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Isolation Diaries Weekly Wisdom

Assigning Agency—Weekly Wisdom

Also the truth behind Rogan’s questions, the power of online publishing, what really is Intellectual Property, and why I stopped publishing my COVID diaries.

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😷An update on the COVID

COVID Isolation Diary 2022, where the Isolation in struck out by a marker and "bubble" written over it in marker font. There is a overlay of a rectangular picture of a render of the Sars-CoV-2 virus on the right side..

A day after I posted my last Isolation diary, my wife also got a positive result. Instead of isolation, we went into a bubble. As with all families that have lived in a bubble over the past 2 years, there wasn’t much to report. I also had to respect my family’s privacy.

We did go for a drive, with the windows up. Otherwise, I focused on my work. The 3 year-old kept my wife and I busy as well. We got negative results last Thursday.

📕Something to read

  • Please make a dumb car: A sardonic takedown of the hellscape that is the UI of a modern car.
  • Thread on Joe Rogan’s disingenuousness: After the recent controversies, Joe Rogan claimed he’s ‘just asking questions’. Dr. Graham Walker takes a scalpel to his controversial episode with Robert Malone. And shows that he was not asking questions. Of course, he has been getting away with it for over a decade. It is only when he made the deal with Spotify that he has been subjected to scrutiny. A new essay on this topic coming soon.

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🗣Some Quotes and Notes

On Mechanical Overlords

The myth of the neutral algorithm persists still. It has now morphed into the myth of the neutral Artificial Intelligence. The term itself is a misnomer. It is to confuse people into assigning agency to machines. Agency that the machines do not have. I would recommend this whole essay.

There’s an oft-repeated myth about artificial intelligence that says that since we all know that humans are prone to being racist and sexist, we should figure out how to create moral machines that will treat human beings more equitably than we could. You’ve seen this myth
in action if you’ve ever heard someone claim that using automated systems to make sentencing decisions will lead to more fairness in the criminal legal system. But if we all know that humans are racist and sexist and we need the neutrality of machines to save us—in other words, if we should delegate morality to AI—how will we ever know if the machines are doing the job we need them to do? And how will we humans ever get better?

Every dataset that goes into a training pipeline involves encoding and curation decisions that slice away the nuance of the world it is meant to represent. This is not a knock against computers or an argument for the analog—it’s no different than how our brains ingest the world around us through the filter of what is visible and audible to our physiology, how we focus our limited attention and leaky memory on the things we know how to interpret. But it does mean that the resulting shape of each dataset is determined by who gets to make those curation decisions and their unique histories and worldviews—to say nothing of business pressures to reach for the cheapest and easiest source of training data.

— Jenny, morals in the machine

The Human Element

There is a lot of emphasis on Intellectual Property in industrialized economies, without a focus on what it means. Most human knowledge is not written down. There is no way to write it down. We can’t patent experience. Researcher Dan Wang writes about how US is shooting itself in the foot by its overzealous prosecution of Chinese scientists. He takes an example from the past to display this phenomenon.

The U.S. has made this mistake before. During the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s, the U.S. government arrested Qian Xuesen, a physicist who co-founded NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, on the basis of suspected communist sympathies. Deported to China in 1955, Qian subsequently oversaw China’s development of the fission bomb and the hydrogen bomb, as well as the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Deporting Qian, in other words, was a strategic blunder by the U.S. government.

— Dan Wang, China Hawks Don’t Understand How Science Advances

Always relevant

Speaking of Rogan, I was reminded of this passage from Cory Doctorow’s Content. It is fascinating how relevant Doctorow has remained despite writing for so long. The essay this is from is almost 15 years old, yet it shows savvy that most people who inked deals with Spotify clearly lack.

It would be the end of any publication that couldn’t foot the legal bills to get off the ground. The multi-billion-page Internet would collapse into the homogeneous world of cable TV (remember when we thought that a “500-channel universe” would be unimaginably broad? Imagine an Internet with only 500 “channels!”). From Amazon to Ask A Ninja, from Blogger to The Everlasting Blort, every bit of online content is made possible by removing the cost of paying lawyers to act as the Internet’s gatekeepers.

— Cory Doctorow, Content


Thank you for joining me this week. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. See you next week.

Mudassir Chapra

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