Monthly Archives: November 2014

For Your Consideration : AI Breakthroughs, Survivorship Bias, Teacher as Student, and In-Flight Perspective

Here we go, feedback is appreciated. -Brad

1. The Three Breakthroughs That Have Finally Unleashed AI on the World  by Kevin Kelly and Our Machine Masters as a full-column response to it by David Brooks.

From The Three Breakthroughs:

The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services—cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible except when it blinks off. This common utility will serve you as much IQ as you want but no more than you need. Like all utilities, AI will be supremely boring, even as it transforms the Internet, the global economy, and civilization. It will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century ago. Everything that we formerly electrified we will now cognitize. This new utilitarian AI will also augment us individually as people (deepening our memory, speeding our recognition) and collectively as a species. There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or interesting by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. This is a big deal, and now it’s here.

From Our Machine Masters:

In the age of smart machines, we’re not human because we have big brains. We’re human because we have social skills, emotional capacities and moral intuitions. I could paint two divergent A.I. futures, one deeply humanistic, and one soullessly utilitarian.

In the humanistic one, machines liberate us from mental drudgery so we can focus on higher and happier things. In this future, differences in innate I.Q. are less important. Everybody has Google on their phones so having a great memory or the ability to calculate with big numbers doesn’t help as much.

In this future, there is increasing emphasis on personal and moral faculties: being likable, industrious, trustworthy and affectionate. People are evaluated more on these traits, which supplement machine thinking, and not the rote ones that duplicate it.

In the cold, utilitarian future, on the other hand, people become less idiosyncratic. If the choice architecture behind many decisions is based on big data from vast crowds, everybody follows the prompts and chooses to be like each other. The machine prompts us to consume what is popular, the things that are easy and mentally undemanding.

2. Survivorship Bias by David McRaney

The military looked at the bombers that had returned from enemy territory. They recorded where those planes had taken the most damage. Over and over again, they saw the bullet holes tended to accumulate along the wings, around the tail gunner, and down the center of the body. Wings. Body. Tail gunner. Considering this information, where would you put the extra armor? Naturally, the commanders wanted to put the thicker protection where they could clearly see the most damage, where the holes clustered. But Wald said no, that would be precisely the wrong decision. Putting the armor there wouldn’t improve their chances at all. 

Do you understand why it was a foolish idea? The mistake, which Wald saw instantly, was that the holes showed where the planes were strongest. The holes showed where a bomber could be shot and still survive the flight home, Wald explained. After all, here they were, holes and all. It was the planes that weren’t there that needed extra protection, and they had needed it in places that these planes had not. The holes in the surviving planes actually revealed the locations that needed the least additional armor. Look at where the survivors are unharmed, he said, and that’s where these bombers are most vulnerable; that’s where the planes that didn’t make it back were hit.

3. Teacher takes a walk in student shoes by Alexis Wiggins

A 15 year veteran teacher is assigned to “be” a 10th grade student on one day and a 12th grade student on the following day by doing everything they are required to do. She has a surprising response and some key takeaways that other teachers, and the system itself, could benefit from.


Takeaway 1: Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

Takeaway 2: High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.

Takeaway 3: You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

She concludes with the following:

I have a lot more respect and empathy for students after just one day of being one again. Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations. This could lead to better “backwards design” from the student experience so that we have more engaged, alert, and balanced students sitting (or standing) in our classes.

4. Seat 21A by Grant Spainer

Grant Spainer has the quintessential travel story of finding an inconvenience caused by someone that turns into a gentle reminder that you get to choose how you respond, sometimes with unexpected results.

Shy of the ALL CAPS OUTRAGE, I’ve had the experience of sitting next to the lady in seat 21A a number of times. This one stays with me. ( Be open to the randomness of life and roll with it. You’ll live longer and be happier about it. Everyone has a story, often more baggage laden than your own.

And a quote:

“We are prisoners of our own metaphors, metaphorically speaking” – R. Buckminster Fuller

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For your consideration – Newsletter

Trying something new…

I recently heard an interview with Maria Popova (@brainpicker) where she discussed her writings as “an Annotated Reading” and I really enjoyed the sound of that. Since switching primarily to E-books and digital reading, I annotate and highlight constantly and would love to share more of what I read.

Here is the inaugural intro email:

This newsletter is inspired by many people, ideas, and things. The initial inspiration for getting me to just do it goes to Alexis Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) and his great newsletter 5 Intriguing Things. Before that I had always enjoyed Nat Torkington and O’Reilly Radar’s 4 Short Links. I love the format and the brevity. It is longer than a tweet and shorter than a blog post with the potential for some imagery and a convenient package size and delivery. It is tuned from the author’s interest without too much more than “This is cool/interesting/thought provoking and you should check it out”

I consume a huge amount of information on a wide variety of topics and come across lots of great things I’d like to share. I usually just send some of the things I find to a few friends it relates to most. However, I think there might be more people interested in the things I find interesting. Who knows where this goes. For now it is another collection of words and thoughts into the void that I hope to use as a tool for thinking.

I plan on publishing this newsletter twice a week with a few of the tidbits I find most interesting. This is an experiment and will evolve as I figure out what I’m doing. Please unsubscribe and accept my apologies if it is not something you are interested in receiving.

Thanks for reading, I hope you find some value in it.


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