I love to ask people what they’re reading, and I love being asked what I’m reading. Like everybody else in the digital age of sharing, I come across pieces from all over that grab my attention, get bookmarked and sometimes even get read. And while we all struggle with flooded inboxes, I confess I’m always happy when friends send me emails with subject lines like “Arianna, READ THIS!” So here are a few of the best I’ve read this week.
The New York Times’ Natasha Singer writes about the growing trend of computer science ethics courses on campuses around the country. “Technology is not neutral,” said Mehran Sahami, a former Google researcher who is now a professor at Stanford helping to develop an ethics course there. “The choices that get made in building technology then have social ramifications.” And as we’re seeing — from the effects of screens on the emotional well-being of children to the use of social media to undermine our elections — those ramifications are not always positive. In addition to getting students to think about their personal choices, some of the courses, like the one at Cornell taught by Karen Levy, also focus on ethics at the company level. “A lot of ethically charged decision-making has to do with the choices a company makes: what products they choose to develop, what policies they adopt around user data,” Levy tells Singer. “If data science ethics training focuses entirely on the individual responsibility of the data scientist, it risks overlooking the role of the broader enterprise.”
Bill and Melinda Gates mark the occasion of their 10th Annual Letter by jointly answering “the 10 toughest questions” they get. And their answers are as nuanced and complicated as the questions, which range from “why don’t you give more in the United States,” and “are you imposing your values on other cultures” to “what happens when the two of you disagree.” It’s a great read, and a valuable distillation of the wisdom two of our smartest and most thoughtful philanthropists have acquired about giving.
A great piece by Nicole Roach on Common Sense Media about how the use of earbuds was beginning to isolate her and her husband from their teens, with everybody in the family retreating into their individual silos. So she created a new family ritual in which one person would DJ for everybody on family outings and then talk about the music. “My husband and I got a better understanding of our kids’ expanding tastes, as well as a chance to share stories about our own teen years,” she writes. “Believe it or not, some great conversations emerged, and as an added bonus, we came across a handful of artists we agreed on (beyond Michael Jackson).” A great example of creatively using technology to overcome the ways in which technology can disconnect us from each other.
Fascinating New Yorker piece by Jill Lepore on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As Lepore notes, over the years, the novel has taken on various meanings. And, lately, she writes, a new one has arisen: “a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley technologists.” In fact, M.I.T. has issued an annotated version for scientists, engineers and tech workers as a reminder to be wary of the unintended consequences of what they’re creating. As the monster’s creator Victor Frankenstein says, “I had been the author of unalterable evils; and I lived in daily fear, lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”
In Thrive Global, Brad Stulberg writes about the scientifically-proven ways to use timing to maximize your performance. “Evidence shows that performance on tasks that rely on physical and psychological capacity varies drastically based on the time of day,“ writes Stulberg. Citing the work of Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Stulberg goes on to list the ways you can schedule your day to get the most out of both your body and mind.