First in the “CESSPOOL” series. Here are some of the miscellaneous thoughts I had and “internet trenches” I traversed this past week.
- Artificial Intelligence expedited by COVID. In my other post about the catalytic nature of COVID-19, I observed that the usage and adoption of AI in the tech industry was accelerated by COVID due to the lack of human operations. It seems that these tools are also being applied in the health industry to help triage coronavirus patients. I doubt the widespread usage of AI health diagnoses would have been adopted as quickly if not for our current situation.
- Could we have predicted COVID’s impact and prevented it? Many people have been calling the coronavirus pandemic a “black swan event”, coined by Nassim Taleb, statistician and author of the Incerto series whose core interests lie in the concerns of randomness, probability, and uncertainty. Simply defined, a “black swan event” is an unpredictable phenomenon that shapes the course of history, and often rationalized after the fact only with the benefit of hindsight. A poster child example being the invention of the Internet. On the surface, it seems like this current epidemic falls into this category. However, Nassim himself is wary of calling the rapid spread of COVID-19 a “black swan event”, as stated in this interview. Why? Because it had already been predicted. If not by Bill Gates back in 2015, then by Nassim himself during the very early stages of the spread in January. He wrote a paper titled, Systemic Risk of Pandemic via Novel Pathogens - Coronavirus: A Note, which cautions of the non-linear spread of the virus due the interconnectivity of the modern world and the exact steps that need to be taken to prevent it. It proposed that we needed to prune our contact networks, change our social behavior, reduce mobility, and self-monitor. Remember this was all back in January, months before any social distancing guidelines were put into place as reactive measures. Nassim warned that inaction would have dire consequences, and (unfortunately for us) he was right. As he puts it, ”[Governments that] did not want to spend pennies in January; now they are going to spend trillions.”
- Chrome experiments. This week I found this random respository of unique, artistic web experiences that you can play around with on your chrome browser. My favorites are Sandspiel and Flame.
- The impact of working from home. My company sent out a survey this week to all employees inquiring about the effects of remote work on our mental health, efficiency, collaboration, and so on. It also asked questions about how comfortable I was returning back to the office and what the ideal timeline for that transition would be. One option was a slow transition of in-office and WFH in the next 2 - 12 months. The second declared that I was only comfortable returning to the office post-pandemic (on the survey it projected 12 months). The very last option said, “I am only comfortable working remote from now on.” The fact that this was even a choice could mean that remote work will be much more normalized after all this settles down. I’m curious what the ramifications of that will be. So far, it seems like people’s work-life balance have gone to shit with the average work day increasing by three hours. But is this due to the pandemic or work from home? Or maybe just the lack of experience separating personal from work when forced into a remote work environment? Also companies have been using services like Sneek which photographs employees every five minutes to ensure they’re actually working. That doesn’t sound very comfortable. In general, I’m just interested to see how companies will react to and enable the standardization of “working from home.”
- Bridging the generational gap during quarantine. My friend wrote this heartfelt article about how this epidemic has highlighted both the generational and cultural gap between her and her parents while also illuminating how this divide can be brought closer. Everyone knows the whole idea of “Asian parents bringing cut fruit to your room” is how they say “I love you”, but I think she cuts to the core of some of the communication gaps that exist for many of those in the first generation Asian American experience. She writes, ”From their mouths, tender words (‘We want to see you’) come out sounding pejorative (‘You never want to see us’)”. The core of both these statements come from a place of “I miss you and I care”, but clearly the delivery of the latter leaves something to be desired. She proposes that extending empathy towards the other party in situations like this, attempting to understand the core intentions of the words before emitting an immediate, retaliative response, can invite empathy from the other party and help bridge the divide.
- Inferring 3-dimensional views from 2-dimensional images. This one made me geek out a little but I came upon this research paper that describes a new photogrammetry technique that I’ve never seen such accurate and smooth results for. Photogrammetry is the extraction of three-dimensional data from two-dimensional data. In this case, they were able to train a machine learning model to take in 2-dimensional photos of an environment from different angles and then fully recreate a smooth 3-dimensional simulation of it. You can see examples of it running here. This probably extra exciting to me because I just got a VR headset and I can only imagine the endless virtual environments that can be recreated just by taking some pictures.