When I was learning science in high school, I was mesmerized by the notion that scientific facts were true, myths were false, and there were still things that needed to be „figured out“. I was very impressed by the way computers were all about 1’s and 0’s (it wasn’t until much later that I learned computers didn’t actually divide truth and falsehood quite that neatly). Several years ago, I made a graphic image that shows the difference between the way it appears that humans think vs. the way it appears that computers think.
Note that I didn’t label which side represents human thinking vs. computer thinking. What we usually experience when we use computers is either TRUE or FALSE – we are not normally aware that there is actually a „DON’T KNOW“ state in between those two extremes. About a decade ago, I was very adamant about three-state logics.
Several decades ago, when I was just embarking on dissertation research (which was never finished, but that story is beyond the scope of this article), I was very adamant about something called „modal logic“ – a field in philosophy (and linguistics) which focuses on human modes of thought (such as „knowing“ vs. „believing“). Since humans often make references to such modes, I was hoping to unlock a hidden treasure behind such concepts. Yet they remain elusive to me to this day, even though I may quite often be heard to utter something like „I think…“ or „I believe…“ or indeed many such modes (usually using so-called „modal verbs“).
I think the less room we allow for such modalities – the smaller the amount of space we make for cases in which we acknowledge that we really don’t know, the more likely we are to make mistakes / errors.
Statisticians might be very cool to acknowledge „type 1“ and „type 2“ errors without even batting an eyelash, but for most regular folks it makes a world of difference whether we want X, whether we fear Y, whether we hope or wish or whatever.
Such very human modes of thought are rampant in our everyday lives and thinking, yet they are not given very much (or even any) room in the computer world. When there is no room whatsoever for „maybe“, then I predict the algorithms processing the data will probably be wrong.
Posted in remediary
Tagged binary logic, certain, certainty, computer, don't know, false, falsehood, human, language, linguistics, logic, modal logic, modal verb, modal verbs, mode, modes, natural language, natural science, nature, philosophy, rational, rationality, science, scientific, think, thinking, thought, thoughts, three state logic, true, truth, uncertain, uncertainty
My friend Jean Russell shared a really fascinating meme the other day on facebook. The main gist of the idea was that “you are what you think”… such that rather than “I am what you think I am”, in fact “you are what you think I am”.
This is a very powerful message — and yet there seems to be another message hidden behind the surface: Many things are not what you think they are. Some people also use the phrase “the map is not the territory” to draw attention to this phenomenon.
Yet many people make this exact mistake, often many times over — I guess sort of non-stop. Let me give you an example.
When I warn people about the dangers of relying too heavily on Google (or even about the dangers of using it at all — see also “Definition: How to Define “Retard Media”“), they often respond with “what do you have against the Internet?” or maybe “well, I don’t rely exclusively on the Internet”. These people apparently don’t realize that Google is not the Internet (neither is Facebook, nor Wikipedia or any other individual website).
In a similar vein, there is a podcast called “No Agenda” that purports to be all about media deconstruction. I enjoy listening to this podcast very much, but as far as I know neither of the creators of the show have ever given a functional operational definition of what they consider to be media (versus “not media”). As it is, they primarily deconstruct television programming (and also TV ads). But they sometimes also analyze websites (such as facebook.com and/or google.com) — but not all websites… so which websites? Their limited view of media distorts the usefulness of their information — to put it simply: because they deconstruct some things, but not everything.
Granted: deconstructing everything would be a quite formidable task… and it may even be impossible. But since they do not explicitly delineate what it is they want to deconstruct, the result is that the selection of what they do actually deconstruct may very well be quite biased. That is sad, because otherwise I would say that their approach is refreshing and insightful.
Posted in remediary
Tagged ad, ads, advertising, deconstruct, deconstruction, internet, media, media deconstruction, propaganda, retard media, site, sites, television, tv, web, website, websites, World-Wide Web
When you let the word “irrational” roll off your tongue, you do a very irrational thing: You specify something that doesn’t exist. It is very much like trying do describe a vaccum (not the cleaner, but rather the contents of emptiness).
These days, it is very popular and a big hit to argue that people are economically motivated by irrational behaviors. That is also sort of like saying “light is dark”.
Arguing with such nonsense is an exercise in futility. Just because someone can’t explain something does not mean there is no explanation for it. Besides that, I challenge anyone to give an adequately precise definition of the term “irrational”. In my opinion, the fact that a brain is in a living state means that there is some kind of rationalization going on. It may seem odd, but mainly if you are unfamiliar with odd things, odd thought, odd behavior and such.
