“Knuth made it clear that the system could actually be understood all the way down to the machine code level,” said Dr. Norvig. Nowadays, of course, with algorithms masterminding (and undermining) our very existence, the average programmer no longer has time to manipulate the binary muck, and works instead with hierarchies of abstraction, layers upon layers of code — and often with chains of code borrowed from code libraries. But an elite class of engineers occasionally still does the deep dive.
Knuth’s interest in storytelling also led him to develop a philosophy of literate programming — a method for writing computer programs as literary essays. A literate program intersperses source code with elegant prose written in a familiar language, such as English. The source code delivers functionality and efficiency, while the exposition addresses a human reader, rather than the computer’s compiler. Anyone who later updates or debugs a literate program will avoid the often time-consuming and costly problem of trying to understand the original programmer’s algorithms, design decisions and implementation strategies. Knuth is a computer scientist who understands that words matter.
The idea of free information is extremely dangerous when it comes to the news industry. If there’s so much free information out there, how do you get people’s attention? This becomes the real commodity. At present there is an incentive in order to get your attention – and then sell it to advertisers and politicians and so forth – to create more and more sensational stories, irrespective of truth or relevance. Some of the fake news comes from manipulation by Russian hackers but much of it is simply because of the wrong incentive structure. There is no penalty for creating a sensational story that is not true. We’re willing to pay for high quality food and clothes and cars, so why not high quality information?
From one perspective, this discovery gives humans an entirely new kind of freedom. Previously, we identified very strongly with our desires, and sought the freedom to realise them. Whenever any thought appeared in the mind, we rushed to do its bidding. We spent our days running around like crazy, carried by a furious rollercoaster of thoughts, feelings and desires, which we mistakenly believed represented our free will. What happens if we stop identifying with this rollercoaster? What happens when we carefully observe the next thought that pops up in our mind and ask: “Where did that come from?”
Streetlight Effect: People tend to get their information from where it’s easiest to look. E.g. the majority of research uses only the sources that appear on the first page of Google search results, regardless of how factual they are. Cumulatively, this can skew an entire field.
Woozle Effect: An article makes a claim without evidence, is then cited by another, which is cited by another, and so on, until the range of citations creates the impression that the claim has evidence, when really all articles are citing the same uncorroborated source.
I get stuck sometimes! I’ve tried to stop feeling bad about telling someone when I’m stuck, and just go talk through whatever I’m working on with a person who usually helps me get unstuck (hi, Franklin). Asking questions is a superpower.
The tactic is pretty simple! Instead of trying to remember everything you did with your brain, maintain a “brag document” that lists everything so you can refer to it when you get to performance review season!
We tend to think of attention as a switch that’s on or off — we’re focused or we’re distracted. That’s a misperception. Attention, as Goleman explains, comes in many varieties. Its extreme forms tend to be the most limiting. When we’re too attentive, we fall victim to tunnel vision. The mind narrows. When attention is absent, we lose control of our thoughts. We turn into scatterbrains. Open awareness lies in a particularly fertile area between the poles. It gives us entry into what Nathaniel Hawthorne, in one of his notebooks, described as “that pleasant mood of mind where gaiety and pensiveness intermingle.”
“integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,”
Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life. Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, instead of it serving you. Have you seen those zombies who roam the streets with their faces glued to their smartphones? Do you think they control the technology, or does the technology control them?
To succeed in such a daunting task, you will need to work very hard on getting to know your operating system better. To know what you are, and what you want from life. This is, of course, the oldest advice in the book: know thyself. For thousands of years, philosophers and prophets have urged people to know themselves. But this advice was never more urgent than in the 21st century, because unlike in the days of Laozi or Socrates, now you have serious competition. Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu and the government are all racing to hack you. Not your smartphone, not your computer, and not your bank account – they are in a race to hack you, and your organic operating system. You might have heard that we are living in the era of hacking computers, but that’s hardly half the truth. In fact, we are living in the era of hacking humans.
“When you’re looking at these screens, your breathing changes. You’re like an animal in stalking mode. And, if you notice, you’re spending all day taking incredibly small breaths. The only time you’re really breathing is when you take a big, expansive sigh.” Breathing properly, she maintains, is the single most important intervention you can make for your own health. Cheap, too.
