Why Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the apocalypse in New Zealand

2 days ago

The long read: How an extreme libertarian tract predicting the collapse of liberal democracies written by Jacob Rees-Moggs father inspired the likes of Peter Thiel to buy up property across the Pacific

If you’re interested in the end of the world, you’re interested in New Zealand. If you’re interested in how our current cultural anxieties – climate catastrophe, decline of transatlantic political orders, resurgent nuclear terror – manifest themselves in apocalyptic visions, you’re interested in the place occupied by this distant archipelago of apparent peace and stability against the roiling unease of the day.

If you’re interested in the end of the world, you would have been interested, soon after Donald Trump’s election as US president, to read a New York Times headline stating that Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, considered New Zealand to be “the Future”. Because if you are in any serious way concerned about the future, you’re also concerned about Thiel, a canary in capitalism’s coal mine who also happens to have profited lavishly from his stake in the mining concern itself.

Thiel is in one sense a caricature of outsized villainy: he was the only major Silicon Valley figure to put his weight behind the Trump presidential campaign; he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didn’t like how they wrote about him; he is known for his public musings about the incompatibility of freedom and democracy, and for expressing interest – as though enthusiastically pursuing the clunkiest possible metaphor for capitalism at its most vampiric – in a therapy involving transfusions of blood from young people as a potential means of reversing the ageing process. But in another, deeper sense, he is pure symbol: less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future, a human emblem of the moral vortex at the centre of the market.

It was in 2011 that Thiel declared he’d found “no other country that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand”. The claim was made as part of an application for citizenship; the application was swiftly granted, though it remained a secret for a further six years. In 2016, Sam Altman, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential entrepreneurs, revealed to the New Yorker that he had an arrangement with Thiel whereby in the eventuality of some kind of systemic collapse scenario – synthetic virus breakout, rampaging AI, resource war between nuclear-armed states, so forth – they both get on a private jet and fly to a property Thiel owns in New Zealand. (The plan from this point, you’d have to assume, was to sit out the collapse of civilisation before re-emerging to provide seed-funding for, say, the insect-based protein sludge market.)

In the immediate wake of that Altman revelation, Matt Nippert, a reporter for the New Zealand Herald, began looking into the question of how exactly Thiel had come into possession of this apocalypse retreat, a 477-acre former sheep station in the South Island – the larger, more sparsely populated of the country’s two major landmasses. Foreigners looking to purchase significant amounts of New Zealand land typically have to pass through a stringent government vetting process. In Thiel’s case, Nippert learned, no such process had been necessary, because he was already a citizen of New Zealand, despite having spent no more than 12 days in the country up to that point, and having not been seen in the place since. He didn’t even need to travel to New Zealand to have his citizenship conferred, it turned out: the deal was sealed in a private ceremony at a consulate handily located in Santa Monica.

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‘Less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future’ … Peter Thiel. Photograph: VCG/Getty

When Nippert broke the story, there was a major public scandal over the question of whether a foreign billionaire should be able to effectively purchase citizenship. As part of his application, Thiel had agreed to invest in New Zealand tech startups, and had implied that he would use his new status as a naturalised Kiwi to promote the country’s business interests abroad. But the focus internationally was on why Thiel might have wanted to own a chunk of New Zealand roughly the size of lower Manhattan in the first place. And the overwhelming suspicion was that he was looking for a rampart to which he could retreat in the event of outright civilisational collapse.

Because this is the role that New Zealand now plays in our unfurling cultural fever dream: an island haven amid a rising tide of apocalyptic unease. According to the country’s Department of Internal Affairs, in the two days following the 2016 election the number of Americans who visited its website to enquire about the process of gaining New Zealand citizenship increased by a factor of 14 compared to the same days in the previous month. In particular, New Zealand has come to be seen as a bolthole of choice for Silicon Valley’s tech elite.

In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, the theme of American plutocrats preparing for the apocalypse was impossible to avoid. The week after the inauguration, the New Yorker ran another piece about the super-rich who were making preparations for a grand civilisational crackup; speaking of New Zealand as a “favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm”, billionaire LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, a former colleague of Thiel’s at PayPal, claimed that “saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more”.

Everyone is always saying these days that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Everyone is always saying it, in my view, because it’s obviously true. The perception, paranoid or otherwise, that billionaires are preparing for a coming civilisational collapse seems a literal manifestation of this axiom. Those who are saved, in the end, will be those who can afford the premium of salvation. And New Zealand, the furthest place from anywhere, is in this narrative a kind of new Ararat: a place of shelter from the coming flood.


Early last summer, just as my interests in the topics of civilisational collapse and Peter Thiel were beginning to converge into a single obsession, I received out of the blue an email from a New Zealand art critic named Anthony Byrt. If I wanted to understand the extreme ideology that underpinned Thiel’s attraction to New Zealand, he insisted, I needed to understand an obscure libertarian manifesto called The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. It was published in 1997, and in recent years something of a minor cult has grown up around it in the tech world, largely as a result of Thiel’s citing it as the book he is most influenced by. (Other prominent boosters include Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Balaji Srinivasan, the entrepreneur best known for advocating Silicon Valley’s complete secession from the US to form its own corporate city-state.)

The Sovereign Individual’s co-authors are James Dale Davidson, a private investor who specialises in advising the rich on how to profit from economic catastrophe, and the late William Rees-Mogg, long-serving editor of the Times. (One other notable aspect of Lord Rees-Mogg’s varied legacy is his own son, the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg – a hastily sketched caricature of an Old Etonian, who is as beloved of Britain’s ultra-reactionary pro-Brexit right as he is loathed by the left.)

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I was intrigued by Byrt’s description of the book as a kind of master key to the relationship between New Zealand and the techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley. Reluctant to enrich Davidson or the Rees-Mogg estate any further, I bought a used edition online, the musty pages of which were here and there smeared with the desiccated snot of whatever nose-picking libertarian preceded me.

It presents a bleak vista of a post-democratic future. Amid a thicket of analogies to the medieval collapse of feudal power structures, the book also managed, a decade before the invention of bitcoin, to make some impressively accurate predictions about the advent of online economies and cryptocurrencies.

The book’s 400-odd pages of near-hysterical orotundity can roughly be broken down into the following sequence of propositions:

1) The democratic nation-state basically operates like a criminal cartel, forcing honest citizens to surrender large portions of their wealth to pay for stuff like roads and hospitals and schools.

2) The rise of the internet, and the advent of cryptocurrencies, will make it impossible for governments to intervene in private transactions and to tax incomes, thereby liberating individuals from the political protection racket of democracy.

3) The state will consequently become obsolete as a political entity.

4) Out of this wreckage will emerge a new global dispensation, in which a “cognitive elite” will rise to power and influence, as a class of sovereign individuals “commanding vastly greater resources” who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.

The Sovereign Individual is, in the most literal of senses, an apocalyptic text. Davidson and Rees-Mogg present an explicitly millenarian vision of the near future: the collapse of old orders, the rising of a new world. Liberal democracies will die out, and be replaced by loose confederations of corporate city-states. Western civilisation in its current form, they insist, will end with the millennium. “The new Sovereign Individual,” they write, “will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically.” It’s impossible to overstate the darkness and extremity of the book’s predictions of capitalism’s future; to read it is to be continually reminded that the dystopia of your darkest insomniac imaginings is almost always someone else’s dream of a new utopian dawn.

Davidson and Rees-Mogg identified New Zealand as an ideal location for this new class of sovereign individuals, as a “domicile of choice for wealth creation in the Information Age”. Byrt, who drew my attention to these passages, had even turned up evidence of a property deal in the mid-1990s in which a giant sheep station at the southern tip of the North Island was purchased by a conglomerate whose major shareholders included Davidson and Rees-Mogg. Also in on the deal was one Roger Douglas, the former Labour finance minister who had presided over a radical restructuring of New Zealand economy along neoliberal lines in the 1980s. (This period of so-called “Rogernomics”, Byrt told me – the selling off of state assets, slashing of welfare, deregulation of financial markets – created the political conditions that had made the country such an attractive prospect for wealthy Americans.)

