Tags: philosophy

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Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Et In Silicon Valley Ego – Dr Beth Singler

The parallels between Alex Garland’s Devs and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Living in Alan Turing’s Future | The New Yorker

Portrait of the genius as a young man.

It is fortifying to remember that the very idea of artificial intelligence was conceived by one of the more unquantifiably original minds of the twentieth century. It is hard to imagine a computer being able to do what Alan Turing did.

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche

A brilliantly written piece by Laurie Penny. Devestating, funny, and sad, featuring journalistic gold like this:

John McAfee has never been convicted of rape and murder, but—crucially—not in the same way that you or I have never been convicted of rape or murder.

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

[Essay] Known Unknowns | New Dark Age by James Bridle | Harper’s Magazine

A terrific cautionary look at the history of machine learning and artificial intelligence from the new laugh-a-minute book by James.

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Using Ethics In Web Design — Smashing Magazine

A remarkably practical in-depth guide to making ethical design decisions, with enjoyable diversions into the history of philosophy throughout.

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Escape the News with the British Podcast “In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg” | The New Yorker

A lovely profile of the lovely In Our Time.

In part because “In Our Time” is unconnected to things that are coming out, things happening right this minute, things being promoted, it feels aligned with the eternal rather than the temporal, and is therefore escapist without being junk.

Anyone remember the site After Our Time?

Friday, November 24th, 2017

Swimming in Complexity – James Box at UX Brighton 2017 - YouTube

Boxman’s talk about complexity, reasoning, philosophy, and design is soooo good!

Swimming in Complexity – James Box at UX Brighton 2017

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Trolleys, veils and prisoners: the case for accessibility from philosophical ethics

The transcript of a presentation on the intersection of ethics and accessibility.

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

This Future Looks Familiar: Watching Blade Runner in 2017 | Tor.com

If you subtract the flying cars and the jets of flame shooting out of the top of Los Angeles buildings, it’s not a far-off place. It’s fortunes earned off the backs of slaves, and deciding who gets to count as human. It’s impossible tests with impossible questions and impossible answers. It’s having empathy for the right things if you know what’s good for you. It’s death for those who seek freedom.

A thought-provoking first watch of Blade Runner …with an equally provocative interpretation in the comments:

The tragedy is not that they’re just like people and they’re being hunted down; that’s way too simplistic a reading. The tragedy is that they have been deliberately built to not be just like people, and they want to be and don’t know how.

That’s what really struck me about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: the tragedy is that these people can’t take action. “Run! Leave! Go!” you want to scream at them, but you might as well tell someone “Fly! Why don’t you just fly?”

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Patterns Day 2017: Ellen De Vries on Vimeo

The latest video from Patterns Day is up—Ellen’s superb philosophical presentation: Patterns in Language, Language in Patterns.

There’s so much packed into this one, it might take more than one viewing to take it all in.

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Developer Fallacies | HeydonWorks

Some of the explanations get a little ranty, but Heydon’s collection of observed fallacies rings true:

  • The gospel fallacy
  • The Luddite fallacy
  • The scale fallacy
  • The chocolate fireguard fallacy
  • The pull request fallacy
  • The ‘made at Facebook’ fallacy
  • The Bob the Builder fallacy
  • The real world fallacy
  • The Daphne and Celeste fallacy

I’ve definitely had the Luddite fallacy and the scale fallacy thrown in my face as QEDs.

The ‘made at Facebook’ fallacy is pretty much identical to what I’ve been calling the fallacy of assumed competency: copying something that large corporation X is doing just because large corporation X is doing it.

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

How David Hume Helped Me Solve My Midlife Crisis - The Atlantic

A fascinating detective story of the Enlightenment, told from a very personal perspective.

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Hope

Cennydd points to an article by Ev Williams about the pendulum swing between open and closed technology stacks, and how that pendulum doesn’t always swing back towards openness. Cennydd writes:

We often hear the idea that “open platforms always win in the end”. I’d like that: the implicit values of the web speak to my own. But I don’t see clear evidence of this inevitable supremacy, only beliefs and proclamations.

It’s true. I catch myself saying things like “I believe the open web will win out.” Statements like that worry my inner empiricist. Faith-based outlooks scare me, and rightly so. I like being able to back up my claims with data.

