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1. “Acting locally morally can become globally immoral”
Talking to Animals with Aza Raskin – Simon Sinek – (Podcast)
The title of the episode refers to the first half, where Sinek and Raskin discuss the use of AI to further understand how animals communicate with one-another. It’s fascinating in its own right, but what piqued my interest came as the topics diverged into other realms.
Raskin is the inventor of “infinite scroll”, and Sinek asked if he’d regretted it, since it’s become so fundamental to how we consume, and over consume, things like social media.
It’s just objectively a better interface as long as it’s being used in your service. Yes. What I was blind to is that making it better for you locally when it’s you who are driving the thing, is very different than when it gets picked up by the machine, which is the attention economy and social media.
The takeaway here is that it’s often difficult to project how solutions, even simple solutions, will be used and/or exploited once they migrate beyond their origin. And, as Raskin mentions, someone would have invented infinite scroll if he hadn’t.
It’s an interesting episode covering several interesting topics, and even tying them all together in several ways. Well worth the 47 minutes.
Do this: Remember that all solutions are just tools, and like all tools, there’s a potential for misuse.
2. “It’s actually quite hard to write verbal descriptions of tasks, even for people to follow.”
Will AI Render Programming Obsolete? – Michael L. Littman – (MIT Press Reader)
There’s a lot of hype around AI right now, and one place it’s focused on is the possibility it will do away with computer programmers. I discussed this briefly in a recent podcast episode, but I’m not worried. The biggest reason is simply my headline above, and this:
Generative AI could help express your desired behaviors more directly in a form that typical computers can carry out. But it can’t pick the goal for you.
Someone still has to tell the computer what to do, and to do so in a way that it’ll actually do what’s intended. Regardless of the language — assembly, FORTRAN, Python, or English — that remains an incredibly important skill.
Programmers won’t go away, but the tools they use will almost certainly change. As has always been the case.
Do this: It’s amazing stuff, but still, be realistic about the AI hype.
3. “Auditory wishful thinking”
Why Randomness Doesn’t Feel Random – Evan Nesterak – (Behavioral Scientist)
The author uses the heading above referring to “pareidolia”, where a person hears things that aren’t really there, such as messages encoded in music played backwards. It’s a subset of:
“apophenia”, in which people mistakenly perceive connections between and ascribe meaning to unrelated events or objects. Apophenia’s misconstrued connections lead us to validate incorrect hypotheses and draw illogical conclusions
In other words, we’re terrible at noticing and accepting random events, and will go out of our way to ascribe meaning and structure to the meaningless and structureless. The result? Mistakes, bad decisions, conspiracy theories, and worse.
Do this: Accept that some things are just random.
4. “Social media has made moralizing a sport”
3 Hard Truths You Need to Hear – Mark Manson – (Blog)
All three are good, but it’s the second one that got my attention: “Most People Aren’t Evil, Just Stupid (Including You)”. He even uses one quote I find most valuable, Hanlon’s razor:
Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.
We attribute so much malice, particularly when we feel we’ve been “done wrong”. And yet it’s typically stupidity, or simple ignorance, that’s the actual cause.
Do this: Be kind. (Truth #3, sort of.)
5. “We are quick to take things for granted”
How to Be Thankful for Your Life with One Simple Reset – Lawrence Yeo – (More to That blog)
This week saw the usual number of Thanksgiving-related posts and essays. I like this one from a couple of years ago. Yeo presents a thought exercise to help us step out of the daily routine and realize how much we have to be grateful for.
Imagine if everything you had was inexplicably stripped out from underneath you. Your family, your friends, your health, everything.
Everything. It’s kinda sobering, but effective at making us realize just what “everything” really entails.
Do this: Be thankful, and not just once a year.
6. “Seriously, people lived without it?”
Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes – Morgan Housel – (ebook)
In an essay titled “It always feels like we’re falling behind, and it’s easy to discount the potential of new technology.” Housel discusses ranging from “I’ve never heard of it” to “Seriously, people lived without it?” (which is, sadly, often followed by “It’s too powerful and needs to be regulated”).
The value of every new technology is not just what it can do; it’s what someone else with a totally different skill set and point of view can eventually manipulate it into.
Thoughts of AI went through my head as I read it. It seems on a fast-track that I know concerns many people. I just find it fascinating, and look forward to what it can become and how it can be used.
Do this: Remember that most of what you take for granted today didn’t even exist for prior generations. Yes, seriously, people lived without it.
7. “All I was missing was endless partisan bickering”
3 Things I Gave Up That Greatly Improved My Life – John P. Weiss – (Medium)
The tightly controlled echo chamber that is cable news is perhaps the single worst way to try to stay informed about current events, no matter your political leanings.
Cable news and opinion shows are designed to suck you in, much like social media. You put up with the banal, relentless commercials because you can’t wait to watch the next breaking segment.
While it feels like we should stay on top of the events going on around us and in the world, a) we don’t need to bathe in it, and b) there are better, more thoughtful alternatives. Weiss points out the time he can use more productively by avoiding cable news. I’d focus on the mental health issues as well.
Do this: Choose your sources wisely, and realize you probably don’t need to spend as much time staying “informed” as you think.
More random links & thoughts
- What The Longest-Running Study on Happiness Reveals – Veritasium, on YouTube
Full list on the sources page.
What I’m Reading
- What Life Should Be About: Elegant Essays on the Things That Matter – John P. Weiss
- Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes – Morgan Housel
- Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson (audio)
- It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis
- The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity – Ryan Holiday, Stephen Hanselman
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