Thiel’s interest in New Zealand was certainly fuelled by his JRR Tolkien obsession: this was a man who had named at least five of his companies in reference to The Lord of the Rings, and fantasised as a teenager about playing chess against a robot that could discuss the books. It was a matter, too, of the country’s abundance of clean water and the convenience of overnight flights from California. But it was also inseparable from a particular strand of apocalyptic techno-capitalism. To read The Sovereign Individual was to see this ideology laid bare: these people, the self-appointed “cognitive elite”, were content to see the unravelling of the world as long as they could carry on creating wealth in the end times.

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New Zealand as Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. Photograph: Everett/Rex

I was struck by how strange and disquieting it must have been for a New Zealander to see their own country refracted through this strange apocalyptic lens. There was certainly an ambient awareness that the tech world elite had developed an odd interest in the country as an ideal end-times bolthole; it would have been difficult, at any rate, to ignore the recent cascade of articles about Thiel acquiring citizenship, and the apocalyptic implications of same. But there seemed to have been basically zero discussion of the frankly alarming ideological dimension of it all.

It was just this ideological dimension, as it happened, that was the focus of a project Byrt himself had recently got involved in, a new exhibition by the artist Simon Denny. Denny, a significant figure in the international art scene, was originally from Auckland, but has lived for some years in Berlin. Byrt described him as both “kind of a genius” and “the poster-boy for post-internet art, whatever that is”; he characterised his own role in the project with Denny as an amalgamation of researcher, journalist and “investigative philosopher, following the trail of ideas and ideologies”.

The exhibition was called The Founder’s Paradox, a name that came from the title of one of the chapters in Thiel’s 2014 book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. Together with the long and intricately detailed catalogue essay Byrt was writing to accompany it, the show was a reckoning with the future that Silicon Valley techno-libertarians like Thiel wanted to build, and with New Zealand’s place in that future.

These were questions I too was eager to reckon with. Which is to say that I myself was interested – helplessly, morbidly – in the end of the world, and that I was therefore interested in New Zealand. And so I decided to go there, to see for myself the land that Thiel had apparently set aside for the collapse of civilisation: a place that would become for me a kind of labyrinth, and whose owner I was already beginning to mythologise as the monster at its centre.


Within about an hour of arriving in Auckland, I was as close to catatonic from fatigue as made no difference, and staring into the maw of a volcano. I was standing next to Byrt, who’d picked me up from the airport and, in a gesture I would come to understand as quintessentially Kiwi, dragged me directly up the side of a volcano. This particular volcano, Mount Eden, was a fairly domesticated specimen, around which was spread one of the more affluent suburbs of Auckland – the only city in the world, I learned, built on a technically still-active volcanic field.

I was a little out of breath from the climb and, having just emerged in the southern hemisphere from a Dublin November, sweating liberally in the relative heat of the early summer morning. I was also experiencing near-psychotropic levels of jetlag. I must have looked a bit off, because Byrt – a bearded, hoodied and baseball-capped man in his late 30s – offered a cheerful apology for playing the volcano card so early in the proceedings.

“I probably should have eased you into it, mate” he chuckled. “But I thought it’d be good to get a view of the city before breakfast.”

The view of Auckland and its surrounding islands was indeed ravishing – though in retrospect, it was no more ravishing than any of the countless other views I would wind up getting ravished by over the next 10 days. That, famously, is the whole point of New Zealand: if you don’t like getting ravished by views, you have no business in the place; to travel there is to give implicit consent to being hustled left, right and centre into states of aesthetic rapture.

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A view of Auckland from Mount Eden. Photograph: Alamy

“Plus I’ve been in the country mere minutes,” I said, “and I’ve already got a perfect visual metaphor for the fragility of civilisation in the bag.”

I was referring here to the pleasingly surreal spectacle of a volcanic crater overlaid with a surface of neatly manicured grass. (I jotted this observation down in my notebook, feeling as I did so a smug infusion of virtue about getting some literary non-fiction squared away before even dropping my bags off at the hotel. “Volcano with lawn over it,” I scrawled. “Visual manifestation of thematic motif: Civ as thin membrane stretched over chaos.”)

I remarked on the strangeness of all these Silicon Valley geniuses supposedly apocalypse-proofing themselves by buying up land down here right on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the horseshoe curve of geological fault lines that stretches upward from the western flank of the Americas, back down along the eastern coasts of Russia and Japan and on into the South Pacific.

“Yeah,” said Byrt, “but some of them are buying farms and sheep stations pretty far inland. Tsunamis aren’t going to be a big issue there. And what they’re after is space, and clean water. Two things we’ve got a lot of down here.”

The following day, I went to the gallery in downtown Auckland to take a look at The Founder’s Paradox. Denny, a neat and droll man in his mid-30s, talked me through the conceptual framework. It was structured around games – in theory playable, but in practice encountered as sculptures – representing two different kinds of political vision for New Zealand’s future. The bright and airy ground floor space was filled with tactile, bodily game-sculptures, riffs on Jenga and Operation and Twister. These works, incorporating collaborative and spontaneous ideas of play, were informed by a recent book called The New Zealand Project by a young leftwing thinker named Max Harris, which explored a humane, collectivist politics influenced by Māori beliefs about society.

Down in the low-ceilinged, dungeon-like basement was a set of sculptures based around an entirely different understanding of play, more rule-bound and cerebral. These were based on the kind of strategy-based role-playing games particularly beloved of Silicon Valley tech types, and representing a Thielian vision of the country’s future. The psychological effect of this spatial dimension of the show was immediate: upstairs, you could breathe, you could see things clearly, whereas to walk downstairs was to feel oppressed by low ceilings, by an absence of natural light, by the darkness of the geek-apocalypticism captured in Denny’s elaborate sculptures.

This was a world Denny himself knew intimately. And what was strangest and most unnerving about his art was the sense that he was allowing us to see this world not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Over beers in Byrt’s kitchen the previous night, Denny had told me about a dinner party he had been to in San Francisco earlier that year, at the home of a techie acquaintance, where he had been seated next to Curtis Yarvin, founder of the Thiel-funded computing platform Urbit. As anyone who takes an unhealthy interest in the weirder recesses of the online far-right is aware, Yarvin is more widely known as the blogger Mencius Moldbug, the intellectual progenitor of Neoreaction, an antidemocratic movement that advocates for a kind of white-nationalist oligarchic neofeudalism – rule by and for a self-proclaimed cognitive elite – and which has found a small but influential constituency in Silicon Valley. It was clear that Denny was deeply unsettled by Yarvin’s brand of nerd autocracy, but equally clear that breaking bread with him was in itself no great discomfort.

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‘A Thielian vision of the country’s future’ … The Founder’s Paradox, a board game by artist Simon Denny. Photograph: Simon Denny/Michael Lett Gallery

Beneath all the intricacy and detail of its world-building, The Founder’s Paradox was clearly animated by an uneasy fascination with the utopian future imagined by the techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley, and with New Zealand’s role in that future. The exhibition’s centrepiece was a tabletop strategy game called Founders, which drew heavily on the aesthetic – as well as the explicitly colonialist language and objectives – of Settlers of Catan, a cult multiplayer strategy board game. The aim of Founders, clarified by the accompanying text and by the piece’s lurid illustrations, was not simply to evade the apocalypse, but to prosper from it. First you acquired land in New Zealand, with its rich resources and clean air, away from the chaos and ecological devastation gripping the rest of the world. Next you moved on to seasteading, the libertarian ideal of constructing manmade islands in international waters; on these floating utopian micro-states, wealthy tech innovators would be free to go about their business without interference from democratic governments. (Thiel was an early investor in, and advocate of, the seasteading movement, though his interest has waned in recent years.) Then you mined the moon for its ore and other resources, before moving on to colonise Mars. This last level of the game reflected the current preferred futurist fantasy, most famously advanced by Thiel’s former PayPal colleague Elon Musk, with his dream of fleeing a dying planet Earth for privately owned colonies on Mars.

The influence of the Sovereign Individual, and of Byrt’s obsession with it, was all over the show. It was a detailed mapping of a possible future, in all its highly sophisticated barbarism. It was a utopian dream that appeared, in all its garish detail and specificity, as the nightmare vision of a world to come.


Thiel himself had spoken publicly of New Zealand as a “utopia”, during the period in 2011 when he was manoeuvring for citizenship, investing in various local startups under a venture capital fund called Valar Ventures. (I hardly need to tell you that Valar is another Tolkien reference.) This was a man with a particular understanding of what a utopia might look like, who did not believe, after all, in the compatibility of freedom and democracy. In a Vanity Fair article about his role as adviser to Trump’s campaign, a friend was quoted as saying that “Thiel has said to me directly and repeatedly that he wanted to have his own country”, adding that he had even gone so far as to price up the prospect at somewhere around $100bn.

