summing up 95

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.

Legends of the Ancient Web, by Maciej Cegłowski

Radio brought music into hospitals and nursing homes, it eased the profound isolation of rural life, it let people hear directly from their elected representatives. It brought laugher and entertainment into every parlor, saved lives at sea, gave people weather forecasts for the first time.

But radio waves are just oscillating electromagnetic fields. They really don't care how we use them. All they want is to go places at the speed of light. It is hard to accept that good people, working on technology that benefits so many, with nothing but good intentions, could end up building a powerful tool for the wicked. But we can't afford to re-learn this lesson every time.

Technology interacts with human nature in complicated ways, and part of human nature is to seek power over others, and manipulate them. Technology concentrates power. We have to assume the new technologies we invent will concentrate power, too. There is always a gap between mass adoption and the first skillful political use of a medium. With the Internet, we are crossing that gap right now.

only those who know nothing about technological history believe that technology is entirely neutral. it has always a bias towards being used in certain ways and not others. a great comparison to what we're facing now with the internet.

Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear, by Ted Chiang

In psychology, the term “insight” is used to describe a recognition of one’s own condition, such as when a person with mental illness is aware of their illness. More broadly, it describes the ability to recognize patterns in one’s own behavior. It’s an example of metacognition, or thinking about one’s own thinking, and it’s something most humans are capable of but animals are not. And I believe the best test of whether an AI is really engaging in human-level cognition would be for it to demonstrate insight of this kind.

I used to find it odd that these hypothetical AIs were supposed to be smart enough to solve problems that no human could, yet they were incapable of doing something most every adult has done: taking a step back and asking whether their current course of action is really a good idea. Then I realized that we are already surrounded by machines that demonstrate a complete lack of insight, we just call them corporations. Corporations don’t operate autonomously, of course, and the humans in charge of them are presumably capable of insight, but capitalism doesn’t reward them for using it. On the contrary, capitalism actively erodes this capacity in people by demanding that they replace their own judgment of what “good” means with “whatever the market decides.”

the problem is this: if you're never exposed to new ideas and contexts, if you grow up only being shown one way of thinking about businesses & technology and being told that there are no other ways to think about this, you grow up thinking you know what we're doing.

The resource leak bug of our civilization, by Ville-Matias Heikkilä

When people try to explain the wastefulness of today's computing, they commonly offer something I call "tradeoff hypothesis". According to this hypothesis, the wastefulness of software would be compensated by flexibility, reliability, maintability, and perhaps most importantly, cheap programming work.

I used to believe in the tradeoff hypothesis as well. However, during recent years, I have become increasingly convinced that the portion of true tradeoff is quite marginal. An ever-increasing portion of the waste comes from abstraction clutter that serves no purpose in final runtime code. Most of this clutter could be eliminated with more thoughtful tools and methods without any sacrifices.

we too often seem to adjust to the limitations of technology, instead of creating solutions for a problem with the help of technology.

summing up 94

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.

Some excerpts from recent Alan Kay emails

Socrates didn't charge for "education" because when you are in business, the "customer starts to become right". Whereas in education, the customer is generally "not right". Marketeers are catering to what people want, educators are trying to deal with what they think people need (and this is often not at all what they want).

Another perspective is to note that one of the human genetic "built-ins" is "hunting and gathering" – this requires resources to "be around", and is essentially incremental in nature. It is not too much of an exaggeration to point out that most businesses are very like hunting-and-gathering processes, and think of their surrounds as resources put there by god or nature for them. Most don't think of the resources in our centuries as actually part of a human-made garden via inventions and cooperation, and that the garden has to be maintained and renewed.

these thoughts are a pure gold mine. a fundamental problem for most businesses is that one cannot innovate under business objectives and one cannot accomplish business objectives under innovation. ideally, you need both, but not at the same time.

How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day, by Tristan Harris

When we talk about technology, we tend to talk about it as this blue sky opportunity. It could go any direction. And I want to get serious for a moment and tell you why it's going in a very specific direction. Because it's not evolving randomly. There's a hidden goal driving the direction of all of the technology we make, and that goal is the race for our attention. Because every new site or app has to compete for one thing, which is our attention, and there's only so much of it. And the best way to get people's attention is to know how someone's mind works.

A simple example is YouTube. YouTube wants to maximize how much time you spend. And so what do they do? They autoplay the next video. And let's say that works really well. They're getting a little bit more of people's time. Well, if you're Netflix, you look at that and say, well, that's shrinking my market share, so I'm going to autoplay the next episode. But then if you're Facebook, you say, that's shrinking all of my market share, so now I have to autoplay all the videos in the newsfeed before waiting for you to click play. So the internet is not evolving at random. The reason it feels like it's sucking us in the way it is is because of this race for attention. We know where this is going. Technology is not neutral, and it becomes this race to the bottom of the brain stem of who can go lower to get it.

we always seem to have the notion that technology is always good. but that is simply not the case. every technology is always both a burden and a blessing. not either or, but this and that.

