This week → Jia Tolentino on practicing the discipline of hope ⊗ Liminal space ⊗ Don’t ask if artificial intelligence is good or fair, ask how it shifts power ⊗ N.K. Jemisin on the City We Became ⊗ Facebook is out of control. If it were a country it would be North Korea
A year ago → China has started a grand experiment in AI education.
I’ve been slowly pondering the content of this newsletter; should I be a bit less eclectic? Focused on fewer topics? Which ones? Which aren’t drawing your attention? Which are must reads? Fewer quotes for each article? More? Longer “blurbs?” Shorter? Etc. Is there something that readers consider “my thing?” If you have opinions / feelings about any of this, I’d love to hear them in any level of detail.
In a weird twist of (non?) serendipity, I’ve seen Tolentino’s name and articles pop up and be raved about in recent years but somehow never got around to reading any. Shocking, I know. In this interview she shares some really smart, on point, and clearly presented opinions on what the pandemic has revealed, where the world is headed, on having kids, racism and inequality, and freedom. As usual, there are a few quotes below but I felt like highlighting the whole thing.
That capitalist individualism has turned into a death cult; that the internet is a weak substitute for physical presence; that this country criminally undervalues its most important people and its most important forms of labor; that we’re incentivized through online mechanisms to value the representation of something (like justice) over the thing itself; that most of us hold more unknown potential, more negative capability, than we’re accustomed to accessing; that the material conditions of life in America are constructed and maintained by those best set up to exploit them; and that the way we live is not inevitable at all. […]
Melted permafrost, dead coral reefs, no more birds, whales engorged with plastic, much of the world’s population living as refugees from one thing or another, permanently disturbed weather, semi-constant natural disaster, cause and effect disrupted for all but the wealthiest—scarcity increasing the rationale for selfishness rather than for cooperation, and also Twitter still exists. […]
I don’t think the future is going to be good. I don’t think there’s an ethical justification for having kids in a world that’s accelerating in these directions. But I am committed to the idea that the world can be better, and I have some amount of faith that being human, being able to love, is still an untouchably and unpredictably generative thing—worthwhile, across unknown contexts, in and of itself. […]
But on an individual level, I’ve been thinking about what it means to normalize the everyday surrendering of advantage—to put an ideology of equality in practice at a time when it’s obvious that voting once a year or whatever is not going to be enough. […]
I’m also suspicious of the way that Not Being Racist is a project that people seem to be approaching like boot camp. To deepen your understanding of race, of this country, should make you feel like the world is opening up, like you’re dissolving into the immensity of history and the present rather than being more uncomfortably visible to yourself.
This piece by Devon Powers—adjacent to Tolentino’s above—is on the liminal space of the quarantine, in which the only certainty offered is contradiction. Also on “the triumph of humanity above a human” and on this understanding of being dependent on each other in a complex world / situation, and the need to stay with that understanding after the quarantine.
It is a privilege to say that quarantine changed everything. In the prison and the sanctuary church, on the street corners where people beg or score, quarantine was the same tune in a different, flatter key. Quarantine deepened the wound and underscored the neglect. […]
Quarantine reminded us that as much as we might care to, we cannot get along without each other. Everyone is connected. It took the solitude of quarantine to remember that we are the connection, we are the guts of the network, who will live and die as one. […]
In a way, quarantine marks the triumph of humanity above a human — that survival of the former might mean inconvenience, suffering, or even demise of the latter. […]
The most radical gesture, then, may not be to emerge from quarantine but to figure out how to persist within it, always. To appreciate complexity, to acknowledge hardship, to wonder why things are what they are and whether they must always be so. (They mustn’t.)
Great short piece on reframing the conversation about ethics around AI, why using “fair” and “transparent” is unreliably interpreted, how these discussions have (so far) lead the field of AI to believe it is neutral, yet it “both fails to notice biased data and builds systems that sanctify the status quo and advance the interests of the powerful.” More generally, Kalluri wants the discussions to be framed around how/when/if AI shifts power and to integrate in its development every community who would lose power or suffer more focused attention through these tools.
Researchers should listen to, amplify, cite and collaborate with communities that have borne the brunt of surveillance: often women, people who are Black, Indigenous, LGBT+, poor or disabled. […]
The group is inspired by Black feminist scholar Angela Davis’s observation that “radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root’”, and that the root problem is that power is distributed unevenly. […]
Researchers in AI overwhelmingly focus on providing highly accurate information to decision makers. Remarkably little research focuses on serving data subjects. What’s needed are ways for these people to investigate AI, to contest it, to influence it or to even dismantle it. […]
Through the lens of power, it’s possible to see why accurate, generalizable and efficient AI systems are not good for everyone. In the hands of exploitative companies or oppressive law enforcement, a more accurate facial recognition system is harmful.
