Unbabel’s weekly reads #1

At Unbabel we’re avid users of Slack, coordinating hundreds of overlapping workstreams, keeping the growing team of a multinational startup all on the same page, and generally living out our internal culture: one that values continuous learning about the areas we work in and on, and seeks to discover new and better ways to work. 

As we’ve grown, more voices have been added to one of our channels, #worth_reading  rebellious academics, failed philosophers, restless souls, frustrated artists, and all-round geeks and we think the collective curation here has now become a resource worth sharing more widely. 

So let’s look at what we shared this week: 

For centuries, poets, historians, scientists and philosophers have attempted to craft a universal human language, capable of discovering and expressing everything that there is to know. But really, as this great essay in Aeon shows, Who needs a perfect language? It’s already perfectly imperfect

‘Internet’ or internet’? The Supreme Court Weighs in Proponents of uppercase-Internet contend that the Internet is a singular place, like the Earth, making it a proper noun. Those who favor lowercase argue that the internet is a generic tool, like earth, of interest primarily for what can be built with and upon it, and too common and ubiquitous to merit a capital letter.” We need the Supreme Court for this? Anyone tried spell check? 

In the absence of a careful, thoughtful intellectual history of the origins of AI in general and of the computation turn in language in particular,” Fernando Pereira writes a thoroughly entertaining version for us all in A (computational) linguistic farce in three acts.

Smart piece here about, well, the kind of company we’re building with Unbabel. Excellent articulation that’s already found its way into some of our comms materials. Vertical AI Startups: Solving Industry-specific Problems by Combining AI and Subject Matter Expertise

How non-English speakers are taught this crazy English grammar rule you know but have never heard of. As a native English speaker myself I was all, like, woah, at this. Amusing how we can internalise rather strict grammatical rules as a mental model that just sounds right”. 

“The iPhone is the reason I’m divorced.” One of the best lines out of this deep look at the creation of the original fondle-slab: The Secret Origin Story of the iPhone

China to introduce national standard for English translations in attempt to rid country of Chinglish. Favourite thing about this? The picture of the Explosive Dog.” Just click through. 

“As our company grew from 2 to 30 people, I was surprised to see how the strengths of a flat organization turned into our team’s biggest weaknesses.” Pragmatism, not idealism, folks. Ditching Flat: How Structure Helped Us Move Faster

Smart words as ever from Ben Thomson over on Stratechery in Amazon’s New Customer: This is the key to understanding the purchase of Whole Foods: from the outside it may seem that Amazon is buying a retailer. The truth, though, is that Amazon is buying a customer the first-and-best customer that will instantly bring its grocery efforts to scale.”

David McCandless of has done it again with a new infographic: The biggest codebases in history. Key fact: Microsoft Office 2013 has more code than ran the frickin Space Shuttle. 

Great news for the writers, artists and creatives out there: In the AI Age, Being Smart” Will Mean Something Completely Different. Maybe don’t learn how to code?

Death when it comes will have no sheep: Research scientist Janelle Shane on why she made an artificial neural network write proverbs. Related, but firmly rooted in our #random channel: make sure you give InspiroBot a spin. 

Who needs pyramid schemes when you have peer reviewed publishing houses operating a triple pay system.” Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? The verdict from our in-house researchers? Some are staunchly against. Others work in fields where they have no choice. 

The Story Behind the World’s Most Famous Desktop Background. A photograph seen by at least a billion people is actually the result of a half-a-billion-dollar insect infestation. And you thought Windows XP was buggy (I’m sorry).  

A CEO calls her staff into the conference room on the eve of the launch of a major new initiative. They file in and take their seats around the table. She calls the meeting to attention and begins, I have bad news. The project has failed spectacularly. What went wrong?” The Stoic Art of Negative Visualization

Backchannel dives deep into how Sam Altman of Y Combinator (where Unbabel got its start), is trying to make the whole world think like a startup: Y Combinator Has Gone Supernova

Closing us out, Basecamp founder Jason Fried wrote this common sense piece that will no doubt leave many Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-afflicted arms flailing across open office spaces the world over: If you’re reading this, you probably don’t do hard work. Designers, programmers, tech entrepreneurs, and investors love talking about how hard their work is. Let’s get real. Hard work is doing the work other people don’t want to do. We all have work to do. Do good work. Do creative work. Do thoughtful work. Do your best. But there’s no need to flatter yourself about how hard it was.


Director of Brand and Communication. Born in New York, raised in Lisbon, forged in the fires of London. Often found being walked by Moses the Dog, drinking coffee, in the cinema, following Radiohead on tour, on his racing bike (sometimes all at once). Eternally curious, tells a good story.

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