Random links

Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India
The researchers found it had a big effect and was quite cost-effective. I'm fairly cynical about stuff like this but this one actually strikes me as quite interesting.
It isn't just Asian immigrants who excel in the US; Africans do better than them
"Nigerian-Americans have a median household income well above the American average, and above the average of many white and Asian groups. ... by many measures, the most-educated immigrant group in the U.S. isn’t East Asians. It’s Africans."
Twisted double killer Ian Huntley 'wants SEX CHANGE to spent life in women's jail'
A bit tabloid-ey but given a large enough number of events taking place someone fraudulently claiming gender dysphoria seems likely to happen at some or other whether or not this specific case is that time. How would you judge whether or not the claim is legitimate or not and, given, e.g., Canada's Bill C-16, in certain countries would it even be legal to question such a request? If this is permitted do you think others serving life sentences might opt for a similar path?
World War Three, by Mistake
"The Royal Navy’s decision to save money by using Windows for Submarines, a version of Windows XP, as the operating system for its ballistic-missile subs seems especially shortsighted. Windows XP was discontinued six years ago, and Microsoft warned that any computer running it after April, 2014, “should not be considered protected as there will be no security updates.” Each of the U.K. subs has eight missiles carrying a total of forty nuclear weapons. “It is shocking to think that my home computer is probably running a newer version of Windows than the U.K.’s military submarines,” [former UK defense minister] Brown said."

Autism and Tech - the 80s and 90s vs. now [UPDATED]

(edit: added a little historical context and statistics on sex differences in autism diagnoses)

Ever pondered how much of an impact a transition period of a decade or two of practical but low bandwidth communications technology might have had on the current composition of the tech sector? Here's an excerpt from the abstract of a recent paper assessing how those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are judged by others:

we find that first impressions of individuals with ASD made from thin slices of real-world social behavior by typically-developing observers are not only far less favorable across a range of trait judgments compared to controls, but also are associated with reduced intentions to pursue social interaction. These patterns are remarkably robust, occur within seconds, do not change with increased exposure, and persist across both child and adult age groups. However, these biases disappear when impressions are based on conversational content lacking audio-visual cues, suggesting that style, not substance, drives negative impressions of ASD.

That last bit suggests to me that one place autistic people would be particularly likely to make good first impressions, and thereafter good friendships, was the old, pre-Internet Bulletin Board System (BBS) era. Technology was adequate to enable people to communicate fairly easily using BBSes, but still low-bandwidth enough that BBS users were likely communicating using only text.

It seems to me that this paper's conclusion that bias against autistic people disappeared when people using text-based communications might help explain a seeming anomaly in the gender-ratio of computer scientists once you consider that boys are 4.5 times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with autism:

A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women. And for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men. But in 1984, something changed. The percentage of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged, even as the share of women in other technical and professional fields kept rising.

If a form of technology enables a particular subset of the population to better make friends, it'd seen not unreasonable to suppose that many of them might pursue that field as a career. In short, historical circumstances seem to have been such that you might expect computing in the 1980s and 1990s to have been unusually appealing to autistic people then1 - such that it might have both produced some level of cultural change and increased the overrepresentation of men in the technology sector.

... Enter the the double empathy problem

Roughly stated it's the notion that autistic and non-autistic are likely to have severe difficulties understanding each other2. It seems to me perhaps most eloquently expressed here:

I sat on the bed across from my partner, tears in my eyes as I prepared to share with him an insight I'd had at therapy that day. I felt incredibly vulnerable, ready to open up this secret part of me I'd kept defensively hidden, even from myself, for many years.

... I opened my mouth to speak…

But first, he wanted to share his own insight he'd had that same day. With all the sincerity and loving care he could muster, with the best intentions, he said the most hurtful possible thing he could have:

"I've come to accept that you're just an uncaring person. Feelings for others just don't come naturally to you. I acknowledge that about you. I love you anyway."

I tried to explain. I tried to argue. But he interrupted, insisting. He simply would not hear me out. I'm sure he was trying to soothe my feelings, to argue against what he thought was my own defensiveness and lack of self-acceptance.

But in so doing, he couldn't really hear me. He loved and accepted someone else in that moment. Not me. Who I really was, was being ignored, erased, written over with yet another misunderstood Luna.

Where autistic and non-autistic people meet you might expect to find friction ...

Fast forward to today's concerns over diversity and "social justice"

How might you integrate the above together? A population in which autistic people are significantly overrepresented might be expected to have somewhat different characteristics than the population at large.

