Tag: language

Stochastic Parrots


Hopefully giving you just what you asked for.

This week I posted the following:

  • Developing An Attitude of Gratitude – If you focus on what you lack, you lose what you have. If you focus on what you have, you gain what you lack.
  • Risky Business – Teachers are doing one of the most important jobs in our community without the adequate support and compensation expected in other professions. The challenge is that this discussion boils down to a discussion of risk.

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LaMDA and Google’s Failed AI Demo


This week at Google I/O 2021, the yearly developer conference for the search giant, they demonstrated how its new LaMDA technology could make conversations with your products more natural. The demo looked super cool, and it made me think about how this will impact our use of these digital spaces.

But…not so fast. In this video, Kevin Marks makes the connection to the Stochastic Parrots paper, and the firing of Timnit Gebru. This video presentation will help make sense of their points.


Please take some time to dig through these materials and let them marinate for a bit as you make sense of the exhilarating, dangerous world of language AI.


The U.S. Education System Isn’t Giving Students What Employers Need

Michael Hansen is the CEO of Cengage and noted for disrupting higher education to make learning more affordable.

In this post, Hansen suggests that there is a disconnect between education and employability in the U.S., where employers view universities and colleges as the gatekeepers of workforce talent, yet those same institutions aren’t prioritizing job skills and career readiness.

The post suggests that to create change as an industry, we must provide greater credibility to alternate education paths that allow students to gain employable skills. Employers need to increase credibility for skills-based hiring, remove stigmas around vocational education, and move forward to create equal opportunities for all students.

The Cancellation of Nikole Hannah-Jones

Earlier this week Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times writer in charge of the 1619 Project, was denied a tenured professorship at the University of North Carolina’s journalism school.

The 1619 Project sought to spur a reexamination of how America teaches and celebrates its own history. It caused debate among academics, journalists, even within The New York Times itself. Criticisms of its accuracy by some prominent historians led to edits and clarifications, but Hannah-Jones and the Times stand by the project, the introductory essay to which won her the 2020 Pulitzer for commentary.

I shared this story for multiple reasons. First, the discussion that is happening around the work of Hannah-Jones, and whether tenure is subject to forces outside the institution.

We also need to have a discussion about the term cancel and the culture surrounding it. Graeme Wood shared a good description of the complexity of this trend.

Here is the distinction that saves the term cancellation from uselessness and hypocrisy: Cancellation is not criticism; cancellation is the absence of criticism. It is the replacement of criticism with a summary punishment. The punishment ranges in seriousness and could include withdrawal of a job or just an invitation, but the salient point is that it is meted out instantly and without deliberation, often as the result of a mob action. When this switcheroo becomes a habit, the normal way of doing things, we can call that “cancel culture,” and it is indeed a sign of intellectual and institutional rot.

Educational attainment does not influence brain aging

Research from Nyberg et al., challenges the view that higher education slows brain aging.

Education has been related to various advantageous lifetime outcomes. Using longitudinal structural MRI data (4,422 observations), the group tested the influential hypothesis that higher education translates into slower rates of brain aging. Cross-sectionally, education was modestly associated with regional cortical volume. However, despite marked mean atrophy in the cortex and hippocampus, education did not influence rates of change.

Yikes. 🙂

Check out the link for some great graphics of their data.

The Case For Universal Pre-K Just Got Stronger

According to the National Institute For Early Childhood Research, nearly half of all 3-year-olds and a third of all 4-year-olds in the United States were not enrolled in preschool in 2019. That’s in large part because many parents can’t afford it. Imagine a future where we changed that. A future where every American child had access to two years of preschool during a critical period of their mental development.

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) gives us a glimpse of what that world could look like. It adds to a burgeoning amount of high-quality research that shows just how valuable preschool is — and maybe not for the reasons you might think.

The Rebble Alliance: Preserving the Pebble Smart Watch

I’ve recently been testing out a new wearable device, the Wyze Watch. I purchased one for my oldest child…and I’m enjoying the opportunity to play with tech together.

One of the original wearables, Pebble, has a thriving community devoted to keeping it running, even after shutting down and being purchased by Fitbit.

Check out the RebbleOS here on GitHub.


