Meet the People Coding Our World

Sometimes, sometimes not.

We’re already sitting on a world of hidden social environments that no one looks at that are not in any way optimized for engagement — the world of hobbyist BBS.

What?Bulletin board services.

If you and I discover that we’re both into Toyota Corollas, we can go into any number of free bulletin board services.

It costs pennies a month to run, so we don’t need ads or to make money.

It’s just for fun.

Every time I talk to people and ask what they do online, they’ll say Instagram, Facebook, etc.

But when I ask what they really like doing online, their eyes light up when they talk about some weird forum they belong to.

These aren’t optimized for engagement, so they have the normal pain-in-the-ass problems of dealing with humans, but not abnormal problems.

So, in one sense, yes, this will exist; it already exists, but it’s all outside the marketplace.

Anytime the hand of the marketplace gets involved, you really start to torque up into the idea that we need scale, which means we need engagement, which means we need algorithms to find the best things to look at, which means toxic garbage and extreme utterances get pushed to the top.

I’ve been asking some of the top thinkers how to design a large social network that doesn’t fall into those problems, and no one has a good answer.

You mention in the book that things have to change at a structural level, like if venture capitalists changed their investment criteria.

Yes, if the VCs changed, and if the composition of people who made the tools changed so that you have a better, more diverse set of heads bonking against a problem.

In the book, everyone I talked to pointed me toward the main things that would have to change to get a better landscape of social networking services, and that includes VCs not requiring massive crazy metastatic growth, a more diverse group of people creating these things, and something that moves away from ad-based models, because ads require massive engagement, massive engagement requires algorithms, and algorithms wind up getting gamed.

I want to ask you about James Damore.

I’ve listened to a lot of interviews with him to respond to his memo.

It seemed the more we ignored his stance, the more empowered he became, backed by “free speech” fighters.

How do you balance entertaining these arguments enough to point out their flaws without giving them more attention than they deserve?Yes, it is tricky to rebut an argument without giving it more oxygen.


You did it well.

Part of the reason I wanted to have him in the chapter was because this idea about the biological unsuitedness of women [in coding] runs deep in Silicon Valley, and it’s massive in all the online forums for disgruntled misogynist dudes.

And that exploded in the middle of me writing this book.

So, I thought I could use this to try and rebut this whole idea that women are biologically unsuited, but I did wrestle with how to do it economically.

“There is absolutely no way that anything biological explains the status of women in coding.

That is just a completely surreal argument.

”I wanted to let readers know that these arguments exist.

I wanted to indicate that from everything I’ve seen in researching it and talking to people in coding, there is absolutely no way that anything biological explains the status of women in coding.

That is just a completely surreal argument.

I wanted to do that without blowing it up into more than it was.

Because everyone reading the book had heard this, so they want to know the answer, and that’s the answer: There’s no way biology can remotely explain the subalternate status of women in tech.

Your last book was titled ‘Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.

’ More than five years later, do you still think tech is making us smarter?Yes, by and large.

The problem is that nobody cares whether or not tech is making us smarter.

What they care about is whether tech is making us better — morally better.

And I actually wondered about that when I wrote the first book and decided that I was not going to tackle morality, because it’s a completely different question than cognitive ability.

“Nobody cares whether or not tech is making us smarter.

What they care about is whether tech is making us better — morally better.

”I point out in the politics chapter in the end of Coders that there are these despots who got really, really good at wielding tech, and that made them into better despots.

So, yes, tech makes you smarter.

And if you’re a horrible person, it will make you into a much more horrible person.

The problem is that intelligence is morally neutral.

Do you think everyone should learn to code?I don’t think everyone should learn to code, no, but I think everyone should be exposed to it — certainly at the school level.

And they should also be exposed to it in a completely different way than they’re currently exposed to it.

Right now, we think: Should I be someone who makes an app?.When I look at the coding I do in my life, I have no desire to make forward-facing software, but I have a massive desire to make software that’s valuable to me — scripts that make my life easier, personally and professionally, and art.

There’s something so fun and creative about it.

I wish people were exposed to it more with that as the end point.


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