Archive for the 'Asides' Category

The Bias in AI

January 30th, 2024

The more I play with ChatGPT, the more it seems to me to have a bias — a bias toward the conventional, toward an incorrectly “balanced” view, as well as a superficial tone and an attraction for clichés and bad writing.

As an example of what I’m talking about, consider the Chatbot’s response to Jonathan Rowson’s recent provocation on war and peace:

“Do we have a theory and practice of peace that is worthy of the risks and challenges of the 21st century? If not, how do we expect to survive? And if so, what would that look like?”[1]

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Diary of the Future

February 22nd, 2014

February 22, 2014: Climate disruption is becoming increasingly evident in our times. As we begin to thaw out from what has been a surprisingly cold and snowy winter, it seems almost comical to have to ask whether this is somehow connected with global warming. It is. The southward migration of the polar vortex, which we’ve all started hearing about, is partly caused by an upwelling of warm air in the Arctic, causing the center of the vortex to rise and the edges to spill outward. This doesn’t mean that global warming causes it, but only that it likely exacerbates it, continuing a changing pattern of weather events that taken together are what we mean by “climate change.”

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

,,”Of course this is not the first ‘Arctic winter’ to be experienced in the U.S., though it dropped record amounts of snow and broke all of the low temperature records set since the National Weather Service started keeping them in the 1870s. And the disturbance may well be linked to climate change. According to Phil Plait writing in Slate (Feb 2014): “”warming water in the Arctic leads to ice loss which leads to more warm water. Some climate scientists think this may be disrupting the air flow in the polar vortex, which in turn leads to the meanders in the jet stream. This idea is pretty new and not yet verified. But the irony is clear: If these scientists turn out to be right, not only does the cold weather not disprove global warming, it may actually be caused by it.”””

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Keep Your Hands Off My Obamacare

September 20th, 2013

jcloud-onterraceSome Republicans in Congress are determined to “de-fund” Obamacare by holding the government’s entire budget hostage. I beg to differ from those in the Tea Party who are supporting this move.

Our personal story is that we have enjoyed company-supplied health care insurance up to the point where my wife got laid off in 2012, and since then have paid for COBRA at $1500 a month to maintain these benefits. This ends in November, and we fully intend to apply for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

This name says a lot — it’s private insurance that is expected to be affordable and held to important consumer-protection standards. We haven’t signed up yet, and we’ll be the first to complain if the system does not work properly when it’s launched in October. But there are currently a lot of good software engineers and designers working for the federal government, and we’re expecting to see any kinks ironed out as soon as they’re discovered.

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Leveraging Our Attention

January 4th, 2013

The story of professional pickpocket Apollo Robbins, in the January 7, 2013 issue of The New Yorker, demonstrates the critical significance of attention in every aspect of life. What we pay attention to iswhat exists for us — including when we discover that we’ve been distracted and missed what was really going on. The story, by Adam Green, reveals a man in many ways puzzled by his own gifts, which is the ability to distract people so thoroughly that they simply don’t see what’s occurring right in front of them.

Being distracted, when so much is actually occurring in the world, is one of the most serious problems of our time. The recent media frenzy over the “fiscal cliff” was a perfect example of this: while Syrians were killing each other in record numbers, while machine guns are being sold in record numbers to crazy people, and while climate change is bearing down on the planet at a record speed, our attention is being held captive by the posturing and obstructiveness of a small faction of fiscal fanatics, who are daily trying to convince us that “the deficit is the biggest problem we have and the only thing that matters.”

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A Work in Progress

November 20th, 2012

s Thanksgiving approaches, I recognize in myself a growing desire to get off on my own, to be alone with my thoughts, to reflect on my small fragment of the human condition. To begin with, what am I grateful for?

Or, I could possibly more easily ask, what am I not grateful for? Because life itself is such an extraordinary gift — in all its chaotic, disturbing, and often cruel outcomes, as well as its moments of sheer joy, awe, and exuberance — that it seems difficult not to be grateful for any of it.

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Is There A Meaning to Life?

August 15th, 2010

We all know that life has many meanings. We also know that some of the meanings claim to be the meaning, but this is almost entirely implausible, because in many respects they contradict each other, they cancel each other out.

We learn in the Landmark Forum that life has no one overriding meaning, but that we’re not to really make anything of this:

“Life is empty and meaningless, and it’s empty and meaningless that it’s empty and meaningless.”