3 ways to gain control of your Twitter feed

Nuzzel was one of the tools that I used several times per day to make sense of my information streams. It made sense of my Twitter and Facebook streams and gave me an overview of where to direct my attention.

Nuzzel was shut down last week after being purchased by Twitter. This has caused me to go back to my system of RSS feeds as I curate content online.

Doug Belshaw shares guidance on how to start to tame your Twitter feed.



Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower.

Alan Kay

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Alabama Lifts Its Ban on Yoga in Schools. For the first time in three decades, yoga can be taught, but the law will still bar teachers from using Sanskrit names for poses.

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Live streaming & live tweeting: a pragmatic approach to ethical considerations

Live streaming & live tweeting: a pragmatic approach to ethical considerations. | Center for Digital Ethics & Policy (digitalethics.org)
Bastiaan Vanacker in the Center for Digital Ethics & Policy. All annotations in context.
In daily language, the word pragmatic is often used pejoratively, to describe someone with a lack of principles (or character) who will let the situation, rather than a firm moral compass, guide her actions. But in the philosophical sense, pragmatism refers to an orientation towards ethics that isn’t occupying itself with abstract concepts such as “truth,” “right” and “wrong” or with coming up with all-encompassing ethical theories. Instead it focuses on praxis rather than theory and sees the role of the ethicist more to “de-scribe” norms as they develop than to “pre-scribe” them.
Phillip Kitcher, in the introduction of The Ethical Project describes the project of this pragmatic naturalism as follows: “Ethics emerges as a human phenomenon, permanently unfinished. We, collectively, made it up, and have developed, refined, and distorted it, generation by generation. Ethics should be understood as a project –the ethical project– in which we have been engaged for most of our history as a species.” This a functionalist view sees ethics as a set of guidelines that make communal living possible. A successful ethical system is one that can fulfill this function.
This approach, I believe, works well for digital ethics, where we try to articulate rules that govern how we interact with each other through digital technologies. For example, when social media emerged, there was no fixed rule about when it is appropriate to tag someone in a picture and when it isn’t. So we figured out a netiquette and ethical norms as we were going along, based on experience, existing norms, insights from experts etc. There still might be areas of disagreement, but I would argue that overall we have come to an understanding of what is acceptable and what isn’t on this issue, and these norms are passed on to new users of social media.
Earlier, I have criticized Facebook for not anticipating the ethical problems with Facebook live and for its general approach of trying things out without much ethical forethought. But wouldn’t a pragmatist argue that because they are charting into new territory, digital innovators are more likely to make ethical mistakes giving the lack of existing normative framework?  This pragmatic defense only has limited power though, as there are general guiding ethical norms and principles in place already.  It is of course true that (some of) these norms might be subject to change in the digital environment and that sometimes our existing frameworks are ill-equipped to deal with new moral dilemmas. However, this does not excuse some of the more egregious ethical lapses we have seen recently, which were violations of well-known and accepted moral guidelines.
This makes me have larger questions about the role of digital storytelling as we use digital texts and tools to share parts of our lives. When are we infringing on the rights and privileges of others, and when are we expressing ourselves through digital means?
Blair’s posts are a remarkable feat of digital storytelling. She spun the all-in-all rather trivial behavior of two strangers into the social media equivalent of a rom-com and initially the story was heralded as the summer feel-good story we were in desperate in need of. (There also was some speculation that this was all a hoax, which is possible but seems implausible at this point.) But soon questions emerged about the ethics of this modern-day fairy tale, especially when it became clear that the female subject of the story did not welcome the attention and had her social profiles deleted after internet sleuths had figured out her identity. On July 12, she put out astatement through her lawyer in which she claimed to have been “doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed” and that voyeurs had come looking for her. By that point, the couple responsible for the tweets was slammed online as well.
A future upcoming blog post might unpack this a bit as we think about pragmatism, norm-setting, and digital storytelling using the narratives of others.

Using Music And Rhythm To Help Kids With Grammar And Language

Using Music And Rhythm To Help Kids With Grammar And Language (KQED)

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are studying how music and rhythm activities could help children who struggle with grammar and language development.

A post about the connections between rhythm and grammar in helping learners expect what should come next in language and music.

“One thing that rhythm and grammar have in common is that they both unfold over time, and our brains form expectancies about what’s coming up based on what we just heard,” says Gordon.