The truth about algorithms

Mathematician Cathy O'Neil explains why algorithms are programmed and curated with bias. She is the author of Weapons of Math Destruction (Amazon) and runs ORCAA, an algorithmic auditing firm.

An algorithm is an opinion embedded in math.

Cathy O’Neil
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‘Paper’s seclusion from the Web is an emerging strength’

“In a multi-tasking world where pure focus is harder and harder to come by, paper’s seclusion from the Web is an emerging strength. There’s nothing like holding a sheaf of beautifully designed pages in your hands. The whole world slows down, and your mind with it.” William Powers #books #amazon

“In a multi-tasking world where pure focus is harder and harder to come by, paper’s seclusion from the Web is an emerging strength. There’s nothing like holding a sheaf of beautifully designed pages in your hands. The whole world slows down, and your mind with it.”

William Powers

Inconvenient truths

We live in a world where self-checkout is more painful than regular checkout, where Instagrammers risk their lives for the perfect pic, and where people hide behind their avatars to become trolls.

Sure, a quick google yields all the answers. But the price for the latest convention is reduced comprehension.

As soon as we hide, reduce contact, and take shortcuts on our pocket computers, we forget what it’s like to push through the experience.

The individual’s playground is convenient but more often insensitive, ignorant, and messy.

Do you want to drive the car or polish it?

Do you want to drive the car or polish it?

That’s the metaphor best-selling author Karl Ove Knausgaard uses to cure writer’s block. Writes Quartzy:

“Writer’s block, to the extent it exists, stems from a suspicion that your work may not be great, and a reluctance to face that fact. When you’re always polishing the car, as Knausgaard puts it, you never go anywhere. That means you won’t get in an accident or discover that the places in your imagination weren’t that great in reality, but it also means you can never find out what’s truly possible, what you are actually capable of accomplishing.”

Perfection is the work of the devil. If you want to go somewhere, you’re going to have to set a schedule and show up to work consistently.

The habit of writing daily is like practicing bicep curls or brushing your teeth, to the point you’ll feel empty when you don’t do it.

It is anticipation that’s the real mind killer. One would rather scratch the itch then toil in the inertia of what ifs?

Only when you start any activity does the fear dissipate. Remember Nelson Mandela’s motto: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

So set a daily goal and stick to it regardless of your excuses.

Half bots, half real people

The internet is half bots, half real people. It makes you question whether humans are even evolving or code is the only advancer. #gif #amwriting

The internet is half bots, half real people. It makes you question whether humans are even evolving or code is the only advancer.

Take a scan of Twitter and you’ll hardly notice a difference between man and machine. They both spew the same self-confirming garbage. But even the bots are more random now — arbitrariness used to be a distinctly human trait.

Technology appears to open and close the world simultaneously. And while there’s been lots of good there’s also going to be many things people give up, like understanding and decency. Only the coward hides behind the screen.

Tethered to distraction

Set your brain roaming. Let it unbuckle into the window of boredom that bleeds into wisdom and insight.

We are at peak attention. Additional information complicates and confounds. By keeping you bondage, it erodes your attention muscles so that you can’t even daydream.

Too many thoughts at once, not even our own. We’ve succumbed to profundity and surrendered everything to aggregated choice.

Advancing so fast, undermining the clarity anchor of a much-needed pause. Unhindered, our eyeballs go on sale to the highest bidder.

Dreaming in digital

Run into the sun

We take the screen for granted, assuming it reveals the real world. But the phone only offers an exterior point of view. Our screens fool us.

On the inside, we know our own internal-compass preaches practicality. Yet, on Instagram, all it takes is a little emoji to get wings. Digital life is an activity of the most unclipped imagination.  

There is no way to combine both realities of the digital and physical worlds. Instead, we toggle between them to gain second sight.

After all, it is human to project ourselves into the future. 

gif via Popsicle Illusion

Relic of the past

Some carry on, clinging to the optimism of 1994. For many others, 1984 is just getting started.

A combination of elements, a mere idea transforms into something new.

From Polaroid to Instagram, railroad to internet, snail mail to email, what is the future but a remix of stems mashed up and built on top of extant systems.

We introduce new things and promptly forget that they already existed, in the guise of an outdated format.

What is new are the experiences and artifacts. We cultivate a new culture from upgrades in medium. But novelty is not always benevolent.

For instance, once a beacon of hope, the internet went from green fields of opportunity to havens of extreme darkness.

But just as trying to escape demons gives them power, finding little pockets of light sprinkle elements of hope.

