This year saw this trend taking shape, with architects, designers and entrepreneurs joining urban planners in designing smart solutions.