It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.

– Wendell Berry


Featured artist: Kenzo Hamazaki

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 152!

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Last week, I talked about human supremacy – the flawed idea that we are earth’s superior species. In a similar vein, the essay I’m sharing today questions our human-centric understanding of intelligence.

In The Myth of a Superhuman AI, Kevin Kelly unpacks some big AI concepts and debunks the underlying assumption that human intelligence is currently the most advanced intelligence on our planet.

Humans like to group and rank things. So naturally, we tend to put ourselves at the top position of an imagined smartness scale, but ranking intelligence on a one-dimensional, linear graph is pretty foolish:

“...there is no ladder of intelligence. Intelligence is not a single dimension. It is a complex of many types and modes of cognition, each one a continuum. … we have no measurement, no single metric for that intelligence. Instead we have many different metrics for many different types of cognition.”

Intelligence can be seen as a multi-dimensional web of cognitions – Kelly calls it an “ecosystem of thinking” – where some parts are deeply complex while others are less developed.

“A squirrel can remember the exact location of several thousand acorns for years, a feat that blows human minds away. So in that one type of cognition, squirrels exceed humans.”

Whether it’s squirrels, humans or plants, we currently lack scientifically proven ways of measuring the complexity of these ‘ecosystems of thinking’, and therefore it’s impossible to rank them.

“We don’t have good operational metrics of complexity that could determine whether a cucumber is more complex than a Boeing 747, or the ways their complexity might differ. That is one of the reasons why we don’t have good metrics for smartness as well.

“Human intelligence is not in some central position, with other specialized intelligence revolving around it. Rather, human intelligence is a very, very specific type of intelligence that has evolved over many millions of years to enable our species to survive on this planet. Mapped in the space of all possible intelligences, a human-type of intelligence will be stuck in the corner somewhere, just as our world is stuck at the edge of a vast galaxy.”

Acknowledging that we’re not at the top of some sort of intelligence ladder but simply occupy a particular space where our cognitions work well for us, leads Kelly to a range of other conclusions about what AI is (and is not) and how it might evolve over time to become more useful for us. It’s worth reading in full for some mind-bending views on AI. And that’s what they are: opinions based on current research.

Kelly’s piece not only helped me understand that there is no ladder, but that we’re still fumbling around in a fog of war, trying to place ourselves on an ever-expanding mind map of cognitive abilities. – Kai


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Tiny Book-a-versary Sale SPONSOR


The Tiny MBA →

Save 30% on paperback and ebook options

Celebrate the one-year book-a-versary of the shortest business book on earth, The Tiny MBA. This week only, DD readers can order their own copy (or gift one to a friend) at the book’s original pre-order price. Use the code DISCOVER during checkout to apply the discount.


Apps & Sites

Sessions →

Video call/collaboration hybrid

Sessions combines video conferencing with a range of existing tools, such as Google Docs or Figma, to create interactive presentations. It also adds some useful features to collect notes and feedback from participants.

Neeva →

Ad-free, paid search engine

An unusual concept: Neeva is a paid, ad-free search engine with strong privacy protection. It runs through a browser plugin that offers various features to customise your search results, such as prioritising specific news sources or product review services.

Basedash →

Team access to databases

Basedash offers an easy-to-use interface for databases so that non-technical team members (such as your support team) can access data. You can set up different views and edit rights for various parts of your team.

River Runner →

Visualising water flows

Click anywhere on the map of the US and this visualisation tool will show you “the path of a rain droplet from any point in the contiguous United States to its end point (usually the ocean, sometimes the Great Lakes, Canada/Mexico, or another inland water feature). It’ll find the closest river/stream flowline coordinate to a click/search and then animate along that flowline’s downstream path.”


Worthy Five: Coleen Baik


Five recommendations by artist and designer Coleen Baik

A video worth watching:

Balance is a seven-minute-long short film, directed by twin German brothers Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 1989. When I think of exceptional storytelling, this often comes to mind. Mysterious and haunting.

An Instagram account worth following:

Tina Berning is an artist based in Berlin. I find her work mesmerising. She seems to effortlessly express the inside and outside of a moment with just a few strokes of watercolour and loose lines on found paper.

