Talking trust and the uncanny valley on ABC Melbourne

ABC logoIt’s been a while since I’ve posted the audio from any of my radio spots, but we’re back. Here’s my conversation with Lindy Burns on ABC Melbourne from the evening of 31 October.

Two stories took our fancy.

First was the Australian tour of a supposedly intelligent robot called Sophia. I’m sceptical about how intelligent it actually was, but it gave me an excuse to talk about the uncanny valley, and the early chatbot ELIZA.

Second was the news that Amazon is launching a new service called Amazon Key, which will let couriers open people’s front doors and put deliveries inside. Would you trust strangers to come into your house?

This audio is ©2017 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Weekly Wrap 213

[This post was actually written on 17 August 2014, but I’ve dated it 6 July 2014 so it appears in the archives in the correct sequence. This post is part of an attempt to clear the backlog of routine posts, hence the lack of photo, detail and finesse. — Stilgherrian.]

My week of Monday 30 June to Sunday 6 July 2014 was, finally, an extremely busy one, as you can see from this basic listing.


Media Appearances


Why don’t you subscribe to 5at5?

Corporate Largesse

  • On Wednesday I went to Sophos’ World of Warbiking Breakfast, during which we were fed a lovely meal at Aqua Dining at Milsons Point in Sydney. We also received Sophos-branded cycling smartphone holder, water bottle, notebook and pen.
  • Also on Wednesday, I went to Amazon Web Services’ media briefing, “Exporting Australian IP to the World”, which took place over an excellent lunch at Gowings Bar and Grill and Sydney’s QT Hotel.
  • And again on Wednesday, I had a long meeting over coffee with someone from the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA), and of course they paid for the coffees.

Script Challenge prize finally organised

Dario Besseghini and gift: see text for detailsSeveral billion years ago, I set a challenge. I posted a passage of text in an unknown script. Could people decipher it?

Actually it was in 2007. I fully expected it to be solved within days, perhaps a couple of weeks at most, because I’d solved it myself fairly quickly. Before we had computers.

But it took ages. Years.

Finally, Italian computer scientist Dario Besseghini​ solved it in February 2012. That’s him pictured above, on the right.

I’d promised a prize, and Dario provided an Amazon wishlist for me to choose from. And then I forgot about it. Until the other day.

I have just ordered for Dario a copy of In the Land of Invented Languages: A Celebration of Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius by Arika Okrent. That’s it pictured above, on the left. The theme of invented languages seemed particularly appropriate.

So, Dario, my apologies for the delay, and my best wishes for the holiday season.

I know you were fretting because you hadn’t written up your solution method in more detail, but there’s certainly no rush!

I’ve closed comments on this post, so that any conversation will continue at the original place.

Postscript: As an indication of how little I participate in consumer culture, it turns out that this was the first time I’d ordered anything from Amazon since some time before 1 July 2007. How do I know? Because I started doing my bookkeeping in Saasu on that date, so if there had been a purchase there’d be a record of it.

Talking about freelancing and globalisation in Katoomba

Monday night’s discussion about freelancing in a globalised marketplace went rather well, I think, so I’ve decided to post the full audio.

The event was organised by Publish! Blue Mountains, and as I said previously the title was “Surviving and thriving as a freelancer in a globalised market”.

Radical changes will hit a freelancer’s world over the next two years or so as we move to a globalised marketplace. Firstly there is the rapid rise of internet-enabled outsourcing through sites like, allowing projects to be advertised globally and often awarded to the lowest bidder who may be in a country where $10 is a decent day’s wage.

Secondly, increasingly sophisticated and intelligent automated systems are now taking over many tasks that historically required human creative input. Just in the writing field alone, we already have US college sports coverage written completely by computer.

Where will this technology (and the marketplace driving it) take us? And what can we creatives do to ensure we’re not replaced by cut-price doppelgangers and robo-scribes?

Naturally things like and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (named after the original chess-playing robot hoax) and even 99designs came up.

We also drifted into the idea that Australians are the most spoiled people on the planet and we’re too used to our expensive lifestyles. Yet we also recognised that the Australian character provides something that’s worth paying for. And I threw in the idea that we shouldn’t try to imitate Silicon Valley because that was a unique collision of US defence money with Californian counterculture.

Other things mentioned were Seth Godin’s book Linchpin (others recommended him, but truth be told I’m not a fan myself), and my rant about crowdsourcing.

While some of it sounded a tad depressing, I think it ended up being quite positive. Either way, it was fun.

Here’s the full audio, starting off with the voice of Publish! Blue Mountains chairman Steve Krinks.

If you notice anything particularly fascinating while listening, do feel free to add it into the comments.

This audio is ©2012 Stilgherrian, since I recorded it and, heck, I led the discussion. But if you want to use this anywhere do feel free to ask because I’m usually quite generous in such matters.

Weekly Wrap 59: Making paragraphs while the rain pours

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets. While Sydney dealt with its wettest July since 1950, I was at the Bunjaree Cottages in Wentworth Falls, writing and writing and writing and writing. And talking on the radio.

“Make hay while the sun shines,” goes the old saying. But for a writer, it’s about making paragraphs while the rain pours. Being stuck indoors with a magnificent view really helps.



Media Appearances

Corporate Largesse

None. But there’ll be plenty next week. I’ll tell you more about that later this morning.


Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: Potholes on Frenchmans Road, Wentworth Falls, photographed on 20 July 2011. This is a slightly modified version, here’s the original.]

Patch Monday: Amazon’s Vogels: cloud, start-ups, treadmills

The cloud has levelled the playing field for business, says Amazon’s chief technology officer Dr Werner Vogels. Ten years ago, a start-up needed $5 million. Now, Vogels says, it’s “just $50,000 and a coffee shop around the corner”.

Vogels was in Sydney last week for a promotional event for the cloud-based Amazon Web Services (AWS). In a wide-ranging interview for this week’s Patch Monday podcast he discussed the cloud from both a business and a technical perspective, and responded to reports that Amazon may soon open an Australian datacentre and that the Sony PlayStation Network hack was launched from AWS servers.

You can listen below. But it’s probably better for my stats if you listen at ZDNet Australia or subscribe to the RSS feed or subscribe in iTunes.

There is a slight audio problem for the first few minutes of the interview, but it’s worth persisting.

(The conference room tables were rubbing against each other as Vogels moved his hands, elbows on table. It wasn’t very noticeable in the room, but the sound was transmitted mechanically up into the recorder via the tripod it was sitting on. I did notice after a few minutes and fixed things, so you won’t have to endure it for long.)

Please let me know what you think. Comments below. We accept audio comments too. Either Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.