"Det svåraste är här att låta obestämdheten riktigt och oförfalskat komma till uttryck."

April 16, 2014

In English

Participating in the online symposium “Coding Freedom”


I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in the online symposium on Gabriella Coleman’s excellent book Coding Freedom. My first post in the symposium was published yesterday: The title of the book, Coding Freedom, seems to imply that the hacker culture is positively correlated with the increase of freedom in our societies, but in fact it seems as a critical reader could argue the opposite is true. Are we more or less free today than we were at the beginning of the hacker revolution? It does really seem possible to argue that the rise of hacker culture …continue reading

Management advice from Marcus Aurelius

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 11.32.40 PM

In my last post on this subject, a little more than two years ago, I went on about how management literature often leaves you wishing for more substance or depth, and I recommended a number of books that I thought were good alternatives, or perhaps complements, to reading management literature. Well. It has been several years, and I have managed and enjoyed it, but I must admit that the best advice I have gotten is advice not found in glossy management books, but rather the advice found in Marcus Aurelius Meditations. Since I did not mention that the last time I thought …continue reading

Cleverbot and being somewhat human…or a unicorn

Cleverbot is an interesting project that just recently crossed my radarscreen. I like the online interface, and it has also brought an interesting instance of the Turing test to my attention. In this case it is rapid fire Turing tests, where the participants rate “how human” something is on a scale from 0-100 percent. Cleverbot, in one of its incarnations, got to 42.1% human. This highlights a weakness of the Turing test, I think. The notion that something can be somewhat human is clearly wrong, a misuse of the concept humanity. Or is it? Worrying examples from human history indicate …continue reading

Understanding prejudice and racism online through search data

In a recent paper by Seth I. Stephens-Davidowitz Google Search Data is used to assess how much racist-sentiment affected the 2008 vote. The method is interesting, and the outcome nothing short of sensational: The results imply that, relative to the areas in the United States with the lowest racial animus, racial animus cost Obama between 3.1 percentage points and 5.0 percentage points of the national popular vote. This implies racial animus gave Obama’s opponent roughly the equivalent of a home-state advantage country-wide. The cost of racial animus was not decisive in the 2008 election. But a four percentage point loss …continue reading

Dunbar on social signatures

Robin Dunbar’s research on the social brain hypothesis is interesting. The way he describes the hypothesis it states: The social brain hypothesis has suggested that social network size (and structure) is constrained by a combination of cognitive processes and the time required to service social relationships. He has now examined this in a data set of mobile phone calls, and he does indeed find evidence to support the hypothesis. One report about this research has hit the news since it seems to show that women care about men until they get grand-kids, and then they care about their daughters or …continue reading

Teachings of a Toymaker

Today I listened into a talk that Topobo.com founder Hayes Raffle gave to all the kids that gathered at Google. Besides demonstrating some really awesome toys — see the video at the end of this post — he also said something to the kids that I found interesting. His advice was this: If you want to be a happy adult you should try to do what made you happy when you were about seven years old. I like the notion that we never really change at heart, and I like to think that what I loved then could translate into …continue reading

Examining persuasion: internet advertising as linguistic research tool

In “Ecological Evaluation of Persuasive Messages Using Google AdWords” the authors show how internet advertising systems can be used to test and explore the mechanism of persuasion in different ways, for example for exploring natural language processing. In recent years there has been a growing interest in crowdsourcing methodologies to be used in experimental research for NLP tasks. In particular, evaluation of systems and theories about persuasion is difficult to accommodate within existing frameworks. In this paper we present a new cheap and fast methodology that allows fast experiment building and evaluation with fully-automated analysis at a low cost. The …continue reading

Thiel redux

Betsy Masiello, a colleague, disagrees interestingly with Thiel. Her main argument, which I think is sound, is that competition is not one thing. She writes: The other thing Thiel mixes up in all this is that he sort of suggests that competition does not drive innovation when he says maybe “competition isn’t as good as we’re told it is.” I think that’s wrong, competition is every bit as good as we’re told it is. Take Thiel’s own example—one could argue that losing a competition is the thing that prompted a creative spark. Without competition, he would not have experienced loss …continue reading

A note on the social role of companies #SIF12

There is a curious view of companies that state that companies should do only one thing: maximize shareholder value. This view is sometimes thought of as a hardline, capitalist view and it views companies as value-neutral, value-agnostic. And there is a subtext of this being the “pure” nature of the corporation, all else a dilution of the essence of what it is to be a company. But consider the following case. Assume that persons A, B and C get together to start a company, the purpose of which is to usher in artificial intelligence into the world, and that they …continue reading

Thiel on the confusion of capitalism and competition, difficult and valuable

Peter Thiel is turning out to be a very, very original thinker. In today’s New York Times David Brooks mentions a lecture he gave at Stanford on starting up a company. Thiel’s main point is subtle and incredibly interesting: he says that people are confused when they think capitalism is about competition. In fact, with perfect competition there is no profit and you are forced to reinvest all the money you make to stay in place. Capitalism is about doing something in a large market where there is very little competition, and thus making huge profits. And then he adds …continue reading