A recipe worth trying:

It’s called, for better or worse, ‘Single Girl Salmon’, and can be found in Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. Lentils with lemon, garlic, shallot, vinegar, olive oil, and salt, with grilled salmon. I enjoy single portion recipes and this is not only easy and healthy, but hearty and delicious.

A podcast worth listening to:

I just discovered How to Proceed and find it so refreshing to listen to deep dives on literature. The series is full of interviews with the likes of Anne Carson and George Saunders, whose work I greatly admire.

A book worth reading:

Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, but particularly Volume 2, Transit. I’m blown away by the concept of the novel as she’s redefining it – turning it inside out, flipping the role between seer and seen/narrator and narrated. An everyday moment, a triviality, becomes fascinating upon examination.


Books & Accessories


The Web of Meaning →

A worldview fit for our times

If you liked last week’s intro about Jeremy Lent’s article on human supremacy, you might also like his new book (which I just added to my reading list): “Weaving together findings from modern systems thinking, evolutionary biology, and cognitive neuroscience with insights from Buddhism, Taoism, and Indigenous wisdom, it offers a rigorous and integrated way of understanding our place in the cosmos that can serve as a philosophical foundation for a life-affirming future.”


Design for Safety →

Identifying design’s potential for abuse

A Book Apart with another great title on an important, timely topic: “Too often, we design for idealized circumstances, even though our users bring a range of complicated personal dynamics to every interaction. When we fail to explicitly design for vulnerable users, we unintentionally prioritize their abusers.” Friends of DD enjoy a 10% discount. Become a Friend to access specials like this.


Overheard on Twitter

The primary rule of Twitter is that if you ask a sincere question, you will only get joke responses and if you make a joke, you will only get deathly serious responses.



Food for Thought

The Myth of a Superhuman AI →


I discuss this piece in my intro above: Kevin Kelly provides a great overview of the many right and wrong ways in which we talk about intelligence, whether animal, human or artificial. “The evidence so far suggests AIs most likely won’t be superhuman but will be many hundreds of extra-human new species of thinking, most different from humans, none that will be general purpose, and none that will be an instant god, solving major problems in a flash.”

Space-Cowboys: What Internet history tells us about the inevitable shortcomings of a tech-bro led Space Race →


This article draws parallels between the altruistic-sounding language used for commercialising the internet and that used in the current space race. In both cases, tech leaders promise a huge benefit for the greater good, while in reality contributing to growing inequality and, arguably, diminished trust in public institutions. “By invoking an idea of technology as inherently democratizing, early internet evangelists argued that government regulation would only restrict the possibilities of the internet, and that an unregulated, capitalist arena was the only way to promote human progress online. It was this vision that spurred the privatization of the internet in the 1990s and that has kept it deregulated in the ensuing years.”

A climate scientist offers us hope →


A short interview with Joëlle Gergis, one of the scientists who worked on the recently released IPCC climate report. The conversation offers an interesting personal perspective and I learned, for example, that the many hundred scientists who worked hard over several years to compile this report did not get paid for their contributions. What a service to humanity!


Aesthetically Pleasing

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More architecture with unpretentious materials: the Bellbrae House features a simple, galvanized steel envelope with a plain plywood-based interior. The building has two separate ‘pavilions’ that are connected through a generous, central deck for social gatherings.

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Love the vibrant gradients and curvy shapes in Hanna Lee Joshi’s artworks. The bottom one is available as a print from her shop.

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A lovely, subdued branding for Handle, a startup that collects beauty packaging from salons, retailers and consumers, then recycles and repurposes the different materials to create a premium range of beauty accessories, with all the handles made entirely from recycled materials.

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FS Meridian is a “rhythmic geometric grotesque which takes inspiration from the precise yet imperfect nature of time” and it comes with lots of quirky alternates. QAnon’s got nothing on this Q!



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The Week in a GIF


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It’s Quiz Time!

Which one of these is technically not a nut but a legume?

Click on an option to find out.

Chestnut Peanut Hazelnut