Simon Willison’s Weblog


4 items tagged “neal-stephenson”


Exorcising us of the Primer (via) Andy Matuschak talks about the need for educational technologists to break free from the siren's call of "The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer" - the universal interactive textbook described by Neal Stephenson in his novel The Diamond Age.

The Primer offers an incredibly compelling vision, and Andy uses fifteen years of his own experience exploring related ideas to pick it apart and highlight its flaws.

I want to exorcise myself of the Primer. I want to clearly delineate what makes its vision so compelling—what I want to carry in my heart as a creative fuel. But I also want to sharply clarify the lessons we shouldn’t take from the Primer, and what it simply ignores. Then I want to reconstitute all that into something new, a vision I can use to drive my work forward.

On the Primer's authoritarianism:

The Primer has an agenda. It is designed to instill a set of values and ideas, and while it’s supportive of Nell’s curiosities, those are “side quests” to its central structure. Each of the twelve “Lands Beyond” focuses on different topics, but they’re not specific to Nell, and Nell didn’t choose them. In fact, Nell doesn’t even know the Primer’s goals for her—she’s never told. Its goals are its own privileged secret. Nell is manipulated so completely by the Primer, for so much of her life, that it’s hard to determine whether she has meaningful goals or values, other than those the Primer’s creators have deemed “good for her”.

I'm also reminded of Stephenson's piece of advice to people who may have missed an important lesson from the novel:

Kids need to get answers from humans who love them.

# 4th July 2024, 4:39 am / education, ai, neal-stephenson, andy-matuschak

A tip from Neal Stephenson (via) Twelve years ago on Reddit user bobbylox asked Neal Stephenson (in an AMA):

My ultimate goal in life is to make the Primer real. Anything you want to make sure I get right?

Referencing the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer from Neal's novel The Diamond Age. Stephenson replied:

Kids need to get answers from humans who love them.

(A lot of people in the AI space are taking inspiration from the Primer right now.)

# 4th June 2024, 2:07 am / ethics, ai, neal-stephenson, generative-ai, llms

If your only way of making a painting is to actually dab paint laboriously onto a canvas, then the result might be bad or good, but at least it’s the result of a whole lot of micro-decisions you made as an artist. You were exercising editorial judgment with every paint stroke. That is absent in the output of these programs.

Neal Stephenson

# 7th February 2024, 5:04 pm / neal-stephenson, generative-ai


My ability to decide how I feel about Wikileaks’ activities is totally annihilated by my ongoing realization that it cannot possibly be real. It’s a plot device in a near-future thriller novel. I mean, seriously, semi-stateless man with an unusual appearance uses an army of anonymous allies to expose governments’ secrets, and posts an insurance file in public with some kind of deadman switch in case he’s taken out by his enemies? That shit does not happen in real life. Julian Assange is a Neal Stephenson character who’s escaped in to the real world.

Tomorrowful on MetaFilter

# 1st August 2010, 12:30 am / metafilter, wikileaks, recovered, julian-assange, neal-stephenson