Computer Files Are Going Extinct | OneZero

Source: Computer Files Are Going Extinct | OneZero, by Simon Pitt

I like being able to look at and access my files. But now the systems I use try to stop me from doing so. “No,” they say, “access them through these bespoke, proprietary interfaces.” I just want my file browser back, but now I’m not allowed it. It’s a relic of an earlier era.

Years ago websites were made of files; now they are made of dependencies. … The unit of creation has moved from the file to the database entry.

In some ways, that doesn’t make a huge difference. The data is the same, just stored in a database rather than an HTML document. The URL could even be the same, just behind the scenes it fetches the content from a different type of data store. But the implications are much bigger. The content is dependent on a whole heap of infrastructure, rather than being able to stand on its own.

I miss the universality of files. The fact they can work anywhere, be moved around easily. The file has been replaced with the platform, the service, the ecosystem.

Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World | Collaborative Fund

Source: Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World | Collaborative Fund, by Morgan Housel

An irony of studying history is that we often know exactly how a story ends, but have no idea where it began.

Every current event – big or small – has parents, grandparents, great grandparents, siblings, and cousins. … Those roots can snake back infinitely. But the deeper you dig, the closer you get to the Big Things: the handful of events that are so powerful they influence a range of seemingly unrelated topics.

The world is driven by tail events. A minority of things drive the majority of outcomes. … World War II, World War I, and the Great Depression influenced nearly every important event of the 20th century. Industrialization and the Civil War did the same in the 19th.

Demographics, inequality, and information access will have a huge impact on the coming decades.

A demographic shift that reconfigures modern economies.

Wealth inequality that’s grown for four decades hits an inevitable breaking point. … The takeaway is that power is transitory. It shifts when those who don’t have it get so fed up that they bond together to gain enough influence to take it back. Never underestimate the power of a unified group of powerless people with a shared goal. If you accept this premise, then what’s happened over the last 40 years is a Big Thing. … I don’t know where it ends up, but the federal government of, say, 1960 was unrecognizable to that of 1920. The Great Depression and World War II triggered most of that change, but the enduring social changes of that period were centered around supporting lower-income groups after the epic Gilded Age.

Access to information closes gaps that used to create a social shield of ignorance. … The telephone eliminated the information gap between you and a distant relative, but the internet has closed the gap between you and literally every stranger in the world. … Michael Arrington recently wrote: “I thought Twitter was driving us apart, but I’m slowly starting to think half of you always hated the other half but never knew it until Twitter.” This is a good point that highlights something easy to overlook: 1) everyone belongs to a tribe, 2) those tribes sometimes fundamentally disagree with one another, 3) that’s fine if those tribes keep their distance, 4) the internet increasingly assures that they don’t.

In effect, credentialism is melting away. I don’t care who you are or what your job title is. If you have a good idea, I want to hear it. Of course the flip side of this is dangerous, as the maniac shouting the loudest often gets the attention.

A third shift is that it is now harder to hide behind, yet easier to spread, false and misleading information. I don’t know how to reconcile that contradiction, but you see both everywhere.

A Separate Kind of Intelligence | Edge

Source: A Separate Kind of Intelligence | Edge, by Alison Gopnik

“Instead of trying to produce a program to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child?”

— Alan Turing, a 1950 paper

One of the consequences of that, which is not so obvious, is thinking about children not just as immature forms who learn and grow into an adult intelligence, but as a separate kind of intelligence

Life history is the developmental trajectory of a species: how long a childhood it has, how long it lives, how much parental investment there is, how many young it produces. … The strategy of producing just a few younger organisms, giving them a long period where they’re incapable of taking care of themselves, and then having a lot of resources dedicated to keeping them alive turns out to be a strategy that over and over again is associated with higher levels of intelligence. … It turns out to even be true for plants and for immune systems.

Creatures that have more complex immune systems also have this longer developmental trajectory. It looks as if there’s a general relationship between the very fact of childhood and the fact of intelligence. That might be informative if one of the things that we’re trying to do is create artificial intelligences or understand artificial intelligences. In neuroscience, you see this pattern of development where you start out with this very plastic system with lots of local connection, and then you have a tipping point where that turns into a system that has fewer connections but much stronger, more long-distance connections. It isn’t just a continuous process of development.

An interesting consequence of this picture of what intelligence is like is that many things that seem to be bugs in childhood turn out to be features. Literally and metaphorically, one of the things about children is that they’re noisy. They produce a lot of random variability. … That randomness, variability, and noise—things that we often think of as bugs—could be features from the perspective of this exploratory space. Things like executive function or frontal control, which we typically think of as being a feature of adult intelligence—our ability to do things like inhibit, do long-term planning, keep our impulses down, have attentional focus—are features from the exploit perspective, but they could be bugs from the perspective of just trying to get as much information as you possibly can about the world around you.

Being impulsive and acting on the world a lot are good ways of getting more data. They’re not very good ways of planning effectively on the world around you. This gives you a different picture about the kinds of things you should be looking for in intelligence.

My Family Story of Love, the Mob, and Government Surveillance | The Atlantic

Source: My Family Story of Love, the Mob, and Government Surveillance | The Atlantic, by Jack Goldsmith
adapted from Jack Goldsmith’s new book, In Hoffa’s Shadow: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth

the government’s surveillance power has grown unfathomably since the 1960s. The “frightening paraphernalia” from six decades ago are toys compared with the redoubtable tools that allow the government to watch and record our movements and communications, and that enable it to store almost limitless amounts of data on its own or to piggyback on the masses of data that we volunteer to private firms. … Congress has ratified and legitimated what were once legally tenuous surveillance techniques. It did so after the executive branch convinced legislators that the techniques were necessary for law enforcement and national security, but it imposed various legal constraints on their use.

The result of these developments is yet another “new normal” in which the government is constrained in certain respects but citizens are far more exposed to lawful government surveillance than before. This latest new normal, like earlier ones, will not prove stable. … If history is a guide, the government will perceive a security advantage in using these and other tools in new ways to watch us and to predict and preempt our behavior. … Congress will legalize the surveillance practice on the condition, mainly, of new procedural restraints. And we will adjust to our more naked selves.

This is a depressing conclusion for many, but it is an inevitable one. The executive branch does what it thinks it must, including conduct robust surveillance, to meet our demands for safety.

How to Build Good Software | Civil Service College Singapore

Source: How to Build Good Software | Civil Service College Singapore, by Li Hongyi

How useful a piece of software can be is usually limited by its complexity rather than the amount of resources invested in building it. … Building good software involves alternating cycles of expanding and reducing complexity.

There is no such thing as platonically good engineering: it depends on your needs and the practical problems you encounter.

Software projects rarely fail because they are too small; they fail because they get too big.

A good engineer has a better grasp of existing software they can reuse, thus minimising the parts of the system they have to build from scratch. They have a better grasp of engineering tools, automating away most of the routine aspects of their own job. Automation also means freeing up humans to work on solving unexpected errors, which the best engineers are disproportionately better at. Good engineers themselves design systems that are more robust and easier to understand by others. This has a multiplier effect, letting their colleagues build upon their work much more quickly and reliably. Overall, good engineers are so much more effective not because they produce a lot more code, but because the decisions they make save you from work you did not know could be avoided.