The world is not a desktop, by Mark Weiser

The idea, as near as I can tell, is that the ideal computer should be like a human being, only more obedient. Anything so insidiously appealing should immediately give pause. Why should a computer be anything like a human being? Are airplanes like birds, typewriters like pens, alphabets like mouths, cars like horses? Are human interactions so free of trouble, misunderstanding, and ambiguity that they represent a desirable computer interface goal? Further, it takes a lot of time and attention to build and maintain a smoothly running team of people, even a pair of people. A computer I need to talk to, give commands to, or have a relationship with (much less be intimate with), is a computer that is too much the center of attention.

in a world where computers increasingly become human, they inevitably will become the center of attention. the exact opposite of what they should be: invisible and helping to focus our attention to ourselves and the people we live with.

summing up 93

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 future of humanity and technology, by Stephen Fry

Above all, be prepared for the bullshit, as AI is lazily and inaccurately claimed by every advertising agency and app developer. Companies will make nonsensical claims like "our unique and advanced proprietary AI system will monitor and enhance your sleep" or "let our unique AI engine maximize the value of your stock holdings". Yesterday they would have said "our unique and advanced proprietary algorithms" and the day before that they would have said "our unique and advanced proprietary code". But let's face it, they're almost always talking about the most basic software routines. The letters A and I will become degraded and devalued by overuse in every field in which humans work. Coffee machines, light switches, christmas trees will be marketed as AI proficient, AI savvy or AI enabled. But despite this inevitable opportunistic nonsense, reality will bite.

If we thought the Pandora's jar that ruined the utopian dream of the internet contained nasty creatures, just wait till AI has been overrun by the malicious, the greedy, the stupid and the maniacal. We sleepwalked into the internet age and we're now going to sleepwalk into the age of machine intelligence and biological enhancement. How do we make sense of so much futurology screaming in our ears?

Perhaps the most urgent need might seem counterintuitive. While the specialist bodies and institutions I've mentioned are necessary we need surely to redouble our efforts to understand who we humans are before we can begin to grapple with the nature of what machines may or may not be. So the arts and humanities strike me as more important than ever. Because the more machines rise, the more time we will have to be human and fulfill and develop to their uttermost, our true natures.

an outstanding lecture exploring the impact of technology on humanity by looking back at human history in order to understand the present and the future.

We're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads, by Zeynep Tufekci

We use digital platforms because they provide us with great value. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family around the world. I've written about how crucial social media is for social movements. I have studied how these technologies can be used to circumvent censorship around the world. But it's not that the people who run Facebook or Google are maliciously and deliberately trying to make the world more polarized and encourage extremism. I read the many well-intentioned statements that these people put out. But it's not the intent or the statements people in technology make that matter, it's the structures and business models they're building. And that's the core of the problem.

So what can we do? We need to restructure the whole way our digital technology operates. Everything from the way technology is developed to the way the incentives, economic and otherwise, are built into the system. We have to mobilize our technology, our creativity and yes, our politics so that we can build artificial intelligence that supports us in our human goals but that is also constrained by our human values. And I understand this won't be easy. We might not even easily agree on what those terms mean. But if we take seriously how these systems that we depend on for so much operate, I don't see how we can postpone this conversation anymore. We need a digital economy where our data and our attention is not for sale to the highest-bidding authoritarian or demagogue.

no new technology has only a one-sided effect. every technology is always both a burden and a blessing. not either or, but this and that. what bothers me is that we seem to ignore the negative impact of new technologies, justifying this attitude with their positive aspects.

the bullet hole misconception, by daniel g. siegel

If you're never exposed to new ideas and contexts, if you grow up only being shown one way of thinking about the computer and being told that there are no other ways to think about this, you grow up thinking you know what we're doing. We have already fleshed out all the details, improved and optimized everything a computer has to offer. We celebrate alleged innovation and then delegate picking up the broken pieces to society, because it's not our fault – we figured it out already.

We have to tell ourselves that we haven't the faintest idea of what we're doing. We, as a field, haven't the faintest idea of what we're doing. And we have to tell ourselves that everything around us was made up by people that were no smarter than us, so we can change, influence and build things that make a small dent in the universe.

