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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

The human race began a path towards illiteracy when moving pictures and sound began to dominate our mode of communication. Grammar checking word processors and the Internet catalyzed an acceleration of the process. Smartphones, 3-D printing, social media and algorithmic finance tipped us towards near total illiteracy.

The complexity of the machines have escaped our ability to understand them – to read them and interpret them – and now, more importantly, to author them. The machines author themselves. We inadvertently author them without our knowledge. And, in cruel turn, they author us.

This is not a clarion call to arms to stop the machines. The machines cannot be stopped for we will never want to stop them so intertwined with our survival (the race to stop climate change and or escape the planet will not be done without the machines). It is a call for the return to literacy. We must learn to read machines and maintain our authorship if we at all wish to avoid unwanted atrocities and a painful decline to possible evolutionary irrelevance. If we wish to mediate the relations between each other we must remain the others of those mediations.

It does not take artificial intelligence for our illiteracy to become irreversible. It is not the machines that will do us in and subjugate us and everything else. Intelligence is not the culprit. It is ourselves and the facets of ourselves that make it too easy to avoid learning what can be learned. We plunged into a dark ages before. We can do it again.

We are in this situation, perhaps, unavoidably. We created computers and symbolics that are good enough to do all sorts of amazing things. So amazing that we just went and found ways to unleash things without all the seeming slowness of evolutionary and behavioral consequences we’ve observed played out on geological time scales. We have unleashed an endless computational kingdom of such variety rivaling that of the entire history of Earth. Here we have spawned billions of devices with billions and billions of algorithms and trillions and trillions and trillions of data points about billions of people and trillions of animals and a near infinite hyperlinkage between them all. The benefits have outweighed the downsides in terms of pure survival consequences.

Or perhaps the downside hasn’t caught us yet.

I spend a lot of my days researching, analyzing and using programming languages. I do this informally, for work, for fun, for pure research, for science. It is my obsession. I studied mathematics as an undergraduate – it too is a language most of us are illiterate in and yet our lives our dominated by it. A decade ago I thought the answer was simply this:

Everyone should learn to program. That is, everyone should learn one of our existing programming languages.

It has more recently occurred to me this is not only realistic it is actually a terrible idea. Programming languages aren’t like English or Spanish or Chinese or any human language. They are much less universal. They force constraints we don’t understand and yet don’t allow for any wiggle room. We can only speak them by typing them incredibly specific commands on a keyboard connected to a computer architecture we thought up 50 years ago – which isn’t even close to the dominate form of computer interaction most people use (phones, tablets, tvs, game consoles with games, maps and txt messages and mostly consumptive apps). Yes, it’s a little more nuanced than that in that we have user interfaces that try to allow us all sorts of flexbility in interaction and they will handle the translation to specific commands for us.

Unfortunately it largely doesn’t work. Programming languages are not at all like how humans program. They aren’t at all how birds or dogs or dolphins communicate. They start as an incredibly small set of rules that must be obeyed or something definitely will breakdown (a bug! A crash!). Sure, we can write an infinite number of programs. Sure most languages and the computers we use to run the programs written with language are universal computers – but that doesn’t make them at all as flexible and useful as natural language (words, sounds, body language).

As it stands now we must rely on about 30 million people on the entire planet to effectively author and repair the billions and billions of machines (computer programs) out there (http://www.infoq.com/news/2014/01/IDC-software-developers)

Only 30 million people speak computer languages effectively enough to program them. That is a very far cry from a universal or even natural language. Most humans can understand any other human, regardless of the language, on a fairly sophisticated level – we can easily tell each others basic state of being (fear, happiness, anger, surprise, etc) and begin to scratch out sophisticate relationships between ideas. We cannot do this at all with any regularity or reliability with computers. Certainly we can communicate with some highly specific programs some highly specific ideas/words/behaviors – but we cannot converse even remotely close with a program/machine in any general way. We can only rely on some of the 30 million programmers to improve the situation slowly.

If we’re going to be literate in the age of computation our language interfaces with computers must beome much better. And I don’t believe that’s going to happen by billions of people learning Java or C or Python. No it’s going to happen by the evolution of computers and their languages becoming far more human author-able. And it’s not clear the computers survival depends on it. I’m growing in my belief that humanity’s survival depends on it though.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my own children should learn in regards to computers. And I have not at all shaped them into learning some specific language of todays computers. Instead, I’ve focused on them asking questions and not being afraid of the confusing probable nature of the world. It is my educated hunch that the computer languages of the future will account for improbabilities and actually rely on them, much as our own natural languages do. I would rather have my children be able to understand our current human languages in all their oddities and all their glorious ability to express ideas and questions and forever be open to new and different interpretations.

