The Certainty of Uncertainty

The Certainty of Uncertainty

I had the pleasure of being invited to dinner the other day by friends we have known for almost 20 years. Among their guests was a person with whom I had real difficulty communicating. The chief difficulty was that he seemed so certain of all his opinions, that there seemed to be little room for discussion. The situation was perhaps more difficult because we disagree on many important issues.

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Why AI Now?

Why AI Now?

Artificial intelligence is not new. Programmers and scientists have been working on building smart systems for more than fifty years, and have been thinking about it for much longer than that. But something has changed – I think perhaps two things – that are leading to much, much better and smarter systems.
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General Ignorance

General Ignorance

Ignorance is always with us. There was a time when an educated person in Europe could pretty much know everything that was considered important (by Europeans). Part of this education was the “Grand Tour” – an extended journey around Europe and the Mediterranean to see ancient sites, visit libraries and galleries, and revisit the classic Greek and Roman texts. Read more about General Ignorance

Whither the Workplace?

Whither the Workplace?

Silicon Valley and San Francisco combine to make the most vibrant technology center in the world. Both startup and established companies recognize they are taken more seriously when they have a Silicon Valley presence, and increasingly companies that peripherally rely on technology are adding think tanks and research centers in Silicon Valley as a way to stay on top of the head-spinningly fast rate of technological change. Read more about Whither the Workplace?

Pick your Mistakes

Pick your Mistakes

Some mistakes teach, and some can kill you. The challenge is to know one from the other.

We all make mistakes. It’s part of our untidy human condition. The interesting question is how to reduce the severity of the mistakes we make, and how to deal with them when they happen. Making the right mistakes means that we learn and grow. The wrong mistakes put a permanent damper on our future.

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On Dying and Being Known

On Dying and Being Known

When we encounter a death, we are apt to spend time thinking about the qualities of the deceased, often in ways that we did not during their lives. Perhaps this has to do with our search for meaning – our need to associate purpose and significance with important events. By engaging in this process of holding and celebrating the lives of those who have died, we honor them, and place them and ourselves in a circle of caring and connection. In the absence of this engagement, we are more easily able to ignore their personhood, separate ourselves from them, and miss the opportunity to connect.

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Hope for a  Better World

Hope for a Better World

Violence seems to be all around us. Journalists and politicians, especially in the run-up to an election, love to create the burning platform – a sense of urgency that sends adrenalin pumping through our veins, and justifies their sound-bites and simplistic talking points.

 But it turns out that our sense of danger is not supported by the facts. Stephen Pinker’s extraordinary book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined lays out the argument that in many tangible ways, the world is safer now than it has ever been. Read more about Hope for a Better World

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

Today is the 15th of March – the Ides of March. It’s a Roman day of religious observances, but perhaps best known as the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination, in 44 BC. It’s important to me for another reason – my mother’s birthday. She is far from my home in California, living in the south of England,Read more about The Ides of March[…]

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, Paper, Scissors

I wrote a play some years ago, exploring the relationships and perspectives of three very different people, caught in wartime Afghanistan. At an early stage, my friend Michael Sanie expressed interest in writing an opera based on the play, and after several years of delays and struggles, here it is. The opera is in threeRead more about Rock, Paper, Scissors[…]

Architecture and Income

Architecture and Income

It’s well known that architects are poorly paid. With a lengthy degree, followed by three or more years of apprenticeship and professional exams before they can even use the word architect, it seems crazy.

It’s not crazy, even if it is unfair.

I believe that people’s willingness to pay for a service has to do with their sense of criticality: the distance from a crisis. A simple analogy: most yachtsmen are resistant to the cost of a proper life-raft, when they see one in the chandler. No-one intends to have their boat sink, and it seems hard to justify the raft. But the same sailor, when dismasted and holed in the open sea, will happily pay almost any amount for helicopters and other rescue options. Similarly, if you need surgery, your first thought is not the cost, but the quality and experience of the surgeon. If you are up against the IRS, you want an experienced tax advisor, not just a cheap one. Read more about Architecture and Income