Doug Engelbart was a fascinating character. In the 1960s, he was a visionary in the field of human-computer interaction. At a time when the word “computer” meant a person who performed calculations, and when the world had only a handful of electronic computers in the form of giant mainframes at universities and large corporations, Engelbart saw something quite different.
He saw the potential for computers to augment the intelligence of the knowledge worker, and to provide for an “external brain” that could be shared between members of a team. He developed the idea of a “collective IQ”, a (rough) measurement of how effective a team was at collectively taking in, sharing, and later recalling knowledge.
That’s what this week’s article is about: how can we improve our collective IQ? How can we get better at sharing, storing, and retrieving collective knowledge?
(Like all visionaries, Engelbart’s story is well worth digging into further if you have time. He fell into obscurity in the 1970s, and it was only in the late 1990s that he began to be recognised for his prescience, as the world he described became a reality with the advent and adoption of the internet and the world wide web. But if you revisit his writings from the 1960s, it’s clear that we still haven’t fully developed his vision, and some of the things in his famous 1968 “mother of all demos” still, frustratingly, aren’t possible.)
This week’s article
Seventy years ago Doug Engelbart realised that, if humanity was going to solve its most fiendishly complex problems, it was going to have to get an awful lot better at harnessing its collective intelligence. Even today, his ideas have enormous relevance to the ways we work together in teams and the ways that we manage the collective knowledge that those teams produce.
This week’s five interesting links
A beautiful song, surfaced to me by the algorithmic vagaries of Spotify: a collaboration between Malian singer Mamani Keïta, Ethiopian band Arat Kilo, and US producer/MC Mike Ladd.
In its “non-African musicians collaborating with African musicians” capacity it reminded me of when, a couple of years ago, Damon Albarn’s Africa Express project recorded in South Africa. The whole album is great, but the standout for me is this haunting Xhosa-Welsh duet between Zolani Mahola and the Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys: Absolutely Everything is Pointing Towards the Light. #
A mesmerising account, from 1998 and via Matt Webb, of François Mitterrand’s orgiastic last meal, including the horrifying and illegal spectacle of ortolan – a tiny songbird, drowned in Armagnac and eaten whole. #
An innovative looping video about looping videos, by Marcin Wichary, delivered live at the Ignite conference. #
A stunning – and yet in some ways completely intuitive – paper from Ellis Monk, Michael Esposito, and Hedwig Lee that explores the earnings gap between attractive and unattractive people, and discovers that it’s greater than the white–black income gap and the male–female one too:
“Physical attractiveness is an important axis of social stratification associated with educational attainment, marital patterns, earnings, and more… Notably, the magnitude of the earnings disparities along the perceived attractiveness continuum, net of controls, rivals and/or exceeds in magnitude the black-white race gap and, among African-Americans, the black-white race gap and the gender gap in earnings. The implications of these findings for current and future research on the labor market and social inequality are discussed.”
I found this interesting and challenging to my own preconceived ideas. I’ve been strongly in favour of measures to curtail the coronavirus, although I hope I haven’t been judgemental about it. But this piece argues fairly convincingly that an army of middle class professionals, safely ensconced in their working-from-home Zoom palaces, have largely outsourced the risk of the pandemic to working class people and then had the temerity to chide those same working class people for perceived breaking of rules:
“The Labour Zoomocracy has been quick to call for further lockdowns, harder border controls and has failed to acknowledge the inequalities that they both benefit from, and are complicit in. The middle-class sneers about pubs reopening and the protests against lockdown, whilst happen to attend and support their own protests. This demonstrates how removed many on the left are from the lived experience of suffering. It is easy to call for extended periods of lockdown when you are saving money, baking banana bread and transferring your risk to precarious warehouse and delivery staff.”