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Vincent Tijms
Brewing beer, teaching neuroscience
Brewing beer, teaching neuroscience

Vincent's posts

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This is an interesting approach to thinking about the broader aim of neuroscience. What if you take the neuroscience route and try to explain a microprocessor, of which we know all details?

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Okay, maybe not DESERVE, but, well, you should read this. 

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In the slightly longer run, I am not sure recuperation is sustainable if it aims to protect labor. But I do think that having self-managed workplaces turn to automation in the coming decades leads to outcomes that are dramatically different from (and way more positive than) having a few capitalist owners do so.

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Sure, just file it as jazz!

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Years ago, I processed a McKinsey report on automation and artificial intelligence. I don't recall the details, but found it funny that one of their conclusions was that high-level creative jobs such as consultancy could not be automated within the foreseeable future. The psychologist inside of me thought that was a case of motivated reasoning.

The report described here seems a bit more reasonable, but I cannot understand why people keep having faith in new jobs arising. I've always looked at automation as the filling up of the human skill space, and at some point there are no corners to flee to.

That's not a bad thing, as long as we make strategic choices to smoothly arrive in a post-job economy. My strategy would be to leave the doctors and lawyers alone, and concentrate on fully automated food production.

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I agree with Estrada. Reputation markets are a good idea because:

1. Actual grooming is not practical in globalized, large communities
2. Money as a technology for indexing societal contributions is starting to fail pretty hard, too
3. A centralized system for managing reputations is susceptible to strong normativity: e.g. citizen points handed out by governments will only be awarded for behavior that is in line with said governments.

The difficulty is finding a system that can deal with the high dimensionality of social life. Some people are fun, but shouldn't be trusted if they borrow your car. Other people may be rude, but highly creative, etc. Contrary to transactions like those of Uber, it will be hard to collapse social appreciation to a single number. 
// I'm bucking the dominant social media response. I unironically and genuinely believe that we desperately need tools like this. I have no reason to think this particular tool will be successful, or that its operators will handle it responsibly and with proper consideration for its use and consequences. But to some extent I believe we have a social obligation to build, test, and improve tools like this until we find a useful system that works for everyone. I think something like this is absolutely essential for organizing digital populations on global scales.

Yes, this service can be abused. Any social interaction can be abused. Human social systems have been dealing with abusive relationships for as long as we've been human. Our success as a species is largely driven by our ability to adapt to new social circumstances. Humans thrive in a great diversity of organizational structures, and are quick to adjust the topology of their social network to distribute the loads we all bear. I believe that tools like this will ultimately trigger adjustments in the norms and dynamics of our culture, such that we'll be in a better position to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. Don't be afraid; this is good for us. 

The dominant media response to this app is to make a snap judgement, with near unanimity that this is bad and probably dangerous. Personally, I think the snap judgement is a red herring, a distraction from where our focus should be. And that is: how do we want such a service to perform? How should we act in a world where such ratings exist? What will it change about your behavior? About the orgaizations you participate in?

I have some more thoughts, hopefully to drive a discussion that doesn't just settle on a good/bad dichotomy. 

- I like the default behavior of the system at first blush: All negative reviews are held for 48 hours to give you a chance to dispute the claims. If you never register for the site, you never get to oversee the negative reviews, and thus your profile only contains positive reviews. Of course, as any Amazon reviewer knows, it is easy to leave negative reviews masked as positive ones. I'd hope there was some way of leaving anonymous feedback or open flagging to remove such reviews from unregistered accounts.

- I don't like Facebook as a check on "genuine" identity. At all. But I really, really like the social dynamic proposed by the app between you and your social identity. It basically gives you some special authority in managing the public consensus that forms around your identity. You can't stop people from gossiping about you, but if you are prepared to dispute what they say, then your own word counts for more than the gossip. In general terms this is how I think it should ideally work; in fact, it's a lot like something I proposed to +Yonatan Zunger last year during the Right to be Forgotten trials ( last year.

- I haven't seen much said about the nature and terms of the dispute process, but I think the legitimacy and trustworthiness of the system rests on its reliability. I hope they are putting a lot of resources into thinking about this problem. Arbitration is a big problem, and I'm not sure there's an adequate model in the social media world for dealing with it. The idea for the app is old and simple; if this is a genuinely innovative company, arbitration is where they're innovating.