The Kiwis I spoke with were uncomfortably aware of what Thiel’s interest in their country represented, of how it seemed to figure more generally in the frontier fantasies of American libertarians. Max Harris – the author of The New Zealand Project, the book that informed the game-sculptures on the upper level of The Founder’s Paradox – pointed out that, for much of its history, the country tended to be viewed as a kind of political Petri dish (it was, for instance, the first nation to recognise women’s right to vote), and that this “perhaps makes Silicon Valley types think it’s a kind of blank canvas to splash ideas on”.

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Donald Trump and Peter Thiel at Trump Tower in December 2016. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty

When we met in her office at the Auckland University of Technology, the legal scholar Khylee Quince insisted that any invocation of New Zealand as a utopia was a “giant red flag”, particularly to Māori like herself. “That is the language of emptiness and isolation that was always used about New Zealand during colonial times,” she said. And it was always, she stressed, a narrative that erased the presence of those who were already here: her own Māori ancestors. The first major colonial encounter for Māori in the 19th century was not with representatives of the British crown, she pointed out, but with private enterprise. The New Zealand Company was a private firm founded by a convicted English child kidnapper named Edward Gibbon Wakefield, with the aim of attracting wealthy investors with an abundant supply of inexpensive labour – migrant workers who could not themselves afford to buy land in the new colony, but who would travel there in the hope of eventually saving enough wages to buy in. The company embarked on a series of expeditions in the 1820s and 30s; it was only when the firm started drawing up plans to formally colonise New Zealand, and to set up a government of its own devising, that the British colonial office advised the crown to take steps to establish a formal colony. In the utopian fantasies of techno-libertarians like Thiel, Quince saw an echo of that period of her country’s history. “Business,” she said, “got here first.”

Given her Māori heritage, Quince was particularly attuned to the colonial resonances of the more recent language around New Zealand as both an apocalyptic retreat and a utopian space for American wealth and ingenuity.

“I find it incredibly offensive,” she said. “Thiel got citizenship after spending 12 days in this country, and I don’t know if he’s even aware that Māori exist. We as indigenous people have a very strong sense of intergenerational identity and collectivity. Whereas these people, who are sort of the contemporary iteration of the coloniser, are coming from an ideology of rampant individualism, rampant capitalism.”

Quince’s view was by no means the norm. New Zealanders tend to be more flattered than troubled by the interest of Silicon Valley tech gurus in their country. It’s received by and large as a signal that the tyranny of distance – the extreme antipodean remoteness that has shaped the country’s sense of itself since colonial times – has finally been toppled by the liberating forces of technology and economic globalisation.

“It’s very appealing,” the political scientist Peter Skilling told me, “these entrepreneurs saying nice things about us. We’re like a cat having its tummy rubbed. If Silicon Valley types are welcomed here, it’s not because we’re particularly susceptible to libertarian ideas; it’s because we are complacent and naive.”

Among the leftwing Kiwis I spoke with, there had been a kindling of cautious optimism, sparked by the recent surprise election of a new Labour-led coalition government, under the leadership of the 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern, whose youth and apparent idealism suggested a move away from neoliberal orthodoxy. During the election, foreign ownership of land had been a major talking point, though it focused less on the wealthy apocalypse-preppers of Silicon Valley than the perception that overseas property speculators were driving up the cost of houses in Auckland. The incoming government had committed to tightening regulations around land purchases by foreign investors. This was largely the doing of Winston Peters, a nationalist of Māori descent whose New Zealand First party held the balance of power, and was strongly in favour of tightening regulations of foreign ownership. When I read that Ardern had named Peters as her deputy prime minister, I was surprised to recognise the name – from, of all places, The Sovereign Individual, where Davidson and Rees-Mogg had singled him out for weirdly personal abuse as an arch-enemy of the rising cognitive elite, referring to him as a “reactionary loser” and “demagogue” who would “gladly thwart the prospects for long-term prosperity just to prevent individuals from declaring their independence of politics”.

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Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

During my time in New Zealand, Ardern was everywhere: in the papers, on television, in every other conversation. On our way to Queenstown in the South Island, to see for ourselves the site of Thiel’s apocalyptic bolthole, Byrt and I were in the security line at Auckland airport when a woman of about our age, smartly dressed and accompanied by a cluster of serious-looking men, glanced in our direction as she was conveyed quickly along the express lane. She was talking on her phone, but looked towards us and waved at Byrt, smiling broadly in happy recognition.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“Jacinda,” he said.

“You know her?”

“We know quite a lot of the same people. We met for a drink a couple of times back when she was Labour’s arts spokesperson.”

“Really?”

“Well yeah,” he laughed, “there’s only so many of us.”


“The endgame for Thiel is essentially The Sovereign Individual,” said Byrt. He was driving the rental car, allowing me to fully devote my resources to the ongoing cultivation of aesthetic rapture (mountains, lakes, so forth). “And the bottom line for me,” he said, “is that I don’t want my son to grow up in that future.”

We were on our way to see for ourselves the part of New Zealand, on the shore of Lake Wanaka in the South Island, that Thiel had bought for purposes of post-collapse survival. We talked about the trip as though it were a gesture of protest, but it felt like a kind of perverse pilgrimage. The term “psychogeography” was cautiously invoked, and with only the lightest of ironic inflections.

“The thing about Thiel is he’s the monster at the heart of the labyrinth,” said Byrt.

“He’s the white whale,” I suggested, getting into the literary spirit of the enterprise.

Byrt’s obsession with Thiel occupied a kind of Melvillean register, yearned toward a mythic scale. It coloured his perception of reality. He admitted, for instance, to a strange aesthetic pathology whereby he encountered, in the alpine grandeur of the South Island, not the sublime beauty of his own home country, but rather what he imagined Thiel seeing in the place: Middle-earth. Thiel’s Tolkien fixation was itself a fixation for Byrt: together with the extreme libertarianism of The Sovereign Individual, he was convinced that it lay beneath Thiel’s continued interest in New Zealand.

Matt Nippert, the New Zealand Herald journalist who had broken the citizenship story earlier that year, told me he was certain that Thiel had bought the property for apocalypse-contingency purposes. In his citizenship application, he had pledged his commitment to devote “a significant amount of time and resources to the people and businesses of New Zealand”. But none of this had amounted to much, Nippert said, and he was convinced it had only ever been a feint to get him in the door as a citizen.

In a cafe in Queenstown, about an hour’s drive from Thiel’s estate, Byrt and I met a man to whom a wealthy acquaintance of Byrt’s had introduced us. A well known and well connected professional in Queenstown, he agreed to speak anonymously for fear of making himself unpopular among local business leaders and friends in the tourism trade. He had been concerned for a while now about the effects on the area of wealthy foreigners buying up huge tracts of land. (“Once you start pissing in the hand basin, where are you gonna wash your face?”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Does quitting social media make you happier? Yes, say young people doing it

3 days ago

Teenagers and young adults switching off from Facebook and other social apps reveal how the change has affected their lives

Our love of social media seems to have grown and grown in the past decade, but recent studies show the tide may be turning for some platforms, with young people in particular ditching Facebook. One study claims that more than 11 million teenagers left Facebook between 2011 and 2014. Its been argued that they are swapping public platforms such as Twitter and Instagram for more private messaging apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat.

We asked the Guardians younger readers whether they have quit social media and why, as well as what apps they are ditching. Almost all reported a greater sense of happiness after going offline. Here, we share some of their experiences.

Daisy, 23, Manchester: I feel less anxious and less like a failure

Daisy

After a romance ended with a guy I really liked, I kept trying to avoid Facebook so I wouldnt have to see him. It was after this that I gradually switched off from it, but before that Id been wanting to quit for a while.

Facebook made me feel anxious, depressed and like a failure. When I went online it seemed like everyone was in Australia or Thailand, and if they werent travelling they were getting engaged or landing great jobs. I felt like everyone was living the dream and I was still at home with my parents, with debt from my student loan hanging over me.

I also felt that if I wasnt tagging myself at restaurants or uploading photos from nights out, people would assume I wasnt living. I remember a friend from uni said to me once, Yeah, but youre still going out having fun, Ive seen on Facebook. I tried to present myself as always having a great time. If my status didnt get more than five likes, Id delete it.