Let me give you an example. There’s a guy named Dan Ariely who maintains to be an expert on irrationality. I’ve watched some of his presentations, and I’ve observed that he actually seems to be jiving people: He says he talks about irrational behavior, but actually what he is talking about behavior that simply doesn’t conform to the laws of economics commonly taught in academia. For example, in one talk I paid attention to, he mentioned some law which basically said that if someone prefers A to B and also prefers B to C, it would be irrational to prefer C to A. What nonsense! This would be like saying that if someone likes ketchup more than relish, they would do something like drink a whole bottle of ketchup right out of the bottle. My hunch is that before someone had drunk less than half the bottle, they would no longer go near the ketchup for at least a week. Would that be irrational?
Posted in remediary
Tagged economics, irrational, irrationality, psychological, psychology, rational, rational behavior, rational expectation, rational expectations, rational media, rationality
When people were living in caves, probably most of them didn’t create cave paintings. Certainly none of them spoke English – and the alphabet hadn’t even been invented yet. The rate of literacy was without the shadow of a doubt 0%. But they managed to stay alive nonetheless.
Today, people often cite literacy rates of 99% – or even 100%. Yet what are they referring to? Does literacy include the ability to start a computer? To set up an email account? To send an SMS or to „program“ a coffee machine?
What about being able to write a complete sentence in English with no grammatical errors? Or how about understanding that the top 10 results on google.com are simply what Google wants you to see, nothing more and nothing less?
What about the realization that Google knows where you are right now (or at any moment)? That you know they are reading your email, even if you don’t use or have a gmail account yourself? (if + when you send an email to a gmail account) That they will give this information to other people without telling you about it?
What does literacy mean?
In my view of literacy, it means understanding that while .com means commercial, .co means Columbia. That .blog means WordPress, and that .app means Google.
According to this interpretation of literacy, far less than 1% of almost any population are literate… and I totally understand that this is a very high bar (or standard).
Likewise, I agree that it is expecting a lot for me to expect people to realize that when there are two kinds of content – „sponsored content“ and „unsponsored content“ – the content creators usually care much more about the „sponsored“ content.
I realize that the juxtaposition of „retard media“ vs. „rational media“ is controversial.
I understand that it might seem draining for someone in the top percentile with respect to literacy to hear that their level of literacy is actually hardly more than rather ordinary. When being in the top percentile is considered not good enough, then I can imagine that might feel rather demotivating. I constantly fear being seen as a vampire, sucking the energy out of some the most skilled people alive. Yet this is not simply a matter of flesh and blood human beings. It’s a technological issue.
Think of Larry Lessig’s notion that „code is law“. Think of your rights and responsibilities. Think of manifesting natural law in your words and actions. Think of your expressions, your meanings, your contributions to the unraveling evolution of nature itself. You are a part of this environment. You cannot excuse yourself, because there is no other place to go. Whatever you do will ultimately lead to the future outcome to which your contributions will contribute towards.
Then again, whether or not you try to oppose evolution, there is little doubt that it will inevitably take its course. You can hardly stop the forward march of time.
Posted in remediary
Tagged controversial, controversy, development, evolution, illiteracy, illiterate, law, literacy, literate, natural language, natural law, nature, rational media, retard media
I can imagine many people might think the title of this post means it will be all about love, sex and such. Well, not exactly. It’s about relationships – but not merely limited to the exclusive kind of relationship two lovers who might be married might have.
It also isn’t about cheating husbands or wives. So what is this post about? (is there anything left? 👿 )
Well, I almost hate to break it to you: It’s about how relationships interact with language. 😐 I know: It’s just what you were afraid of. Abstract and dry, when you were thinking you might finally get hot and steamy. Sorry, Charlie. 🙁
The rest of you, however, might still find this post somewhat amusing and entertaining – so please: Do read on! 😀
Most of what I have been writing about above is expressed in a plain and simple language – the kind of talk you might expect to exchange with someone while walking around town. But there are many other people on earth than the folks you might meet while out and about socializing. You are probably more intimate with some people, and less intimate with other people. Another way of saying this is that your close friends are close relationships, and that your more distant friends are distant relationships (and in this sense closeness doesn’t really refer to geographical distance, but rather to the level of intimacy in the relationship).
Although few people would actually be surprised to hear me say so, most people don’t seem to think much about how intimacy plays a role in language and communication. However, I do think we talk significantly differently with close friends than we do with distant friends. Indeed, this is almost blatantly obvious when people consider the way they talk with their most „significant other“. At this degree of intimacy, the language we use almost becomes a private matter, and the meanings of expressions are like intimate secrets among utmost „insiders“.
The other extreme is more complicated linguistically. There is really no exact point at which someone is an extreme foreigner. If they do not understand our language at all – well, that would be close… but they might still smile or understand us in some similar intuitive manner. Even a dog or a cat could recognize if someone is happy, sad, hurt or maybe something else. Maybe other life forms – other animals or even plants – can understand something. Perhaps only a rock would be totally unperturbed if we tried to communicate something to it.
