In September Deliveroo raised $385m at a $2bn valuation. The morning of Codefiers 002 (17/11/17) at the once again lovely citizenM with its magnificent Thames views out in full morning sunshine, financial daily City Am pronounced on its front page that Deliveroo was now the UK's most valuable tech company. This presented the perfect segway to the recent Deliveroo claim that it has as one of its objective to make 'Cooking a hobby.'
A company that is less than 5 years old is bold and now financially emboldened enough to aim to reduce cooking to a mere pastime. Could an activity which is hardwired into our cultural, social and biological make up. Shaped and formed by time honoured ritual and custom, preparing and cook food for oneself, one's family and friends become a lifestyle choice and hobby? We had seen and examined this before in Codefiers 001 with Airbnb's equally bold pronouncement that if you've stayed someone in someone's home in a city for just one night you've 'lived there'. Indeed part of Codefiers raison d'etre was to provide some push back to the Kool Aid marketing gonzospeak that has allowed the platforms that have used codification to creep into every aspect of lives without us first questioning their validity, value or underlying values.
Before we spit out our collective sunday roast, grab our forks and dismiss this out of hand, let’s examine the context. Is it so absurd if you have never grown up with the family rituals of eating together and you now live in shared accommodation with 4-5 people and no dining table or area, to think that cooking could become a hobby? Is the idea of living somewhere for a night different if you’re empowered, via Airbnb, to create global network of people that you can maintain via social networks after the event and therefore can return to and 'live in' again over the years? Powered by algorithms that you can fire up and utilise whenever you want as opposed to travelling.
Is Deliveroo even a delivery business? Perhaps the real game and what's underpinning their superhigh valuation, is that they are acquiring order-by-order granular information on the local food patterns. This in turn de-risks start up costs of starting a new food venture - from location, to supply chain and staffing levels and finally could make our eventual local neighbourhoods more culinary diverse, entrepreneurial and successful. It’s possible.
Core to the nature of being a 'Codefier', is that this isn't a binary argument. Indeed it is the binary nature of Codification, reducing people to mere ‘users’, that seems to be the source of a lot of the dissonance and disfunction and the 'blandification' of risk and outliers. This disguises a key underlying reality that deeper human experience is still linked to being able to engage 1:1 with the source of the things you deeply care about and value. To bring this literally to life we need to thank Meredith Whitely from Food At Heart who helped us start the event with a 'chocolate meditation'. With 2 tiny squares of chocolate Meredith was able to open us up to the need for pause before we eat and in doing so reveal the possibility of our own palettes. This highlighted, that when we do not respect the food we eat, we literally reduce the return and richness it can offer us. When we wipe clean ritual and community from our eating practice we nullify the social and custom functions of food. When our food source is an app and a helmet wearing biker we lose the ability to access the journey of our food outside its GPS progress. These are the trade-offs that again Codefiers 002 brought to the fore.
It was then up to Nick Francis of Speak It films to scare the bejeezus out of us by introducing us to ideas behind, implicit and explicit in Netflix data, the first AI trailer and short film, Adobe's VoCo and Synthetic Obama. Essentially this means that with 10's of minutes of capturing audio or video of any person, you can now manipulate the visuals and sound to make that person say what you like...so it looks real. All of which adds up to a world where we'll be nostalgically longing for the days of 'Fake News' as an age where we could trust what we heard! As Nick said, in an age of 'connectivity' we've never been more disconnected to everything including perhaps now the very notion of what is 'true'. Of course every edit or editorial decision was a choice and even a sleight of hand that reinforced a constructed worldview but if there is no cost or integrity to constructing that view and its all concocted out at whim does this fundamentally shake what we can rely on, share and orientate around?