My life has changed for the better since deleting social media. I now enjoy catching up with my friends, and when they tell me new plans my response isnt just, Yeah, I saw on Facebook. It makes you realise who your real friends are and how social media takes the joy out of sharing news with people. I also feel less anxious and less of a failure.

Im planning to visit a friend in Australia next month, and she and my mum and a couple of other friends want me to go back on Facebook to share my pictures. Id really prefer not to, though. Im on Instagram, but I mostly follow sarcastic quote pages. Ive never had a Twitter account.

George Lincoln, 17, Hampshire: A lot of young people arent interested in Facebook any more

George

When I first got Facebook, it appealed to me because I could talk to all my friends and see how they were feeling, but now it seems to have become more trivial. Instead of seeing what friends are putting up, I just see the articles that they like and other comments Im not interested in. I want to concentrate on more useful things and I find it very distracting. I dont worry about missing out on stuff, because I still use the Messenger app on Facebook to stay in touch with everyone.

Ive been off Facebook for two weeks now and I dont really feel tempted to go back. Ive thought a few times about logging back in but I havent so far. Since I quit, no one has really spoken to me about it; everyone is busy focusing on college work.

A lot of young people arent interested in Facebook any more its become really overcrowded and other sites such as Snapchat are offering something new and exciting.

Snapchat
Snapchat has been called teens favourite app. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Ben, 21, Surrey: I have a much more positive mindset now

I made a New Year resolution to cut down on my social media use. After doing this I started to ask, why am I using it at all? Thats why Ive quit various platforms over the past year: Snapchat in November and Facebook in June. Ive never really had WhatsApp or Twitter. I mainly used Facebook at university, for organising events and meet-ups, but Ive gradually started to realise how pervasive is it. I also feel uncomfortable with the amount of time I used to spend on it.

Ive always found social media to be an environment in which people constantly seek attention and validation through one-upping peoples comments, and boasting over likes and retweets.

Weve not needed social media for thousands of years and now it feels like people think your life is over if you dont have it, which is ridiculous. I joined when I was 13, but I dont feel like I really knew what I was signing up for and the platform has changed a lot over the years. Theres much more advertising on it now, for example.

I didnt find it hard to quit and, after a while, contacting people through other means became the norm. People completely respect my not being on social media, and some wish they could do it too. Since I left, Ive spoken to people about it and thats convinced them to do the same.

Im more productive and less concerned with what other people think about me now, the only person I have to regularly compare myself with is me. Im in a much more positive mindset without social media than I ever was with it. Its let me see who my friends truly are, and who I was only concerned with simply because they were there on social media. I now use a basic non-smartphone and email as my only forms of communication, and people have adjusted to it.

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Twitter has more than 300m monthly active users. Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Syed Ali, 19, Birmingham: I dont need to prove anything to people

Theres so much negativity on social media, with people complaining about how tough their lives are (and these are the same people who post a picture of every meal they eat). Thats part of the reason I havent been using it for the past three years.

Posting on social media is quite frustrating because it feels like everyone is conforming to the norms, and you have to post photos of yourself (every place you visit, etc). Some people merely like your pictures so you return the favour its childish. I dont need to prove anything to people or show people Im doing well. This has made me a much happier person.

Rosanna Cassidy, 25, Nottingham: I can live my life instead of trying to shape it into one that looks good online

Rosanna

Id been thinking about quitting Facebook for a long time, but the EU referendum finally made me bite the bullet. I was sick and tired of people trying to force their political beliefs upon me, and I found it so depressing that people were repeating views they had heard that werent true.

Now, three months later, without Facebook I feel much happier and more content. I can live my life instead of trying to shape it into one that looks good online. I also have a lot more time now, and its easy enough to keep in touch with my friends in other ways. Whats more, now we can have conversations about what weve been doing because we havent seen it all already on social media.

I dont plan on going back to Facebook, but I still have my Instagram account, which I check once a day. Instagram is different because its not as time-consuming, and you dont get bombarded with other peoples views. Plus, the Instagram community is more supportive. I gave up Twitter years ago because it didnt really feel like it had a point, and it was just a space for opinionated people to air their views in a non-constructive way.

Andy Staunton, 23, Dublin: I enjoy actually talking to people face to face

Andy

When I used Facebook, I found myself aimlessly watching videos and scrolling through articles that I never had any interest in reading in the first place. Furthermore, the Facebook statuses I saw were very uninspiring.

Leaving Facebook was one of the best decisions Ive made this year. Aside from the increased productivity that comes from not having it, I enjoy actually talking to people face to face, and not seeing what someone I met once, years ago, had for breakfast.

I do, however, forget to wish a lot of people happy birthday and I seem to be months behind in finding out some news but I find out eventually.

Sophie, 18, Surrey: I used to check for updates countless times a day. Now, Im free

Ive never really used Instagram and Tumblr because I dont see the point of them. I had Twitter for news updates when I was in school and sixth form, but stopped using it when my exams started. As for Facebook, I only ever used it to contact my friends, but Skype chats and other apps mean I dont need it any more.

Ive been free from the chains of social media for about six months now, which doesnt seem like a lot of time, but it feels like it now that my time isnt being sapped by these apps. It sounds so silly, but since leaving I feel like my own person. Before, Facebook and Twitter became almost like extra arms attached to me that I constantly had to be aware of. I used to check for updates countless times every day. Now, I dont have to be reliant and dependent on it any more its like a breath of fresh air. I dont plan on going back, except for maybe WhatsApp if I need to talk to people when Im abroad.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

One Facebook ‘like’ is all it takes to target adverts, academics find

25 days ago

Online ad campaigns based on smallest expressions of preference reveal effect of mass psychological persuasion

Online ad campaigns created by academics in Britain and the US have targeted millions of people based on psychological traits perceived from a single “like” on Facebook – demonstrating, they say, the effect of “mass psychological persuasion”.

More than 3.5 million people, mostly women in the UK aged 18-40, were shown online adverts tailored to their personality type after researchers found that specific Facebook likes reflected different psychological characteristics.

The bespoke campaigns boosted clicks on ads for beauty products and gaming apps by up to 40% and sales by as much as 50% compared with untargeted adverts, according to the researchers, who did not benefit financially from the campaigns.

The work, carried out for unnamed companies, was designed to reveal how even the smallest expressions of preference online can be used to influence people’s behaviour.

“We wanted to provide some scientific evidence that psychological targeting works, to show policymakers that it works, to show people on the street that it works, and say this is what we can do simply by looking at your Facebook likes. This is the way we can influence behaviour,” said Sandra Matz, a computational social scientist at Columbia Business School in New York City.

“We used one single Facebook like per person to decide whether they were introverted or extroverted, and that was the minimum amount of information we can possibly use to make inferences about people’s personalities. And yet we still see these effects on how often people click on ads and how often people buy something,” she added.

The work has raised concerns among some in academia. Gillian Bolsover, who studies online manipulation of political opinion at the Oxford Internet Institute, said she was concerned about whose hands publicity of the research might play into.

“Does coverage of the work primarily serve as an advert to the companies that might do these things? Or does it serve to inform the public about something going on in our society that we might not be happy with and want do something about?” she said.

“If people are worried about the way technology is going, there are lots of little actions they can take to reduce the amount of data that is collected about them and to avoid supporting the practices and companies that they might feel are detrimental to society.”

Matz teamed up with researchers at the University of Cambridge who had previously created a database of millions of personality profiles of anonymous Facebook users and items they had liked. The data reveals how, on average, specific likes reflect certain personality types. For example, a like on Lady Gaga’s Facebook page is broadly the mark of an extrovert, while a like on Stargate’s page flags users who are more likely to be introverts.

The researchers then used graphics designers to create adverts aimed at either extroverts or introverts. They showed these via Facebook’s advertising platform to people who had liked a single item identifying them as one personality type or the other.

