The Best Quotes I Read in 2018

The quo­ta­tions I read this year that I felt were worth sav­ing and shar­ing. They aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly from this year (some of them date back to the 19th Cen­tu­ry) but they were new to me. Most of them, in some way, are linked to tech­nol­o­gy.

I read a lot. For plea­sure, for work, and for my newslet­ter, The Thought­ful Net, which is a lit­tle of both plea­sure and work. As well as books I read a lot of online arti­cles, espe­cial­ly long-form; I save a lot of links to Pock­et, which is synced to my Kobo eRead­er, and then I read on my com­mute to and from work—averaging prob­a­bly five or six arti­cles per day. I share the arti­cles that I like to my col­leagues, on my Twit­ter, and a rare few excep­tion­al ones to my newslet­ter.

What I enjoy very much is to col­lect quotes (or quo­ta­tions, if you’re that type of per­son). A nice turn of phrase or a point that makes me stop and reflect, or think of some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent­ly, always gets saved to my Keep—with the hope that it will one day spark a new line of thought in me, or be added to a pre­sen­ta­tion deck to sup­port my argu­ment.

In this arti­cle I present the quotes I read this year that I felt were worth sav­ing and shar­ing. The quotes aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly from this year (some of them date back to the 19th Cen­tu­ry) but they were new to me. Most of them, in some way, are linked to tech­nol­o­gy, which is both plea­sure and work to me.

Technology and progress

Machines are bet­ter than me at what­ev­er they’re for. That’s the point of tools. A cal­cu­la­tor is bet­ter than me at 238÷182 and a buck­et is bet­ter than me at hold­ing water.

Cassie Kozyrkov

When you invent the ship you also invent the ship­wreck; when you invent the plane, you invent the plane crash… Every tech­nol­o­gy car­ries its own neg­a­tiv­i­ty, which is invent­ed at the same time as tech­ni­cal progress.

Paul Vir­ilio, Pol­i­tics of the Very Worst, 1996

Technology and society

Tech­nol­o­gy reflects the val­ues of the soci­eties in which it’s deployed, and can’t fix prob­lems that a soci­ety is unwill­ing to fix with­in itself.

Nan­jala Nyabo­la

Tech­nol­o­gy doesn’t solve humanity’s prob­lems. It was always naïve to think so. Tech­nol­o­gy is an enabler, but human­i­ty has to deal with humanity’s prob­lems. I think we’re both over-reliant on tech­nol­o­gy as a way to solve things and prob­a­bly, at this moment, over-index­ing on tech­nol­o­gy as a source of all prob­lems, too.

Sun­dar Pichai

The future

We can only see a short dis­tance ahead, but we can see plen­ty there that needs to be done.

Alan Tur­ing, Com­put­ing Machin­ery and Intel­li­gence, 1950

We expect more change than actu­al­ly hap­pens in the future because we imag­ine our lives have changed more than they actu­al­ly have.

Tom Van­der­bilt

It’s been said that the four most expen­sive words in the world are: ‘This time it’s dif­fer­ent.’

John Lan­ches­ter

In the future, the robots will know every­thing about us — and they will tell our sto­ries.

Farhad Man­joo

The networked self

There was and is no offline; it is a lust­ed-after fetish object that some claim spe­cial abil­i­ty to attain, and it has always been a phan­tom.

Nathan Jur­gen­son

When we used to make phone calls, we would call to a place rather to a per­son. But now, with cell phones, we’re call­ing peo­ple, and we don’t actu­al­ly know what cir­cum­stance our phone call is going to enter. So, tex­ting instead allows peo­ple to con­nect with one anoth­er in ways that fit bet­ter with the mobile device itself, since it’s with us at all times and in all kinds of dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

Joe Pinsker

If dig­i­tal remains are like the infor­ma­tion­al corpse of the deceased, they may not be used sole­ly as a means to an end, such as prof­it, but regard­ed instead as an enti­ty hold­ing an inher­ent val­ue.

Carl Öhman and Luciano Flori­di 

Data and machine learning

Machine learn­ing won’t fig­ure out what prob­lems to solve. If you aren’t aligned with a human need, you’re just going to build a very pow­er­ful sys­tem to address a very small—or per­haps nonexistent—problem.

Josh Love­joy

I don’t think [you] need to be inter­est­ed in [your] data for the mon­i­tor­ing of it to be use­ful to [you] at some point. We mon­i­tor our elec­tric­i­ty use con­tin­u­ous­ly. How often do you look at your elec­tric­i­ty meter? You nev­er look at it. Unless you get an unusu­al­ly high bill, or some­thing flags it. Then you’re glad it was being mea­sured.

Cather­ine Mohr

If we want to under­stand how an AI sys­tem with a sim­ple objec­tive func­tion will behave, with regard to unin­tend­ed con­se­quence, a good anal­o­gy is that of cor­po­ra­tions man­aged sole­ly with a focus on the sin­gle-objec­tive func­tion of prof­it-max­imi­sa­tion, and with­out regard to oth­er stake­hold­ers or the envi­ron­ment.