What is the role of the chef or journalist in these scenarios above? Do the people that we 'trust' actually increase in value? Do we 'blandify' (the word of the event!) out the human anomalies that push change, enable risks and have traditionally provided diversity, progress and colour. As Simon King from JLA said in an observation post the first Codefiers event 001, the problem with 20th Century economics was that in order to 'predict' economic activity, it relied on the cornerstone idea that 'man' was 'Homo Economicus' a rational economic agent. This was always problematic and flawed because human irrationality always crept in throwing modeling and predictions out the window. However perhaps what we're seeing through codification, algorithms and ai etc. is that Home Economicus can now be made ever more 'predictable' and behaviours more pliable and that this is a much more efficient way of organising capital. Indeed from this logic and in this world, cooking can become a hobby, ex-Presidents can be simulated and you have probably lived in 20 odd countries. Who knew so much could be overturned in such a short trajectory and that time honoured notions, traditions, patterns, rituals and customs, the ‘stickiness’ indeed that is the very fabric of life, that has stood the test of time, might not stand the imminent force of Deliveroo's promised stock price. Such is the pervasive impact of the new data tastemakers.
Deliveroo openly states that its commercial goal is to make 'cooking a hobby' and no-one blinks. Airbnb founder Brian Chesky states that if you've stayed one night in an Airbnb in a foreign city then you've 'lived there'. The human element is vanishing.
Football managers are starting to curb the instincts of players to improvise and try (for example) to shoot outside a certain distance because the data science says that it's statistically too risky to do so. This has been gradually changing the way the game is played and enjoyed as a spectator sport and is all of a sudden becoming very apparent to spectators.
Is there a link? I would argue that there is.
All of these are examples of the in-built logic that creeps into pre-determined codified outcomes that are assumed as both inherently inevitable and better than their analogue predecessors. Central to the 'Codefiers' position is a direct rebuttal of the inevitability of that position and the reframing of that logic factoring in the interplay with the human capital that it is trying to replace. A human capital that once lost is very hard to reclaim and replace.
For example, if a whole generation starts treating cooking as a hobby then an innate human need that has some of the deepest historical, sociological and biological history will be replaced by a fleet of green garbed cyclists shepherding cooked meals from increasingly data driven restaurant kitchens around cities worldwide. Is this a better human outcome? Is this at all desirable? Is the utilitarian ability to satisfy every culinary whim with the swipe of an app a better situation than each generation learning, nurturing and enhancing deep set and rich culinary traditions? Equally does watching your team that your grandfather supported becoming more and more efficient and even more successful, but gradually having the colour and personality diluted out of it, make the experience and enjoyment of watching football richer and better?
Of course there are visible benefits, Deliveroo has arguably banished the dodgy and overprice curry to the backwaters and guilty pleasure of takeaways, opening up binge watch companions and choices previously unimaginable. There is something joyfully elegant to the experiencing of summoning an Uber and watching it chart itself to your door. And Harry Kane is arguably the first player to reach global status on the basis of literally consuming the data science - he's just hired a personal chef at home so he can regulate his diet there - his manager constantly feeds him. I’m personally happy about this – I’m a Tottenham fan! Of course Codification brings huge gains and utility to many scenarios and outcomes. This is not in any way a good / bad, digital / analogue, progress / stasis argument.
These are open questions still. We have to let time play out in order to ascertain the overall macro effect: which of course may still be a net gain for humanity. The point is however, that that empowering of and kowtowing to the logic of codification without understanding or even acknowledging what might be lost, seems to be a hugely undervalued risk. It is creeping into scenarios, settings and systems without this risk or even that it is a risk at all, being acknowledged or understood. We think this is not a sensible future position to fatalistically assume and adopt.
This is what it feels 'Codefiers' is increasingly about. Stepping into the force and logic of codification and 'Defying' it by simply asking the human questions about what it impacts rather than accepting the marketing and hyperbole. We're starting to see more and more people connect the dots and resonate with this position and we're pretty sure Brain Clough himself, twice winner of the European Cup twice with a team of relative outsiders, would have agreed at least in spirit!