Some carry on, clinging to the optimism of 1994. For many others, 1984 is just getting started.

gif via jamopi

Paper = slow food for thought

So time keeps on slipping, as technology speeds it up into the future. If you want to slow down time, write a letter. Consider paper.  #amwriting #letters

Like a scarce piece of snail mail, it gets our attention. A story lies within the envelope and thus we feel compelled to spend more time with it. 

But another email augurs the birthing of threads, as it speeds up the time it was suppossed to save. 

In his book Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity (Amazon), German sociologist Hartmut Rosa writes: “We don’t have any time although we’ve gained far more than we needed before.”

So time keeps on slipping, as technology speeds it up into the future. If you want to slow down time, write a letter. Consider paper

gif by lironrash

The adult impulse

It draws us after it, the immediate impact of that sensational rectangular glow. Even without it in our thumbs, we go shoulder surfing looking at the screen of another.

The adult impulse is voyeuristic. We look externally, to see ourselves portrayed in other people. We are good replicas of ourselves.

It’s no wonder we fall victim to other peoples’s dreams, racing to the bottom of conformity rather than pushing the edges. If the self is woke, don’t fix it.

gif via taxipictures

Avoid the suck

The carrot dangles, tempting a response. But the incentive is not always worthy.

The carrot dangles, tempting a response. But the incentive is not always worthy.

What we need more is a beautiful constraint, to cease ourselves from the pursuit of vices.

To follow unconsciously is another person’s business opportunity. Once we investigate the soul, the rest follows, and we can avoid the trap.

art via giphy

Connecting tiny pieces of information

Connecting tiny pieces

The internet was made for aggregation. The abundance of information is impossible to swallow. So we pluck the highlights, the most useful stems.

If we gather all the data from our environment, we don't have to do all the work. We puzzle it out ourselves.

Collecting artifacts online is a social experiment, a peer to peer network of bytes of genius. Unfortunately, knowledge can also be used to propagandize rather than do good. There are no limits to floating ideas that can become instantly contagious, like lighting a match.

But suppose cognitive bias does more to spread the plurality of ideas so we can make disparate connections, such as peanut butter and chocolate. The internet is more than just a copy-paste machine.

gif via US National Archives

Wear Space is a cubicle for your face

wear-space_main-e1539810540999.jpg

Panasonic is developing blinders for your face so you can preserve a “personal psychological space.” The company debuted the item dubbed Wear Space last year at SXSW in Austin. Writes the product website:

As open offices and digital nomads are on the rise, workers are finding it ever more important to have personal space where they can focus. WEAR SPACE instantly creates this kind of personal space – it’s as simple as putting on an article of clothing. The device can be adjusted based on the level of concentration you desire, so it adapts to the various situations you’ll find yourself in.

The device also comes with Bluetooth headphones just in case you want to shun the world, office, or coffee shop out even more.

While these look like ridiculous racehorse blinkers, they could actually be remarkable. Until then, I'll stick to my scientifically optimized music to help me focus.

They took our jobs 🤖

Hoover catalog in the 1920s.jpg

In the 1920s, Hoover marketed its vacuum not just as a time-saver but as a human energy saver: “Hoover offers the least fatiguing way of cleaning carpets and rugs.”

If a robot wrote this blog post, would you even know the difference?

The future of automation says that robots will displace human jobs. Gmail's auto-responder already responds to email for you.

Writes Logic, a magazine about technology.

Since the dawn of market society, owners and bosses have revelled in telling workers they were replaceable. Robots lend this centuries-old dynamic a troubling new twist: employers threaten employees with the specter of machine competition, shirking responsibility for their avaricious disposition through opportunistic appeals to tech determinism. A “jobless future” is inevitable, we are told, an irresistible outgrowth of innovation, the livelihood-devouring price of progress. (Sadly, the jobless future for the masses doesn’t resemble the jobless present of the 1 percent who live off dividends, interest, and rent, lifting nary a finger as their bank balances grow.)

I doubt the rise of technology obviates the need for human brains and hands. We are thinking machines while the automatons themselves excel in action, at least for the time being.

The bigger problem seems to be the perception of jobs. Most people allow work to justify their existence when really it's the things we do outside the office that should make us feel needed. There's more to life than a paycheck!

South Park they took our jobs.gif

The machines are going to be there like they've been all along, helping people get their work done more efficiently. The bots versus brain chasm is a non-zero-sum game.

But if it just so happens that all we do is push buttons all day, perhaps it'll give us a chance to do other things like making better art.

Wouldn't that be something?