About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ideology, Again

It even affects those who actively struggle against it. In this post by Andrew Sullivan, on health care cost containment, and the reality that a "free" market solution simply doesn't exist for it, states emphatically --- in the face of empirical proof otherwise ---
"I don't want to believe this"
...and there you have the problem.

Despite proof contrary to cherished beliefs -- in this case that there are market solutions to all problems, and that conservative thinking and rational individualism are always the best of all possible outcomes -- we struggle to ignore facts and hold onto faith. Not because we disbelieve what we are shown, but because we don't like it. And we don't like to be wrong when being so subtly (or not so subtly) alters the very basis for how we percieve ourselves within the universe.

To see what is in front of your nose in indeed a constant struggle. And one that requires humility, and flexibility.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Tool is only as smart as its user

An interesting case in point: apparently this business owner is a bit wiser than the speed camera company, and the local police:
For each ticket, Mr. Foreman digitally superimposed the two photos - taken 0.363 seconds apart from a stationary point, according to an Optotraffic time stamp - creating a single photo with two images of the vehicle.

Using the vehicle’s length as a frame of reference, Mr. Foreman then measured its distance traveled in the elapsed time, allowing him to calculate the vehicle’s speed. In every case, he said, the vehicle was not traveling fast enough to get a ticket.

So far the judges have agreed.

"Smart" Phones?

Yes, they are cool. Yes, they do lots of stuff. But....Smart? It's a misnomer that falls squarely in the middle of a problematic issue in our current discourse on technology, and intelligence, and knowledge.

Let me back up a minute, and mention a few things that bring me to this topic. First, there's been some chatter online about blowback from our incessant checking of our mobile accessories, to the point where rudeness in person has become acceptable behavior. On this topic I'm with the commentator from SXSW: if I'm taking the time and making the effort to engage with you face à face, then please: stop checking your facebook feed for the time it takes to have a conversation. Just because we are amidst a tidal wave of ADD-enhanced distraction, that doesn't mean that the basic tenets of politeness vs. rudeness have changed.

Along with this, the recent discovery that your iphone is tracking your whereabouts. All the time. Without your knowledge, and with the potential for disclosure of that information to pretty much anybody.

Finally, after seeing the very interesting and entertaining (but in my opinion flawed) theater piece Wirehead, and listening to the President of the Singularity Institute discuss his prognostications for tech and AI over the next 30 years, I am amazed at the conflations we are so apt to make right now between the quality of human intelligence, and the quantity of tools for summarizing and processing data.

Look, technology creates tools. It doesn't enhance intelligence. We certainly make more and more powerful tools, in less and less space, that operate more and more quickly, BUT...the qualitative difference between a calculator and an intellect still remains. Turing tests get harder and harder, but still are unable to cross the barrier of moral sense and idiosyncratic, multi-contextual emotive responses.

When I hear from a very smart person that in 30 years computers will be "smarter" than people, I wince. Because they are measuring a qualitative value by quantitative measures. By those measures computers are already "smarter" than humans. They can calculate more, faster, and more accurately. BUT...they can't determine if a result is morally of value, or if 8 year old boys will find humor in the results, or even if there will be greater value by not providing a full answer swiftly --- and yet these are exactly the sort of concepts that in truth define intelligence and awareness.

So, your smartphone: is it smart because it is 300 times smaller than the machine required to do the same activities 30 years ago? Or is it actually just enabling a shorter attention span, and a fraying of existing non-virtual social fabrics?

A tool is only as useful as its user is wise in using it.