The first field experiment targeted more than 3 million UK women aged 18-40 with adverts for an online beauty retailer. More than 10,000 women clicked on the ads, leading to 390 purchases. Matching the ads to people’s personalities led to 54% more sales than mismatching them. Two further campaigns for a crossword app and a shooting game had similar results, the researchers report in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I was surprised that we got the effect with so little information,” said Matz. “We don’t know that much about people, and yet it still has a pretty big effect. You can imagine if you were using the full Facebook profile to make individual level predictions about people’s personalities, the effects would be even bigger.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Matz believes that such mass persuasion could be put to great use – for example, by helping people to save, get a pension, or lead more healthy lives. But it could also be misused, she said. “It has the potential for abuse where you exploit weaknesses in a person’s character to make them do things they don’t want to do. We want policymakers to focus on the positive uses. If you just shut down this technology, you would lose so much potential for helping people.”

But the approach is controversial. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating whether voters were unfairly influenced online by political campaigners in the run-up to the EU referendum in 2016. The ICO’s report is expected before the end of the year.

“In a sense, it’s a natural extension of capitalism as it moves online. Of course corporations will do this,” said Bolsover. “But the increased use of corporate advertising techniques in the political system is something I think we should be worried about on a broader level.”

“Political campaigns [are] probably somewhere you don’t want it to be used,” said Matz. “We want to open it up for public discussion so people can have an informed discussion about what we want to do with our technology.”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Mobile dating apps spur HIV epidemic among AsiaaEUR( tm) s adolescents, says UN

1 month, 12 days ago

Smartphone technology has increased the opportunities for casual sex and led to a spike in HIV infections among teens in Asia, researchers find

United Nations research has observed the growing utilize of mobile dating apps by young gays men is a major factor in a new HIV epidemic among adolescents in Asia, the Guardian can reveal.

The report uncovered a upsurge of HIV infections among 10 -1 9 years olds in the Asia-Pacific region, where more than half of the worlds 1.2 billion teens live.

The two-year study found that smartphone dating apps have expanded possibilities for spontaneous casual sex as never before.

The epidemic is fastest growing amongst men who have sex with humen. Other groups include those who are sexually exploited by or engaged in sexuality work, people who inject drugs, and young transgender people.

Young lesbian men themselves has systematically told us that they are now utilizing mobile dating apps to meet up for sexuality, and are having more casual sex with more people as a result. We know that this kind of risky behaviour increases the spread of HIV, said Wing-Sie Cheng, HIV/ Aids consultant for Unicef in east Asia and the Pacific.

We are hence convinced that there is a connection, and that we need to work better with mobile app providers to share information about HIV and safeguard the health of adolescents.

The previously unreported epidemic threatens the UNs goal to end the global Aids crisis by 2030, which appeared achievable after a sharp drop in Africa during the past 15 years.

Adolescents are also more likely to die of Aids-related demises, researchers from Unicef and UNAIDS detected, as they are less inclined to seek therapy, dreading they will be stigmatised or forcing them to expose their sexuality to their family or the authorities concerned. In many countries in the region, under-1 8s cannot get an HIV test without parental consent.

Dating site visits

While global HIV infections are dropping, the number of teens aged 10 -1 9 officially living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific has grown to more than 220,000, with the unofficial number expected to be much higher, Unicef says. Fewer than half of them are receiving treatment and demises have risen nearly every year for a decade.

An HIV-positive Filipino man aged 30, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect himself from abuse, said it was hard to find sex for a gay teen, bullied at school and closed off from the adult-only lesbian bars.

At university, the introduction of internet dating chat rooms and online forums allowed him to find more sex partners his age. He would chat with men and agree to rent a room for a few hours in the capital.

If I write down all the people I had sexuality with in Manila, I can probably write one to five people for each stop of the metro, he said.

Smartphones and mobile dating revolutionised his sex life. Whereas internet dating involved a laborious process of arranging a session up, dating apps are location-based, allowing users to scan their surroundings for others.

Dating site visits

Even if youre still in school and “youre feeling” the need to have sex, you just open Grindr, he said. You dont even have to talk to them. People simply send you naked photos or photos of their cocks. If youre fine with them, you just go and have sex.

The immediacy of the sexuality, organised in minutes, attained condom utilize less likely, he said. I did use condoms. But it was not consistent. You dont want to lose the momentum.

Despite his promiscuous mobile dating years, the Filipino mans HIV test returned negative and he entered into a long-term relationship. But two years later he contracted the virus from his boyfriend who was secretly cheating on him by employing mobile dating apps.

In the Philippines, new HIV infections among teenagers have doubled in four years. In Bangkok, young gay humen now have a one in three opportunity of HIV infection.

HIV rates in Bangkok

And eighteen countries across the Asia-Pacific region criminalise against same-sex relationships which UNAIDS says causes lesbian humen to avoid life-saving HIV services.

A separate study last year found that men who have sex with men utilizing dating apps are at greater hazard of contracting gonorrhoea and chlamydia than those who gratify in-person or on the internet.

Wing-Sie, the Unicef adviser, said that dating apps create networks of men, in which infections rapidly spread among users. Mobile dating apps essentially hook you up to a central network.

She said the study looked at observational trends around the region reported by United Nations policemen and local community workers who said their HIV strategy urgently needed to adapt to the explosion of mobile dating apps. HIV is a covert issue, it is very hidden. So data is not available.

She said researchers found that with the rise of these apps, the probability and risk of infection will increase multifold because it stimulates it so much easier for them to date other guys and hook up for sex, she said.

A spokesman from Grindr, used in 196 countries worldwide with 1 million active users every minute, said it has a minimum age requirement of 18. As the worlds largest homosexual platform, we take matters of sex health very seriously, the spokesman said, adding that Grindr runs in-app proclamations fostering testing at local clinics.

David S Novak, senior health strategist at Online Buddies, the mother company of the dating app Jackd, directed the Guardian to its ManHunt Cares project, which provides health resources to its users. In 2009, the company also set up a research institute focusing on lesbian sex health.

Other major dating app companies Tinder, Blued and Growlr did not respond to requests for comment.

The UN report says these apps can become vital conduits promoting sexual health, including HIV messaging and testing, and references a 2014 World Aids Day project by the Chinese gays dating app Blued where a red ribbon was added next to every users profile scene, linking to details of nearby testing centres.

Wing-Sie said Unicef will approach mobile dating app companies in the next month for a collaborative endeavor and so the world body might collect data to further investigate the impact of mobile dating.

Based in Bangkok, Jesse Krisintu has been working with charities trying to persuade young people to get tested for HIV through tactics such as pop-up advertisements on dating apps. He said the project did not work.

Dating site visitors by PC

Its their business. If they advertise too much about HIV/ Aids services there, do you think people are going to go online? he said.

He said that one project involving pop-ups offered discounts on HIV tests but that very few were claimed and that the analytics depicts most users instantly closed the pop-up advert.

The application is where the key population is but no one is going to read the pop-up because the purpose of people going to those apps to find sex , not to find knowledge. The results are not that favourable, he said. People merely close it.

The UN is now also advocating for comprehensive sex education beyond a simple explanation of the sex organ and for reducing the age at which adolescents can take an HIV test without parental consent.

AIDS is already the leading cause of demise for adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among teens globally, tripling over the past 15 years and largely as a result of mother-to-child transmission. However, this new breed of epidemic found in Asia-Pacific could be replicated elsewhere, public health officials warn.

There is a risk of not being able to eliminate Aids at all, Wing-Sie said. This is the new frontier of Aids to tackle right now. The world can never end Aids if this matter is not controlled.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

When AI Is Taking Over The Neighborhood

2 months, 7 days ago

This cute little girl doesn’t seem concerned at all about the progression of Artificial Intelligence. She embraces every new visitor of her street, beating heart or not. The “robot” seems a little underwhelmed though…

Read more:

‘ It’s not about your age, it’s about your notions ‘: the teen power listing

2 months, 14 days ago

Meet 25 young activists, scientists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs and big thinkers shaping your future

Harley Bird, 14, Tring, UK

An actors life is hard: its just one audition after another, and you have to grow a wall-thick skin to deal with all the rejection. For Bird, however, things went a little differently: she was signed to the Alphabet Kidz agency just before her sixth birthday and two weeks later beat hundreds of other young actors to land the lead role in a 1.4bn show.

She is the voice of Peppa Pig, the eponymous piglet who enjoys dressing up and jumping in muddy puddles. Bird, who in real life has two pet pigs (called, of course, Peppa and George), has now voiced Peppa Pig for eight years. Early on, she was too young to read the scripts, but that didnt stop her winning a Bafta at nine.