And once we understand that, only then might we be able to do what the early fathers of computing dreamed about: To make humans better – with the help of computers.

the sequel to my previous talk, the lost medium, on bullet holes in world war 2 bombers, page numbering, rotating point of views and how we can escape the present to invent the future.

vdb17

with the modest success of my last year's talk the lost medium i was reinvited by the kind folks of voxxed days belgrade to delve into this topic a bit further. vdb17 was an amazing experience – again – being one of the biggest and most inspiring technology conferences in eastern europe with excellent speakers from all over the world and about 800+ attendees.

my previous talk focused a lot on the early days of personal computing, the ingenious ideas we lost over time and the notion that we're not really thinking about how we can use the medium computer to augment our human capabilities.

after delivering this talk however i had the feeling that i left out an important question: what now? how can we improve?

this was the base for my new talk, the bullet hole misconception, in which i'm exploring how we can escape the present to invent the future and what questions must we ask if we are to amplify our human capabilities with computers.

feel free to share it and if you have questions, feedback or critique i'd love to hear from you!

summing up 92

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.

Crapularity Hermeneutics, by Florian Cramer

The problem of computational analytics is not only in the semantic bias of the data set, but also in the design of the algorithm that treats the data as unbiased fact, and finally in the users of the computer program who believe in its scientific objectivity.

From capturing to reading data, interpretation and hermeneutics thus creep into all levels of analytics. Biases and discrimination are only the extreme cases that make this mechanism most clearly visible. Interpretation thus becomes a bug, a perceived system failure, rather than a feature or virtue. As such, it exposes the fragility and vulnerabilities of data analytics. 

The paradox of big data is that it both affirms and denies this “interpretative nature of knowledge”. Just like the Oracle of Delphi, it is dependent on interpretation. But unlike the oracle priests, its interpretative capability is limited by algorithmics – so that the limitations of the tool (and, ultimately, of using mathematics to process meaning) end up defining the limits of interpretation. 

we're talking a lot about the advancement of computational analytics and artificial intelligence, but little about their shortcomings and effects on society. one of those is that for our technology to work perfectly, society has to dumb itself down in order to level the playing field between humans and computers. a very long but definitely one of the best essays i read this year.

Resisting the Habits of the Algorithmic Mind, by Michael Sacasas

Machines have always done things for us, and they are increasingly doing things for us and without us. Increasingly, the human element is displaced in favor of faster, more efficient, more durable, cheaper technology. And, increasingly, the displaced human element is the thinking, willing, judging mind. Of course, the party of the concerned is most likely the minority party. Advocates and enthusiasts rejoice at the marginalization or eradication of human labor in its physical, mental, emotional, and moral manifestations. They believe that the elimination of all of this labor will yield freedom, prosperity, and a golden age of leisure. Critics meanwhile, and I count myself among them, struggle to articulate a compelling and reasonable critique of this scramble to outsource various dimensions of the human experience.

our reliance on machines to make decisions for us leads us to displace the most important human elements in favor of cheaper and faster technology. doing that however we outsource meaning-making, moral judgement and feeling – which is what a human being is – to machines.

Your Data is Being Manipulated, by Danah Boyd

The tech industry is no longer the passion play of a bunch of geeks trying to do cool shit in the world. It’s now the foundation of our democracy, economy, and information landscape.

We no longer have the luxury of only thinking about the world we want to build. We must also strategically think about how others want to manipulate our systems to do harm and cause chaos.

we're past the point where developing fancy new technologies is a fun project for college kids. our technologies have real implications on the world, on our culture and society. nevertheless we seem to miss a kind of moral framework on how technology is allowed to alter society.

summing up 91

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 Best Way to Predict the Future is to Issue a Press Release, by Audrey Watters

Some of us might adopt technology products quickly, to be sure. Some of us might eagerly buy every new Apple gadget that’s released. But we can’t claim that the pace of technological change is speeding up just because we personally go out and buy a new iPhone every time Apple tells us the old model is obsolete. Removing the headphone jack from the latest iPhone does not mean “technology changing faster than ever,” nor does showing how headphones have changed since the 1970s. None of this is really a reflection of the pace of change; it’s a reflection of our disposable income and a ideology of obsolescence.

Some economic historians like Robert J. Gordon actually contend that we’re not in a period of great technological innovation at all; instead, we find ourselves in a period of technological stagnation. The changes brought about by the development of information technologies in the last 40 years or so pale in comparison, Gordon argues, to those “great inventions” that powered massive economic growth and tremendous social change in the period from 1870 to 1970 – namely electricity, sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine, and mass communication. But that doesn’t jibe with “software is eating the world,” does it?

we are making computers in all forms available, but we're far away from generating new thoughts or breaking up thought patterns. instead of augmenting humans with the use of computers like imagined by the fathers of early personal computing, our computers have turned out to be mind-numbing consumption devices rather than a bicycle for the mind that steve jobs envisioned.

