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.


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