What would it mean to build AI like octopuses, fungi or forests?

Framing intelligence as either the extractive corporate technological determinism kind or the pure human uniqueness kind is too limiting an understanding of intelligence. The world has far more kinds.

Artist and technologist James Bridle published in 2022 a compelling book called Ways of Being that reviewed research, themes and experiments in expanding our understanding of what technology can be. I recommend the book for others interested in a wider lens on AI and other advancements.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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The Culture of New Capitalism

The digital economy encourages each of us to be further individualized, quantified and atomized.

That’s a big theme from the 2006 book “The Culture of the New Capitalism” written by sociologist Richard Sennett. The nature of work and the organization of companies was shifting for decades but he spotted a marked shift he called “new capitalism.” This new form of capitalism is characterized by a focus on flexibility, innovation and the constant search for new markets and technologies.

Though 15 years old, the book is still relevant and serves as a good landscape of the academic research and philosophy that underpins an understanding of where we are today.

He argues that this shift led to a culture in which individuals are expected to adapt and learn in order to succeed, and so longterm commitments and relationships are devalued. The book is critical of how this new culture shifts individual identity and community, and the impact it has on social and economic inequality.

Below I share my notes from the book for future reference.

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The Age of AI

Artificial intelligence will be considered a new epoch in human history. The Enlightenment was defined by the age of reason, in which a process could ensure humans develop new and tested knowledge. Increasingly though, algorithmic learning is developing so rapidly that no human entirely understands the recommendations that AI makes. This will be seen as entirely new age.

So argues the Age of AI: And Our Human Future, a 2021 book written by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and AI researcher Daniel Huttenlocher. That big idea was argued in an article Kissinger wrote for The Atlantic in 2018 entitled: How the Enlightenment Ends.

The book is neither dystopian nor breathlessly optimistic. It is not full of rich stories nor colorful visions. It is a clear-eyed book directed toward policymakers and business leaders. It outlines its authors view of current research and understanding about where AI research is heading.

I collected notes from the book below. I recommend reading it.

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J.C.R. Licklider and his Dream Machine of personal computing

We interact with computers to help us think.

Both in the transactional sense that these machines can help us solve math problems or search across a vast array of indexed information, and in the deeper sense that we can patter our own behaviors around how a computer solves a problem. This wasn’t always inevitable.

Before the invention of the keyboard, computer mouse and graphical interface, and certainly before the government-funded creation of the internet, computers were seen charitably as oversized and expensive calculators. They may seem today like an appliance that is as valuable to our quality of life as an indoor toilet or a heating system. It took vision to make the change.

The people (yes, especially a particular man) behind that vision is the focus of The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal, a 2001 book by science journalist M. Mitchell Waldrop. The book tells the story of J.C.R. Licklider (1915-1990) and his role in the development of the modern personal computer. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist, was one of the pioneers of the concept of “interactive computing,” which envisioned a future in which computers would be accessible and easy to use for individuals, rather than just large institutions.

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Prediction: my children will care less about technology than I do

These are not my kids. I don't even have kids. This is a photo I found online of a bunch of kids using laptops. It's meant to be mildly representative of where we are today, in shoving digital technology in everyone's hands.

Two premises:

(a) Generations are cyclical.

(b) Technology is everything we were alive to see invented.

If my peers today are a part of an incredible age of change and innovation, when what is new is what matters most, I believe that my children’s generation in 20 years or so, will be characterized by rebelling against what is new — if that doesn’t happen sooner. (I don’t have kids yet, but I might have ’em someday and so I’m talking broadly)

What is considered technology today — things like web-based communication, geo location-centric discovery and adaptable information gathering — will not be abandoned necessarily (because those will be everyday tools 20 years from now) but I do believe consumer interest will go elsewhere from the newest and latest around technology in as obsessive a fashion. New ideas fuel consumer interest, but I suspect my kids won’t care about technology in the same way we do today.

What will replace technology, well, I’m not quite sure yet.

iPhone: my first personal smartphone and the first 15 predictable free apps I downloaded

My first smartphone arrived at my door yesterday.

Considering it’s late 2011 and I report for a technology news site, you can be sure that I got a lot of crap for it being only my first. Of course, as I explained, in 2009 I was a struggling freelance writer so I had trouble enough affording my prepaid burner phone. Late that year, I joined a family plan with my sister to cut costs even more and took the basic level phone: a sturdy Samsung texting phone.

Only now, two years later, was my contract ready for an update. Considering I had already made my jump into the Apple world, I bought into the hype, and spent more than $300 on the iPhone 4s. Of course, because I cover technology, I already had a clear idea of what I would be doing with the device and had played with them for years — though that made my awe no less substantial as I played with mine.

Still, I quickly added a slew of free apps that seem to me to be the staples. Below, a list of the free apps I first added to my phone, and expectations for getting more crap:

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Philacon Valley: The surging technology communities of Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley

The older streets of Philadelphia with the Center City-skyscraping Liberty Towers peering over.

Wipe clean the rust.

Philadelphia, Pa., the first great and longest-lasting great American city, which fell on long-hard, embarrassing times for much of the second-half of the 20th century, has every reason to take on the future of urban existence — innovation.

I’m using the opportunity to also introduce a new venture, Technically Philly, a blog covering the community of people using technology in Philadelphia.

And that community is growing. If it’s green development or technology, Philadelphia has a thriving underground version of it. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Philacon Valley.

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Why all journalists should use syndicated feeds

What do you use for syndicated RSS or atom feeds?

If you are a journalist, blogger or news gatherer of any kind, you ought to have an answer.

Abandoning your browser and instead using a Web-based news aggregator can help you more efficiently consume the Internet. So, instead of chasing down top news, have the latest headlines immediately update in one place, right to you.

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