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Amy Webb - A futurist's notebook

Every week I open my research notebook and share artifacts from the adjacent future.

The Future of...Glitches

Amy Webb

This week, outdated technology caused a glitch at Southwest, which stopped customers (I was one of them) from checking in for their flights. Just after that, there was a database glitch that cross-checks airline passengers with terrorist watch lists, causing massive delays at airports across the country. Meanwhile, a “technical glitch” caused the University of Toledo issue the wrong billing statements and to ask students to pay hundreds of dollars in back fees that were never collected. A glitch in the Uber Partner app exposed the personal information of 674 drivers––everything from drivers’ licenses and financial documents to social security numbers––to thousands of other Uber drivers. In Kansas, the State Legislature has been plagued by computer glitches, like how language often disappears from bills when attorneys are writing it. Once a bunch of outdated bills were sent and almost voted on. Glitches caused a temporary outage for Dish’s Sling TV, which interrupted service during the premiere of Walking Dead spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. Glitches at Netflix have caused outages as well as strange mashup summaries to appear in the menu for different films. My personal favorite: “Inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, this Disney film follows a gentle, crippled bell ringer as he faces prejudice and tries to save the eyes of individual dinosaurs.”

What gives? "Glitch" has become an accepted shorthand for problems that don't have immediate, obvious causes. In many cases, glitches have to do with degraded network connectivity or a miscalculation of the bandwidth needed. Or an upgrade that didn't go as planned. Or a crappy codebase that's finally started to unravel. But a lot of times, glitches have to do with newer technologies, which we are learning break in unexpected and weird ways.

One thing is clear: you’ll hear a lot about glitches in 2016. You can no longer afford to be sloppy, to delay updates or to keep cranking on old machines. Don’t be surprised if a kludgy line of code someone built as a patch accidentally sends Guy Fieri to your house with a trash can full of nachos. Don't answer the door, else you'll be spirited away to Flavortown with no hope of return.

There's a Glitch In the Matrix
Neo: Whoa. Déjà vu.
[Everyone freezes right in their tracks]
Trinity: What did you just say?
Neo: Nothing. Just had a little déjà vu.
Trinity: What did you see?
Cypher: What happened?
Neo: A black cat went past us, and then another that looked just like it.
Trinity: How much like it? Was it the same cat?
Neo: It might have been. I'm not sure.
Trinity: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.
Mark Cuban: If stock in a company is worth what somebody will pay for it, what is the stock of a company worth when there is no place to sell it ?

Glitch Art
The Rescued Film Project finds undeveloped film rolls from around the world, processes it and posts it in an online gallery. A software glitch caused some of the photos to display odd, colorful shapes. Is it real life? Is it art? Obviously, it's both. See also: this Guardian's post about glitch art. It's a thing.

Schuler Benson and Celeste Zendler met because of a Facebook glitch. Benson was living in Arkansas at the time, and tried to log in to the Facebook mobile site on his flip phone. But when he typed in the URL to the site, it somehow logged him into the Facebook account of Celeste Zendler, who lived far away in Colorado. They had to troubleshoot together, which led to them becoming Facebook friends, which led to them meeting in person, which led to their marriage this summer. Mazel!

People who get a lot of plastic surgery may not be vain––they might be suffering from a glitch. According to science:

People suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, perceive themselves as ugly and disfigured. New imaging research reveals that the brains of these people look normal but function abnormally when processing visual details. "Our discovery suggests that the BDD brain's hardware is fine, but there is a glitch in the operating software that prevents patients from seeing themselves as others do," said Dr. Jamie Feusner, principal investigator and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Individuals with BDD fixate on an imagined flaw in their appearance or a slight physical abnormality. To fix their "problem," they tend to pursue plastic surgery — sometimes repeatedly.

In Xtina's words, you are beautiful, no matter what they say. Except when you're throwing a tantrum at Disneyland. That's not a glitch, that's just you being a jerk.

Every week I open my research notebook and share artifacts from the adjacent future. Subscribe here.