•  3 min read

AI, Books and Learning

Unless you've been living under a very large, very heavy rock, you'd have seen quite a bit of writing about the standoff between some of Google's engineers and the company regarding Project Maven, a contract with the US Military to improve targeting using AI. What's most intersting to me is that Google blinked first and then followed up with a public statement around their AI principles; I'll leave it to you to read the full list, but a couple of things really stand out for me, firstly:

2. Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias.
AI algorithms and datasets can reflect, reinforce, or reduce unfair biases. We recognize that distinguishing fair from unfair biases is not always simple, and differs across cultures and societies. We will seek to avoid unjust impacts on people, particularly those related to sensitive characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, income, sexual orientation, ability, and political or religious belief.

And possibly even more so, the AI applications they will not pursue:

  1. Technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm. Where there is a material risk of harm, we will proceed only where we believe that the benefits substantially outweigh the risks, and will incorporate appropriate safety constraints.
  2. Weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.
  3. Technologies that gather or use information for surveillance violating internationally accepted norms.
  4. Technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.

Also on the subject of AI, I really liked this piece on the need for new AI cliches.

I've also spent a fair bit of time reading about reading this week; firstly the 88 books that the TED team recommend for this summer, along with all of Bill Gates' book recommendations from the last eight years. And then there's the 10 smartest books you can read this summer. My Amazon wishlist has expanded quite considerably.

To counter last week's somewhat pessimistic links, there's this Wharton interview with Steven Cohen on why (from a public policy perspective) sustainable cities may be closer than we think. Another book added to the 'to-read' list.

While I would not necessarily call myself an admirer of John Perry Barlow's (although I do admire a lot of his thinking), based on Jesse Jarnow's review of his memoir in Wired, I'm adding that to the list, too:

Breezy, connected by ceaselessly mind-blowing anecdotes, and bubbling over with psychedelic wisdom, Mother American Night will become the crucial document for understanding the life and work of the internet pioneer and Dead collaborator. The fun is infectious. He’s introducing Timothy Leary to the Grateful Dead! He’s working in Andy Warhol’s Factory! He’s taking acid with JFK Jr. and Daryl Hannah! He’s roasting Steve Jobs! He’s dating Anita Hill! It would be name-dropping if Barlow himself weren’t so fascinating and his observations so incisive.

Not a book, but still book-related, there's an exhibition of JRR Tolkien's works at Oxford University that I'd love to see:

...Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, is at the Weston Library in Oxford until October. Visiting before it opens, with preparations still ongoing, I must rely a little on my imagination to colour between the lines. We pass the skeleton of what will be the main entrance to the exhibition; I am told by its curator, Catherine McIlwaine, that the Doors of Durin will be projected into this dark passageway to welcome visitors.

At the heart of the gallery is a model that will chart the routes taken by Tolkien’s characters through the landscape of Middle-earth. As McIlwaine talks me through the items, I find that seeing the exhibition in this liminal state lends an unexpected resonance to the experience. After all, never is a story more alive than when it is in progress.

I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was 10 years old, and they are still books I can pick up and re-read and enjoy them as much as I did that first time.

And to close out, the premise of Austin Kleon's Learning for learning’s sake strick a chord with me:

...what worries me the most is this faulty idea that you should only spend time learning about things if they have a definite “ROI.” Creative people are curious people, and part of being a creative person is allowing yourself the freedom to let your curiosity lead you down strange, divergent paths. You just cannot predict how what you learn will end up “paying off” later.