✨ Best of 2023 ✨

Plus: A special announcement.

What a year. Again.

For the last time this year, this is me, David, your diligent curator. Every week, I read the entire internet so you don't have to.

Deciding what to recommend to you always happens in one of two ways. Some pieces I just can't get out of my mind. They inspired or moved or enlightened me in ways that make it impossible not to think of them when I start working on the newsletter. For the rest, I have three questions to guide me. And I want at least one answer to be an emphatic Yes.
1. Does it help understand a complex, important issue?
2. Does it foster empathy by making you see the world through others' eyes?
3. Does it inspire self-reflection?

Deciding what to put in this Best of 2023 issue is actually quite similar. The only difference: It's not enough for something to wow me once. I'm looking for pieces that wow me again. That I decisively want to recommend again. Because they have lost none of their power, none of their relevance.

Oh, speaking of articles that stood the test of time...


A special announcement: I am launching a second newsletter.

It's called This Aged Well.
Every Saturday and Sunday, one great read, at least five years old.

Season One starts January 6th.

Sign up for This Aged Well

Thank you for reading along this year. I'm looking forward to seeing you in 2024, which rather amazingly will already be the 14th year since I started the Weekly Filet.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, the Weekly Filet Best of 2023:

«You can be that person, and be here» — Jacinda Ardern’s valedictory speech

A remarkable politician bids goodbye. I think her farewell speech is worth reading in full, but here’s the key quote: «I do hope I have demonstrated something else entirely. That you can be anxious, sensitive, kind and wear your heart on your sleeve. You can be … a nerd, a crier, a hugger – you can be all of these things, and not only can you be here – you can lead.» Prefer a short video? There you go. (from Weekly Filet #436, in April 2023)

Jacinda Ardern’s valedictory speech in full
Outgoing New Zealand prime minister touches on the pandemic, the Christchurch massacre and what it means to be leader in final address

Explained: The conspiracy to make AI seem harder than it is

This is hands down the best primer on how AI models work. It’s a 90-minute talk by Spotify Co-President Gustav Söderstöm to bring their employees up to speed, but it works for any audience. His premise: AI models might be highly complex in practice, but in theory, they are quite easy to understand — if you take away all the jargon. That’s what he does, masterfully, and explains everything from the basics of large language models to how AI models can generate images and music from text alone. I had many moments during the talk when I thought to myself «Ok, I understand this, but how about…?» and it’s always the next thing he goes on to explain. So good. (from Weekly Filet #452, in August 2023)

Explained: The conspiracy to make AI seem harder than it is! by Gustav Söderström
Listen to this episode from Spotify: A Product Story on Spotify. 2023 may be a year that people still speak about 100 years from now, the year computers passed the Turing test! You know what these things can do, but do you actually understand how they can do it? How is it that we have services like Chat GPT that can write entire novels, and services like Stable Diffusion and Midjourney that can create amazing images or even music from just a text description or even white noise? Straight from the halls of Spotify, this is an educational talk from an internal executive offsite that we’re sharing with the world. The premise of this talk is that AI is made to seem harder to understand than it actually is, and that after this presentation, you will feel like you understand how all of what’s now happening is possible - even if you don’t work in tech and you don’t know a lot of math. 00:00:00-Intro 00:04:01-What is an LLM? 00:20:09-What about Creativity? 00:24:00-How do you steer it? 00:34:26-Why did no one see it coming? 00:39:00-Everything is a vector! 00:57:44-What is a neural network? 1:05:53-Intelligence is compression! 1:15:12-Diffusion Models - Generating Images, video and music 1:21:10-Conditioning on text Sources used to build the talk: ⁠www.mdpi.com/2076-3417/11/21/10267⁠ ⁠openai.com/blog/chatgpt?ref=assemblyai.com⁠ blog.acolyer.org/2016/04/21/the-amazing-power-of-word-vectors/ https://aclanthology.org/N13-1090.pdf ⁠www.researchgate.net/figure/Perceptron-neuron-with-three-input-variables-with-a-single-output-0-or-1-The-inputs-are_fig1_338989845⁠ www.researchgate.net/figure/Schema-of-Autoencoder-architecture_fig1_33899555 www.this-person-does-not-exist.com/en ⁠developer.nvidia.com/blog/improving-diffusion-models-as-an-alternative-to-gans-part-1/⁠ There are great resources available, for anyone interested to dig deeper

Are we the last generation – or the first sustainable one?

