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ai data development free speech Uncategorized

2022 reflections

2022 seems to have been a strange year for a lot of people. There’s a lot of bloggers I follow whose output dropped a lot this year, myself included. Some of that I’m sure is a seeming loss of community, with changes to Twitter and Facebook, and I’m sure Google’s AMP as well, there’s been less drive-through traffic and less engagement.

I also think online discourse in many places is following the lines we see in politics where subtlety and nuance are increasingly punished and every platform is pushing shorter form content. We’re not giving ourselves time to digest and reflect.

And we should.

The pandemic is still here, but we’re adjusting, working from home is a natural state for many of us in tech, although that’s not an arrangement that plays to everyone’s strengths, so let’s make space for different companies with different cultures. There’s new ways of working to explore (hello the UK 4 day week experiment), people have moved jobs to take advantage of the change and create more family time.

But we can’t escape the world outside tech, and many of us are burning mental cycles on disease, on the massive weather events from climate change, on war, on the continued assaults by the far right, and watching inflation tickling upwards. It’s not an environment that leads us to our best work. It’s not an environment that helps us be in the moment.

Through 2016-2021 the world stared into the abyss of the rise of the far right, and the dismantling of certainties, before we were all thrown into lockdown. We were hoping for a turning point this year, but our leaders were lackluster in improvements, pulled us further to the right or were just plain incompetent. Instead of hope to counter the dispair, we got indifference at best Rather than turning away from the abyss, we collectively chose to build a car park next to it.

The greatest minds of our generation are building pipelines for ads for things we don’t need and can’t afford, whilst the AI engineers are building complex transformations that churn out uncanny valley versions of code, of mansplaining and of other people’s art. But of course the AI is built on a corpus of our own creations, and I don’t think we like the reflection looking back at us.

Ethics in technology isn’t just about accurately reflecting the world as it is, or how the law pretends it is (or seeks to adjust what is), STEM at its most important shows us the world as it could be. An airplane isn’t just a human pretending to be a bird. A car isn’t just a steel horse.

Yes, these advances in AI are cool parlor tricks, and they will lead to great things, but just like drum machines didn’t replace drummers, we need to get past the wave of novelty to see what’s really behind the wizard’s mask.

AI is dangerous. Look at how machine learning projected racial predictions on zip codes based on historical arrest data. Look at how many corrections Tesla’s “Self-Driving Mode” requires. Look how easily ChatGPT can be manipulated to return answers it’s been programmed not to. But, with the right oversight AI encompasses some very useful tools.

Let’s get out of the car park and look away from the abyss. What does the world AI can’t predict look like? After years of despair, what does a world of hope look like? What does the world you want for your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews look like?

Land on your own moon. What’s your 10 year plan to change your world?

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development leadership

You have permission to change

Agile is a method of managing change by embracing it. It’s not a process, but there are lots of processes that help people deal with their particular change or their particular pain.

We talk about agile a lot as a method of developing code, and how the code needs to be flexible, reviewed, refactored, tested and changed to meet new requirements.

We talk a lot less about the processes around them. Yes, Continuous Integration and deployment are recommended, as are short sprints, and retrospectives should be about making all those better. But there’s too often a disconnect between the people and the processes they create. The processes may get reviewed, but often go without refactoring, testing or changing, so they slowly decay into legacy processes, and procedural debt, that are no longer fit for purpose.

So people work around them and suddenly there’s manual steps in production because a requirement to deal with secure data properly in production didn’t lead to the right refactoring of the CI/CD process.

So what’s your cycle for refactoring, testing, changing and reviewing your processes? Do they live in your code, and subject to the same cycle? Are they accessible and editable by all? Who needs to review them before they change? How do you know they’re failing the test?

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development programming timeout

Innovation vs Quicksand

Anyone following me on Google+, Facebook or Twitter may have seen me posting quite a lot about the many Intellectual Property cases currently strangling the mobile computing market. A lot of them involve Apple, but it’s not an attack on them. They just happen to be in the dominant mobile position now that Microsoft was in 10 years ago on the desktop, and so they’ve got the most to lose.

Last decade, the stories were of Microsoft using Windows to cripple competing office suites and promote its own, and the big move to unify the desktop, server and mobile Windows experience with XP and .net, and giving us IE6 and anti-trust cases. Now, we have Apple unifying desktop and mobile, and pushing others away with policies on in-app purchases and legal battles blocking competition in the marketplace.

I like competition. Competition makes phones faster, batteries last longer, and keeps everyone on their toes. Without it, innovation stagnates.

I am not a lawyer, so I don’t understand why a sketch that looks like a sat nav can be used by Apple to stop tablets from competitors being sold. It’s not like the Chinese rip-off that fooled even the employees at the fake Apple stores.

There is something rotten in the world of technology. It’s about patents, copyright and other protection, but whereas it works for Dyson, to protect his cyclone, whilst allowing competition from other bagless systems, the same protections are smothering the computing and smartphone market, distracting all companies into defending themselves against others, instead of differentiation through innovation. I don’t to work in an industry that’s moving through quicksand, dragging platforms, tools and devices back. We’re already held back enough trying to build for incompatible browsers without having to rewrite for new platforms just because the ui of one has protected interactions (think touch screen versions of Amazon’s pervasive One-Click patent). Higher costs for developers, higher costs and frustration for end users and the vendors fighting amongst themselves won’t benefit, ripping chunks out of each other and alienating the rest of us.

Samson needs to come and cut some crown jewels in half.