Vargas Llosa tells me he is starting a new novel, and I wonder if he will ever stop writing, as Philip Roth did as he approached 80. “Writing is what I do. It is my life,” he replies immediately. “To be alive but dead is the worst possible thing, although it happens to many people.” Vargas Llosa then bows his head low to the table in a gesture of the abundant grace and humanity that I had not expected to see two hours earlier. “In fact, I hope to die writing.”
John Paul Rathbone in the FT
“he rose because of the widespread but baseless hunch that people with little outward charisma must possess great depth by way of cosmic balance.”
As anyone who has worked in a large organisation knows, people who are put in charge of a complex activity that would be better left alone, never do nothing; they seek to justify their existence by simplifying and restricting that activity so that it can be controlled.
This article (‘Humans may not always grasp why AIs act’) in the Economist gets to the right answer, but by way of a silly example involving brain scanning. The issue is that people are alarmed that that it may not be possible to understand how AI might come to a certain decision. The article rightly points out that we have the same problem with humans. This issue looms large in medicine where many clinicians believe they can always explain to students how they come to the correct answer. The following is one of my favourite Geoff Norman quotes:
Furthermore, diagnostic success may be a result of processes that can never be described by the clinician. If the right diagnosis arises from pattern recognition, clinicians are unlikely to be able to tell you why they thought the patient had gout, any more than we can say how we recognize that the person on the street corner is our son. Bowen claims that “strong diagnosticians can generally readily expand on their thinking”; I believe, instead, that strong diagnosticians can tell a credible story about how they might have been thinking, but no one, themselves included, can really be sure that it is an accurate depiction.
We are Strangers to Ourselves, as Timothy Wilson put it.
The result, he says, is not only a meek student population but also “the biggest Ponzi scheme in British history” – a comparison famously made by Theresa May’s former adviser Nick Timothy.
“The great thing about a Ponzi scheme”, Professor Sutherland continued, “is that you can keep expanding it.”
(All the way to jail, some might say).
“People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.”
Pedro Domingos, The Master Algorithm1, (2015)
via John Naughton
“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
”Davos specialises in projecting a future from a recent past that took it by surprise,” Edward Luce quoting himself
This reminds me of a proof of calculus I learned all those years ago: infinitesimals, and all that.
The endless concern about stamps of approval and achievement distorts education and can even rob an interesting career of its joys. A professor friend introducing students at an East Coast college to Beethoven was greeted with a dead-eyed question from the back of the class: ‘Excuse me professor, will this be in the test?
“For example, I studied Physics, so I learned about how physicists think… and it is not how most people think. They have these tricks which turn difficult problems into far easier problems. The main lesson I took away from Physics is that you can often take an impossibly hard problem and simply represent it differently. By doing so, you turn something that would take forever to solve into something that is accessible to smart teenagers.”
But the opposite is now much more common. I think there are whole swathes of modern institutional and corporate life, that are designed to make the simple, complicated. At best, simple may sometimes be wrong, but complicated is usually useless — or much worse. I seem to remember Paul Jannsen, when asked why we do not seem to be able to discover revolutionary new drugs like we once did, respond: ‘in those days the idea of obviousness still existed’.
When asked why he had made so few films—thirteen features over a period of forty years—Robert Bresson invariably answered that it was hard to get funding for the sort of work he wanted to do. “Money,” he memorably said, “likes to know everything in advance.”
Science fiction writer William Gibson coined the phrase, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” It’s a well-known and oft-repeated line.
I’m proposing a slight variation, or perhaps a corollary principle:
The dystopia is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.
The finite speed of light ensures that no bureaucratic authority can be effective over large distances.
I am happy to hear views contrary to my own. I hope there will always be clashes of cultures. I hope there will always be Malvolios to engage Sir Toby’s wits. With thanks to my critics.
“In the harshest single sentence of an otherwise gentlemanly book, he calls the French educational system “a vast insider-trading crime”.
Seems a nice term of phrase for what the academy might once have been (and still should be). But I guess the the definition of the Fourth Estate in a networked world is broad.
[Barry] John ran in another dimension of time and space. His opponents ran into the glass walls which covered his escape routes from their bewildered clutches
He is one of 10 case studies in Black Tudors, an enlightening and constantly surprising book about the men and women of African origin who found themselves on a cold island on the fringe of Europe amid a pale and pockmarked people.
“Whenever a company decides it’s ok to screw its suppliers, its customers, or its employees, it is only a matter of time until it gets around to screwing all 3 groups. That is because the idea that screwing people is ok becomes the corporate mindset.”
Comment by Howard on I, Cringely
This was a comment on on the political question of our time by Janesh Ganash in the FT, but to me it has a wider relevance, including how we think about higher education. Of course, people will keep perseverating, believing the contrary.
There is no human resources solution to an ideological problem.
Education is an admirable thing,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
I now add the phrase “learning outcomes” to the list of words and phrases that should never be used, along with “stakeholders,” “imbricate,” “aporia” and “performative.”)
It was not deliberate policy; it simply seemed to be only men who applied, usually refugees from the twin miseries of academia: low salaries and high tables.
Ah, those were the days…
The Fear Index, Robert Harris
When you ask me that question I am gonna revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time? As you stand there with a picture of the President defaced to look like Hitler, and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is, as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table: I have no interest in doing it.
Barney Frank, in response to questioner at a town-meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, broadcast on CNN (18 August 2009).
Just last week, when faced with a report that its advertising numbers promised an American audience that, in certain demographics, well exceeded the number of such humans in existence, judging by U.S. Census Bureau numbers, Facebook told the Wall Street Journal that its numbers “are not designed to match population or census estimates. We are always working to improve our estimates.” Facebook’s intercourse with the public need not adhere to the so-called norms of so-called reality.
It’s almost vanishingly rare that we pick a new device that we always have with us,” the historian of mobile technology Jon Agar says. “Clothes—a Paleolithic thing? Glasses? And a phone. The list is tiny.
In 2014, Wall Street analysts attempted to identify the world’s most profitable product, and the iPhone landed in the top slot—right above Marlboro cigarettes. The iPhone is more profitable than a relentlessly marketed drug that physically addicts its customers.
The One Device, Brian Merchant
There’s a great line in Beckett,” she says, searching for a quote to capture this equipoise of light and dark. “I can’t remember who says it. ‘You’re on Earth. There’s no cure for that.’ There’s as much common sense in that as in all of Sophocles or Socrates or anyone else.”
Feels like it too.
“What we see unfolding right before our eyes is nothing less than Moore’s Law applied to the distribution of misinformation: an exponential growth of available technology coupled with a rapid collapse of costs.”
“In a profession that is all about untapping individual potential, increasingly impersonal corporatism hangs like a dark cloud”
”There are the cohorts of bureaucrats in every university making a living out of keeping score of publications and citations, manipulating the impact of papers and producing empty marketing verbiage extolling the supposed research excellence of their institutions.”
“Fortunately, Bowie’s schooling didn’t interfere with his education.”