Azeem Azhar


Pho­tograph­ing some­thing is a way of pos­sess­ing it. It con­firms your con­nec­tion to places and objects once dis­tant and remote, mak­ing the world slight­ly small­er and less alien­at­ing.

Lau­ra Mal­lonee

The self­ie isn’t just a pho­to­graph: it’s tak­en with the intent of shar­ing it, not just as a mem­o­ry. And because of that, in the very instant it’s tak­en, it becomes a net­worked object: it con­nects dif­fer­ent spaces and pop­u­la­tions.

Negar Mot­ta

Spaces reserved for mod­el­ling have exist­ed for decades – as long as por­trai­ture. What’s hap­pened is that Insta­gram has cre­at­ed a new slice of peo­ple who do that too. It’s a democ­ra­ti­sa­tion, not a debase­ment.

Charles Arthur

Immersive reality

The lim­i­ta­tions [of cre­at­ing an immer­sive real­i­ty future] are less about tech­ni­cal con­straints, and more in our abil­i­ty to con­cep­tu­alise, struc­ture and pri­ori­tise the aspects of the world we want to build.

Kei­ichi Mat­su­da

Devices intend­ed to aug­ment life, not replace it, have always been more com­pelling. The vir­tu­al real­i­ty mar­ket is fun­da­men­tal­ly con­strained by its very nature: because it is about the tem­po­rary exit from real life, not the addi­tion to it, there sim­ply isn’t near­ly as much room for vir­tu­al real­i­ty as there is for any num­ber of oth­er tech prod­ucts.

Ben Thomp­son

Social networks

A social net­work is cru­cial­ly dif­fer­ent from a social cir­cle, since the func­tion of a social cir­cle is to curb our appetites and of a net­work to extend them.

Adam Gop­nik

Social media is in a pre-New­ton­ian moment, where we all under­stand that it works, but not how it works. There are cer­tain rules that gov­ern it and we have to make it our pri­or­i­ty to under­stand the rules, or we can­not con­trol it.

Kevin Sys­trom

In forc­ing a per­son out, we are like nodes in a net­work or a cir­cuit that’s decid­ed to eject [them], but some­how we’ve all done it togeth­er. We think of our­selves as being self-expres­sive indi­vid­u­als, but the col­lec­tive act is to cen­sor some­thing that doesn’t fit with us and they’re kicked out. We think we’re indi­vid­u­als. We think that’s the real­i­ty. But the real real­i­ty is that we have been man­aged by a few lines of code into a com­plex sys­tem that rejects what the sys­tem doesn’t like.

Adam Cur­tis

We don’t com­plete­ly blame Face­book [for the Sri Lan­ka riots]. The germs are ours, but Face­book is the wind.

Harindra Dis­sanayake

Voice interfaces

The thing that seems most mis­un­der­stood about voice UI is that peo­ple don’t care about talk­ing to machines unless it cre­ates greater effi­cien­cy or ease for them. It’s not com­pelling for its own sake, only for how it gets you to your goals.

Alex­is Lloyd

By 2021, it [will be] pos­si­ble to talk to almost every new con­nect­ed con­sumer device sold in West­ern mar­kets. Not every device [will] incor­po­rate a micro­phone and voice-pro­cess­ing func­tions: greater sup­port for pro­gram­ming inter­faces and the abil­i­ty to relay com­mands from speech-acti­vat­ed devices such as smart speak­ers brings voice con­trol to oth­er­wise “deaf” prod­ucts.

CCS Insights


There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the oth­er is to refuse to believe what is true.

Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 1847

If peo­ple don’t have the con­cep­tu­al mech­a­nisms in place to under­stand how nar­ra­tive is cre­at­ed and employed to manip­u­late, then the bet­ter the fake, the more sus­cep­ti­ble and increas­ing­ly large seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion becomes to this kind of attack.

Sjef van Gaalen

Being human

The great­est thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see some­thing, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hun­dreds of peo­ple can talk for one who can think, but thou­sands can think for one who can see. To see clear­ly is poet­ry, prophe­cy, and reli­gion, — all in one.

John Ruskin, Mod­ern Painters Vol. III, 1873

What one should not do is to sup­pose that, deep in another’s psy­che, there is a full self-expe­ri­ence of which we get only frag­ments.

Slavoj Źižek

Technology and history

[Writ­ing] wasn’t “just” a way to record things, it led to the cre­ation of math­e­mat­ics, sci­ence, his­to­ry, lit­er­ary arts, and oth­er pil­lars of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion.

Nicky Case

By con­scious­ly explor­ing geo­met­ric prin­ci­ples, [Renais­sance] painters grad­u­al­ly learned how to con­struct images of objects in three-dimen­sion­al space. In the process, they repro­grammed Euro­pean minds to see space in a Euclid­ean fash­ion.

Mar­garet Wertheim

Also pub­lished on Medi­um.