Category Archives for "Society"
500 million people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard Sophomore.
Jaron Lanier, a master programmer and virtual reality pioneer, writes a book about the ways people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate.
In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for a person. We all profess to know this, but when we get online it becomes easy to forget. In Facebook, as it is with other online social networks, life is turned into a database, and this is a degradation.
These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a medium made of software, there’s a danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s careless thoughts. Fight against this!
When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. We’re preoccupied with personal trivia because that’s what Mark Zukerberg thinks friendship is.
Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?
You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto. Your comments are welcome below.
The tragedy of old age and death cannot be fixed by medicine.
A surgeon, Atul Gawande, writes a book on mortality, the inevitability of decline and the how our medical systems fails us in the end. No matter how careful or healthy we are, we – like everyone else – will one day die. Most likely after a long period of decline and debility.
The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit. They are spent in institutions—nursing homes and intensive care units—where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life. Our reluctance to examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need.
No one ever has control. Physics and biology and accident have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines.
A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure is how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond being safe and living longer.
That the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.
Our mortality is often something we need reminding about. Around the age of forty a person begins to lose muscle mass and power. As we age lung capacity decreases, bowls slow down, glands stop functioning, even our brain shrinks. By the age of seventy there is a inch of space in the skull that wasn’t there before and falls can easily lead to cerebral bleeding.
The progress in medical and public health has been remarkable. We no longer keel over at thirty. For most of us the end is not sudden and dramatic, but a slow deterioration of health. A decline, then a plateau, then another deterioration. Travelling along these downhill stretches we often regard the declines as embarrassments.
We regard dependence as weakness and hold up examples of the long tail as something we should all aspire to. Often the medical system supports us in these aspirations, providing minimal-benefit treatments or striving to keep us alive no matter the cost – both physically and mentally.
Hard talks matter. Before under-going any treatment Gawande implores us discuss and understand what matters to us most and what we are willing to risk.
We Are All Mortal: End of Life Care’s Importance. Your comments welcome below.
The question is not if driverless cars can happen, but when and under what circumstances.
Sue Halpern looks at driverless cars: the technology, debate, risks, and the road ahead.
The world’s first self-driving taxi service entered into operation in Singapore this August (2016). A few weeks later, Uber, the app based taxi service, launched a fleet of autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh. The vehicles keep a human in the seat in case of emergencies, but the cars otherwise drive themselves.
Google, Baidu, Lyft, GM, Ford, Delphi and Daimler and several other companies are competing to do away with drivers once and for all.
Utopia looks something like this: fleets of autonomous vehicles—call them taxi bots—owned by companies like Uber and Google, able to be deployed on demand, that will eliminate the need for private car ownership. (Currently, most privately owned cars sit idle for most of the day, taking up space and depreciating in value.)
Fewer privately owned vehicles will result in fewer cars on the road overall. With fewer cars will come fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents. Fewer accidents will enable cars to be made from lighter materials, saving on fuel. They will be smaller, too, since cars will no longer need to be armored against one another.
With less private car ownership, individuals will be freed of car payments, fuel and maintenance costs, and insurance premiums. Riders will have more disposable income and less debt. The built environment will improve as well, as road signs are eliminated—smart cars always know where they are and where they are going—and parking spaces, having become obsolete, are converted into green spaces.
Morgan Stanley analysts estimate that switching to full vehicle autonomy will save the United States economy alone $1.3 trillion a year.
The major car makers understand their days of dominance are over, all are making alliances with tech companies.
The companies with the best software will win.
Driverless cars will become more noticeable on the streets, smaller, made of different material and designs and without steering wheels and brake peddles.
Capital will be the winner. Those with the robots will prosper, while many middle class jobs are likely to go.
Mass transit systems, too, may disappear, made cost ineffective by the ubiquitous fleet of self-driving cars.
The Future of Driverless Cars. Comments welcome below.
In his brief lifetime Frank Ramsey made ground-breaking contributions to mathematics, economics and philosophy.
Ray Monk pays homage to Frank Ramsey (1903-1930), a man who by age 25 was already recognized as a great intellect. He lived only another year, but in his brief lifetime he made ground-breaking, lasting contributions to mathematics, economics and philosophy. A new biography by his sister looks at his life.
Extraordinarily, Ramsey wrote this groundbreaking paper while working on a book (that he never finished) on logic. What for economists and most mere mortals was “terribly difficult” was, for him, a kind of relaxing distraction, “a waste of time.”
Today, economists regard it as one of the founding papers in the branch of their discipline known as “optimal accumulation,” which seeks to calculate the amount of a society’s economy that should be invested rather than consumed so as to maximize utility.
We give away our data in dribs and drabs and are seldom aware how it is used to target us to purchase more.
Sue Halpern looks at the issue of data collection by Facebook. Along the way she finds out what information Facebook holds on her and how accurate it is; meets the people behind the algorithms that shape the online world; and looks at problems and ethics in the algorithm driven economy.
Advertisements show up on our Internet browser or Facebook page or Gmail and we tend to think they are there because some company is trying to sell us something it believes we want based on our browsing history or what we’ve said in an e-mail or what we were searching for on Google.
We don’t think they are there because we live in a particular neighbourhood, or hang out with certain kinds of people, or that we have been scored a particular and obscure way by a certain rendering of our lives. And most likely, we don’t imagine we are seeing those ads because an algorithm has determined that we are losers or easy marks or members of a particular ethnic or racial group.
Data is not neutral. Someone decides what goes into an algorithm. Building presumption and prejudice into the formulas. That matters as the spread and influence of algorithms grows. And it matters when preferences, habits, zip codes and skin colour are used target the vulnerable with overpriced loans or dead end jobs. Adverts now target our pain points and offer us a market solution. Goods or services that we don’t need.
by Sue Halpern
by Cathy O’Neil
Crown, 259 pp., $26.00
by Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice E. Stucke
Harvard University Press, 356 pp., $29.95
Is Facebook collecting too much data on us? Comments Welcome below.