Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto — No.48

We need to teach our children to read, and to enjoy reading.
We need libraries.
We need books.
We need literate citizens.

— Neil Gaiman (see Miscellany, which is the “books section” today)

Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto

The MIT Media Lab director, Joichi Ito, proposing an interesting vision for the future. Contrasting the “religion” of the Singularity with a more nature inspired view of the many interlocking systems of our world and how we can approach the new technologies and systems we bring into the mix. To be reflected on for the “extended intelligence” framing, as well as the idea of currencies in biology, the current currencies of our society, and replacing them with more “nourishing” ones. He also ends with the idea that these principles and currencies could spread like music, through culture.

Values and complexity are focused more and more on prioritizing exponential financial growth, led by for-profit corporate entities that have gained autonomy, rights, power, and nearly unregulated societal influence. […]

In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. In other words, we are participants in multiple evolutionary systems with different fitness landscapes at different scales, from our microbes to our individual identities to society and our species. Individuals themselves are systems composed of systems of systems, such as the cells in our bodies that behave more like system-level designers than we do. […]

Instead of thinking about machine intelligence in terms of humans vs. machines, we should consider the system that integrates humans and machines—not artificial intelligence, but extended intelligence. Instead of trying to control or design or even understand systems, it is more important to design systems that participate as responsible, aware and robust elements of even more complex systems. […]

Developing a sensibility and a culture of flourishing, and embracing a diverse array of measures of “success” depend less on the accumulation of power and resources and more on diversity and the richness of experience. […]

Tesla, software and disruption

Ben Evans taking a pretty thorough look at the different pieces of the electric car puzzle that Tesla (and others) could use to disrupt parts of the industry, and benefit from “winner take all” dynamics. His conclusion is that it’s not a given that there’s even the possibility of such a disruption, except perhaps in the self-driving aspect and even there, Google’s Waymo could get there first.

Being first is not the same as having a sustainable competitive advantage, no matter how disruptive you are, and the advantage might be somewhere else. […]

Much of this is probably going to change. We will go from complex cars with simple software to simple cars with complex software. Instead of many stand-alone embedded systems each doing one thing, we’ll have cheap dumb sensors and actuators controlled by software on a single central control board, running some sort of operating system, with many different threads (there are a few candidates). This is partly driven by electric, but becomes essential for autonomy. […]

[I]t’s entirely possible that Waymo, or someone else, gets autonomy to work in 202x with a $1000 or $2000 LIDAR and vision sensor suite and Tesla still doesn’t have it working with vision alone.

✕ Tech

Welcome to the metadata society — and beware

What if the metadata of our lives was used to determine how populations are feeling and trending, to then affect their behaviour through the information they are shown? In a way controlling said population. Points for mentioning Asimov’s Foundation series with mathematician Hari Seldon’s fictitious science of Psychohistory.

With metadata, new forms of biopolitical control could be used to establish mass and behavioural control, such as online activities in social media channels or passenger flows in public transport. […]

The accumulation of figures and numbers through the information society has reached a point where they become a space and create a new topology. […]

What is threatening about this algorithmic regulation is not only the subtlety of control that takes place somewhere in the opaque machine rooms of private corporations, but that a techno-authoritarian political mode could be installed, in which the masses would be a politico-physical quantity. Only what has a mass of data has weight in the political discourse. […]

An Economy of Desire

Since there is, for all intents and purposes, no scarcity with digital goods the “information market” (internet) offers an unending buffet of desires, never reaching the equilibrium that scarce markets reach. This is mostly a slightly different angle on things we’ve known for a while but worth a spin in our current context.

Now, ideas that were once considered heretical can find an audience on the internet because it costs nothing to do so. […]

If what Chomsky describes is true, then the smart way to do the opposite— agitate the masses and create conflict—is to the make the spectrum of acceptable opinion infinitely broad, but allow little to no debate within the pockets on that spectrum. The internet is extraordinarily adept at doing this. […]

This is the internet in a nutshell: a massive flywheel equipped with the tools to distill our behaviors into an understanding of our desires, and then return those desires back to us in the form of virtual content.

Why work is exhausting even when it involves no physical labor

Somewhat related to desires above, this one cites a few research papers that seem to indicate that we don’t burn a lot of energy when doing intensive work with our brains. The fatigue we sense has to do with losing motivation and being surrounded by too many temptations (hello internet!).

Instead, they found this small correlation: The nurses who were least likely to feel fatigued from their work also felt the most in control of their work, and the most rewarded for it. These feelings may have boosted their motivation, which may have boosted their perception of having energy.

✕ Milieu

Public Transport Can Be Free

Basically; from a purely public transport authority point of view, FFPT (fare-free public transport) doesn’t make sense. From a city wide and societal point of view, there are great benefits and nearly a hundred cities are currently using such a policy.

“For Judith Dellheim, a researcher at Rosa-Luxemburg Stiftung in Berlin, providing free access to public transport is the “first step towards socio-ecological transformation.” For Michiel Van Hulten, one of the earliest proponents of free public transport in Europe, “it is about returning to the commons.” Finally, according to Naomi Klein, this is precisely what cities around the world should be doing —“to really respond to the urgency of climate change, public transport would have to become free.” […]

Public transport is thus imagined not as a commodity, but as a “common good” — similar to many other public services such as health care, education, parks, roads, sidewalks, cycling paths, streetlights and lampposts, libraries, schools, kindergartens, or playgrounds.


✕ Miscellany

Reading with a pencil

Great short article by Austin Kleon on marginalia, including some excellent examples of the practice taken from Oliver Sacks’ library. Found via this post by Doug Belshaw, his blogging itself is very much like marginalia.

I believe that the first step towards becoming a writer is becoming a reader, but the next step is becoming a reader with a pencil. When you underline and circle and jot down your questions and argue in the margins, you’re existing in this interesting middle ground between reader and writer. […]

I love this idea of marginalia as a way to turn a book into a medium for conversation — a kind of literary note-passing.

??? Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell on why we need libraries – an essay in pictures

It’s a great mystery of my life that I didn’t end up a librarian or bookstore owner.

Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education, about entertainment, about making safe spaces and about access to information. […]

A library is a place of safety, a haven from the world. It’s a place with librarians in it. […]

If you do not value libraries you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.