On the Danger of Strong AI

Nick Bostrom worries that creating something smarter than you is a basic Darwinian error, and compares the excitement about it to sparrows in a nest deciding to adopt a baby owl so it’ll help them and protect them once it grows up—while ignoring the urgent cries from a few sparrows who wonder if that’s necessarily a good idea

On Sacrificing for the Arts

Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend:

“It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.

via “Creative People Say No

On Free Expression

It’s a truism of free expression that if you only defend speech you agree with, you don’t believe in free expression. That doesn’t mean you have to defend the content of the expression: it means you have to support the right of people to say stupid, awful things. You can and should criticize the stupid, awful things. It’s the distinction between the right to express a stupid idea, and the stupidity of the idea itself.

Cory Doctorow

On the God of the Gaps

Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.

— Hippocrates (as quoted by Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World)


CSS got it wrong and we’re now suffering the consequences. The HTML feature that was ignored in CSS 1 was the thing they should’ve focused on: tables, which were directives that generated layout. It set us on a path of trying to fake them by piggybacking on supposedly semantic elements, like lipstick on a div.

Stephen Witten

On the Limitations of Photography

 I mean, photography is all right if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed cyclops—for a split second.

— David Hockney, artist, videographer, and sometime-photographer


On Context as Art

The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen, if recognized.

— Charles Simic in Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell as quoted by Tufte in Visual Explanations

On the Difficulty of Writing

Writing is a mentally difficult thing — it’s hard to know when something’s worth saying; it’s hard to be clear; it’s hard to arrange things in a way that will hold a reader’s attention; it’s hard to sound good; it’s even hard to know whether, when you change something, you’re making it better.

James Somers