Sunday, May 31, 2020

Social Media


The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had a few paragraphs today that provided valuable perspective:
The Wall Street Journal had a chilling report a few days ago that Facebook’s own research in 2018 revealed that “our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness. If left unchecked,” Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

Mark Zuckerberg shelved the research.
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan


Why not just let all the bots trying to undermine our elections and spreading false information about the coronavirus and right-wing conspiracy theories and smear campaigns run amok? Sure, we’re weakening our society, but the weird, infantile maniacs running Silicon Valley must be allowed to rake in more billions and finish their mission of creating a giant cyberorganism of people, one huge and lucrative ball of rage.

“The shareholders of Facebook decided, ‘If you can increase my stock tenfold, we can put up with a lot of rage and hate,’” says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“These platforms have very dangerous profit motives. When you monetize rage at such an exponential rate, it’s bad for the world. These guys don’t look left or right; they just look down. They’re willing to promote white nationalism if there’s money in it. The rise of social media will be seen as directly correlating to the decline of Western civilization.”
Okay, so the decline of Western civilization has been predicted since at least 1918, when Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West was published.  But in the hands of Spengler and people like Steve Bannon,  "Western civilization" is just a classier way of saying "white people".

I'm sure that Professor Galloway (above) and Ms. Dowd are thinking of something else, like, maybe, democracy.

Things have gotten so dire that Roger Cohen, a normally moderate, level-headed observer of the international scene, recently wrote:
...In the bygone era, [a Colorado neighbor] wrote to me: “No wonder Republicans are laughing at us. The billionaire politicians have complete control (besides the military at this point), no oversight, and most of their constituents are armed, some heavily, and ready to defend them. Roll over and die? What the hell? Time to even things up. To save this country. Hopefully, guns will always be a deterrent, but they may be our last hope to save this country. Time to gun up, liberals!”

If you prefer, think of “gun up” as get real, get tough, get registered, get mobilized, get implacable and vote Trump out. Or you may just want to go down to the range.
Facebook and Twitter are certainly culpable in this American decline. I deleted my Facebook account years ago – not because of their nefarious influences on the body politic, but because I didn't trust them to make ethical decisions as a corporation. It would be nice if all Facebook and Twitter users did the same, but it's not going to happen.

We're doomed.

As a means of self-correction, I will now repeat a quote I read – somewhere – and remember more than 50 years later: "To a wet philosopher, all is wetness."



Saturday, April 25, 2020

American Exceptionalism


Under the headline, "How Can This Happen? A World Missing American Leadership," The New York Times [Friday, April 24, 2020] says that "people on the European side of the Atlantic are looking at the richest and most powerful nation in the world with disbelief."

[snip]

"...in the United States, [the pandemic] has exposed two great weaknesses that, in the eyes of many Europeans, have compounded one another: the erratic leadership of Mr. Trump, who has devalued expertise and often refused to follow the advice of his scientific advisers, and the absence of a robust public health care system and social safety net."

I would add to that the observation that the federation of simpletons that has been the Republican Party for the past 40 years (yes, since Reagan) have finally gotten their wish – a national government that useless. Nicely done, Federalist Society!

As a French political scientist is quoted as saying in the above article, "America has not done badly, it has done exceptionally badly."

It is hard to be optimistic about the future. But we must try.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Holiday Thought


I'm not on Facebook, so I don't share most of the cute little things I come across. But I'm so angry and pessimistic about the future these days that I need something to give me hope.

So I'm stealing this directly from Andrew Tobias' blog, Money and Other Subjects.
An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life.
He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil — he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.
“The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”
They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
It's a cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason, maybe.

On second thought, forget it. It's crap.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Second Thoughts about Robotics


It has been reported that Donald Trump "is working with a group of people to defeat an automated intelligence computer program set on destroying humanity."

If you've ever read the Terms of Service for Amazon, Apple, or Facebook, you know it's true.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Underwater Robotics Competition


The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is the local sponsor of a national underwater robotics competition, and some students I know were participants yesterday.

The premise of the competition is that an airplane has gone down in the ocean. The robotics team must locate and retrieve the black box, as well as perform several other exercises in the wreckage.

Locating the black box is a math problem, and one of the team members here was entrusted with that. The math was flawless, as it had to be, because the robot can only be directed by the folks sitting at the monitors, who cannot see the robot itself. The team members who put the robot in the water are not allowed to speak to or signal the pilot. The robot had three cameras, though, and you can see their monitors in some of the pictures.

This was the first time this team had participated in the competition, and though they did not win or place, they did very well, considering. And since the entire team consists of freshmen and sophomores, the future looks good!

Update: Our favorite team came in fifth in a field of sixteen. WAY better than was expected for a first-time competitor.