But let’s leave such extreme cases aside, and focus on cases where we might be able to assume we „speak the same language“. You might be aware that speaking the same language is not a simple and straightforward matter. Some people might only know a few words (and might be able to answer a question like „Do you speak English?“ with „Yes“ or „No“ – indeed: answering „no“ seems to be a little ironic, because the question was apparently correctly understood and appropriately answered).
Let’s consider the case in which someone might answer „Yes – a little“ to be the most distant relationship possible. This is the least intimate case – the „world-wide“ friend. We think of these acquaintances – or even faceless people – essentially as stick-figures with a pocket-dictionary of maybe one or two hundred words. If we could, we would gesticulate to try to make ourselves clear. As it is, we reduce our sentences to short, simple expressions.
Between these two extremes, a vast plethora of social relationships exist for each of us. In order to manage the complexity, we also maintain a repertoire of languages – or sub-languages, if you will: jargons (one jargon for each community, each type of kind of social relationship). Let me illustrate this with an example that should be familiar to most people familiar with popular sports. Let’s take soccer – or football, as it’s called in most of the English-speaking world outside of the United States. When football fans are watching a game on TV or listening to a match on the radio, and they hear the announcer scream „GOAL!“ then they are normally quite certain about what that means. Note that it is a keepers objective to keep a ball out of the goal – in other words: his (or her) goal is to keep the ball from crossing the line. Likewise: in other contexts, people might use the word „goal“ in a different sense than the very specific meaning given to the term in this context.
This is by no means an exceptional case. We speak differently with our children than we speak with our neighbors. We speak differently with our colleagues at work than we speak with government officials. Through role-playing scripts we understand that the number the person at the checkout just said means the amount we have to pay for our groceries. Such limits on language in particular situations makes communication more efficient.
Whereas humans can easily recognize a vast variety of contexts, this is not so – or at least not yet so – for the vast majority of „artificial intelligence“ – machines, computers, smartphones, robots, etc. For these mounds of metal and silicon chips, sweitches are either on or off – independent of context. Explaining context in a string of true-or-false bits is probably no easy matter, either. Machines require all minutiae explicated in complete detail. Everything must be formally expressed.
Perhaps artificial intellegence is the antithesis – the diametrical opposite – of intimacy?
Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. In any case it’s not a human thing. It can very useful to have such machines to tally up numbers – because they can be completely cool-headed and disengaged. My point here is not to argue for or against man or machine. My focus is 100% human – and the point is this: humans behave, engage and communicate differently in different contexts.
A one-size fits-all algorithm that is applied equally in all contexts will quite probably miss the mark completely in many contexts.
We should not try to mold humans into forms made for robots. If computers cannot understand humans, then that is a shortcoming of computers – not the other way around. We can still celebrate machines for their ability to perform some tasks, but we should not be so foolish to think that their abilities in some contexts makes them a suitable technology for all contexts.
Posted in remediary
Tagged algorithm, algorithmic, algorithms, artificial intelligence, close, closeness, community, computer, context, contexts, dialect, distance, distant, express, expressed, expression, expressions, human, humanity, humans, information, information retrieval, intimacy, intimate, jargon, language, region, regional, relationship, relationships, search, topic, topical
People who say stuff like „you can reach me at“ this or that URL – and then even name a URL they don’t manage themselves – are quite disingenuous… or even just plain outright bogus.
No, I can’t reach you at Facebook or Instagram or Whatever. I can reach other people – who may or may not notify you.
Yet, to be honest: I don’t even want to reach you. If you want to engage with me, just use the Internet. I am online. Share stuff you care about. If you don’t care, then never mind. 🙂
It’s early on a Monday morning – I would say “bright and early”, but it’s so early that the sun is still nowhere in sight. At any rate, the week is about to begin and so I figure it’s a good time to think about the barrage of buzz that is about to stream into mailboxes, land on doorsteps, and influence consumers via video screens across town, throughout the nation and all over the world-wide web.
One thing particularly nice about Sundays is the peace and quiet that settles in once last week’s buzz has piddled down to only a slight murmur echoing through the last few talk shows with nothing better to do than to rehash old buzz. By Sunday afternoons, the world has pretty much come to a stop and there is so little or even no new news whatsoever. Humanity has essentially stopped producing facts and by Sunday evenings one can observe that even though humans have not yet completely died out, there is practically nothing noteworthy to say anymore. Sunday evenings are really only surpassed by late August insofar as the dearth of buzz goes.
But never fear: Monday morning is near! The well-oiled fact-producing machinery is ready to run with incoming factoids and produce a plethora of buzzworthy content for hungry consumers ready to devour tidbits and lengthy articles, stories, analyses and whatnot alike. Empty minds need to be filled with buzz.
Well, the best answer is probably: It’s complicated.