The show, while simple in its format of five-minute episodes, has taken the world by storm and is now shown in 180 territories and broadcast in 40 different languages. Not bad for a first role. Were there any clues that this one audition would lead to a starring role in a global franchise? Bird has said she doesnt understand it herself. I just auditioned and they said my voice matched. because it is quite husky.

Mihir Garimella, 16, Pennsylvania

Mihir
Mihir Garimella won the 2014 Google Computer Science award. Photograph: Courtesy of Mihir Garimella

Some teens might be grossed out by a bowl of bananas starting to rot and attract flies; high school student Garimella came up with a potentially life-saving idea. The flybot a tiny, flying robot that avoids obstacles by mimicking the way a fruit fly avoids threats and moving obstacles could be used in search-and-rescue missions in dangerous environments, and went on to win the Google Computer Science award in 2014. Garimella has since turned his hand to everything from robotic violin tuners to algorithms that could help doctors diagnose brain tumours.

Shubham Banerjee, 15, California

Shubhan
Shubhan Banerjee, founder of Braigo Labs. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Banerjee turned his Lego bricks into a braille printer for the blind for a school science project, it wasnt just the famous toy company that was singing the then 12-year-olds praises. The product, which made computing more affordable for millions of visually impaired people, also caught the attention of Intel, and the award-winning Braigo Labs (an amalgamation of Lego and braille) was born. Hes solving a real problem, and he wants to go off and disrupt an existing industry, Edward Ross, director of inventor platforms at Intel, has said. Thats really what its all about.

Benjamin Kickz Kapelushnik, 16, Florida

Benjamin
Benjamin Kapelushnik: sneaker broker to the stars. Photograph: Complex

What started as a hobby, buying rare trainers and selling them on to classmates, is now a lucrative enterprise. A sneaker broker to the stars (Chris Brown and Drake are fans), Kapelushnik has accumulated 5,000 pairs and is well on his way to making his first million.

Rayouf Alhumedhi, 15, Germany

Rayouf
Rayouf Alhumedhi. emoji designer. Photograph: Courtesy of Rayouf Alhumedhi

While chatting with her friends on social media, this Saudi teen living in Germany realised there was no emoji to represent her, so she designed one. Now shes campaigning to get it added to phones (its currently being considered by the Unicode Consortium). In this day and age, representation is extremely important, Alhumedhi said. People want to be acknowledged. There are so many Muslim women in this world who wear the headscarf. It might seem trivial, but its different when you see yourself on the keyboard around the world.

Willow Smith, 16, California

Willow
Willow Smith: youngest artist signed to Jay Zs record label. Photograph: Broadimage/REX Shutterstock

After making her acting debut at the age of seven alongside her father in I Am Legend, the daughter of Hollywood golden couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith has forged her own way, becoming the youngest artist signed to Jay Zs record label, Roc Nation, at 10 remember Whip My Hair? Since then, shes swapped the smiley, happy, preteen style for a cooler, pared-back, Instagram-friendly aesthetic. She has starred in a Marc Jacobs ad, and this year Karl Lagerfeld made her his muse, photographing her for Chanel AW16. She and her older brother, Jaden (star of Netflixs The Get Down, directed by Baz Luhrmann), have been dubbed the coolest teens on the planet.

Sasha Obama, 15, Washington DC

Sasha
Sasha Obama has had a unique global education. Photograph: Getty Images

Barack and Michelle Obamas youngest has lived her teen years in the White House (she was seven at her fathers inauguration), but stays down to earth: she spent the summer working on the till in a seafood shack (even if secret service agents sat at the tables outside). Her awkward moments have been captured the world over (most recently when Malia, 18, was snapped giving Sasha a sarcastic thumbs up as her little sister spoke to actor Ryan Reynolds at a Canadian state dinner).

More importantly, Sasha has had a unique global education, meeting Malala Yousafzai at the White House, and helping her mother promote womens education in Liberia and Morocco. In this years Thanksgiving message, the outgoing president described his daughters as funny, smart, humble and extraordinary young women. All eyes on the next-gen Obamas.

Maddie Ziegler, 14, Pennsylvania

Maddie
Maddie Ziegler: thrust into the limelight aged eight. Photograph: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

The pint-sized dancer was thrust into the limelight aged just eight, when she starred on US reality show Dance Moms. But she reached a global audience thanks to Australian singer Sia, who cast her in the video for Elastic Heart. Four videos, several world tours and stage appearances later, Ziegler has become more recognisable wearing her cropped blond Sia wig than sporting her natural hair. She has modelled for Ralph Lauren and become a judge on the junior version of So You Think You Can Dance.

Brooklyn Beckham, 17, London and Los Angeles

Brooklyn
Next year Brooklyn Beckham will be bringing out a photography book. Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

Photographing the Burberry campaign, skateboarding through his mother Victorias Dover Street store and hooking up with Hollywood ingenue Chlo Grace Moretz; the eldest Beckham kid couldnt attract more attention if he had followed his father, David, on to the football pitch. Last week, Beckham announced to his 8.8m Instagram followers that next year he will be bringing out What I See, a photography book published by Penguin Random House. If even a small proportion of his social media followers buys the book, he has a bestseller on his hands.

Kiara Nirghin, 16, Johannesburg

This year, as South Africa suffered its worst drought since 1982, a Johannesburg schoolgirl came up with a potential solution. Nirghin found an orange peel mixture had better water-retaining properties than existing super-absorbent polymers, which are usually expensive and non-biodegradable. Her invention, which aims to help farmers save both money and crops, is made up of waste products from the juice manufacturing process, including discarded orange and avocado peel; it won Nirghin a $50,000 scholarship at the annual Google Science Fair.

Yara Shahidi, 16, Minnesota

Yara
Yara Shahidi: star of acclaimed comedy Black-ish. Photograph: Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

The half-Iranian star of acclaimed comedy Black-ish (a sitcom about an upper-middle-class African American family) is passionate about media diversity: We are in the middle of a representation renaissance, she has said. She is constantly in conversation about keeping roles for women and people of colour multifaceted and representative of our true nature.

Flynn McGarry, 17, New York

Flynn
Flynn McGarry: has taken up residency in New Yorks Kava espresso bar. Photograph: Courtesy of Eureka

Sick of being cooked kid food by his parents, McGarry took matters into his own hands with a little bit of help from The French Laundry Cookbook. By 11, he was hosting a supper club in his mums kitchen, cooking progressive American cuisine; at 15, he was charging $160 a head for his eight-course tasting menu. He has now taken up residency in New York espresso bar Kava, under the name Eureka, where his 16-course feasts are becoming the stuff of legend.

Gavin Grimm, 17, Virginia

Grimm didnt plan to become the poster boy for a national fight for equal rights for transgender students, but when his school wouldnt allow him to use the boys toilets, a long legal battle ensued. The result, now in the hands of the supreme court, could have implications for young trans people all over the US. That I have the opportunity to ensure that, hopefully, fewer kids or anybody will have to go through this in the future makes me feel good, Grimm said.

Katie Griffiths, Josie Baldwin, Emily Bowes and Alex Hill, all 16, Stratford-upon-Avon

These Stratford Girls grammar school pupils were shocked to discover that young LGBT people are at much higher risk of depression and suicide; two years ago they teamed up to create the Im Okay app, giving support and information to young people exploring their sexuality and gender. Thousands of people have since downloaded the app from the Google Play store; it won a national Apps for Good award in 2014.

Jeffery Xiong, 16, Texas

The USs second youngest player to become a chess grandmaster, Xiong stormed on to the scene aged 14 and snatched first place at the 24th Chicago Open. He played his first game at five, when he decided to join a friend who was playing by himself. Xiong carried on until he was the worlds under-20 champion, at just 15.

Krtin Nithiyanandam, 16, Surrey

Krtin
Krtin Nithiyanandam won the Google Science Fair prize. Photograph: Newsquest

In 2015, Nithiyanandam won the Google Science Fair prize for developing a test to diagnose Alzheimers 10 years before any symptoms appear. An antibody is injected that then attaches to proteins present in the earliest stages of the disease; the injection contains fluorescent particles that can be picked up on a brain scan.

