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Big Technology

In a new interview, the former Google design ethicist weighs in on the backlash to the popular Netflix doc

OneZero is partnering with the Big Technology Podcast from Alex Kantrowitz to bring readers exclusive access to interview transcripts with notable figures in and around the tech industry.

This week, Kantrowitz sits down Tristan Harris, the star of the Social Dilemma film on Netflix. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To subscribe to the podcast and hear the interview for yourself, you can check it out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Overcast.

You won’t find a more controversial film in Silicon Valley than The Social Dilemma. …

Pattern Matching

The popular new Netflix documentary is a wake-up call with no answer

Welcome back to Pattern Matching, OneZero’s weekly newsletter that puts the week’s most compelling tech stories in context.

In the opening scenes of The Social Dilemma, the popular new Netflix docudrama about social media’s dark side, a series of nervous-looking interview subjects appear to stumble over a simple question: “What’s the problem?”

The film and its subjects — former employees of Google, Facebook, and other tech giants, along with a few outside critics such as the Harvard professor and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana Zuboff — spend the next 90 minutes throwing everything they have at that question…

In very meta news, Netflix says it has stored an episode of its new show Biohackers in DNA. It’s a first for the streaming service, which partnered with San Francisco biotech company Twist Bioscience and Robert Grass, a professor of chemistry and applied biosciences at ETH Zurich, to do so. The fictional German language series, which debuted in August, explores the futuristic possibilities of engineering biology.

To store data in DNA, a data file is first converted from its binary code of 0s and 1s into the four building blocks of DNA — A, C, G, and T. Those letters…

From the people who brought you the iPhone: a whole new theatrical experience

An illustration of an Apple Store with different screening rooms portraying a new movie watching experience.
An illustration of an Apple Store with different screening rooms portraying a new movie watching experience.

It’s no big secret that the movie theater industry is facing an existential crisis, with serious challenges coming from streaming platforms developed by technology giants like Apple, Netflix, and Amazon, and now a pandemic that’s forced cinemas to shutter around the globe. Weighing the future of movie theaters has become a favorite guessing game for media analysts. Last Friday, the New York Times asked: “Movie Theaters Are on the Brink. Can Wine and Cheese Save Them?”

Maybe not. But there’s reason to believe that the very tech companies threatening the industry could breathe new life into movie theaters.

Last week…

Social distancing has given studios an opportunity to test new types of release schedules

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, major theater chains have been closed for weeks and release dates for major blockbuster movies are indefinitely postponed. To offset their losses, studios are creating new ways for viewers to digitally rent movies from the safety of their home. Disney is aggressively releasing films on Disney+ earlier than planned, and Universal is experimenting with $20 streaming rentals. Digital rentals and streaming won’t make the studios as much money as a theatrical release typically does, but they provide some revenue.

The problem, for theaters anyway, is that once viewers get a taste of watching the…

A social psychologist explains why I see myself in the worst characters on Netflix’s new reality show

On Netflix’s new reality game show The Circle, contestants compete via a social media app to win $100,000 by outlasting their opponents. The players all live in separate units in the same apartment building, but they can’t speak to each other, video chat, or see each other in person — they can only interact using the Circle app. Based on what they see on their feeds, they continuously rank each other, vying to become “influencers” who have the power to “block” other players — that is, kick them out of the game.

So dystopian. So shallow. So what I needed.

Behind every A.I. lurks human labor

Netflix’s The Circle largely imagines a world that already exists, where people sit in their rooms and judge each other on social media.

But part of the show’s novelty comes in the form of an app called the Circle, a “voice-activated” social media platform displayed on TVs around contestants’ hotel rooms. The contestants speak to the Circle to pick their profile pictures, rank each other, and pretty much everything else. As for the inner workings of the app, “voice-activated” is pretty much all they know.

Making the social media platform voice-activated serves two purposes — it’s better TV for someone…

Film companies are following Netflix by using big data to make big decisions — yet it could cut down on the risk-taking that makes classics

“Nobody knows anything,” wrote legendary Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman in 1983. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

Nearly 40 years later, Hollywood studios are still making wild guesses about which movies might break even or make a profit. Films are what economists refer to as experience goods, so viewers don’t know whether they’ve made a good decision until they’ve watched the film. Movie marketing, too, is still costly and inaccurate, averaging $30 million per film but…

But how else will we binge everything before we die?

Life comes at you fast — particularly if you’re creating shows for Netflix.

The streaming company just announced that they’re testing a feature that allows Netflix’s mobile users to speed up and slow down video content through its player. The news has raised the hackles of those who create its content — a screwball comedy plot worthy of one of the service’s low-budget, never-ending Adam Sandler movies.

In the last month, Netflix has let some users toy with how they consume content on the mobile app, including altering brightness — something that would have prevented much public outrage had Game…

The streaming wars will produce a new oligopoly. We can do better.

A screen announcing the Disney+ streaming service is seen at the D23 Expo.
A screen announcing the Disney+ streaming service is seen at the D23 Expo.

For decades, corporate consolidation has been judged almost exclusively on whether it would raise prices for consumers, ignoring how the market power of massive conglomerates can have broader negative effects on society and the economy. That’s finally starting to change.

In the past year, the campaign to break up the tech giants has gained steam with support from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and other progressive politicians. Two-thirds of Americans now support the proposal, recognizing that monopolistic control of digital platforms and services has negative implications for privacy and economic prosperity. …


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