Orthogonal, intersectional, and communal futures

This week’s newsletter is a compilation of some of the most thoughtful folks we know, all of whom are touching on a recurrent theme we’ve been exploring at EFL: the increasingly urgent need to think, create, and innovate in the broader context of systems and communities. We have reached the current state of our techno-social reality by looking through narrow lenses — a focus on profit, a focus on groups with power, an individualistic focus on the user, a focus on direct effects while ignoring indirect ones. Increasingly, we see technologists, designers, academics, and others calling for fundamental change in…


This week we look deeply at the idea of “scale”, or the size and reach of an idea or service. Being big has its benefits and drawbacks, and while being small can feel precarious, it also means the ability to be nimble and to solve fewer problems at once. Read on to learn how to make your own social network, to see how regulators can fight scale effectively, and how some restaurants are building new businesses out of structures no bigger than a parking spot.

— Alexis & Matt

1: Scale, networks, & disinformation

In the wake of the January 6th riots at the Capitol…


“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin, who died OTD in 2018


The events of this last week reflected many of the themes we’ve touched on here for over a year: the responsibility of platforms for the conversations they promote, the failure of imagination that occurs when leaders don’t listen to enough perspectives, and how online and offline influence each other to the point where the boundary is mostly meaningless. We are sure there will be much more to say as we all learn more about what happened and come to terms with these risks to our institutions, but make no mistake: nothing that occurred on January 6 was unpredictable.

In this…


As the world grows increasingly complex, the limitations of user-centered design are beginning to emerge

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Image: Rebecca Zisser

by Alexis Lloyd, Devin Mancuso, Diana Sonis, and Lis Hubert


We here at Ethical Futures Lab really like robots. This issue is chock full of them: some that help their human partners, and some that replace human labor. We take a deeper look at the designs and considerations that spring up depending on which of these approaches their manufacturers take. We also touch on the unseen risks within AI and the possibility of mining social capital.

— Matt & Alexis

1: Social currency, literally

Social tokens — digital currency that is backed by the reputation of a person or brand — seem to be the new hotness in the cryptocurrency world. Fans can buy…


Happy Thanksgiving! This week we dive deep into the uncanny valley, trying to find where a person ends and a bot begins, and how the distinction is perhaps becoming less and less meaningful. Read on to discover the inherent bot-ness of bots, the ways in which we’re already becoming cyborgs, and how to give gifts this holiday season that protect your loved ones’ privacy.

— Matt & Alexis

1: Stop trying to make machines be like people

Last week, Alexis published an essay on a topic she’s been exploring for a while: how we design interactions between humans and machine intelligence. She uses three archetypes — C3PO, Iron Man…


Imagine this: you have a text editor, and your team is there too. Your colleagues are making suggestions, answering questions, filling in gaps, and being sounding boards. But one of the team is an AI.

Matt Webb wrote this post yesterday about Ben Hammersley’s new startup, and in it he articulates a perspective on collaborative AI I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I’m excited to see more people engaging in this conversation.

In thinking about human-machine collaboration, I find myself repeatedly returning to a talk I originally gave at Eyeo in 2016, which used C3PO, Iron Man, and…


It seems impossible that it’s been two weeks since last we wrote, but we can’t decide if it feels more like two days or two months since Election Day. Yet again, 2020 proves to be an exercise in time dilation. Anyway, we’re back to our usual tricks this week, thinking about why Sesame Street is so great, how privacy online can be a double-edged sword, and what we would do with a truly public space on the web.

1: The great distractor

One of our favorite techniques at the Ethical Futures Lab is, when confronted with an assertion that something is “better”, to ask…

Alexis Lloyd

Ethical design and weird machines. VP Product Design at Medium & co-founder Ethical Futures Lab. Previously @automattic , @axios , @nytimes R&D. She/her.

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