This early diagnosis could help families prepare for the future and ensure that existing drugs are used to better effect, Nithiyanandam explained. The Surrey schoolboy is now tackling the treatment of triple negative breast cancer, a rare form found in 15-20% of women with breast cancer. It doesnt respond to drugs, and must be treated with a risky combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Most cancers have receptors on their surface that bind to drugs like tamoxifen, but triple negative doesnt, Nithiyanandam explained. Working at home and in his school lab, he has found a way to block a protein that prevents those receptors from forming, thus turning this type of breast cancer into one that responds to drugs. Science isnt about your age, its about ideas, he told Wired magazine.

Mone Davis, 15, Philadelphia

Mone
Mone Davis: the first African American girl to play in the Little League World Series. Photograph: AP

Formerly a Little League baseball pitcher, Davis was the first African American girl to play in the Little League World Series, and the first female to pitch a winning game. The baseball (and basketball) prodigy was spotted at the age of seven while playing with her older brothers. Since releasing her memoir last year, Mone Davis: Remember My Name, she has designed trainers to raise money for Plan Internationals Because I Am A Girl campaign, aimed at helping lift girls in the developing world out of poverty.

Ben Pasternak, 17, Australia

Dubbed the next Mark Zuckerberg, Pasternak created the chart-topping app Impossible Rush (a colour-matching game) that was downloaded more than 1.3m times and made him a tech star at just 15. That success allowed him to secure just under $2m in funding from major Silicon Valley investors, move to Manhattan and launch his own startup, Flogg. He had noticed that friends were increasingly selling unwanted items to people they knew through Facebook, rather than to strangers on Gumtree or eBay. Yet Facebook wasnt really doing anything to look after their user experience. So he created an app that allows users to buy and sell items through their Facebook connections with a swipe left or right; the Sydney Morning Herald described Flogg as the love child of Tinder and eBay.

Lewys Ball, 17, London

This Hit Game Was Generated by a 26 -Year-Old Who Doesn’t Code

4 months, 6 days ago

Japanese frogs are proliferating across Asia. The good news is, they’re not an invasive species , nor are they real.

Tabi Kaeru, or Travel Frog, became the No. 1 downloaded smartphone app in China for almost two weeks after its debut, and is still hovering at the top of the charts in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. The notion for video games came from Mayuko Uemura, a 26 -year-old employee of developer Hit-Point Inc . who has never written a line of computer code.

The game’s objective is simple: pack a lunch, maybe a tent, plus a few other trip-friendly trinkets for your virtual amphibian and wait for him to come back from his travels with pictures and gifts. If the premise of gathering food and knickknacks while waiting for animals to show up voices familiar, that’s because it is: Nagoya-based Hit-Point is behind the cat-collecting game Neko Atsume and came up with the most recent hit. Both titles share DNA with Tamagotchi, Bandai Namco Holdings Inc.’s handheld virtual pet doll that became a global fad in the 90 s and early 2000 s.

Uemura said she was inspired by her passion for traveling and the feeling of waiting for a loved one to return from a journey.

” We are definitely constructing people wait, and sometimes I fret because I believe: aren’t we inducing people wait too long ?” she said in an interview.” I want to develop games that players can love. I don’t want to develop games where you have to focus too much .”

Indeed, by no means is the game fast-paced. When the frog is inside his cave-like home, he’s usually scribbling or reading a book. It’s oddly soothing. By collecting clover in the front yard, you can use it to buy food, lanterns and anything else that might help on a long trek. After straying about for hours or even days, the frog returns with souvenirs and snapshots from his travelings. That’s it. The objective is collect more stuff: for the frog to take on journeys, as well as the stuff he brings back.

Even though the game is only available in Japanese, it’s been downloaded more than 30 million times following its November debut( with China building up 95 percent of that ), outpacing even Nintendo Co.’s hit title Animal Crossing released around the same time, according to researcher Sensor Tower. By comparison, Neko Atsume has been downloaded 22 million times.

It’s especially popular among women, according to Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at Niko Partners. Women account for almost half of players in Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s $ 3 billion hitsHonor of Kings.” It shows that there is a huge opportunity to target female gamers in China ,” he said.

While frogs are considered a symbol of fortune and prosperity in China and parts of Asia, Hit-Point isn’t saying how much it’s made from Tabi Kaeru. While there are ads that bring in revenue, users can also buy additional clover as currency. There’s plenty of potential; Neko Atsume’s popular feline characters are now featured in playthings, volumes and even a movie.

” I like the position it carries: living a simple life , no sophistication at all ,” told Chen Jiajia, an accountant at a logistics company. The 29 -year-old tells she checks in on her frog, named fantuan, or rice ball, a few times a day.

David OReilly, a game decorator whose run appeared in the Spike Jonez film ” Her ,” said games are evolving beyond button-mashing and puzzle-solving. Tabi Kaeru is a good example of one that strives to calm instead of stimulate.” The internet, games, the screens we look at also require quiet areas ,” said OReilly, whose titles Mountain and Everything embody that spirit.” What we think of now as games will change radically in the next 5 to 10 years as more creators enter the space .”

It still isn’t clear whether Tabi Kaeru will be a hit outside of Asia. It hasn’t produced much buzz in U.S. And while 2014′ s Neko Atsume gained popularity in Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and the Netherlands, for now the traveling frog might be limited to intersecting merely one pond.

Monetising millennials: what the corporate world thinks it knows about young people

4 months, 14 days ago

At Sydneys Millennial 20/20 seminar the wifi password is SmashedAvo and the position is predatory infantilisation

Before the opening keynote of the Millennial 20/20 Sydney conference, a human strides up, folds me into a boardroom-firm handshake and gazes deep into my eyes.

His impeccably tailored business shirt, open to the third button, and swept-back blond hair attain him look like a more handsome version of the Trump sons, maybe a second cousin. But our meeting is an error; I inadvertently sat in one of the conference’s many designated networking spaces, signalling that I wish to be approached. By the time I apologise and move away, he is deep in conversation with someone else.

Millennial 20/20, held the coming week, was a two-day session of several hundred marketing executives, CEOs, startup founders, digital salespeople, youth publishers and app developers all looking to answer one question: how to persuade, coax, distract, datamine or otherwise compel young people to give their companies money. Representatives from some of the largest brands in the world gathered to swap success narratives, share tips, and peacock their youth-whisperer cred in front of any potential poachers.

Junior vice-presidents from blue-chip firms such as Telstra, Microsoft and Mondelez International rub elbows with more familiar brands such as Airbnb, Deliveroo and Pandora. New media doyens from Vice and BuzzFeed circle, chatting with swarms of emissaries from adventurously named attires you’ve never heard of, like Zuper and Paddl. Together they comprise a large portion of what is nebulously termed the” new economy” and a not-insignificant slice of the global one, so their collective perception of my generation carries weight, whether it’s accurate or not.

After two days surrounded by that collective perception, the believe is not promoting.

Millennial 20/20 is at Carriageworks, a vast converted former railway depot in Redfern. When home to a meeting like this, the venue becomes the exposed-brick-and-beam embodiment of the bloodless one-world aesthetic the conference is here to spruik; all reappropriated industrial working-class swank and graffiti reading “HOPE”.

A ping-pong table, unloved redoubt of startup offices the world over, sits neglected to one side, the “Double Happiness” slogan adorning it neither noticed nor understood. The Economist sponsorship stand is handing out free vegetable smoothies, ostensibly to make a point about food waste. The hand soap dispenser in the bathroom bears a Mark Twain quote exhorting me to” Explore. Dream. Discover .”. The wifi password is “SmashedAvo”.

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Disruption, invention and content, content, content. Photograph: Alamy

From the Pyramid Stage, festooned with artificial ivy vines, speakers dispense wisdom on the mystical millennial, a word that remains conveniently undefined. Devoting so much effort to understanding “young people” may have seemed too fogeyish.

The insights, such as they are, sometimes reveal more about the speakers than the young customers that they profess to know. Facebook Australia’s marketing head tells the audience the key to a” purposeful life” is” work-life consolidation, rather than work-life balance”, and quotes an example about the importance of diversity from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who encourages teachers to tell parents that their assertive daughter is not “bossy”, but rather has ” executive leadership skills “.

But the main attraction isn’t the speakers; it’s the opportunity to network, and these people network hard. On stylised picnic tables and precarious barstools scattered throughout the dormitory, marketing executives in smart casual collect phone number and LinkedIn contacts with the fervour I once applied to amassing Pokemon cards.” The only time someone’s not trying to sell me something is in the bathroom”, an exhausted attendee says.