Interview with the talented and multi Hugo Awards winning N.K. Jemisin on her most recent book which happens to feature an alien force which spreads in New York like a virus, and the embodiment of each boroughs created to fight this force. Jemisin explains how she created those characters to reflect the uniqueness and multiple facets of each neighbourhood, and talks about the twin forces of gentrification and white supremacy.
Enough human beings occupy one space, tell enough stories about it, develop a unique enough culture, and all these layers of reality start to compact and metamorphose. […]
The potential destruction of New York as a body of mythical beings is abetted by the twin forces of gentrification and white supremacy, each conspiring to make the city less like itself for those tasked with its preservation. […]
These dynamics have always existed in our society, but these forces were allowed to run rampant on the black community and other poor communities. There have always been checks enough to keep the destructive systems of society from basically cannibalizing the country, and that’s what’s changed: It’s affecting everyone now. There were chunks of the country that were always like, “We were perfectly fine with it as long as it’s only hurting those people there.” But now it’s everybody.
Where would we be in our understanding of Facebook without the work of Carole Cadwalladr? Here she writes a pretty blistering piece on all the things that the seemingly untouchable Zuckerberg-led Facebook has enabled, the total disregard for its ravages, and who/how this “rogue state” might be stopped.
If the boycott of Facebook by some of the world’s biggest brands – Unilever, Coca-Cola, Starbucks – succeeds, it will be because it has targeted the only thing that Facebook understands: its bottom line. And if it fails, that will be another sort of landmark. […]
Facebook is not a mirror. It’s a gun. Unlicensed – it is not subject to laws or control – it is in the hands and homes of 2.6 billion people, infiltrated by covert agents acting for nation states, a laboratory for groups who praise the cleansing effects of the Holocaust and believe 5G will fry our brainwaves in our sleep. […]
[T]his isn’t a company so much as an autocracy, a dictatorship, a global empire controlled by a single man. Who – even as the evidence of harm has become undeniable, indisputable, overwhelming – has simply chosen to ignore its critics across the world. […]
- Suuuuper intriguing line of thought in this 🧵 by Adrian Hon: Theory: QAnon is popular partly because the act of “researching” it through obscure forums and videos and blog posts, though more time-consuming than watching TV, is actually *more enjoyable* because it’s an active process. Game-like, even; or ARG-like, certainly.
- Followed up by an equally smart 🧵 by his brother Dan Hon: That rush of “making sense of something” and sharing it in a social sense is right there in QAnon. QAnon is a massively multiplayer, distributed, bottom-up, undirected effort that is strikingly gamelike and has its tendrils now in politics and is a threat to public safety.
- 🇵🇹 💯 After coronavirus, Lisbon is getting rid of Airbnb and turning short-term holiday rentals into homes for key workers. “Prioritising affordable housing for the hospital staff, transport workers, teachers and thousands of others who provide our essential services is possible. We’re offering to pay landlords to turn thousands of short-term lets into “safe rent” homes for key workers. ”
- 🇦🇹 🚆 Austrian Airlines increases AIRail offering between Salzburg and Vienna Airport for greater climate protection. “Austrian Airlines and the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) are expanding their ‘Train to Plane’ offering several times over. Starting on 20 July 2020, up to 31 AIRail trains will be operated each day between Salzburg Central Station and Vienna Airport. This comprises more than a tenfold increase compared to the previous average of three rail connections per day.”
- 📀 The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog : Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, Broderbund Software : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming. “The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog is a very early CD-ROM presentation of The Whole Earth Catalog. Utilising HyperCard, The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog consists of over 9000 cards connected to one another with hypertext; essentially the web before the web existed, but offline! ”
- 🖥 📷 Vintage computer 🧵 by Marcin Wichary I’ve been trying to find a good photo of a 1970s/1980s microcomputer store for my book and I haven’t had great luck – but sharing what I found so far could make for an interesting thread!
- 🚜 Spreading rock dust on fields could remove vast amounts of CO2 from air. “The rock dust approach, called enhanced rock weathering (ERW), has several advantages, the researchers say. First, many farmers already add limestone dust to soils to reduce acidification, and adding other rock dust improves fertility and crop yields, meaning application could be routine and desirable…. Basalt is the best rock for capturing CO2, and many mines already produce dust as a byproduct, so stockpiles already exist.”
- 🇯🇵 🔋 Nissan Pioneer Touts Resin Battery That’s 90% Cheaper to Make. “Horie’s innovation is to replace the battery’s basic components — metal-lined electrodes and liquid electrolytes — with a resin construction. He says this approach dramatically simplifies and speeds up manufacturing, making it as easy as ‘buttering toast.’ It allows for 10-meter-long battery sheets that can be stacked on top of each other ‘like seat cushions’ to increase capacity, he said. Importantly, the resin-based batteries are also resistant to catching fire when punctured.”