- I hope there is some way for the user to manage and organize positive and negative reviews in a distinct way. If my homepage just shows a mish-mash of recent reviews, the mixed signals could undermine the usefulness of the system. If, on the other hand, I am first confronted with only the rating itself and perhaps a user-cultivated selection of positive reviews, then the user could have a lot of control over the first impression and general appearance of their social identity while still grounding the overall rating in the consensus of public reviews, and still making the results publicly useful. If the reader then selects to look at the explicitly negative reviews as a distinct collection, it might some of force out of their bite. 

After all, I think everyone accepts that sometimes people get pissed off and say negative, critical things about otherwise nice people. The fact that everyone will have some negative reviews shouldn't surprise anyone, and really shouldn't weigh too heavily against the person. As with Yelp reviews, I think the public is generally savvy enough to distinguish between the one pissed off reviewer who is obviously just in a bad mood, and a restaurant that has persistent service, cleanliness, or food quality issues. If it is an outlier, one extreme review this way or that will have negligible influence on your judgement. The point is to look for for patterns and trends in the reviews, to get an impression of the consensus of views.

- The above reasoning suggests that, like Yelp reviews, people will have a vested interest in not just disputing negative reviews, but more simply in encouraging the general accumulation of reviews, especially from people in their existing social network likely to leave positive reviews. More reviews makes it easier to drown out a few negative outliers, and makes the rating system better represent the consensus of views, and I actually think people have an interest in making the reviews as accurate as possible. I predict most people will end up with mostly positive reviews, and that ratings on this app will trend more positive than anonymous ratings of the same person.

I also think some very shitty people will be shortly getting what they deserve. I don't think the danger from this service comes from inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the way others see you. For others, your profile will simply be another datapoint. The real danger, I think, is to people's own conception of their self-worth. For the user, the rating isn't just a datapoint; in fact, it may be the only source of feedback from the collective as such an individual has access to. As such, it might present a huge psychological influence on one's own self-worth. I can easily imagine a person with social anxiety and depression seeing a low rating feeling just miserable about themselves, the number hanging like a cloud over their head. It's probably just a matter of time before the service is mentioned in a suicide letter. This is absolutely not a tool that should be given to children. 

At the same time, I can imagine how a tool like this could be made to be empowering, opening up opportunities to deal with depressing social circumstances in helpful and otherwise unavailable ways. One might see a negative review list as motivating, inspiring one to become a better person. If the user is given the opportunity to engage negative reviewers, it could provide opportunities to showcase how one manages disagreement and social conflict in positive and constructive ways. I can imagine an employer reading through someone's history of engagement with negative reviewers, and coming way impressed and ready to hire. 

Perhaps I'm being idealistic. Obviously a service like this confronts us with a variety of new and unprecedented challenges. But these are challenges I'm personally eager to face, despite my utter confidence that I'd chalk up more than a few 1-star reviews. 


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The perfect musical complement to a glass of whisky.

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Bureaucratic profiles are like Pinocchio: a representation that somehow gets a life of its own. Connecting databases and mining the data has led to an increase in bureaucratic complexity and has made it even more like a living organism. This formalization of ourselves has so much causal power in our social world, one could be forgiven for thinking that it's our bodies which are the representation and the paper world which is real. In this view, we are just fleshy manifestations of the True Bureaucratic Selves, and we can only learn about ourselves by learning about the mechanisms that profile us. 

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Do plants have cognition? I have often asked my students this question, in order to arrive at a sharper definition of cognition. Usually, students would agree with plants being adaptive perception-action machines -- and therefore cognitive agents. The idea of them having emotions has always been a harder sell, not in the least because it's strongly associated with feelings and because not everyone agrees plants can have motivational states.

I like the idea of plant cognition, because I like how it forces cognitive scientists to think long and hard about what they mean by perception, action, memory and other concepts from the world of cognitive psychology. It also helps us think about how cognition can be realized in different substrates. 

Does acknowledging plant cognition imply a notion of plant rights? It depends on where you think rights come from, but I'd propose that systems* incapable of suffering are also devoid of rights -- no matter how cognitively sophisticated such systems are.

* I am saying system, not organism, because I suspect much of this discussion carries to artifacts.
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