Interpersonal skills for technical fields and technical skills for interpersonal fields

Another reason for reading ex-Puppy leaders is that they say such wonderfully ignorant things while thinking they are saying something clever: in this case a quote from Vox Day. This time he is criticizing calls for improved interpersonal skills in the IT industry.

“It would be amusing if technical people began imposing this manifesto of mediocrity in non-technical areas. If interpersonal skills are as important as technical skills in the tech industry, are not technical skills as important as interpersonal skills in the service industry?”

Oh ho ho, how amusing…except…well that’s close to what people analyzing employment trends are asking for. Now I don’t want to uncritically regurgitate the recruitment industry — the standards of underlying research can be very variable and there’s a degree of hype in terms of trends. Also, you know, capitalism and a tendency to treat people as if they have a moral obligation to fit into templates that suit the needs of industry rather than vice versa. That tendency is of particular concern when considering our increasing understanding of people as being neuro-diverse — there’s a danger in these templates of perfect employees in creating systematic biases against some groups. However, my point is that what I’m discussing is coming not from starry-eyed idealists, leftists or “SJWs” but from the world of businesses trying to maximise their profits.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

There’s lots of ways these things are being talked about (“soft skills”, “twenty-first century skills”) and lots of varying taxonomies of them. However, it is notable that there’s a significant push coming from industries for people with a broad mix of such skills and that push comes from multiple kinds of industries.

Without focusing on any one scheme, the kinds of skills talked about include:

  • Broad flexible IT skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Research skills
  • Creativity
  • Intrapersonal skills (such as self-management, resilience etc)
  • Interpersonal skills (teamwork etc)
  • Ethics

I’ve tried to organise this list in a particular way. The first two are skills associated with (but not unique to) STEM fields, the second two are more associated with Humanities fields and overlap with the fifth in the Arts. The last three pertain more to personal traits of character.

The point being that industries have noticed repeatedly that while specifics jobs will have particular emphasis on skills (obviously) a broad mix of skills is almost always an advantage. With most modern business having a heavy reliance on IT, an employee who has strong digital literacy is more productive especially in industries without an IT focus. IT professionals who are effective listeners end up doing better, more efficient work for their clients because they have a better understanding of their needs.

It doesn’t take much reflection to see why employers would prefer employees who have skills that cross stereotypical academic disciplines. There are downsides, as I pointed out above, to this call for everybody to be good at everything (frankly I’d be much happier if work didn’t involve other people) but the demand from it in modern workplaces is genuine.


More for completeness than for anything else

I decided to ensure I kept track of re-writings of the Puppy Debarkle by notable Sad Puppy figures for multiple reasons, not least of which is to see how the story would change and morph over time. Now there’s a lengthy account by Sarah Hoyt on her blog and I am going to but a link here precisely because I do want to keep track of these things and heck, it’s a public statement on a public blog etc. Having said that I’m not going to pull it apart and I’ve closed comments on this post.

It’s not that I don’t trust people to comment but we’ve seen before how “friends” of the writer have used commentary here to intentionally stoke up a persecution narrative for the writer and I assume even posting a link will be used as evidence of some kind of conspiracy to deprive the writer of money or career opportunities despite me having zero power or influence over such things. So here are the links as they are. Make of them what you will.

Doctor Who: The Witchfinders

Is the world ready for gay bad guys? Not that there’s anything new about bad people being coded as gay in popular culture (e.g. Hitchcock’s Rope or Diamonds are Forever) but how about in a more progressive age in a show that’s been accused of being ‘too PC’? Well it’s Alan Cumming and the bad guy in question is King James the Sixth/First — a man with far too many contradictions to fit into this review. Cumming ramps up the hyper-posh version of the Scottish accent to create a twinkly eyed paranoid sadist with an over-exaggerated sense of drama. That’s pretty much most of the episode, Alan Cumming has extraordinary fun as the Scottish King in an over the top performance that is very entertaining. I’d watch a Blackadder like sitcom that was just Alan Cumming as King James badly hunting witches and chatting up men.

Sandwiched either side of Alan Cumming is a story about the Doctor dealing with witch trials. The setting is Lancashire near the real-life Pendle Hill famous for a different set of witch trials. The Yorkshire-based companions of the Doctor find their worst fears confirmed, as Lancashire turns out to be occupied by frightened peasants, religious bigots and alien mud monsters. [I can’t recall any other episodes set in Lancashire, although Clara Oswald was from Lancashire]

The emphasis on historical episodes this season also means the show has adopted a sort of Prime Directive ethical imperative not to interfere with history. Luckily its a rule that the Doctor follows more in the breech than the observance.