Eliminating the Human, by David Byrne

I have a theory that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has an unspoken overarching agenda. It has been about creating the possibility of a world with less human interaction. This tendency is, I suspect, not a bug—it’s a feature.

Human interaction is often perceived, from an engineer’s mind-set, as complicated, inefficient, noisy, and slow. Part of making something “frictionless” is getting the human part out of the way.

But our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals. We, as individuals, are inhabitants of networks; we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.

the computer claims sovereignty over the whole range of human experience, and supports its claim by showing that it “thinks” better than we can. the fundamental metaphorical message of the computer is that we become machines. our nature, our biology, our emotions and our spirituality become subjects of second order. but in order for this to work perfectly, society has to dumb itself down in order to level the playing field between humans and computers. what is most significant about this line of thinking is the dangerous reductionism it represents.

User Interface: A Personal View, by Alan Kay

The printing press was the dominant force that transformed the hermeneutic Middle Ages into our scientific society should not be taken too lightly–especially because the main point is that the press didn’t do it just by making books more available, it did it by changing the thought patterns of those who learned to read.

I had always thought of the computer as a tool, perhaps a vehicle–a much weaker conception. But if the personal computer is a truly new medium then the very use of it would actually change the thought patterns of an entire civilization. What kind of a thinker would you become if you grew up with an active simulator connected, not just to one point of view, but to all the points of view of the ages represented so they could be dynamically tried out and compared?

the tragic notion is that alan kay assumed people would be smart enough to try out and see different point of views. but in reality, people stick rigidly to the point of view they learned and consider all others to be only noise or worse.

summing up 90

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.

Memento Product Mori: Of ethics in digital product design, by Sebastian Deterding

Why especially for us in the digital industry – although we are automating away more and more and more of our work and we're becoming wealthier and wealthier by every measure – do we feel like we're more and more short of time, overwhelmed and overworked. Or to put the question differently: Do you remember when email was fun?

The weird hard truth is: this is us. We, the digital industry, the people that are working in it are the ones who make everything, everything in our environment and work life ever more connected, fast, smooth, compelling, addicting even. The fundamental ethical contradiction for us is that we, the very people who suffer the most and organize the most against digital acceleration, are the very ones who further it.

a great talk challenging us to reflect on the moral dimensions of our work, especially in the digital product world.

Driverless Ed-Tech: The History of the Future of Automation in Education, by Audrey Watters

“Put me out of a job.” “Put you out of a job.” “Put us all out of work.” We hear that a lot, with varying levels of glee and callousness and concern. “Robots are coming for your job.”

We hear it all the time. To be fair, of course, we have heard it, with varying frequency and urgency, for about 100 years now. “Robots are coming for your job.” And this time – this time – it’s for real.

I want to suggest that this is not entirely a technological proclamation. Robots don’t do anything they’re not programmed to do. They don’t have autonomy or agency or aspirations. Robots don’t just roll into the human resources department on their own accord, ready to outperform others. Robots don’t apply for jobs. Robots don’t “come for jobs.” Rather, business owners opt to automate rather than employ people. In other words, this refrain that “robots are coming for your job” is not so much a reflection of some tremendous breakthrough (or potential breakthrough) in automation, let alone artificial intelligence. Rather, it’s a proclamation about profits and politics. It’s a proclamation about labor and capital.

a brilliant essay on automation, algorithms and robots, and why the ai revolution isn't coming. not because the machines have taken over, but because the people who built them have.

Personal Dynamic Media, by Alan Kay & Adele Goldberg

“Devices” which variously store, retrieve, or manipulate information in the form of messages embedded in a medium have been in existence for thousands of years. People use them to communicate ideas and feelings both to others and back to themselves. Although thinking goes on in one’s head, external media serve to materialize thoughts and, through feedback, to augment the actual paths the thinking follows. Methods discovered in one medium provide metaphors which contribute new ways to think about notions in other media. For most of recorded history, the interactions of humans with their media have been primarily nonconversational and passive in the sense that marks on paper, paint on walls, even “motion” pictures and television, do not change in response to the viewer’s wishes.