The noise bottleneck is really a paradox. We think the more information we consume the more signal we’ll consume. Only the mind doesn’t work like that. When the volume of information increases, our ability to comprehend the relevant from the irrelevant becomes compromised. We place too much emphasis on irrelevant data and lose sight of what’s really important.
Many working-class Americans, though, were not as enthusiastic about the rise of economic indicators. This was largely because they believed the human experience to be “priceless” (a word that took off just as progress became conceptualized in terms of money) and because they (astutely) viewed such figures as tools that could be used to justify increased production quotas, more control over workers, or reduced wages. Massachusetts labor activists fighting for the eight-hour workday spoke for many American workers when they said, in 1870, that “the true prosperity and abiding good of the commonwealth can only be learned, by placing money [on] one scale, and man [on another].”
In 1985, some four decades after Isaac Asimov introduced his laws of robotics, he added another to his list: A robot should never do anything that could harm humanity. But he struggled with how to assess such harm. “A human being is a concrete object,” he later wrote. “Injury to a person can be estimated and judged. Humanity is an abstraction.”
The dilemma of free speech in the age of online content moderation.
Publicly, Brennan was the face of 8chan, granting interviews and partaking in debates to defend the site. One of his most popular defenses was likening 8chan to the phone company or the postal service—just providing the conduit for the messages. “It's not our fault that these people are using our service like that,” Brennan says of the excuse now. “If you don’t say that to yourself, you are not going to want to keep going in your job. You know you’re going to want to quit, you’re going to want to just throw up your hands and say, ‘Oh my God this world is a terrible place. Lord Jesus come quickly,’ is what you’re going to want to say.”
His students remember his endearing personality and habits. “He used empty envelopes left from incoming mails for writing research papers. He almost never used normal paper or notebook to write down,” Singhi recalls. “As a chairman, he used to get a lot of mails. He had developed his own techniques on how to open an envelope of incoming mail carefully so that its inside could be used to write mathematics. These covers which most people throw away were the ones which carried most of Shrikhande’s research work, with me and with others.”
Secondly, many people in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution. This is a tragedy since every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high. This problem is even worse than it looks because many workers in existing industries will be stranded on the wrong side of software-based disruption and may never be able to work in their fields again. There’s no way through this problem other than education, and we have a long way to go.
To steal, however, is to make that idea your own. Taking credit for someone else’s idea is borrowing; understanding an idea and weaving it into your own work, that’s what he meant by theft. Steve Jobs was a fan of this quote, and Apple became successful under him because they stole, incorporated, and refined.
Critics of the big tech companies are often told, “If you don’t like the company, don’t use its products.” My takeaway from the experiment was that it’s not possible to do that. It’s not just the products and services branded with the big tech giant’s name. It’s that these companies control a thicket of more obscure products and services that are hard to untangle from tools we rely on for everything we do, from work to getting from point A to point B.
As in all the most attractive fallacies, there’s a transistor of truth in the notion: It’s easy to feel superior to people who use the internet to look for articles linking vaccines to lizard people. But it’s also easy to feel inferior when you waste an entire day struggling with a bug before remembering to search Stack Overflow, where you discover five people figured it out three years ago and two of them think anyone who wasn’t born knowing the answer is an idiot.
You will walk into any given interview with what you think of as a cornucopia of arcane knowledge all but forcing its way out of your tear ducts to raise property values in a half mile radius. Much of the time, you will walk out of that interview wanting to give up and raise guinea pigs for a living. Every human knows things other humans do not, and most of us will eventually be in a position where another human is determining our future employment based on us knowing things very few humans know.
Importance of focused thinking and diffused thinking.
Focused thinking is when we work hard to understand a problem at hand. We go into the details, we do some research, we actively explore potential solutions.
Diffused thinking is when we let our mind wander, which we sometimes call daydreaming. Shower thoughts are a typical result of such a relaxed state. When you are in the shower, you don’t think about nothing. While you are not actively trying to address a problem, your mind is busy making connections in the background.
Success shouldn’t be synonymous with how good you are at forcing yourself to do what you don’t want to do. We should rebel against a world that rewards mechanical levels of specialization. In the will to succeed, we subject ourselves to toxic and health-destroying work environments. Instead of questioning our habits, we counterbalance the pain of work with a ritual of reckless bar crawls. Instead of conforming the system to human nature, we conform human nature to the system.