Impression

Kian found it easy, three years after leaving this city, to rebuild it virtually inside his head. He could imagine a walk from the government housing complex in which he lived, taking the well-groomed pathway that ran between blocks of flats like a crack between paving slabs, out onto the road outside, then following the grey pillars of the subway line to the nearest station where he would board, and watch each stop go past him like the page of a photo album until he reached his destination. The effect was like gaming on a console: everything was photo-perfect but crisply defined, a little too clean to be quite real. And here there were no monsters to fight, no obstacles to overcome, only the slow unwinding of the ground beneath his feet. Each time he imagined a journey, he thought of a different destination, and eventually arrived without effort, without incident.’

– ‘September Ghosts’, in Heaven Has Eyes by Philip Holden

Biopowers & Innovation

When we talk about innovation as something we should focus on now, it is easy to let the assumption slip in that this age is more innovative, whether by virtue of being more connected, by the exponential nature of technological growth, etc.

But is this age more innovative than any other? My conjecture would be that is it not; it is definitely more populous, and overall wealthier. Some places have become both more populous and more wealthy – these are the biopowers of our age.

*

(This stub is partly inspired by GKS’s 1972 speech about the challenges of growth, immigration, inter-industry linkages, and innovation, and partly by some work I did at CSF.)

 

The (Anti)fragility of Work

I have been drawing a kind of spiritual strength from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile. Taleb’s technical interest is the relationship between volatility and non-linearity. His philosophical interest is in the nature of randomness. His domains of interest are finance, philosophy, medicine, technological growth – basically things subject to convexity effects.

Work (by which I mean the system of industrial employment, and the systems built on that model) is fragile. In trying to be ‘future’-ready (in skills, in graduates, and otherwise), are we not actually fragilizing our system even further?

More pressingly, what is the arbitrage here?

What is the best signal of truly valuable work? The classics are money and mobility, but not everyone (not every single working-age citizen, not every single graduate) will be able to get a large-enough share of these for signalling purposes; money and mobility work as signals because they allow relative discrimination.

I’ve tended to believe in product, but the first system I experienced was thoroughly impaired at validating quality.

(A tangential realization is that, w.r.t. the problem of the value of work, the ability to recognize good work makes an organization or a society antifragile. Anything that undermines this, e.g. a mania for ‘future’-readiness, fragilizes the system.)

I’ve taken stochastic turns, and they’ve led some interesting places; strength and courage.

Notes: Intel x Rockchip

So in May 2014, Intel partnered up with with Rockchip, a Chinese semiconductor company based in Shenzhen that, like many other chipmakers based in the city, designed and produced 公板 or “public boards”, which are ‘production-ready boards designed for end-consumer electronics as well as industry applications’ (Lindtner). Lindtner places this in the broader context of shanzhai (山寨) production:

“a dense web of manufacturing businesses emerged across the city of Shenzhen, catering towards less well-known or no-name clients with smaller quantities. This less formal manufacturing network (known as shanzhai 山寨in Chinese) is comprised of a horizontal web of component producers, traders, design solution houses, vendors, and assembly lines. At the heart of their mode of production lies an open culture of sharing, in many ways compatible with the values and ethos of the contemporary open source hardware and maker movement.”

As for Intel’s interests, the 公板 model broadly matches that of low-cost SoCs (systems on a chip), which can be integrated into low-cost tablets; but what is of perhaps greater interest to them is access to the ‘local (Chinese) network of device manufacturers and design houses’ (Android Authority). (The Android Authority article comes about a year after the partnership, and about a month after the Intel Developers’ Forum in April 2015, but provides a good overview.)

An early response to the partnership is this article in FT from May 2014, but it doesn’t go far beyond speculating about Chinese IP theft.

Reader’s Advice

What would it be like to be a secondary school literature student again? When that thought crossed my mind, I briefly thought about whether I might have anything useful to tell the younger me.

The first idea was simply, ‘Be a good reader.’ This seemed a clear and simple enough behest – yet a challenging enough one – for someone apt to over-analysis.

The second idea seemed more dangerous. I was tempted to tell me, ‘Think about what reader each text demands.’ It is at once so easy to get wrong, yet so automatic for us to do, and so crucial to any experience of ‘getting it’. But I also liked how it contained the potentially productive problem of figuring out how to be one of the many ‘good readers’ it is possible to be, and perhaps even how to be several at once. (I guess I still think there’s value in trying.)

Just a thought – in this case, actually, about what one could or should be thinking about…