A highly effective dose of optimism. Hannah Ritchie makes the case that we have an incredibly exciting opportunity before us: to become the first ever generation to live sustainably. It won’t be easy, and we’re falling short in many ways, but it’s doable. 13 minutes, extremely well spent. (from Weekly Filet #458, in September 2023)‌

Are we the last generation — or the first sustainable one?
The word “sustainability” gets thrown around a lot these days. But what does it actually mean for humanity to be sustainable? Environmental data scientist Hannah Ritchie digs into the numbers behind human progress across centuries, unpacking why the conventional understanding of sustainability is misleading and showing how we can be the first generation of humans to actually achieve it.

The Heart Wing

Portrait of the heart as a muscle and a miracle. Full of beautiful details and astonishing facts. (And a perfect gateway to reading Brian Doyle’s «The Wet Engine», one of the most touching books I’ve read in recent years) (from Weekly Filet #440, in May 2023)

The Heart Wing - Longreads
The muscle that never stops, until the very end. Is your heart a hardworking pump or a mystic miracle?

‘Something Was Badly Wrong’: When Washington Realized Russia Was Actually Invading Ukraine

Thoroughly reported and masterfully arranged oral history of the months leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s a very long read, but it never feels long — so captivating. (from Weekly Filet #431, in March 2023)‌

‘Something Was Badly Wrong’: When Washington Realized Russia Was Actually Invading Ukraine
A first-ever oral history of how top U.S. and Western officials saw the warning signs of a European land war, their frantic attempts to stop it — and the moment Putin actually crossed the border.

The Transgender Family Handbook

What a wonderful piece. So many bits that you will find useful — now, sometime in the future, or simply because they help foster empathy. 144 specific suggestions on how to be a good ally to transgender loved ones, gathered from more than 100 conversations with trans children and adults, their parents, and health-care providers. (from Weekly Filet #448, in July 2023)

The Transgender Family Handbook
144 specific suggestions, from trans young people and their loved ones, that parents may find helpful.

Israel Is Giving Hamas What It Wants

«The hardliners make each other stronger. Is it possible for the peacemakers to do the same?» This entire (audio) essay, brilliantly both analytical and personal, builds up to this final thought. (from Weekly Filet #461, in October 2023)

Opinion | Israel Is Giving Hamas What It Wants
Lessons for Israel from the American response to Sept. 11.

A Beginner’s Guide to Looking at the Universe

A spectacular piece. A visual essay that will leave you in awe of the universe.
(from Weekly Filet #465, in November 2023)

A Beginner’s Guide to Looking at the Universe
A stunning advancement in a long history of stargazing, the James Webb telescope reveals light where once we saw only darkness. Our view of the universe will never be the same.

The strange death of the centre right

An excellent analysis on why traditional centre right parties are losing elections everywhere — and why this should worry you even if you favour more liberal, leftist parties: «The pendulum will always swing back eventually. At the current rate, in much of the West, when it does so it will pass through a vacuum where the moderate right once stood – and onwards, rightwards, to less palatable alternatives beyond.» (from Weekly Filet #430, in February 2023)

The strange death of the centre right
In Western democracies conventional conservativism is foundering. How did this once-dominant political force become so diminished?

Tiktok's enshittification

Why is your Facebook timeline full of posts you don't want to see? Why is Google's and Amazon's search littered with bad results? Why are Twitter and TikTok pushing certain content and throttling other? Well, money, obviously. Or, as Cory Doctorow calls it: enshittification. An excellent essay that explains how all large internet platforms inevitably become «a useless pile of shit». (from Weekly Filet #426, in January 2023)

Pluralistic: Tiktok’s enshittification (21 Jan 2023) – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

Take care, and see you soon
– David

PS: This issue is free to read for anyone. Share it with far and wide.

PPS: Don't forget to sign up to This Aged Well, my upcoming, time-limited new newsletter.