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Three favourite reads of 2018

November 6, 2018jingzhichua

It’s been another humbling year of reading and learning.

As the year winds down, here’s a sharing of my three favourite books this year:

1. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Hans Rosling’s team used data to show that there are reasons for optimism in the world.

Being a fan of data, it’s an intriguing read for me.

The book starts off with a quiz on our knowledge of the world. For example:

a. What is the life expectancy of the world today?

b.How did the number of deaths per year from natural disasters change over the last hundred years?

c. How many percent of people in the world have some access to electricity?

Most of us have no idea what the answers are (according to data).

And it’s because these are not what people pay attention to each day (also according to data).

That prompts the question: what do we pay attention to?

News is one of the answers.

And that’s a reason why we are so wrong about the world.

News often focus on distressful topics like climate change, political unrest, and inequality. Some publishers even sensationalise them to get more readership. Altogether, they make the world seem like a tougher place to live in by each day.

Our inherent biases don’t help.

Humans have tendencies to be negative, generalise, blame, fear, and extrapolate trends. We buy-in to these news. And sometimes even create further distortions between perception and reality ourselves.

The book points out ten of our biases and encourages us to watch out for them when forming perspectives.

It also presents data that are seldom covered in the news to help us form a more accurate worldview.

On top of learning what I’ve been blind to, my biggest takeaway is that we ought to be more doubtful of information.

In today’s world, we can find online supporters for almost every perspective we take. Researches backed by corporations and government which “manufacture results” don’t help.

These days, it takes conscious effort, and even skill, to be accurate.

Knowing so, we ought to reflect on the information we take in and urge others to do so for themselves.

“Data must be used to tell the truth, not to call to action, no matter how noble the intentions.”

To be factual, practice balancing truth with doubt.

2. AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and New World Order

I favourite this book because it has parallels with my beliefs (how biased of me).

Around two years ago, I started taking notice of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It was replacing more jobs than I thought it could. Even industries which need highly-trained labour, like law and medicine, were being disrupted.

Back then, I came to the conclusion that machines will continue to replace human jobs.

As that happens, we will start turning to activities that make us feel human. (And so, in the long run, a sports business might work out fine.)

This conclusion is in line with what Kai-Fu Lee foresees.

The difference is that he gives a much more in-depth analysis and break down of AI. 

For example, he compared the nature of AI, and the two AI superpowers, China and Silicon Valley:

a. The AI industry favour superpowers. More data to analyse leads to better products. The strong gets stronger. And it gets harder for the weak to catch up with each passing day. This widening gap might cause social problems in the future.

b. AI replaces jobs, which makes it harder for lesser developed countries to catch up. In the past, these countries have the advantage of cheap labour. This advantage diminishes as AI evolves.

c. China’s startup scene is more cut-throat than Silicon Valley’s. The Chinese government funds entrepreneurship on a more aggressive scale. And hence there’re more startups and more competition. For example, there were 6000+ new startups in 2015 alone. In China, there are also more copycats and thus a greater need to create better products to survive.

d. Majority of the world’s AI talent is currently working for American companies. These ‘star players’ are imperative to create innovative products. In this aspect, Silicon Valley holds an advantage over China.

e. The tussle for AI dominance between China and Silicon Valley will shape the world. In the process, humans may start questioning our meaning when our jobs get replaced by machines.

That said, my greatest takeaway was his wisdom gained from surviving cancer. (If you’ve read ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ you’ll know how powerful these recounts can be.)

For Lee, his experience taught him that only love and relationships matter at the end of life.

His biggest regrets were in the experiences he couldn’t have back – like those he had with his mother.

Not those that he didn’t have yet.

He also regretted working too much and not paying enough attention to relationships.

Reconciling his life lessons with the advent of AI, he uncovered an insight.

Only humans can provide what we need most in our lives: love.

He calls for us, as humans, to work towards coexistence with AI. And to look beyond the rat race of work.

“Let us choose to let machines be machines, and let humans be humans. Let us choose to simply use our machines, and more importantly, to love one another.”

For a book that starts the discussion with AI, this was a surprising message. I did not see it coming, and by the end of the book, I was thankful I picked up. It’s breadth of insights, honesty, and perspective is rare and humbling.

3.Black Book of Poems

The last book on this list resonated with me most during a poem reading spree. Partly because black is my favourite not-a-colour. But more so because of the poems.

Apart from above, there’s not much else for me to share about the book.

Part of poetry is the experience taking it in, so I will not spoil things for you.

I leave you with one of my favorites in the book. And please feel free to reach out to me if you wish to talk about more books 🙂

OUT ALIVE

Hate is easy, love is hard,
You may linger, time will not.
The last string strums; your hours are up,
The time has come to raise your cup,
And bid farewell to all time bought,
The countless lessons never taught,
All the treasures never sought,
And all the battles never fought.

Tick tack, you have arrived,
And no one here gets out alive.

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