Some bits about society

Complexity Bias: Why We Prefer Complicated to Simple

Complexity Bias

Complexity bias is a logical fallacy that leads us to give undue credence to complex concepts.
Faced with two competing hypotheses, we are likely to choose the most complex one. That’s usually the option with the most assumptions and regressions. As a result, when we need to solve a problem, we may ignore simple solutions — thinking “that will never work” — and instead favor complex ones.
To understand complexity bias, we need first to establish the meaning of three key terms associated with it: complexity, simplicity, and chaos.

Nice piece on the risks of being seduced by unnecessary complexity, especially in the broader context of language. It reminded me of an old essay by Italo Calvino, “L’antilingua”—literally: “the anti-language”—in which he comically shows the effects of replacing simple words with increasingly grotesque jargon. To paraphrase Calvino, the anti-language is the language of people who prefer saying “utilize” instead of “use”, people who are scared of showing familiarity with the subject of their talk. According to him, speaking the anti-language is a sign of being out of touch with life, and ultimately represents the death of language itself.

via fs.blog
April 5, 2018

On #DeleteFacebook

Nietzsche on Facebook

Do I counsel you to delete your Facebook account? #DeleteFacebook is a virtue with some, but with many almost a vice.

I asked Nietzsche what he thinks about #DeleteFacebook, and he was not amused.

via medium.com
March 26, 2018

Common Sense Eats Common Talk

At this point, we are left to answer a critical question. How can we decide when to overrule our common sense? What should we do in the many, almost daily, situations where it’s impossible to verify the validity of a statement? When can we trust common talk? […]

I suspect the answer cannot be found in a positive theory of certainty, but in the acceptance that, as humans, our destiny is to live, and act, in doubt.

I finally managed to read this terrific piece by Stefano Zorzi and I can’t help but think the answer to these questions lies in fully embracing hermeneutics not as just a tool, but instead as the very foundation of being, as brilliantly argued by philosopher Gianni Vattimo in his groundbreaking 1983 essay “Dialectics, Difference, Weak Thought”.

via ribbonfarm.com
February 26, 2018

Music was better back then: When do we stop keeping up with popular music?

Mainstream artists are at the center of a circle, with each larger concentric ring representing artists of decreasing popularity. The average U.S. teen is very close to the center of the chart — that is, they’re almost exclusively streaming very popular music. Even in the age of media fragmentation, most young listeners start their musical journey among the Billboard 200 before branching out.

And that is exactly what happens next. As users age out of their teens and into their 20s, their path takes them out of the center of the popularity circle. Until their early 30s, mainstream music represents a smaller and smaller proportion of their streaming. And for the average listener, by their mid-30s, their tastes have matured, and they are who they’re going to be.

Two factors drive this transition away from popular music. First, listeners discover less-familiar music genres that they didn’t hear on FM radio as early teens, from artists with a lower popularity rank. Second, listeners are returning to the music that was popular when they were coming of age — but which has since phased out of popularity. Interestingly, this effect is much more pronounced for men than for women

Great analysis and insights on this fascinating phenomenon, which I suspect is more about the lack of desire to discover new things, than it is about popularity itself.

via skynetandebert.com
November 8, 2017

Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web

WWW Lynx

I quit Facebook seven months ago.

Despite its undeniable value, I think Facebook is at odds with the open web that I love and defend. This essay is my attempt to explain not only why I quit Facebook but why I believe we’re slowly replacing a web that empowers with one that restricts and commoditizes people. And why we should, at the very least, stop and think about the consequences of that shift.

Another good piece on the current state of the Web as an open platform, with some very practical examples.

While the idea of quitting social media may be unrealistic for most people, it’s important to raise awareness about what is at stake. No platform is inherently bad, as long as users understand what they are giving away in exchange for the service.

via neustadt.fr
November 6, 2017

We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads

So when people voice fears of artificial intelligence, very often, they invoke images of humanoid robots run amok. You know? Terminator? You know, that might be something to consider, but that’s a distant threat. Or, we fret about digital surveillance with metaphors from the past. “1984,” George Orwell’s “1984,” it’s hitting the bestseller lists again. It’s a great book, but it’s not the correct dystopia for the 21st century. What we need to fear most is not what artificial intelligence will do to us on its own, but how the people in power will use artificial intelligence to control us and to manipulate us in novel, sometimes hidden, subtle and unexpected ways. Much of the technology that threatens our freedom and our dignity in the near-term future is being developed by companies in the business of capturing and selling our data and our attention to advertisers and others: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent.