This seems to me to be a clear example of a situation which shows the limits of the current model of "social justice", which seems to posit a single "diverse" way of doing things rather than diversity standing for doing a multitude of different things in parallel. Basically it's a model of Exclusive Inclusivity:

If I could communicate one single thing to the world, contributing my part to engineering culture, it would be this: All of the things that are obnoxious, weird, unpleasant, problematic, about hacker and geek culture, that is what their safe space looks like. If you want to create safe spaces for other people, that’s great! Everyone deserves their safety. But by coming up to an existing safe space, pointing at all the weirdos inside, declaring them problematic, and displacing them to create a safe space for another group, that’s not inclusion. Inclusion would attempt to accommodate everyone. Displacing one group of people to accommodate another is just a culture war. War is hell. We’re better than that.

Schelling points play a pretty significant role in the remainder of the above article. Oddly a joke that I saw on Twitter after Thomas Schelling passed away in December 2016 seems like a good way to introduce the concept:

I'd try to sum up Schelling Points as (somewhat arbitrary) things towards which people gravitate in the absence of central coordination - Schelling used as an example people trying to meet each other when each only knew that the other was looking in New York City. There's a lot of ground to cover there, but certain places upon which people might converge. Similarly, when it comes to interests, outside the tech sector conversations might gravitate towards subjects like local sports teams and the whether, whereas in the tech sector subjects like science fiction often serve a similar purpose.

How should you respond to articles like A new study shows how Star Trek jokes and geek culture make women feel unwelcome in computer science? I'd suggest the approach advocated by the author of Exclusive Inclusivity:

Why should there even be one engineering culture to criticize in the first place? Google reports that there’s six hundred thousand software professionals in the States. Do you really think that every single one of those 600 kilopeople has the same superficial taste in media? If they did, that would be cause for alarm.

Software engineering, like every single other profession and social organization in the world, has niches of all shapes and sizes, all over the place. Hate Star Trek? Find the team of six that hates it as much as you do. There’s a hundred thousand of them; luck is on your side.

We talk about this theme a lot here in Status 451, and we do this because it is critically important. People seem to have this unshakeable tendency to universalize their preferences. Star Trek repels and excludes women, therefore there can be no Star Trek or, at best, it must be trivialized. For reasons unknown to me, the idea that there could be multiple cultures running in parallel falls on deaf ears. There’s more than enough people, places, and work out there for everyone to be happy. Why should we impose misery on group A just to make group B happy. Make everyone happy!


  1. Note that I don't think that the accidents of history and a corresponding cultural impact are the full explanation for the overrepresentation of autistic people in the sector. Microsoft announces pilot program to hire people with autism includes buzzwords like "diversity", but I don't think that this program is likely to improve their diversity much if at all. ↩︎

  2. For a fairly-readable if somewhat technical discussion of the double empathy problem, this seems like a good place to start. ↩︎

Even more random links

Generating Geothermal Power from Carbon Dioxide
Seems like it might largely depend on CO2 captured from fossil-fuel-powered plants but still seems kind of interesting.
The Rise of Technological Unemployment
"Economists long argued that, just as buggy-makers gave way to car factories, technology would create as many jobs as it destroyed. Now many are not so sure. Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, recently said that he no longer believed that automation would always create new jobs."
Forget Wearable Tech. People Really Want Better Batteries.
The need to constantly recharge them is perhaps my biggest gripe about smartphones.
The Soviet Scientist Who Dreamed of Melting the Arctic with a 55 Mile Dam
"As much as we worry about climate change today, a warm, melted Arctic was actually a dream of geoengineers since at least the 19th century."

More random links

Euthanasia patient fought back as doctor tried to give her lethal jab
What was the local review committee's response? "Committee spokesman Jacob Kohnstamm added he was in favour of the case going to court: 'Not to punish the doctor, but to get judicial clarity over what powers a doctor has when it comes to the euthanasia of patients suffering from severe dementia.'"
How sexy are sexist men? Women's perception of male response profiles in the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory
"the benevolent sexist was rated to be most likable" - AKA women seem to particularly like men who treat them more positively in certain way even if feminists argue that this negatively impacts 'gender equality'
Risk taking and information aggregation in groups
"We find that a considerable number of subjects exhibit ‘reverse confirmation bias’: they place less weight on information from others that agrees with their private signal and more weight on conflicting information."
Dimensions of Knowledge: On the question of trusting experts
What do you think of this hypothesis? "Experts are conditioned to think in certain ways, by virtue of their institutional training and practice, and when stakes are fairly low, they do. But once stakes are high enough, things change. What might seem like a fairly regular problem in ordinary times, a mere question of technicality, may not look like one in times of crisis. At this point, regular expert-thinking breaks down and things become a little more contested."

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