In other words, life just is. What we make of this (including “nothing”) is entirely up to us. This is, I believe, more or less definitionally true, but it’s not all there is to be said.

Perhaps we need to ask the question differently. Is there a meaning that encompasses all of the other meanings, including their contradictions, and including both meaning and no-meaning?

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Green Blog

September 7th, 2007

Right now I’m working on what seems like a half-dozen “sustainability” initiatives – and finding an overwhelming amount of new information and initiatives that relate to these in some way. At times, this level of activity is almost overwhelming – there is already way more happening all over the world than any single human being can keep track of – and yet when you venture outside into any ordinary American neighborhood, you can’t yet see much of difference being made.

So although I’m already running a half-dozen web sites to support these initiatives (not to mention 30 or 40 others, for clients, political groups, my neighborhood – and for many of my other innovative ideas, some of which are necessarily “on the shelf”), it seems to me that there is still room for a way of keeping a record of some of the more interesting and useful ideas, sites, and opportunities I am finding along the way.

Here are some of the things I’m already working on:

Here are some interesting discoveries along the way:

Shaklee has reinvented itself as a completely green company. It is still using all the old MLM techniques, and signing up distributors to promote it both as a product company and as a business opportunity, but the pitch has some unique angles, and the company seems to be serious about being “the first certified climate neutral company in the world” (in 2002).

I don’t know if it’s kosher to link to the video that is at the heart of its current promo campaign, but I’m going to do so anyway – until someone tells me not to – and if you’re interested in getting connected to the operation I’ll refer you to someone else, until and unless we decide to use and promote these products ourselves. We’ve had such bad experiences with MLM lately, however, that even this pitch may not be enough to get us to buy into another one – even though we like the products, we find they’re costly and the business opportunity is, if not entirely illusory, so onerous and time-consuming as to be uneconomic…. (- enter code 15725282 in the left or center boxes)

It’s the message in the video – past the segment from Oprah – that, much more than the marketing hype, is what’s interesting.

Dark Days in America

August 31st, 2007

This period will clearly be seen as one of the darkest in American history – if indeed there’s a future in which America’s history continues to matter.

Let’s consider why this is so, and what could lead to things getting better or worse – or both – in the post-Bush era.

George W. Bush was never cut out to be president. He was an ex-alcoholic, born again, C student – who just happened to be born into a family of wheeler-dealers and politicians with some highly dubious foreign connections. The fact that he got as close as he did during the 2000 election is a testament to how poor a campaign the Democrats and Al Gore ran, which was very poor indeed. He was then anointed by a Supreme Court the majority of whose members were from the Reagan and Bush Sr. eras, in a decision which the minority derided at the time as one of the worst the Supreme Court has ever made.

Still, no one knew much about “W” at the time, except that he liked to take a lot of vacations, and was busy rewarding his cronies with plum spots in the government. It seemed that he intended to keep a hands-off approach to all issues equally, except where it came to splitting fundamentalist doctrinal hairs, as in the matter of stem-cell research.

But the shocking and tragic events of 9/11 forced him into action, and predominantly into taking the wrong actions, and mainly for the wrong reasons. As the days wore on, after 9/11, it became clear that these would have bad consequences; it just wasn’t clear how bad. He vowed to go after “the people who attacked us,” and told the country to go back to the mall. He sent the army into Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban – which had previously been armed and supported by the U.S. during the Soviet occupation – but failed to get Bin Laden. This failure emboldened disgruntled Muslim men everywhere to join this “movement” and plan and carry out acts of spectacular violence aimed at disrupting the global hegemony of the West.

While Americans were out shopping, Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld plotted to invade Iraq – which had nothing to do with 9/11 but did not view it as a tragedy compared to what ten years of bombing and blockading by the U.S. had done to their country. Some estimates have suggested that an additional 500,000 Iraqi children died during that decade, from malnutrition and lack of adequate health care. The real reasons for invading Iraq are still a matter of conjecture, given that Saddam posed no real threat to the America or West, and that Cheney had earlier warned that going into Baghdad would lead the U.S. into a quagmire. But evidently the stakes were high enough to risk even that, and the equally great likelihood of creating more “terrorists” by reacting in exactly the way they intended.

At home, the Bush regime promoted fear, secrecy, and systematic disinformation – some of which they openly described as “creating our own reality” – and whipped the country into a state of hysteria, a pale shadow of the universal dread that accompanied the Cold War, but nonetheless powerful enough to allow them to abrogate the Constitution, hold people in indefinite detention, and torture people.

More to come…