summing up 103

summing up is a recurring series on digital strategy topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Rethinking CS Education, by Alan Kay

If you want to get something done, the way you do it is not so much trying to convince somebody but to create a tribe that is a conspiracy. Because anthropologically that is what we are more than any other thing. We are tribal beings and we tend to automatically oppose things outside of our tribe, even if they're good ideas, because that isn't the way we think – in fact we don't think we're not primarily thinking animals.

The theatrical part of this is lots bigger than we think, the limitations are much smaller than we think and the relationship we have with our heritage is that we are much more different than we think we are. I hate to see computing and computer science watered down to some terrible kind of engineering that the Babylonians might have failed at.

That is pathetic! And I'm saying it in this strong way because you need to realize that we're in the middle of a complete form of bullshit that has grown up out of the pop culture.

We're stuck in conversations around hypes and trending technological topics. At the same time our world gets ever more complex and throws ever more complex problems at us. I really hope that we can grow up soon and use the power the computer grants us to actually augment ourselves.

Neither Paper Nor Digital Does Active Reading Well, by Baldur Bjarnason

A recurring theme in software development is the more you dig into the research the greater the distance is between what actual research seems to say versus what the industry practices.

Develop a familiarity with, for example, Alan Kay’s or Douglas Engelbart’s visions for the future of computing and you are guaranteed to become thoroughly dissatisfied with the limitations of every modern OS. Reading up hypertext theory and research, especially on hypertext as a medium, is a recipe for becoming annoyed at The Web. Catching up on usability research throughout the years makes you want to smash your laptop agains the wall in anger. And trying to fill out forms online makes you scream ‘it doesn’t have to be this way!’ at the top of your lungs.

That software development doesn’t deal with research or attempts to get at hard facts is endemic to the industry.

It seems crazy to me that most other subjects look at their history, while computing mostly ignores the past, thinking that new is always better. The problem these days isn't how to innovate, but how to get society to adopt the good ideas that already exist.

If Software Is Eating the World, What Will Come Out the Other End? by John Battelle

So far, it’s mostly shit. Most of our society simply isn’t benefiting from this trend of software eating the world. In fact, most of them live in the very world that software ate.

The world is not just software. The world is physics, it’s crying babies and shit on the sidewalk, it’s opioids and ecstasy, it’s car crashes and Senate hearings, lovers and philosophers, lost opportunities and spinning planets around untold stars. The world is still real.

Software – data, code, algorithms, processing – software has dressed the world in new infrastructure. But this is a conversation, not a process of digestion. It is a conversation between the physical and the digital, a synthesis we must master if we are to avoid terrible fates, and continue to embrace fantastic ones.

Only those who know nothing of the history of technology believe that a technology is entirely neutral. It always has implications, positive and negative. And all too often we seem to ignore the downsides of this in our physical world. The world we live in, and the technology as well.

most businesses' positioning is terrible

When was the last time you visited a business website without having a clue what they were offering? Unfortunately these beasts are far too common – and hurting business as well.

To lay it on the line: most businesses' positioning is terrible.

Websites are unforgiving in that regard. You can't control who's visiting your website. You can't control what they read. You can't control how much they read. You can't control how long they stay. And so on.

While you can get around this at an event or conference by talking a few minutes more about what you and your business actually do, you don't have that chance on the web.

The solution: A compelling positioning that helps your ideal clients understand how you can help them and what expensive problem you solve for them.

I know it's hard work and hard choices, but in the end it's worth it – if you want to succeed in the long run.

another one bites the dust

I don't remember the last time I've been so creeped out by a technology as I was by Google duplex, an artificial intelligence that can make phone calls on your behalf, booking salon appointments or restaurant reservations and pretending to be human.

One could probably criticise that it's unethical not to disclose that a machine is on the other end of the line, that we exploit employees of small businesses as involuntary robot nannies at no charge, that this technology will be deployed and used regardless of any consequences, or our blind faith in technology. But it's none of that.

The reason why I am creeped out is this:

The fathers of personal computing, most importantly Doug Engelbart, dreamed about making humans better with the help of computers, to assist rather than replace humans, to augment humans with computers. What we increasingly see however is a trend of using humans to augment computers.

We should be better than this.

summing up 102

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The Cult of the Complex, by Jeffrey Zeldman

In an industry that extols innovation over customer satisfaction, and prefers algorithm to human judgement (forgetting that every algorithm has human bias in its DNA), perhaps it should not surprise us that toolchains have replaced know-how.

Likewise, in a field where young straight white dudes take an overwhelming majority of the jobs (including most of the management jobs) it’s perhaps to be expected that web making has lately become something of a dick measuring competition.

It was not always this way, and it needn’t stay this way. If we wish to get back to the business of quietly improving people’s lives, one thoughtful interaction at a time, we must rid ourselves of the cult of the complex. Admitting the problem is the first step in solving it.

Solutions to many problems seem most brilliant when they appear most obvious. Simple even. But in many cases we throw everything we have against the wall and see what sticks. It's on us to recognize when we forget that our job is to solve business, client and most importantly human problems.