You need to realize that the vast majority of what minds in the developed world consume is buzz. Mass production of buzz has been the daily (or nearly daily) media diet of developed consumers for well over a century already. Today, facts are churned out at breathtaking speed – far faster than eyes or ears alone can consume them. Luckily, smartphones have been developed which can also consume vast amounts of data lickity-split, and so the plethora of data can find homes in these handheld robotic assistants for their masters to feel superior over more and more bits of information, whether they are actually able to derive any meaning from them or not.
Most buzz is not intended to improve your understanding of anything. Do any Google search at all, and you will probably find that the top 10 results are all more or less equally meaningless. Of course you could ask the Google Guys what “2+2” is, and then they might tell you it’s “4” – but that would, I guess, be more the exception than the rule. The vast majority of results to the overwhelming majority of searches will probably give you a sense that the world is immensely complex and that there is little or no hope to finding a simple and direct answer to the very particular question you might have at any moment. In exasperation, the searcher clicks on something, and the goal is for the lost user to click on something that might earn Google a dime – or even better: a buck.
One needs to remember, though, that Google is only one of the latest entrants in the race for facts. News publishers have, as I alluded to above, been producing this crap for over a century already. Why are we still racing so feverishly for facts? Well, because last week’s facts are now no longer relevant as they were last week. Apart from dull truths, most facts are only really useful for short spans of time – somewhere from a few milliseconds to maybe half a minute. After that, everything needs to be recalculated – and that is why people continue asking Google all sorts of questions. The funny thing is: because Google is able to make money regardless of where people click on their ads – in other words, ads delivered to almost any webpage, the Google brand is not really damaged when the naive novice user clicks on an ad for a get-rich-quick scheme on some other website. If the naive novice newbie gets upset that their computer has now apparently made a mistake, then they will probably blame the mistake on “that darn website” rather than on Google. The Google Guys can write home: “Look ma, no risk!” 😀 The fact that Google recommended the website is probably long forgotten, and the fact that Google earned a buck or maybe even more from the click never enters the mind of the ordinary naive novice newbie – and if it ever did (as by reading this sentence), then it will probably be dismissed as far-fetched, out of the ordinary, and perhaps even merely a conspiracy theory. 😐
How did it ever come to this?
Again: It’s complicated.
Even though news publishing has only really exploited this “propaganda” technique for about one century, the history of the basic foundation dates back several centuries – all the way to the invention of the “movable type” printing press over five centuries ago. Movable type made it possible to make different sentences rather easily – and therefore it became much easier to revise old truths and also to formulate new truths (such as that the Earth is not at the center of the universe).
Yet for several centuries, the main problem was not so much a dearth of publishing facts as a lack of literacy to consume them. From 1450 to at least 1750 – that’s three centuries – the rate of (reading) literacy was quite close to zero. Even by 1850, the literacy needle had hardly moved at all. It is quite probable that this was due to the still quite high costs associated with literature. In the latter half of the 19th Century, two advances in publishing technology made literature far more affordable to acquire: wood-based paper and offset printing, By the end of the 19th Century, the rates of literacy in many industrialized countries had begun to increase significantly.
Yet it would be a great distortion of the historical record to maintain that reading and writing were in any way equal. Throughout the 20th Century, only very few writers wrote for increasing numbers of readers… and at the beginning of the 20th Century, the “publishing industry” as it was known throughout the century was formed with a view to feeding the masses of followers published facts.
It was not until the advent of the Internet, that questioning the publishing of facts by the few for the many was even a possibility in any meaningful way. Even though some schools did teach more and more pupils more and more writing skills, there was simply no technical capability to publish literature in any significant way. What is more: copyright law further cemented the publishing industry into a cornerstone position with respect to the supply of published facts.
Nonetheless, it would also be a grave distortion of the historical record to maintain that nothing of any significance changed in the 20th Century. In contrast: The publishing industry made very significant advances in the science of propaganda. Most of these have to do with increased understanding of the psychology of consumers, and perhaps the most significant insight is the very well known insight gained from Pavlov’s dog – namely that you can “train” animals (and people) to believe something by conditioning their belief system. Just as Pavlov was able to train his dog to salivate when he rang a bell, so today you can train people to think facts are true by associating them with other facts (such as today’s date, the author’s name, a specific location where an article was written, etc.). Beyond that, it is also possible to habitualize head-nodding behavior by increasing the number of facts, however inconsequential – for example, by listing the estimated temperatures in various locations across the country.
The more often you ring the truth bell, the more likely the consumer is to click when they see an advertisement.
Posted in remediary
Tagged ad, ads, advertisement, advertisements, advertising, buzz, conditioning, consumer, consumers, fact, facts, habit, habits, history, internet, literacy, media, news, news publisher, news publishers, Pavlov, printing press, propaganda, psychology, publish, published, publisher, publishers, publishing, retard media, technology