If we continue to let algorithms weed out these outliers, sieve out traditions, out shout common sense, our bellies might be fuller, our transport and our football might be more efficient but our net human gain and experience might be poorer as a result. As a Codefier...start to ask yourself, is just blindly accepting the logic of Codification in whatever sector, worth the risk without questioning and examining it first? If the market logic of the gain is fundamentally geared towards the dilution of previously valued experiences and even the eventual erosion of meaningful alternatives?
Dan Simmons | Founder | Propelia - www.propelia.com
“We want to start a fight, but we’re not sure who with or how – but we hope you can join us anyway”.
So Dan ended the inaugural ‘Codefiers’ Event 001.
I’m not sure how much closer we are to resolving the question of whom to fight with and how – but certainly there seemed to be some great ideas and an identification around the issues – a sense perhaps that the great pendulum in the sky is swinging once again, in favour of human solutions to human problems.
We started the event trying to convey our conviction that deep human experience can be found in the interplay between codification on the one hand and human values on the other. We wanted to question the prevailing Silicon Valley orthodoxy that says there is always a tech solution, an engineered solution: that we just need to fix the human bugs and all will be well.
We want to challenge the idea that says disruption can only come from a transformative tech breakthrough and suggest that perhaps the very limitations of codification are themselves providing businesses and creatives with opportunities to exploit. That, by focusing our effort and thought on the elements that tech does badly, or barely even touches, whole vistas and solutions might present themselves. That a space can open when you leverage human capital, with human values.
We started from a position of not really knowing any of the answers or indeed having a clearly identified problem and corresponding opportunities. There was just an intuition that travel and the flattening out of the travel experience itself, was something of an early warning system, that something was happening there.
Was it possible, that the current vogue for ‘experience’ across many sectors, was simply reflective of a general sense, on a subliminal level perhaps, that a more deep and meaningful experience was becoming harder to access, therefore causing a spike in demand? Mindful of the danger of mistaking correlation for causation, but not therefore dismissing it, was it possible that it was the sheer prevalence of codification, the layers of code between us as humans and the experience itself, that was causing this effect?
A lot of suppositions and questions, but few answers. What if we chucked them all up in the air and had a look at where they landed?
There were so many great points made in the discussion, that I thought it best to try and include them as they were, pretty much and let them speak for the room. I’ve removed references to individual business and paraphrased as we were under Chatham House rules. There were excellent notes taken, so any misrepresentation, repetitions, or leaden jokes are my responsibility alone. I hope participants will feel free to correct any particularly egregious misrepresentation, by contacting me or adding to the comments below. I’ve tried to avoid the temptation to add my own commentary, apart from where a point was not clear. In a couple of instances, I’ve been unable to resist.
We started by exploring where codification meets that human value in business. Where tech enabled business had got people offline to get the value; since it was the people with whom you connect with whom you would remember. Online it’s gone as quickly as it arrives. Nonetheless, what we keep it in the ‘real world’, remains difficult to maintain and scale and grow.
Once you have the human connection what do you do with it? How do you build it into something else? The deepest connections are those involving helping from the star; the reciprocation from the beginning builds relationships in the longer term. Effort is needed in maintaining this. In the travel sector, we have found that concepts from a previous age of travel such as ‘envoys’ and ‘reciprocation’ are hidden in the bespoke, human approach.
So codification can enable, but do we need to focus on the code as the end in itself? Can we avoid being guided by the code and if so, how? In the industry (travel), consultants are not going to cut it much longer, algorithms can do the basic work for the basic trip, how do we get deeper? The consulting process is, in itself, a ‘codified’ process to some extent, but one requiring (for now) a fair amount of human input. It cleaves inevitably towards the standardised and mainstream in the middle ground. How do we see of the threat to that process from algorithms doing it better, do we need to? Is there an opportunity in doing what algorithms cannot?
It’s not good enough just to start leveraging that human capital. It’s also about letting everyone know that’s what you do (or aim to do). It is, after all, a two-way process. No one knows what they don’t know they don’t know until they’ve experienced it. ETG have attempted to find value in letting people know earlier - what we do is different, it does add more value; why and how.
