Thought Shrapnel

Jan 7, 2024 ↓

We become what we behold

An insightful and nuanced post from Stephen Downes, who reflects on various experiences, from changing RSS reader through to the way he takes photographs. What he calls 'AI drift' is our tendency to replace manual processes with automated ones.

What I appreciate is that Downes doesn't say this is A Bad Thing, but that we should notice and reflect on these things. For example, I've found it really useful to use AI with my MSc studies and to understand (and accelerate) some of the client work I've been involved with.

 This image depicts a person in a dimly lit room, surrounded by stacks of books and papers, focusing on a bright computer screen. The room fades from bright red near the screen to dark gray in the corners, with yellow sticky notes scattered around. The light gray walls are adorned with fading pictures, representing the neglected interests due to 'AI drift'.

What's important is to notice what's happening. When I use AI to select the posts I read in my RSS reader, I'm finding more from the categories I've defined, but I'm missing the new stuff from categories that might not exist yet - the oft-referenced filter bubble. Also, I'm missing the ebb and flow of the undercurrent, of the comings and goings, of the stuff that seems off topic and doesn't matter - and yet, to someone who dwells in the debris like me, it does.

This is what I'm calling 'AI drift' in humans. It's this phenomenon whereby you sort of 'drift' into new patterns and habits when you're in an AI environment. It's not the filter bubble; that's just one part of it. It's the influence it has over all our behaviour. One of those patterns, obviously, is that you start relying on the AI more do do things. But also, you stop doing some of the things you used to do - not because the AI is handling it for you, because as in this case it might not be helping at all, but because you just start doing other things.


AI drift isn't inherently good, and it isn't inherently bad. It just is. It's like that quote often attributed to McLuhan: "We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us." Recognizing AI drift is simply recognizing how we're changing as we use new tools. We then decide whether we like that change or not. In my own case, it comes with some mixed feelings. But that's OK. I wouldn't expect anything else.

Source: AI Drift | Half an Hour
Jan 7, 2024 ↓

Spy windows?

No technology is neutral, and vendors are only ever going to tout the positive qualities. Take this example: it's a way to create a camera out of any window. Huge benefits, as the article says, but also some rather large (and dystopian) downsides.

The image depicts a futuristic glass door on the front of a modern corporate building, reflecting a cityscape with skyscrapers under a sky with clouds. The glass features a holographic facial recognition system with a green circle and lock icon surrounding the reflection of a woman's face with short hair and glasses, indicating access has been granted.

Zeiss is bringing its remarkable Holocam technology to CES 2024, which can turn any glass screen into a camera. This means that everything from the window in your car to the screen on your laptop to the glass on your front door can now possess an invisible image sensor.


The Holocam technology "uses holographic in-coupling, light guiding and de-coupling elements to redirect the incoming light of a transparent medium to a hidden image sensor."


Using an entire pane of glass as a camera lens also opens some fascinating optical possibilities. Some of Zeiss' bullet points include "large aperture invisible camera" and "individual adjustment of orientation and size of the field of views." Which makes me wonder, what is the maximum aperture and focal range of a camera like this?

Of course, there's a darker potential for such technology. Given the current fear around hidden cameras in Airbnbs, the idea of every single window (or even shower door) in a rental property being able to spy on you is a little disconcerting.

Source: This holographic camera turns any window into an invisible camera | Digital Camera World
Jan 7, 2024 ↓

What is degrowth communism?

This interview with Kohei Saito in EL PAÍS talks about the importance of having a positive view of the future, with "a society that adapts to the limits of nature and offers universal access to education, health, transportation, internet".

Sounds good to me.

The image created depicts a peaceful, sustainable community thriving in harmony with nature, focusing on the concept of degrowth. The scene includes community gardens, renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar panels, and people of diverse backgrounds engaging in educational and artistic activities. The color palette of light gray, dark gray, bright red, yellow, and blue symbolizes a vibrant, sustainable way of living that emphasizes environmental harmony and a shift away from industrial excess.

We are in a chronic state of emergency. The pandemic was not the last crisis, but rather the beginning of more problems. We should not forget that moment [during lockdown] when, consciously, we halted capitalism. It seemed impossible. But it happened. For a short time. A good moment to establish some distance: people came back more anti-capitalist and inclined towards degrowth. Let’s remember that.


I talk about a degrowth communism: a society that adapts to the limits of nature and offers universal access to education, health, transportation, internet… Due to a variety of crises, access to these services — the common good — has been undermined for many. But without positive visions of the future, there will be more and more discontent. What we need is to build a broad movement: environmentalist, working-class, feminist, Indigenist… To propose an inclusive and emancipatory future.


The Anthropocene signifies that humans have become a geological force, with the ability to modify the planet. But not everyone is equally responsible for this situation. It’s primarily the people of the Global North; particularly, the super-rich who think they can do it all with their money, even flee the Earth. That idea of conquest originates with European colonialism, linking imperialism, capitalism and progress. We should also restrict space shuttles, like SpaceX. Spending so much money, effort and time on going to Mars seems stupid to me; we should invest that energy in saving our planet. As a philosopher, I’m an optimist. Our perception, our values, can change in two or five years. Opportunities for change are everywhere. I want to explore what they are.

Source: Kohei Saito, philosopher: ‘Spending so much money, effort and time on going to Mars is stupid’ | Climate | EL PAÍS English
Jan 8, 2024 ↓

Welcome to the new home of Thought Shrapnel! Excuse the mess while we unpack boxes, etc.