Every message is, in one sense or another, a simulation of some idea. It may be representational or abstract. The essence of a medium is very much dependent on the way messages are embedded, changed, and viewed. Although digital computers were originally designed to do arithmetic computation, the ability to simulate the details of any descriptive model means that the computer, viewed as a medium itself, can be all other media if the embedding and viewing methods are sufficiently well provided. Moreover, this new “metamedium” is active—it can respond to queries and experiments—so that the messages may involve the learner in a two-way conversation. This property has never been available before except through the medium of an individual teacher. We think the implications are vast and compelling.

this great essay from 1977 reads so much like a description of what we do these days that it seems unexceptional – which makes it so exceptional. moreover however it thinks so much further – which also makes it quite sad to read.

archive

2017

summing up 89 summing up 88 summing up 87 summing up 86 razzle dazzle websites summing up 85 your business in munich podcast summing up 84 summing up 83 humane websites summing up 82

2016

websites are processes summing up 81 the lost medium - live summing up 80 my voxxed days belgrade talk summing up 79 summing up 78 summing up 77 on discoverability summing up 76 summing up 75 summing up 74 summing up 73 summing up 72 on ditching css frameworks and preprocessors summing up 71

2015

we really don't know how to compute the interactive web logic or biology on advice the gervais principle the psychology of pricing change of affiliation empowering kids to create the web we lost information entropy all my blogs are dead project managers, ducks, and dogs marking territory lego's 1981 ad campaign building a princess saving app summing up is dead, long live summing up summing up 70 summing up 69 summing up 68 sketchpad summing up 67

2014

the humane representation of thought summing up 66 summing up 65 networks without networks summing up 64 summing up 63 summing up 62 summing up 61 summing up 60 summing up 59 not just a label relaunch summing up 58 summing up 57 summing up 56 summing up 55 summing up 54 summing up 53 the help me help you dinner summing up 52 summing up 51 summing up 50 summing up 49 summing up 48 summing up 47 summing up 46 summing up 45 summing up 44 summing up 43 summing up 42 summing up 41 the internet regression summing up 40 summing up 39 hiring and firing for startups summing up 38 pencil and paper thinking big ideas summing up 37 summing up 36

2013

summing up 35 the future of computing summing up 34 summing up 33 summing up 32 summing up 31 summing up 30 summing up 29 summing up 28 summing up 27 luck summing up 26 summing up 25 summing up 24 summing up 23 summing up 22 summing up 21 the bullet hole misconception summing up 20 dear mr nokia summing up 19 some thoughts on the real world by one who glimpsed it and fled summing up 18 summing up 17 do not be a front rudder summing up 16 summing up 15 gnome outreach program yearbook 2013 summing up 14 on why removing features makes people unhappy summing up 13 summing up 12 summing up 11 quick tip for remembering names at, during and after meetings summing up 10 summing up 9 summing up 8 summing up 7 summing up 6 summing up 5 application specific passwords for dovecot summing up 4 summing up 3 summing up 2 summing up 1 jquery scramble plugin

2012

typical development processes of free and open source software projects the sane way of adding custom latex packages summer of code is over - a summary the gnome bazaar gnome outreach program yearbook 2012 that is all folks gnome release schedule

2011

creating beautiful graphics with pgfplots return of the travelling gnome missing in action gnome screencasts - take six gnome screencasts - take five gnome screencasts - take four gnome screencasts - take three gnome screencasts - take two gnome screencasts hdr photography cheese was taken over by the portuguese opw is over gnome video effects gallery

2010

gnome contacts our ideas new gpg key some cheese awesomeness some devdoc hackfest tidbits the retroscope holiday a whole bunch of news cheese three zero offline www gnome summer of code goes sailing munich meets gnome summer of code is on

2009

graduation yes cheese 3.0 head crash the new cheese tour announcing the zeitgeist hackfest 2009 do gnome do bu-bu-bu-burst mode i am still enjoying gcds gcds, soc and a hackfest i am not david siegel either recent improvements in cheese the awesome gnome summer of code director ideas triaging meeting happy birthday

2008

speckhackfest is over muine is dead, long live muine it runs like a german tank speck hack fest registration open a step closer to world domination announcing the speck hack fest 2008 getting ready for 2.24 awesomeness re: getting things done cimi is my hero for today we sometimes accidentally do something great dear lazyweb im wondering... about that april fools joke (2) about that april fools joke bye bye cheese easter eggs some title 10 days left... hey... out of unstable hell dingdong, parcel service bugzilla bingo 3.. 2.. 1.. blog post!

2007

our christmas present for the gnome people getting stable new pants for cheese photo booth. say cheese cheese! gnome-changelog contact me! so long, and thanks for the cheese congratulations! news from the v4l-land some quotes from yesterday this is for the ubuntu guys the hulk is out its not only my birthday soc - part2 soc - part1 summer, hooray! so right, so right wohoo! know vim new...