The Relativity of Wrong, by Isaac Asimov

In every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong.

The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong. However, I don't think that's so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts.

A very interesting thought which reminds me very much of a short poem by Piet Hein: The road to wisdom? — Well, it's plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again but less and less and less.

Known Unknowns, by James Bridle

Technology does not emerge from a vacuum; it is the reification of the beliefs and desires of its creators. It is assembled from ideas and fantasies developed through evolution and culture, pedagogy and debate, endlessly entangled and enfolded. The belief in an objective schism between technology and the world is nonsense, and one that has very real outcomes.

Cooperation between human and machine turns out to be a more potent strategy than trusting to the computer alone.

This strategy of cooperation, drawing on the respective skills of human and machine rather than pitting one against the other, may be our only hope for surviving life among machines whose thought processes are unknowable to us. Nonhuman intelligence is a reality—it is rapidly outstripping human performance in many disciplines, and the results stand to be catastrophically destructive to our working lives. These technologies are becoming ubiquitous in everyday devices, and we do not have the option of retreating from or renouncing them. We cannot opt out of contemporary technology any more than we can reject our neighbors in society; we are all entangled.

As we envision, plan and build technology, a human bias will always be part of it. We can't just pass our responsibility to technology and bury our head in the sand. The question we should and have to pose ourselves is be a different one. How can we use and leverage technology as a tool, as ways to augment ourselves to do things that were previously impossible? I think collaboration and cooperation might be an answer.

summing up 101

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The "Space" of Computing, by Weiwei Hsu

Today, we have been building and investing so much of our time into the digital world and we have forgotten to take a step back and take a look at the larger picture. Not only do we waste other people's time by making them addicted to this device world, we have also created a lot of waste in the real world. At the same time we're drowning in piles and piles of information because we never took the time to architect a system that enable us in navigating through them. We're trapped in these rectangular screens and we have often forgotten how to interact with the real world, with real humans. We have been building and hustling - but hey, we can also slow down and rethink how we want to dwell in both the physical world and the digital world.

At some point in the future we will leave this world and what we'll leave behind are spaces and lifestyles that we've shaped for our grandchildren. So I would like to invite you to think about what do we want to leave behind, as we continue to build both digitally and physically. Can we be more intentional so that we shape and leave behind a more humane environment?

What we use a computer for on a daily basis, is only a small part of what a computer could offer us. Instead, most of our conversation evolves around hypes and trending technological topics. What we desperately need is to take a step back, and figure out ways of thinking to tackle complex problems in a ever more complex world.

Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning, by Stewart Brand

Fast learns, slow remembers. Fast proposes, slow disposes. Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous. Fast and small instructs slow and big by accrued innovation and by occasional revolution. Slow and big controls small and fast by constraint and constancy.  Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power.

All durable dynamic systems have this sort of structure. It is what makes them adaptable and robust.

The total effect of the pace layers is that they provide a many-leveled corrective, stabilizing feedback throughout the system.  It is precisely in the apparent contradictions between the pace layers that civilization finds its surest health.

We're too often thinking about the superficial, the fast, the shallow. And that is not necessarily a bad thing - but it will easily become if it's the only thing we do. This concept is one of those that, once your brain has been exposed, you start seeing everywhere.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral, by Mike Caulfield

I find it hard to communicate with a lot of technologists anymore. It’s like trying to explain literature to someone who has never read a book. You’re asked “So basically a book is just words someone said written down?” And you say no, it’s more than that. But how is it more than that?

I am going to make the argument that the predominant form of the social web — that amalgam of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, forums, Reddit, Instagram — is an impoverished model for learning and research and that our survival as a species depends on us getting past the sweet, salty fat of “the web as conversation” and on to something more timeless, integrative, iterative, something less personal and less self-assertive, something more solitary yet more connected. I don’t expect to convince many of you, but I’ll take what I can get.

We can imagine a world that is so much better than this one. And more importantly we can build it. But in order to do that we have to think bigger than the next hype, the next buzzword and the next press release. We have to seriously interrogate the assumptions that are hidden in plain sight.

summing up 100

Wow. After sharing and discussing close to a thousand (964 to be precise) articles, talks, essays, videos and links, my summing up column turns 100.

I originally started this series a little over five years ago to keep track on what I was reading. Little did I know then how much this effort helped me build up a large part of my expertise, methods, strategies and way of thinking. I'm also quite relieved that in all that time, nobody asked me about the swedish conspiracy.

To celebrate this somewhat special occasion, I want to deviate a bit from the usual format and highlight some key figures and favourite articles which impress me to this day.

Doug Engelbart, one of the fathers of personal computing, is definitely one of my personal heroes. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of developing technology to augment human intellect. He didn't see this as a technological problem though, but as a human problem, with technology falling out as part of a solution. His methods and models are brilliant and I rely heavily on them when working with clients.

