Sunday 4 April, 2021

Maybe, soon?


Quote of the Day

”Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”

  • Jean-Paul Sartre


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

King’s College Choir | Jesus Christ is risen today

Link

“The English may not like music”, Sir Thomas Beecham once observed, “but they absolutely love the noise it makes”. I feel exactly the same about Anglicanism.


Long Read of the Day Why Computers Won’t Make Themselves Smarter.

For decades people have been fretting about I.J. Good’s warning that if we ever invent a super-intelligent machine then it may be the last invention humanity ever makes, on the grounds that such a machine would trigger an ‘intelligence explosion’ because from then on machines would improve their capabilities faster than we could ever keep up with them.

Now along comes Ted Chiang with an interesting New Yorker essay questioning the assumptions underpinning Good’s pessimistic projection. It’s an absorbing read which comes to a less than reassuring conclusion: “For better or worse, the fate of our species will depend on human decision-making”.


Why Silicon Valley’s most astute critics are all women

This morning’s Observer column:

Tailors and dressmakers long ago worked out that men and women are different shapes and sizes. The news has yet to reach Palo Alto.

My hunch is that however much the industry bleats about gender diversity, it doesn’t truly see it as a real problem. Male-dominated firms still receive more than 80% of venture-capital funding and the money often goes to entrepreneurs promising to create products or services that supposedly address consumers’ real needs. The trouble is that male founders, especially engineers, are not famous for understanding the problems that women experience, which is how we got absurdities such as Apple originally failing to include menstrual-cycle tracking in its smartwatch or in the iPhone’s Health app. Wow! Women have periods! Who knew?

Do read the whole thing.

Later Lots of feedback confirming that I’d missed many other incisive critics — for example Wendy Liu, author of Abolish Silicon Valley. I need to keep a proper regularly updated, list of trenchant female critics. And I’m especially mortified to have forgotten about the Turing Institute’s recent report,  Where are the women? Mapping the gender job gap in AI, a summary of which is available here. The inquiry found evidence

of persistent structural inequality in the data science and AI fields, with the career trajectories of data and AI professionals differentiated by gender. Women are more likely than men to occupy a job associated with less status and pay in the data and AI talent pool, usually within analytics, data preparation and exploration, rather than the more prestigious jobs in engineering and machine learning. This gender skill gap risks stalling innovation and exacerbating gender inequality in economic participation.


Where Joe Biden is headed

As I’ve said a while back, I think Joe Biden is being badly under-estimated as President. And I’m amazed by how so much of the mainstream media isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing. So I’m much cheered by seeing a perceptive thinker like Noah Smith taking Biden seriously — as in this post.

By now I think everyone has realized that something is changing in American economic policy. The tenor, pace, and scope of Biden’s economic programs proposals, and the muted nature of the ideological opposition, suggest that we’ve entered a new policy paradigm — much as when FDR took office in 1933 or Ronald Reagan in 1981. Every President comes in with a laundry list of initiatives, but once every few decades a President comes in with a new philosophy for what policy should look like. And that is happening now. The fact that a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill was passed with relatively little fuss, and was really just the warm-up to an even bigger infrastructure bill, and that other “big” policies like student debt cancellation are being pursued on the side as an afterthought, should make it clear that Biden is blitzing.

Smith thinks the aim is to create a two-track American economy — a dynamic, internationally competitive innovation sector, and a domestically focused engine of mass employment and distributed prosperity. If that’s really what he’s up to, then it behoves us to pay attention.


Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • An eight-year-old is among contenders hoping for last word at Scrabble championships.Link

  • How Sounds Are Faked For Nature Documentaries. Link


Unscrambling links

Joseph Zitt has alerted me to the fact that Substack adds some mysterious gibberish to my links for purposes unknown (but doubtless connected to its business model; it is, after all, a tech company). I’m going to find a fix for this, but it might take a day or two.