Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Nine Links for Fall 2023

Here is a small selection of intriguing articles I read online over the last three months.

  • Political Analysis Needs More Witchcraft (The Atlantic) — Beliefs, true or false, rational or irrational, shape politics, and many people self-report a belief in witchcraft (1/6 in US, 2/3 of Latvia), and 85% globally believe in God. Academics and pundits tend to dismiss these views for being outlandish and this is a major blind spot.
  • Metrics, Cowardice, and Mistrust (Ivan Vendrov) — Vendrov describes a feedback loop in which making the wrong call based on intuition, or delegating to someone who does the same can be a firing offense at a corporate job. The result of this cover-your-ass mentality is an over-reliance on metrics at the expense of velocity and good outcomes.
  • A Whole New Cope (Venkatesh Rao) — Most of us have negligible power to do anything about concerning events half way across the world, yet are deeply affected by them. Rao suggests this is because we interpret these events not in isolation but as signs and portents of our entire world beginning to come apart.
  • ‘Ketman’ and Doublethink: What It Costs to Comply With Tyranny (Jacob Mikanowski) — Contra Arendt, who believed that the subjects produced by totalitarianism no longer distinguish between fact and fiction, Miłosz argued that they practiced what he called Ketman, first mastering deception, then practicing it competitively, valuing cunning over all else, and finally losing the ability to "differentiate his true self from the self he simulates".
  • Employees Risk More (Ben Mathes) — VCs invest money into a portfolio of bets, while the startup employee invests all of their time into one risky bet. Investors can raise more money, but employees can't raise more time, so if you're looking to join a startup, do your homework!
  • The Wolf (Rands) — Describes an engineer archetype who works outside well-defined processes and is unburdened by the "encumbering necessities of a group of people building at scale". As a result, he is incredibly effective and appears to suffer no consequences for not following the rules.
  • Old Wards and New Against Fake Humans (Interconnected) — Practical advice for detecting a fake human on the internet: challenge him to say something obscene. On a video call? Have your interlocutor turn sideways and show you her ears, and watch for visual glitches. It's "like shaking hands from the old days, demonstrating that I’m not about to draw my sword."
  • Becoming a magician (Autotranslucence) — Have you reached a plateau? Is your well-worn strategy bringing you diminishing returns? Pause and consider who you want to be next. What are the fears that hold you back? Who are you really impressed by? Surround yourself with those people that look like magicians to you, learn from them, articulate your new goal and find a new strategy to get there.
  • A Tool to Supercharge Your Imagination (Ian Bogost) — In an uncharacteristically optimistic article, Bogost lauds modern image generation models for their ability to quickly "shape unfiltered thoughts" and give them "shape outside your mind", but ignores the downsides. It's a bit like reading a book and then watching the movie: all of the fuzzy but vivid mental imagery in your mind's eye collapses into the images on the screen. Gandalf will never again be an abstract wizard, only the one depicted by Ian McKellen.

Happy New Year to you all!