I’m embarrassed to confess that after more than twelve years in the technology industry and with a Masters degree for Science in Information, I have only just learned of Claude Shannon.
In a blockbuster paper in 1948, Claude Shannon introduced the notion of a “bit” and laid the foundation for the information age. His ideas ripple through nearly every aspect of modern life, influencing such diverse fields as communication, computing, cryptography, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cosmology, linguistics, and genetics.
I hope to have a chance to catch this documentary if it ever makes its way to the Pacific Northwest or to streaming video. In the meantime, we can all learn more about Shannon the The Bit Player website.
On the heels of the last post about Margaret Heffernan and her argument that computer automation is not a rightful substitute for human expertise—especially in highly unpredictable and complex spaces—comes a related episode of the Wireframe podcast.
In this episode, host Khoi Vinh met with doctors about the design of electronic health records (EHR) and the accompanying software and hardware. In a nutshell, these broken systems work against the doctor-patient relationship instead of for it. They are driven more by healthcare billing practices than by patient needs and often command the attention of doctors at the expense of engaging meaningfully with patients. It’s a quick and worthwhile listen for anyone interested in the topic of design in healthcare.
This talk by Margaret Heffernan more intelligently and eloquently expresses the idea that’s been noodling in my mind for some time. That it isn’t an inevitability that we lose our humanity at scale. In fact, we should double down on our humanity–compassion, empathy, and attention–the larger an organization gets. Without it, we become little more than a cog in an unfeeling and uncaring machine.
Preparedness, coalition-building, imagination, experiments, bravery — in an unpredictable age, these are tremendous sources of resilience and strength. They aren’t efficient, but they give us limitless capacity for adaptation, variation and invention. And the less we know about the future, the more we’re going to need these tremendous sources of human, messy, unpredictable skills.
But in our growing dependence on technology, we’re asset-stripping those skills. Every time we use technology to nudge us through a decision or a choice or to interpret how somebody’s feeling or to guide us through a conversation, we outsource to a machine what we could, can do ourselves, and it’s an expensive trade-off. The more we let machines think for us, the less we can think for ourselves.
The more time doctors spend staring at digital medical records, the less time they spend looking at their patients. The more we use parenting apps, the less we know our kids. The more time we spend with people that we’re predicted and programmed to like, the less we can connect with people who are different from ourselves. And the less compassion we need, the less compassion we have.
What all of these technologies attempt to do is to force-fit a standardized model of a predictable reality onto a world that is infinitely surprising. What gets left out? Anything that can’t be measured — which is just about everything that counts.
The Wichita Public Library has a simple and clever type of positive reinforcement. When you checkout a book from the library, the receipt shows you how much you saved by using the library instead of buying the book. They also show your lifetime savings.
At the beginning of this year, I pledged to not buy anymore books and instead either read the ones I’d accumulated or else checkout others from the library. It was a bit of a bumpy start to change habits and adapt to loan periods and hold times for books, but now I’ve hit my groove. I do everything electronically. I use Libby to connect to my local library‘s catalog and once a book is available, I send it to my Kindle. I’ve read much more this year than in the several years preceding. It’s a super convenient and rewarding system, though a tally of my lifetime savings would be fun too!
Dutch design firm, Atelier Boelhouwer, and its principal designer, Matilde Boelhouwer, have set about bringing more blooms to urban spaces with the creation of the series Insectology: Food for Buzz.
The series includes artificial flowers that continuously provide a source of food through a self-sustaining system. These flowers will provide emergency nourishment to bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies, and moths all of whom are pollinators.
Researchers at University of Washington have developed technology that transforms images of people from photographs, drawings, and paintings into three-dimensional animations. It’s fascinating how very nearly realistic it is and I enjoy imagining learning applications that get people more interested and engaged in art.
At the same time, it’s strikingly similar to deep fake audio and video technology (some of which also emerged from UW, though deception was not the original intent). Hopefully the DEEPFAKES Accountability Act, or similar legislation, comes to pass so we can enjoy the potential good of this technology instead of fearing the misuse.