Weekly quote fix

“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” – Douglas Adams.

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Explainable AI

I sometimes get asked how I look at things, especially in the sense of how do I know what to notice and what to ignore. My glib answer is often the rule of 3. If 3 people mention the same thing, or I see 3 examples of something in different contexts, I tend to pay attention.
A good example is Explainable AI. Early this year a coder mentioned an idea for what he called ‘software that rusts’. For some unexplainable reason this instantly grabbed my attention. It was somewhat illogical and possibly contradictory, but there was something in the idea. Digital is pristine and identical. But humans like imperfection and uniqueness.

Last week I was taking with some students at the Dyson Lab at Imperial College and we got talking about AI to AI interactions and I came up with the idea of Digital Provenance. This would be a bit like Blockchain, in the sense that you could see the history of something that was digital, but it would have a far richer and more human storyline. In other words, digital products would be able to reveal where they were coded, but also when? and by whom? In other words, the idea of provenance or ‘farm to fork’ eating transferred to software code or anything that was digital.

Then the day before yesterday I was with some people and the concept of Explainable AI came up. The best way of thinking about this might to think in terms of a black box that can be opened up. I think this will become increasingly important as and when accidents happen with AI and fully autonomous systems. These machines need to explain themselves to us. They need to be able to argue with us over what they did and why and reveal their biases if asked. At the moment most of these AI systems are secret and neither users, regulators or governments can look inside. But if we start trusting our lives with these systems then this has to change.

BTW, since I’m getting into AI, I’d like to highlight a problem that’s been around for centuries – human stupidity. In a sense, the issue going forward isn’t artificial intelligence, it’s real human stupidity. In particular, the human stupidity caused by an overreliance on machines. As Sherry Turkle once said, “what if one of the consequences of machines that think, is people that don’t?” There is a real danger of a culture of learned incompetence and human de-skilling arising from our use of smart machines.

Silly example: I was at London Bridge Station earlier in the week trying to get on the Jubilee Line. The escalators were broken. The queues were horrific. So, I asked why we couldn’t use the escalators. “Because they’re broken” was the response. “But they are steps” I replied. “They still work.” OMG.

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Some 50-year old graffiti

A copy.  The original appeared around the Sorbonne University in May 1968 and was written in french.

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Read this. It’s interesting.

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Visual of the Week

Thanks to Kevin for this! Click here for a closer look…

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Thought for the Day

Does the size of your whiteboard impact the scale of your thinking? – and while I’m on the subject, does a blackboard influence things in a different way to a whiteboard?

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What if..? (Major Earthquake + Silicon Valley)

I was at a Lloyd’s Insurance event last night and the subject of a major Californian earthquake came up in conversation (not if, when). I’ve written about mega-quakes before, but what ‘ve I’ve never really thought through is the location of Silicon Valley relative to the major fault lines. OMG.

Map key:

San Andreas Fault: Green

Hayward Fault: Yellow

Rodgers Creek Fault: Purple

Calveras Fault: Red

Concorn-Green Calley Fault: Blue

Greenville Fault: Orange

San Gregorio Fault: Black.

Couple of articles here and here.

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Quote of the Week

“Past, and to come, seems best; things present, worst.”

William Shakespeare.

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Sunday Poem

I once blogged that thou shalt not blog on a Sunday. I’ve more or less stuck to this over the years, but I’ve had a new idea. I think Sunday posts should, sometimes at least, be poetry. Here’s one from my futurist friend Oliver, in Sydney.


Every day is a Sunday
The shape of my working week gone
School bells are no longer ringing
No business deals to be done
The babies are now grandchildren
Past lovers are pickled in brine
Parents slide into that grey sea
I’m the oldest ship of the line

All this I can bear with good grace
Cupping my hands around your face
Telling me all I need to know
My heart fibrillates blood’s flow
My new week anchored at the bay –
Every day is a Sunday


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Why is Podcasting Popular?

I’ve been thinking about media recently and, in particular, why podcasting might be so popular right now? What driving forces might be at play here?

The first reason I can think of is that it’s symbolic of a shift away from the few broadcasting to the many to the many broadcasting to the few. It is individual empowerment mixed with deep personalisation.

The listener is now in control of what they listen to, not the controller of a radio station. The listener can select from a vast array of options, based upon niche interests or even tribal values and beliefs. There may even be a link here with realness or authenticity in the sense that you are going to ‘the source’ so to speak. It’s cheap for anyone to create a podcast of very high quality, although some of the best have a lovely homemade feel.

Second, they are perhaps representative of a trend called shifting (first described, I believe, by the Australian futurist Ross Dawson). You can listen at any time, in any place on any device. Being radio, podcasts also fit nicely into our multi-tasking world, because you can listen and do something else at the same time. You can’t really do this with visually based media, because your eyes, and often your fingers and thumbs nowadays, are occupied. There might also be a link here to ‘peak screens’ (we’ve got too much visual stimulation).

Last, but by no means least, I think podcasts tap into our ancient desire to be told stories. This is one thing that is not changing and, I suspect, never will. But they might also be representative of another unchanging desire, and that is intimacy. Many postcasts are created by a single, passionate individual who also appears in the podcast as a narrator. This is hard for huge broadcasting companies with their celebrity presenters to replicate.

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