The presentations pass by in a blur. I lose count of the number of hours someone mentions “disruption”, or extols the virtues of” starting a dialogue “. The speakers are in furious arrangement that millennials are a rich gold seam waiting to be tapped, requiring only the right combination of effortless cool, total authenticity and microscopic data tracking to crack it open.

Given the route that many of these companies treat the young people they claim to have such deep connections with, it’s not surprising that a great deal runs unsaid. A co-founder of youth site Pedestrian.tv hosts a panel dedicated to unpacking where millennials are spending their money, but gives no insight for the purpose of determining whether content on his website paid for by a front group for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, a pro-tobacco foyer group, successfully induced more young people to take up e-cigarettes.

Representatives from the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac wax lyrical on” building a culture of invention”, but have nothing to say about their exploitative lending practices promoting young would-be homeowners to take out mortgages they can’t afford. Unilever is eager to showcase its work keeping Weis Bars Australian-made since buying out the Toowoomba family business in August; less so to highlight the boycott its Streets ice-cream brand is confront for cutting employees’ wages by almost half.

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‘ Cutting expenses by denying workers basic rights and conditions is as old as the hills, but do it via a smartphone app and you’re a paragon of invention .’ Photograph: Pekic/ Getty Images

But it’s when the we-are-your-friends shtick get personal that it really starts to unsettle. Michael Pearson, the managing director of traveling website Expedia, wonders why” millennials are delaying those key life purchases” such as houses and weddings; he boasts that his firm’s 700 data scientists trawl their customers’ information to target them as minutely as possible.” I know where he lives, I know he has a spouse and two kids ,” Pearson enthuses. A representative from the Accor hotel chain speaks of a new alternative accommodation option for backpackers, the Mama Shelter, designed to replicate the feeling of” being in your mother’s limbs “.

That attitude of predatory infantilisation oozes into everything here. It’s in the free donuts, branded fidget-spinners and misshapen Rubik’s cubes sponsors are devoting out in exchange for contact details. It’s in the endless, slickly made promotional videos, splashing all-caps cliches such as “LIFE IS AMAZING” and” COME AS YOU ARE” over footage of people operating through meadows and the swelling of children’s choirs. It’s in IYC POP, a sponsor slinging frozen cocktails in Calippo-like sleeves which vaunts itself as” a luxury popsicle for adults” and” a true disruptor in the frozen confectionary industry “.

Most of all, it’s in how entirely this congregation believes its own sermon. These people want to believe so badly that they are the harbingers of something bright and new, when they’re really simply inventing more efficient ways to do what big businesses have always done: induce mountains of fund by bolt people over. Cutting costs by denying workers basic rights and conditions is as old as the hills, but do it via a smartphone app and you’re a paragon of invention. It is dead-eyed capitalism with Snapchat’s puppy filter on.

I learned very little about millennials at Millennial 20/20, save that a great many people are running very hard to turn us upside down by our ankles and shake us until fund comes out. Being part of a generation bent under neoliberalism’s deadening legacy, from housing affordability to climate change, is depleting enough; to find the companies that earning off our exploitation rhapsodise about their self-appointed status as” change makers” and” thought leaders” just adds salt to the wound.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Don’t worry about AI running bad- the minds behind it are the hazard | John Naughton

4 months, 28 days ago

Killer robots remain a thing of futuristic nightmare. The real menace from artificial intelligence is far more immediate

As the science fiction novelist William Gibson famously find:” The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed .” I wish people would pay more attention to that adage whenever the subject of artificial intelligence( AI) comes up. Public discourse about it invariably focuses on the threat( or promise, depending on your point of view) of “superintelligent” machines, ie ones that display human-level general intelligence, even though such devices have been 20 to 50 years away ever since we first started worrying about them. The likelihood( or mirage) of such machines still remains a remote prospect, a phase made by the leading AI researcher Andrew Ng, who said that he worries about superintelligence in the same route that he frets about overpopulation on Mars.

That seems about right to me. If one were a conspiracy theorist, one might ask if our obsession with a highly speculative future has been intentionally orchestrated to divert attention from the fact- pace Mr Gibson- that lower-level but exceedingly powerful AI is already here and playing an ever-expanding role in shaping our economies, societies and politics. This technology is a combination of machine learning and big data and it’s everywhere, controlled and deployed by a handful of powerful corporations, with occasional walk-on components assigned to national security agencies.

These corporations consider this version of “weak” AI as the biggest thing since sliced bread. The CEO of Google burbles about” AI everywhere” in his company’s offerings. Same goes for the other digital giants. In the face of this hype onslaught, it takes a certain amount of heroism to stand up and ask awkward topics. If this stuff is so powerful, then surely we ought to be looking at how it is being used, asking whether it’s legal, ethical and good for society- and thinking about what will happen when it gets into the hands of people who are even worse than the folks who run the big tech firms. Because it will.

Fortunately, there are scholars who have started to ask these awkward topics. There are, for example, the researchers who work at AI Now, a research institute at New York University focused on the social implications of AI. Their 2017 report attains interesting reading. Last week assured the publication of more in the same vein- a new critique of the technology by 26 experts from six major universities, plus a number of independent thinktanks and NGOs.

Its title- The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention and Mitigation- tells it all. The report fills a serious gap in our thinking about this stuff. We’ve heard the hype, corporate and governmental, about the wonderful things AI can supposedly do and we’ve begun to pay attention to the unintentional downsides of legitimate applications of the technology. Now the time has come to pay attention to the really malign things bad actors could do with it.

The report looks at three main “domains” in which we can expect problems. One is digital security. The utilize of AI to automate chores involved in carrying out cyber-attacks will alleviate the existing trade-off between the scale and efficacy of attacks. We can also expect assaults that exploit human vulnerabilities( for example, through the use of speech synthesis for impersonation ), existing software vulnerabilities( through automated hacking) or the vulnerabilities of legitimate AI systems( through corruption of the data rivers on which machine learning depends ).

A second threat domain is physical security- assaults with dronings and autonomous weapons systems.( Think v2. 0 of the hobbyist dronings that Isis deployed, but this time with face-recognition technology on board .) We can also expect new various kinds of attacks that subvert physical systems- causing autonomous vehicles to accident, say- or ones deploying physical systems that would be impossible to remotely control from a distance: a thousand-strong swarm of micro-drones, for example.

Finally, there’s what the authors call” political security”- using AI to automate tasks involved in surveillance, persuasion( creating targeted propaganda) and misrepresentation( eg, manipulating videos ). We can also expect new kinds of attack based on machine-learning’s capability to infer human behaviours, moods and beliefs from available data. This technology will obviously be welcomed by authoritarian countries, but it will also further undermine the capacities of republics to sustain truthful public debates. The bots and fake Facebook accounts that currently pollute our public sphere will look awfully amateurish in a couple of years.

The report is available as a free download and is worth read in full. If it were about the dangers of future or speculative technologies, then it might be reasonable to reject it as academic scare-mongering. The alarming thing is most of the problematic capabilities that its authors envisage are already available and in many cases are currently embedded in many of the networked services that we use every day. William Gibson was right: the future has already arrived.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

My night out in Cleveland with the worst men on the internet

5 months, 23 days ago

At the Republican convention, Laurie Penny was invited to a rally led by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous and an unholy cast of characters united behind Donald Trump for whom turning raw rage into political currency is merely a game

This is a story about how trolls took the wheel of the clown auto of modern politics. Its a narrative about the insider traders of the attention economy. Its a tale about dread and disgust and Donald Trump and you and me. Its not a tale about Milo Yiannopoulos, the professional alt-right provocateur who was last week banned from Twitter for directing racist abuse towards the actor Leslie Jones.

But it does start with Milo. So I should probably explain how we know each other and how, on a hot, weird night in Cleveland, Ohio, I came to be riding in the backseat of his swank black trollmobile to the gayest neo-fascist rally at the Republican national convention.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the most serious people I know. I have assured the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We satisfied four years ago when he was just another floppy-haired rightwing pundit and we were guests on a panel show. Afterwards, we got hammered and ran around the BBC talking about boys.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuaded him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I dislike him and everything he stands for, the more he chuckles and asks when were drinking.

Feminism is cancer is one of Milos slogans, and yet it took him only seconds after learning we would both be at the RNC to offer me a lift to his Wake Up! rally. This time God help me I said yes.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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