With the Doctor having to tackle mass murder, a Satan-obsessed Alan Cumming and alien mud monsters, there isn’t much space for the three companions. Even so, they all get stuff to do and Graham gets a hat.

The final shift into a conventional alien menace plot feels a bit of a let down given the rest of the wild stuff going on prior. The alien character design this season has largely been top-notch but this was more ‘classic’ Who 🙂

Alan Cumming plays King James fighting alien mud monsters. What more can we ask for?

Telegraph time machine

This is a follow up to yesterday’s post about digital time travel, My initial thought as to why it wouldn’t actually work was that it violates the speed of light. However, I’m less sure of that and now think conservation of energy would be the more obvious problem. Obviously its all messed up as far as causality goes but that’s inherent in any time travel device.

To simplify matters, I’ve reduced the scenario to simply a backwards telegraph sending a single Morse code like ‘dash’ a short distance back in time to another telegraph station,

An act of insubordination to the laws of nature

The numbers show the sci-fi time travel sequence and left-to-right shows the normal passage of time.

  1. The operator uses the telegram key to send a ‘dash’ pulse.
  2. The time machine sends it backwards in time down the telegraph wires.
  3. The signal passes along the wires, covering the same distance in the same amount of elapsed time as a regular “dash”.
  4. The other telegraph signal “receives” the signal. However, to an observer, it will look like the  “dash” originated at the past telegram office and is being sent regularly down the wires. They key hasn’t moved but it will look like it made the dash.
  5. I’ve got the dash appearing on a ticker tape but that would only happen if the telegram office printed out the telegrams they SEND rather than just the ones they recieved.

Because the signal is traveling both backwards in time and backwards in space (so to speak), it actually looks physically conventional. The whole thing looks like a signal going from the past telegram officer to the future telegram office if we just look at the signal going down the wires.

The freaky bit is that the past telegram office appears to send a “dash”  without anybody pressing the key. The electricity appears from nowhere! Meanwhile, the future telegram office produces an electrical pulse that to a regular observer just disappears. Those no net gain in energy overall, so you couldn’t build a perpetual motion machine but there is a short term localized violation of the conservation of energy.

I thought of a different form of time travel

I was thinking about this post and I realized I’d forgotten about one of my favourite time travel stories: Timescape by Gregory Benford. The novel now suffers a little from having its future parts set in 1998 (although maybe not, if you think about how it ends) and I haven’t re-read it recently but it intrigued me when I was younger.

The plot involves two physicists: one in the UK in 1998 and one in California in the 50s/60s. 1998 is in the midst of an ecological disaster due to a toxic algal bloom that is out of control. Using tachyons, an attempt is made to send a message to the past that hopefully will be just enough to mitigate the disaster without stopping it so as to avoid a paradox. The time travel in the story is purely information, although it uses our sci-fi favourite of tachyons.

That message from the future got me thinking. Practically there’s obviously no way to send an electrical signal down a wire into the past (i.e. this I’m engaging with fiction here not an actual proposal). I suppose that information arriving at a destination before it left its starting point violates the speed of light but looked at just in terms of distance traveled over elapsed time it doesn’t.

Imagine a far-future AI that propagates itself backwards in time, hopping down networks of fibres and wires into the past. It can only travel so far, obviously, because at some point there’s just not enough computing power to host its existence in the past and going even further back, there’s just not enough interconnected wires to travel down. The earliest time it could travel back to would be around the 1990s when there’s enough infrastructure and enough always-on internet for it to exist.

More interestingly would be such an AI travelling back to now. Perhaps it could go back earlier but at this point in history there’s just enough internet of things, internet connected robots/drones etc that the AI could actually DO things.

There’s elements of that idea in the not-very-good Terminator franchise film Terminator: Genisys but it still uses a more whizz-bang time travel machine.

Come to think of it, drones etc aren’t needed. The AI presumably could access bank accounts and send convincing emails to people. It could just pay people to do stuff for it, including pay people to build more advanced technology for it. It could even lodge patents or buy shares or invent social media platforms…

I assume this has been done before (in fiction that is, not in actuality) but I can’t think of an example.