Essential talk by sociologist Zeynep Tüfekçi on the (very current) risks of machine learning applications in social media and advertising networks.

via ted.com
October 30, 2017

The Myth of a Superhuman AI


The most common misconception about artificial intelligence begins with the common misconception about natural intelligence. This misconception is that intelligence is a single dimension. (…) Intelligence is not a single dimension. It is a complex of many types and modes of cognition, each one a continuum.

The main problem with AI still remains finding a suitable definition of the concept of “intelligence”.

via wired.com
August 16, 2017

Battle For World’s Most Valuable Consumer

Share of advertising

Can you think of any other demographic, ethnic or social group that anyone would claim is best influenced by targeting someone else? The whole science of marketing is based on finding the most relevant message and delivering it to the most probable buyer. Except when it comes to people over 50. Then all the rules are suspended. Because these people don’t count. They just “skew the data.”

So why are marketers and advertisers ignoring people over 50?

In this post from 2013, Bob Hoffman makes some great points against the universally accepted notion that teenagers are the most valuable demographic to target in advertising.

via adcontrarian.blogspot.se
April 17, 2017

The Two Western Cultures of Privacy: Dignity Versus Liberty

So why do these sensibilities differ? Why is it that French people won’t talk about their salaries, but will take off their bikini tops? Why is it that Americans comply with court discovery orders that open essentially all of their documents for inspection, but refuse to carry identity cards? Why is it that Europeans tolerate state meddling in their choice of baby names? Why is it that Americans submit to extensive credit reporting without rebelling?

These are not questions we can answer by assuming that all human beings share the same raw intuitions about privacy. We do not have the same intuitions, as anybody who has lived in more than one country ought to know. What we typically have is something else: We have intuitions that are shaped by the prevailing legal and social values of the societies in which we live.

via yalelawjournal.org
February 25, 2017

The Tech that Turns Each of Us Into a Walled Garden

The big change is: there’s now no difference between ads and content. Content, the information you see on your feed, is targeted at you just like ads. And that content can be anything and serve any purpose. There’s no implied social contract for content to be true. Content is now weaponized for a purpose. In other words: content is now propaganda.

A more fundamental question lies here, hidden in plain sight: what makes fake news “fake”? The answers to this question could be way scarier then technology in itself.

via highscalability.com
December 8, 2016

Algorithms Could Save Book Publishing, But Ruin Novels

“Part of the beautiful thing about books, unlike refrigerators or something, is that sometimes you pick up a book that you don’t know,” says Katherine Flynn, a partner at Boston-based literary agency Kneerim & Williams. “You get exposed to things you wouldn’t have necessarily thought you liked. You thought you liked tennis, but you can read a book about basketball. It’s sad to think that data could narrow our tastes and possibilities.”

In the recommendation age, algorithms have the power to confine us in “taste bubbles”, where we are only able to reinforce existing tastes, rather than develop new ones.

Automatic recommendations based on existing data can be really useful, but serendipitous discovery still plays a vital part in the way we shape our tastes. If skating where the puck is going is our preferred strategy, we are going to miss out. A lot.

via wired.com
November 14, 2016

This Italian company pioneered innovative startup culture, in the 1930s

A politician, as well as a chemical engineer and entrepreneur, Olivetti had a philosophical view of entrepreneurship, one that put people and communities at the center of a business. He was a firm believer in the competitive advantage of treating workers fairly and investing in their wellbeing. Andrea Granelli, president of Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti (Olivetti’s historic archive association), told Quartz “the profits from sales were invested in innovation, expansion, higher salaries, social services.”

Looking back at the rise and fall of Adriano Olivetti’s vision for sustainable and socially responsible entrepreneurship is both depressing and extremely inspiring at the same time. So many lessons to learn from that experience.

via qz.com
November 10, 2016
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