Four short links: 7 October 2019

Screen Addiction, Data Viz, Algorithmic Bias, and Tools for Thought

By Nat Torkington
October 7, 2019
Four Short Links
  1. Addicted to Screens? That’s Really a You Problem (NY Times) — In “Indistractable,” which was published last month, Mr. Eyal has written a guide to free people from an addiction he argues they never had in the first place. It was all just sloughing off personal responsibility, he figures. So the solution is to reclaim responsibility in myriad small ways. For instance: have your phone on silent so there will be fewer external triggers. Email less and faster. Don’t hang out on Slack. Have only one laptop out during meetings. Introduce social pressure like sitting next to someone who can see your screen. Set “price pacts” with people so you pay them if you get distracted—though be sure to “learn self-compassion before making a price pact.”
  2. The Perceptual and Cognitive Limits of Multivariate Data VisualizationAlmost all data visualizations are multivariate (i.e., they display more than one variable), but there are practical limits to the number of variables that a single graph can display. These limits vary depending on the approach that’s used. Three graphical approaches are currently available for displaying multiple variables: (1) encode each variable using a different visual attribute; (2) encode every variable using the same visual attribute; (3) increase the number of variables using small multiples. In this article, we’ll consider each.
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  4. Any Sufficiently Advanced Neglect is Indistinguishable from Malice: Assumptions and Bias in Algorithmic SystemsA harm created through persistent ignorance, through willful ignorance of harm raised, is not necessarily very different from harm intentionally done.
  5. How Can We Develop Transformative Tools for Thought?We believe now is a good time to work hard on this vision again. In this essay, we sketch out a set of ideas we believe can be used to help develop transformative new tools for thought. In the first part of the essay, we describe an experimental prototype system we’ve built, a kind of mnemonic medium intended to augment human memory. This is a snapshot of an ongoing project, detailing both encouraging progress as well as many challenges and opportunities. In the second part of the essay, we broaden the focus. We sketch several other prototype systems, and we address the question: why is it that the technology industry has made comparatively little effort developing this vision of transformative tools for thought?
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