There were some different perspectives and challenges. What we are saying seems obvious and natural and there is no denying the codification process. But if it’s facilitating a conversation, so you can ask your network and they then can feed me with the knowledge – where is the problem? The algorithm is not what you trust but the people are and this is given to us by technology. Better and faster understanding from the people that you can connect with. You have to find this confidence and trust in the organisation, that you can find instantly from the social network. So why use the organisation?
We agreed, but suggested the opportunity is in the interplay. What would happen if your tech enabled network could not supply the solution? Could it wisdom of crowds completely replace expertise in all fields? With only positive consequences? In ETG terms, if you don’t have the Asia network, we are here to supply that for you. We wouldn’t be here without the code as it plugs us in directly with our clients in the first place, but we can add to the conversation that the tech enables. Building trust and delivering value before you even go on the holiday, the value is not just the holiday, the end result, but in how it makes you feel in the anticipation and the build-up.
It was put out there that travel itself hasn’t changed for 100 years, but what has changed is how you do it, where you get it from. Tour operators now need to add that value, because there are so many other options and ways to do it. If you codify you have the convenience, where technology make it easier to find you, cut through the boring, make it inspiring, the buying is as much the experience as the holiday. Perhaps travel can be made better through code?
Uncertainty, no one know where we are going to end up, (in recruitment, Linkedin may take over...could be a threat to the industry). However, code can “never replace the human touch”, the human elements far removed from the job itself. Or at least we think not - but, will there somehow be an AI that can do this? Will our network discover new AI and feed to the rest.
We will never know.
Emotion + Experience = Memory - The notion of emotion came up strongly. How do you elicit an emotion? How does a computer elicit an emotion from a person? Genuine happiness comes from people to people. It is simply a vehicle which can take you to experience that emotion. The principal is, as long as the human to human can create emotion, codification can’t take over. It is only by leveraging human capital that a deep memory can be created?
AirBnb is just a physical entity, it’s a mechanism that gets you into the space, technology to lead process, deliver process, frees team members up to deliver to the need. We can use technology to give us the tools to know the human empathy is needed. Nonetheless, technology is developing to be able to detect emotions, is going to be able to change and adjust depending on human response.
Is it about leveraging human elements? Uncertainty is a fundamental emotional need of humans and codification is poor at delivering and understanding where the right level of uncertainty lies. It’s knowing the logic of the codification is there but not accepting it. You can do more than it...not about rejection, but doesn’t need to overrun.
We then move onto to Terminator and the logic of The SINGULARITY - Silicon Valley - technology take over. Too terrifying to contemplate right now, we agreed to focus on the immediate opportunities, which seemed fairly significant, even if the distant prospect of super human AI was terrifying. You can’t look too far forward: we just don’t know.
Humans rely on gatekeepers, it’s completely broken down, because the algorithms are pushing the “popular” at people. The gatekeepers are no longer trustworthy. There is a level of complacency that humans will always be needed, but if the value increases in booking with google, it will fade, especially if the human element is process driven and, in a sense, algorithmic. If on the other hand the humans focus on the human values, there could still be a clear role.
The opportunity is for us as we create the algorithms, since we are the curators of our algorithms. We don’t care if it’s a human or an algorithm with the right spirit. If we understand why we are being given the options, then we are generally ok with this. Is there an issue here?
We are the drivers, how can we use them to our advantage. It’s not all bad. The focus on “evil” algorithms is a simplistic one. Perhaps yes, there is something in that. However, a machine doesn't know what it doesn’t know and has its limits. There is also enormous monopolistic power invested in the 4 major corporations that control (or curate) the way the most significant algorithms that guide are life, are set up. Trusting them to guide without bias with an altruistic regard for the human race as a whole, is perhaps optimistic.
