Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #376.
I worked on the following this week:
- The Dangers of Unchecked Algorithms – A Review of Weapons of Math Destruction – Weapons of Math Destruction explores how algorithms are being used to make important decisions about people’s lives, often without transparency or oversight. O’Neil reveals how algorithms can automate inequality, prejudice, and intolerance. She argues for more accountability and transparency in mathematical models that influence everything from credit scores to prison sentences.
- The Allure and Risks of New Edtech – Educational technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, bringing exciting new possibilities into the classroom. But, in our eagerness to embrace the latest innovations, are we approaching them with a critical eye? We must carefully consider not only what we could do with new technologies, but also whether we should use them at all.
- Minimal Computing for Collaborative, Equitable Digital Scholarship – I’m working on a bit of research critically examining my own use of technology. Minimal computing is not dogmatic minimalism but rather empowers scholars to make intentional choices about technology informed by ethics and justice.
- Seeking Feedback: Questions to Critically Examine Our Technology Use – To put minimal computing principles into practice, I’ve drafted some questions to critically examine our own technology use. I would greatly appreciate any feedback on these questions from the community!
Nick Bostrom, a professor at the University of Oxford and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, believes that, in this century, we will create the first general intelligence that will be smarter than humans. He sees this as the most important thing humanity will ever do, but it also comes with an enormous responsibility.
We may build incredible AI. But can we contain our cruelty?
No longer viral, but a mere echo
Google Search has been the dominant force in the ebb and flow of online content for two decades, but the era of “peak Google” may be coming to an end. Though Google was important enough to hijack in 2001, the rise of algorithmic social networks like Facebook and Instagram has eaten into the web. Entertainment-based video feeds like TikTok are becoming primary search engines.
Why this matters. When did things go downhill? How did a once popular site that revolutionized communication end up in decline like a run-down store on the outskirts of town?
OpenAI has quietly changed its ‘core values’
Louise Matsakis captures the story as OpenAI, the group that brought you ChatGPT, has quietly changed its “core values” to put a greater emphasis on the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI).
The company previously listed six core values (Audacious, Thoughtful, Unpretentious, Impact-Driven, Collaborative, Growth-oriented). The company’s careers page now lists five values, with “AGI focus” being the first.
Why this matters. Sure, it’s all corporate blather. But you can’t help but wonder: if you can replace all your core values at the drop of a hat, were they really core values to begin with?
Who catches this next set of waves?
Mustafa Suleyman on the new wave of technology (AI, synthetic biology, quantum computing, new sources of energy) that will reshape the world. Unlike previous waves, this technology will unleash new powers and transform existing power structures.
This wave of technology will create new businesses, empower a wide range of actors, and reshape society. Suleyman posits this is because AI, in particular, is becoming more powerful and affordable, allowing individuals to accomplish tasks that were previously impossible.
It has the potential to be the greatest redistribution of power in history, and those who are currently comfortable and reliant on established systems will be the most vulnerable.
Why this matters. It is crucial that society does not dismiss this wave and instead begins to plan for how to control and contain it for everyone’s benefit.
We’re not so blind after all
Perceptual psychologists have long believed that we only see a high level of detail in a small part of our visual field, with the rest lacking in detail and color. However, a new study challenges this belief, suggesting that we are aware of much more perceptual information than previously thought.
This research is about how much we can see and notice things around us. Sometimes we don’t notice things that are right in front of us, like a toy on the floor or a bird flying by. But this research found that if we know something really well, like our own house or our favorite toy, we are more likely to notice if something is different or missing. It’s like when you play a game and you know all the rules really well, you’re more likely to notice if someone breaks a rule. So, if we know something really well, we can see and notice more things around us.
Why this matters. Change blindness is when people don’t notice important changes in what they see. It happens when there’s a quick interruption, like a flicker or a shift in focus. Inattentional blindness is similar, where people miss unexpected things when they’re focused on something else. These phenomena show that we’re not always aware of everything around us.
The Whole of the Whole Earth Catalog Is Now Online
The Whole Earth Catalog, including its various publications, has been made available online for free. The catalog was a collection of reviews, guides, and primers on anarchist libertarianism, offering product reviews, cultural analysis, and snark before the internet. The collection can be viewed page-by-page or downloaded as a PDF and includes thousands of pages in high-resolution scanned formats.
Why this matters. It is been decades since a Whole Earth Catalog was published, but the publication’s mix of ecological mindfulness and technological advancement feels eerily relevant in today’s hyper-connected, environmentally conscious era.
Think, Blink, or Sleep-on-it?
I’ve been enjoying this longform piece about what science says about unconscious decision making.
Who makes the best decision? The sleepers, the thinkers, or the blinkers? The answer might come as a surprise: Distraction appears to lead to better choices than either conscious thought or an immediate decision.
Perhaps the powers of the unconscious are revealed not when our thinking per se is curtailed but when the evidence we have before us is scant and impoverished.
Thinking can appear subjectively fast and intuitive or slow and deliberative, but this distinction has no bearing on the involvement of factors outside our awareness.
The children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe; and I am beginning to suspect that whoever is incapable of recognizing this may be incapable of morality.
Cover Photo CC BY using Playground AI