Only time will tell what data emerges about the eventual fate of the web, open or closed. But we can look to previous technologies and draw comparisons. That’s exactly what Tim Wu did in his book The Master Switch and Jonathan Zittrain did in The Future Of The Internet—And How To Stop It. Both make for uncomfortable reading because they challenge my belief. Wu points to radio and television as examples of systems that began as egalitarian decentralised tools that became locked down over time in ever-constricting cycles. Cennydd adds:

I’d argue this becomes something of a one-way valve: once systems become closed, profit potential tends to grow, and profit is a heavy entropy to reverse.

Of course there is always the possibility that this time is different. It may well be that fundamental architectural decisions in the design of the internet and the workings of the web mean that this particular technology has an inherent bias towards openness. There is some data to support this (and it’s an appealing thought), but again; only time will tell. For now it’s just one more supposition.

The real question—when confronted with uncomfortable ideas that challenge what you’d like to believe is true—is what do you do about it? Do you look for evidence to support your beliefs or do you discard your beliefs entirely? That second option looks like the most logical course of action, and it’s certainly one that I would endorse if there were proven facts to be acknowledged (like gravity, evolution, or vaccination). But I worry about mistaking an argument that is still being discussed for an argument that has already been decided.

When I wrote about the dangers of apparently self-evident truisms, I said:

These statements aren’t true. But they are repeated so often, as if they were truisms, that we run the risk of believing them and thus, fulfilling their promise.

That’s my fear. Only time will tell whether the closed or open forces will win the battle for the soul of the internet. But if we believe that centralised, proprietary, capitalistic forces are inherently unstoppable, then our belief will help make them so.

I hope that openness will prevail. Hope sounds like such a wishy-washy word, like “faith” or “belief”, but it carries with it a seed of resistance. Hope, faith, and belief all carry connotations of optimism, but where faith and belief sound passive, even downright complacent, hope carries the promise of action.

Margaret Atwood was asked about the futility of having hope in the face of climate change. She responded:

If we abandon hope, we’re cooked. If we rely on nothing but hope, we’re cooked. So I would say judicious hope is necessary.

Judicious hope. I like that. It feels like a good phrase to balance empiricism with optimism; data with faith.

The alternative is to give up. And if we give up too soon, we bring into being the very endgame we feared.

Cennydd finishes:

Ultimately, I vote for whichever technology most enriches humanity. If that’s the web, great. A closed OS? Sure, so long as it’s a fair value exchange, genuinely beneficial to company and user alike.

This is where we differ. Today’s fair value exchange is tomorrow’s monopoly, just as today’s revolutionary is tomorrow’s tyrant. I will fight against that future.

To side with whatever’s best for the end user sounds like an eminently sensible metric to judge a technology. But I’ve written before about where that mindset can lead us. I can easily imagine Asimov’s three laws of robotics rewritten to reflect the ethos of user-centred design, especially that first and most important principle:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

…rephrased as:

A product or interface may not injure a user or, through inaction, allow a user to come to harm.

Whether the technology driving the system behind that interface is open or closed doesn’t come into it. What matters is the interaction.

But in his later years Asimov revealed the zeroeth law, overriding even the first:

A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

It may sound grandiose to apply this thinking to the trivial interfaces we’re building with today’s technologies, but I think it’s important to keep drilling down and asking uncomfortable questions (even if they challenge our beliefs).

That’s why I think openness matters. It isn’t enough to use whatever technology works right now to deliver the best user experience. If that short-time gain comes with a long-term price tag for our society, it’s not worth it.

I would much rather an imperfect open system to a perfect proprietary one.

I have hope in an open web …judicious hope.

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Internet Under Fire Gets New Manifesto

There’s more than a whiff of Indie Web thinking in this sequel to the Cluetrain Manifesto from Doc Searls and Dave Weinberger.

The Net’s super-power is connection without permission. Its almighty power is that we can make of it whatever we want.

It’s quite lawn-off-getty …but I also happen to agree with pretty much all of it.

Although it’s kind of weird that it’s published on somebody else’s website.

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Ross Andersen – Humanity’s deep future

A really great interview with Nick Bostrom about humanity’s long-term future and the odds of extinction.

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Tapeworm logic by Charles Stross

The Fermi paradox as applied to tapeworms.

‘Sfunny; just yesterday I was revisiting this classic tapeworm tale on Fray.

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Big Questions Online

A site that aims to ask and explore the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality, with a focus on science, religion, markets and morals.

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

"Tuna Casserole Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light."

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The Technium: Technophilia

Kevin Kelly on mankind's love/hate relationship with technology.