TRUST, is Almost the Solution - Young people, coming into the work force, constantly told facts that are suddenly not true. Fact was trusted, whereas now there is a presumed objectivity about the algorithms. Trust is why people are going to codification, because all the previous trust in the gatekeepers is crumbling. Do individuals have too little or too much control?
Risk was an interesting element which kept coming up. Does it homogenise when the interplay is with code solely? Algorithms respond and play on behaviours people already have – again, they don’t know what they don’t know. Everything does close in on a loop. It’s all based on who you already are – not what you could become. It won’t and cannot take risks because all is recorded and fed out.
A tech solution to a human problem, how do we leverage that (training platform for young people) how do we leverage the human business. We curate content and learning but is tech enabled. We must filter what is there, everything that the technology supplies. Curation is key.
FILM AND TELEVISION - We wondered how and if codification is going to effect the creative businesses? This has been presumed to be surely a space that algorithms can’t touch. But who is deciding the stories we want to be told? Humans will still be making them for now sure, but the technology will tell us what they are. Indeed, it already is. Not only what we want but how they work for people, they will be based on a defined set of experiences and emotions to elicit.
Our attention is being mapped and we won’t know the AI is going to be there, unseen. But, something needs to meet the need that I don’t know I have. Designated Survivor = You can feel the presence of the algorithms in the show. The people with the deep pockets are creating the environment that the stories are being told in. If the stories we make create who we are, what happens when these decisions are being taken out of the hands of humans? It’s a fundamental question. As Yuval Noah Harari argues in Sapiens and the follow up, Homo Deus, it is the stories we tell each other, or the inter0-subjective reality of the world, that makes us human.
The problem here is that stories are being told are “the majority”. It leaves less if any room for the minority voices/stories that need to be heard to build a diverse population or the outliers that move on human thought and culture (a whole different issue/debate).
Nonetheless, isn’t the content on tv so much better now? Isn’t the content better because it is curated to you? It can tell what you like so this is an improvement in what you can watch.
We are all aware that these algorithms are taking control of what we engage with.
It could be very beneficial, but it could restrict us. For those who are aware this is fine but for people who don’t have the awareness of what is happening behind the scenes there is a danger.
A counter narrative comes from travel, where this process is far further underway. We use these tools because we can’t know everything. E.g. Trip Advisor and they can be great help and disrupt lazy, poor human practice and business, greatly improving things for the consumer. But the algorithms just send the hoards to the same thing, and so our job is to find the unique, outside of what the algorithms have sent.
The algorithms can’t do the nuance, it can help with the majority, but needs to have extra filters to know who you can trust. Mistrust because Trip Advisor don’t have the transparency.
So helpful, but things change. We need to find the limitations and knowing the unintended consequences of technology/social platforms as it’s there, in this interplay that opportunities lie.
PHOTOGRAPHY - another creative industry, how can it be effected? Can a machine take a picture? Everyone's “a photographer” now and is that a good thing? Certainly in many ways it is empowering. Who is deciding what pictures to take? You have to be guided by who will commission you, so who is that? There is a backlash against the instagram and the digitisation of all photos currently underway and perhaps that plays into all of this. There is a backlash against the Instagram idea that the picture is the whole point, rather than an external trigger for a memory, a reminder. Art directors and agencies are going back to film (similar to the vinyl resurgence). After working in an industry for years and gaining skills, it’s frustrating to see how instagram is giving the opportunity in seconds to the new while lacking experience and expertise. The curation is being given over to the ‘wisdom’ of crowds
What do we look for? Where are the opportunities for new business? The small things are what matter. It’s companies which can improve client experience and take out a small element of the purchasing behaviour. Removing the hassle and the friction. Companies which can really leverage the stickiness of the trust. It’s the people, in this technological world.
Is this all just “Intellectual Landfill” or can we as 'Codefiers' start to now challenge the dominant Silicon Valley narrative?
Sam Clark - Founder Experience Travel Group - 11th October 2017
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