Monday 11 October, 2021

Quote of the Day

“Whenever things are frightening, it is a good idea to measure them”

  • Daniel Kehlmann

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

David Lindley | Starting All Over Again


Long Read of the Day

Remystifying Supply Chains

By Venkatesh Rao

This is a very long read, but worth it. It’s the best ting I’ve ever read on supply chains, the conduits on which our world is built, and the malfunctioning of which has been wreaked by Covid. Rao has been fascinated by these chains for a long time and has written a lot about them. In this essay, he gathers a lot of ideas together to argue that our current models for thinking about supply chains are obsolete because they assume that chains are merely complicated networks rather than complex systems with unpredictable emergent behaviours.

You need to make an appointment with this.

China is cutting its tech giants down to size. What should we learn from this?

Yesterday’s Observer column:

This is story of two parallel universes. Over in the western one, neoliberal capitalism rules. In the other – the Chinese universe – a different system presides. In both universes, government concern over the growing power of giant tech companies has been growing for a while, but there the similarities end.

In the west, governments and legislatures were asleep at the wheel as the tech companies zoomed along their rapid growth paths. But in the past few years, democratic institutions have belatedly lumbered into action, or at any rate into a semblance of activity…

Read on

Americans Need an AI Bill of Rights

Interesting piece in Wired by the Science Adviser to the US President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and his Deputy.

What machines learn depends on many things—including the data used to train them.

Data sets that fail to represent American society can result in virtual assistants that don’t understand Southern accents; facial recognition technology that leads to wrongful, discriminatory arrests; and health care algorithms that discount the severity of kidney disease in African Americans, preventing people from getting kidney transplants.

Training machines based on earlier examples can embed past prejudice and enable present-day discrimination. Hiring tools that learn the features of a company’s employees can reject applicants who are dissimilar from existing staff despite being well qualified—for example, women computer programmers. Mortgage approval algorithms to determine credit worthiness can readily infer that certain home zip codes are correlated with race and poverty, extending decades of housing discrimination into the digital age. AI can recommend medical support for groups that access hospital services most often, rather than those who need them most. Training AI indiscriminately on internet conversations can result in “sentiment analysis” that views the words “Black,” “Jew,” and “gay” as negative.

Yeah. We know all that. But what should be done about it?

The authors have decided to borrow an idea from UA constitutional history.

Soon after ratifying our Constitution, Americans adopted a Bill of Rights to guard against the powerful government we had just created—enumerating guarantees such as freedom of expression and assembly, rights to due process and fair trials, and protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Throughout our history we have had to reinterpret, reaffirm, and periodically expand these rights. In the 21st century, we need a “bill of rights” to guard against the powerful technologies we have created.

Our country should clarify the rights and freedoms we expect data-driven technologies to respect. What exactly those are will require discussion, but here are some possibilities: your right to know when and how AI is influencing a decision that affects your civil rights and civil liberties; your freedom from being subjected to AI that hasn’t been carefully audited to ensure that it’s accurate, unbiased, and has been trained on sufficiently representative data sets; your freedom from pervasive or discriminatory surveillance and monitoring in your home, community, and workplace; and your right to meaningful recourse if the use of an algorithm harms you.

In the coming months, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will be developing such a bill of rights, working with partners and experts across the federal government, in academia, civil society, the private sector, and communities all over the country.

The White House wants “to hear from and engage with everyone”. The email address is

Wonder if it’ll catch on on this side of the Pond.

My Commonplace booklet

(Eh? See here)

  • “When Umberto Eco’s second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, was published in English, I reviewed it, and I must have been in an unusually bad mood, because I hated it, and said so. Not long after the review appeared I was at a literary gathering in a stunningly grand room in the Louvre, in Paris, and when I arrived the first person I saw coming towards me was Umberto Eco himself. We had never met before, and this was obviously not likely to be the happiest first encounter, or so I thought. But Eco, in a moment of expansive generosity, spread out his arms to embrace me, and cried out, in greeting, “Rushdie! I am the bullshit Eco!” — Salman Rushdie

  • “The common complaint that one has too many books, rather like the confession that one has had too many lovers, is usually a boast in not very good disguise “ — Julian Baggini.

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