When thinking about the future, you can't do it better than Alan Kay. Perhaps he is one of the best known computing visionaries still around today and his reasoning is spot on when it comes to invention, innovation and strategies how to succeed in a digital world.

Neil Postman is one of my favourite media critics and funnily enough was never categorically against technology. But he warned us vigorously to not be suspicious of technology. His predictions, cautions and propositions on how we become used by technology rather than make use of technology have been spot on so far – unfortunately.

There's often a thin line between madness and genius and Ted Nelson walks that line confidently. The original inventor of hypertext, internet pioneer and visionary saw the need for interconnected documents decades before the World Wide Web was born. And even now his vision is far from being complete – luckily the size of his ambition hasn't changed.

Bret Victor is one of the thinkers I respect most in our industry. His talks and essay have been highly influential to me. In the spirit of Doug Engelbart, Bret thinks deeply about how to create a new dynamic medium that shapes computing for the 21st century and allows us to see, understand and solve complex problems.

It's rare that I don't fall in love with talks by Maciej Cegłowski, talking mostly on the excesses and impacts of technology on society. His style of storytelling along with ingenious insights is just amazing.

Audrey Watters is mostly known for her prolific work on education technology issues and tech in general. The witty way she interrogates the stories about technology we tell ourselves – or have been told to us – is full of deep insight.

Finally for those of you who can't get enough, I had a hard time leaving these tidbits out – you're welcome: When We Build by Wilson Miner, Stephen Fry's The future of humanity and technology, Memento Product Mori: Of ethics in digital product design by Sebastian Deterding, The Web's Grain by Frank Chimero and last but not least John Cleese on Creativity In Management.

Thanks a lot for your continued support and feedback over the last years, it is heavily appreciated. You're very welcome to subscribe to this series and get it directly in your inbox along with some cool stuff that you won't find anywhere else on the site.

Lastly, if you have any feedback, critique, tips, ideas, comments or free bags of money, I'd be very glad to hear from you. Thank you.

summing up 99

summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Measuring Collective IQ, by Doug Engelbart

We have the opportunity to change our thinking and basic assumptions about the development of computing technologies. The emphasis on enhancing security and protecting turf often impedes our ability to solve problems collectively. If we can re-examine those assumptions and chart a different course, we can harness all the wonderful capability of the systems that we have today.

People often ask me how I would improve the current systems, but my response is that we first need to look at our underlying paradigms—because we need to co-evolve the new systems, and that requires new ways of thinking. It’s not just a matter of “doing things differently,” but thinking differently about how to approach the complexity of problem-solving today.

in a world where we've grown multiple orders of magnitude in our computing capacity, where we spend millions of dollars on newer, faster tools and technology, we put little emphasis on how we can augment human thinking and problem solving. and as doug says, it is not about thinking differently about these problems, it is thinking differently about our ability to to solve these problems.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Predicting the Future of AI, by Rodney Brooks

Suppose a person tells us that a particular photo is of people playing Frisbee in the park, then we naturally assume that they can answer questions like “what is the shape of a Frisbee?”, “roughly how far can a person throw a Frisbee?”, “can a person eat a Frisbee?”, “roughly how many people play Frisbee at once?”, “can a 3 month old person play Frisbee?”, “is today’s weather suitable for playing Frisbee?”. Today’s image labelling systems that routinely give correct labels, like “people playing Frisbee in a park” to online photos, have no chance of answering those questions. Besides the fact that all they can do is label more images and can not answer questions at all, they have no idea what a person is, that parks are usually outside, that people have ages, that weather is anything more than how it makes a photo look, etc., etc.

Here is what goes wrong. People hear that some robot or some AI system has performed some task. They then take the generalization from that performance to a general competence that a person performing that same task could be expected to have. And they apply that generalization to the robot or AI system.

Today’s robots and AI systems are incredibly narrow in what they can do. Human style generalizations just do not apply. People who do make these generalizations get things very, very wrong.

we are surrounded my hysteria about artificial intelligence, mistaken extrapolations, limited imagination any many more mistakes that distract us from thinking productively about the future. whether or not ai succeeds in the long term, it will nevertheless be developed and used with uncompromising efforts – regardless of any consequences.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Augment Human Intelligence, by Shan Carter and Michael Nielsen

Unfortunately, many in the AI community greatly underestimate the depth of interface design, often regarding it as a simple problem, mostly about making things pretty or easy-to-use. In this view, interface design is a problem to be handed off to others, while the hard work is to train some machine learning system.

This view is incorrect. At its deepest, interface design means developing the fundamental primitives human beings think and create with. This is a problem whose intellectual genesis goes back to the inventors of the alphabet, of cartography, and of musical notation, as well as modern giants such as Descartes, Playfair, Feynman, Engelbart, and Kay. It is one of the hardest, most important and most fundamental problems humanity grapples with.

the speed, performance or productivity of computers are mostly red herrings. the main problem is how we can leverage the computer as a tool. in different words, how can we use the computer to augment ourselves to do things that were previously impossible?



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