The Best Quotes I Read in 2018
I read a lot. For pleasure, for work, and for my publication, The Thoughtful Net, which is a little of both pleasure and work. As well as books I read a lot of online articles, especially long-form; I save a lot of links to Pocket, which is synced to my Kobo eReader, and then I read on my commute to and from work — averaging probably five or six articles per day. I share the articles that I like to my colleagues, on my Twitter, and a rare few exceptional ones to my newsletter.
What I enjoy very much is to collect quotes (or quotations, if you’re that type of person). A nice turn of phrase or a point that makes me stop and reflect, or think of something entirely differently, always gets saved to my Keep — with the hope that it will one day spark a new line of thought in me, or be added to a presentation deck to support my argument.
In this article I present the quotes I read this year that I felt were worth saving and sharing. The quotes aren’t necessarily from this year (some of them date back to the 19th Century) but they were new to me. Most of them, in some way, are linked to technology, which is both pleasure and work to me.
Technology and progress
Machines are better than me at whatever they’re for. That’s the point of tools. A calculator is better than me at 238÷182 and a bucket is better than me at holding water.
When you invent the ship you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane, you invent the plane crash… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.
Paul Virilio, Politics of the Very Worst, 1996
Technology and society
Technology reflects the values of the societies in which it’s deployed, and can’t fix problems that a society is unwilling to fix within itself.
Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems. It was always naïve to think so. Technology is an enabler, but humanity has to deal with humanity’s problems. I think we’re both over-reliant on technology as a way to solve things and probably, at this moment, over-indexing on technology as a source of all problems, too.
We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 1950
We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have.
It’s been said that the four most expensive words in the world are: ‘This time it’s different.’
In the future, the robots will know everything about us — and they will tell our stories.
The networked self
There was and is no offline; it is a lusted-after fetish object that some claim special ability to attain, and it has always been a phantom.
When we used to make phone calls, we would call to a place rather to a person. But now, with cell phones, we’re calling people, and we don’t actually know what circumstance our phone call is going to enter. So, texting instead allows people to connect with one another in ways that fit better with the mobile device itself, since it’s with us at all times and in all kinds of different circumstances.
If digital remains are like the informational corpse of the deceased, they may not be used solely as a means to an end, such as profit, but regarded instead as an entity holding an inherent value.
Data and machine learning
I don’t think [you] need to be interested in [your] data for the monitoring of it to be useful to [you] at some point. We monitor our electricity use continuously. How often do you look at your electricity meter? You never look at it. Unless you get an unusually high bill, or something flags it. Then you’re glad it was being measured.
If we want to understand how an AI system with a simple objective function will behave, with regard to unintended consequence, a good analogy is that of corporations managed solely with a focus on the single-objective function of profit-maximisation, and without regard to other stakeholders or the environment.
Machine learning won’t figure out what problems to solve. If you aren’t aligned with a human need, you’re just going to build a very powerful system to address a very small — or perhaps nonexistent — problem.
The selfie isn’t just a photograph: it’s taken with the intent of sharing it, not just as a memory. And because of that, in the very instant it’s taken, it becomes a networked object: it connects different spaces and populations.
Photographing something is a way of possessing it. It confirms your connection to places and objects once distant and remote, making the world slightly smaller and less alienating.
Spaces reserved for modelling have existed for decades — as long as portraiture. What’s happened is that Instagram has created a new slice of people who do that too. It’s a democratisation, not a debasement.
Devices intended to augment life, not replace it, have always been more compelling. The virtual reality market is fundamentally constrained by its very nature: because it is about the temporary exit from real life, not the addition to it, there simply isn’t nearly as much room for virtual reality as there is for any number of other tech products.
The limitations [of creating an augmented reality future] are less about technical constraints, and more in our ability to conceptualise, structure and prioritise the aspects of the world we want to build.
A social network is crucially different from a social circle, since the function of a social circle is to curb our appetites and of a network to extend them.
Social media is in a pre-Newtonian moment, where we all understand that it works, but not how it works. There are certain rules that govern it and we have to make it our priority to understand the rules, or we cannot control it.
In forcing a person out, we are like nodes in a network or a circuit that’s decided to eject [them], but somehow we’ve all done it together. We think of ourselves as being self-expressive individuals, but the collective act is to censor something that doesn’t fit with us and they’re kicked out. We think we’re individuals. We think that’s the reality. But the real reality is that we have been managed by a few lines of code into a complex system that rejects what the system doesn’t like.
We don’t completely blame Facebook [for the Sri Lanka riots]. The germs are ours, but Facebook is the wind.
The thing that seems most misunderstood about voice UI is that people don’t care about talking to machines unless it creates greater efficiency or ease for them. It’s not compelling for its own sake, only for how it gets you to your goals.
By 2021, it [will be] possible to talk to almost every new connected consumer device sold in Western markets. Not every device [will] incorporate a microphone and voice-processing functions: greater support for programming interfaces and the ability to relay commands from speech-activated devices such as smart speakers brings voice control to otherwise “deaf” products.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.
Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 1847
If people don’t have the conceptual mechanisms in place to understand how narrative is created and employed to manipulate, then the better the fake, the more susceptible and increasingly large segment of the population becomes to this kind of attack.
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, — all in one.
John Ruskin, Modern Painters Vol. III, 1873
What one should not do is to suppose that, deep in another’s psyche, there is a full self-experience of which we get only fragments.
Technology and history
[Writing] wasn’t “just” a way to record things, it led to the creation of mathematics, science, history, literary arts, and other pillars of modern civilization.
By consciously exploring geometric principles, [Renaissance] painters gradually learned how to construct images of objects in three-dimensional space. In the process, they reprogrammed European minds to see space in a Euclidean fashion.
Originally published at Peter Gasston.