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.

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