The irony is… teaching children to be literate into todays computer programs as opposed to human languages and expresses, I think, likely to leave them more illiterate in the future when the machines or our human authors have developed a much richer way to interact. And yet, the catch-22 is that someone has to develop these new languages. Who will do it if not myself and my children? Indeed.

This is why my own obsession is to continue to push forward a more natural and messier idea of human computer interaction. It will not look like our engineering efforts today with a focus on speed and efficiency and accuracy. Instead it will will focus on richness and interpretative variety and serendipity and survivability over many contexts.

Literacy is not a complete efficiency. It is a much deeper phenomena. One that we need to explore further and in that exploration not settle for the computational world as it is today.

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After a TechCrunch article writer by Sarah Lacy posted August 22, 2011

A few months ago Sarah Lacy, a TechCrunch.com writerwas giving a talk in her hometown of Memphis, TN, and someone asked what the city could do to ignite more entrepreneurship among inner city kids. Her immediate answer was to teach coding– even basic app building skills– along with English and Math in every public school. She was surprised that her brother– an engineer who worked for many years in Silicon Valley before relocating to the Midwest– didn’t necessarily agree.

The thing is that while this is a first level issue of who gets the jobs needed in coding – foreign or domestic coders, it occurred to me that we are in the 30th year or so of serious code writing and it has had some unanticipated consequences.  The changes in the world that have been brought about by the Internet and technology have changed what is done by people.  Now, more and more what is done is done by software applied to different technologies.  The world of TechCrunch and other quasi-geek clusters are alive and well due to the prevalence of algorithms.  They are the workers in a mired of different ways today.

They paint the cars, cut the steel, do the book binding, print the content, answer the phone and a zillion other things that we all used to do.  In a cumulative way the jobs that were are now being done by technology just like was the case when ol’ Ned Lud (see emphatic published accounts for the most favorite spelling…) brought to mythical status between 1779 and 1812 that changes in British textile practices were coming to a screeching halt.

No, I am not being Luddite here.  I am simply pointing out that, when all the talking heads whine and moan about this political union or that political union not producing jobs for the reconstitution of the economy, they should take note; the jobs in the past that went away aren’t coming back.   Many of them aren’t coming back due to being  long overdue to be absorbed before the downturn and no one – or not many, took notice.

Instead of asking for someone else to provide jobs, it is time to create jobs based on that uncomfortable situation that we find ourselves in every 70-90 years.  Change has overtaken the status quo.  Now we need to create jobs that machines can’t do – yet.  That is, jobs involving organizing communities, infrastructure, law, education and human-care… for children, for families in transition, for elders and for soldiers who are brought back and deposited on the steps of America.  They were taught how to do what was necessary to what they had to do to survive.  Nowhere is the training they get any better for that purpose.  Now however, they have done that under duress, for double tours, etc. etc. etc.  To be spit out by those that trained them as worn out and disposable civilians with defects without the slightest bit of care on how to survive reestablish domestic values, is despicable.  Software and algorithms can’t pull that off.  We can if we stop waiting for someone else to do something we favor or don’t find dogmatically repugnant.

HP’s decision to go big and purchase the U.K.’s Autonomy Corp., and probably other players doesn’t seem so ridiculous under a ‘software good – hardware sad’ scenario, does it.

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Guest Writer Ron Williams again… Attorney, Businessman and Citizen

It is clear to even the most casual observer that the sole political agenda of the Republican Party is to prevent the reelection of Pres. Barack Obama. It is equally clear that it is the absolute, single-minded focus of the Far Right of the Republican Party to prevent the reelection of a Black Man, any black, as President of the United States.

Thus, for nearly two years, as the President negotiated health-care with the Republican Party, those negotiations were futile, because no matter what would have been offered by this President the answer from this Republican Party would have been “no”. It is clear that no matter what initiative this President put forward, the Republican Party answer would always have been “no.”

And today, we see the Republican Party, and in particular the Far Right portion of that party, deciding to attach items on their political agenda to the debt ceiling bill as a means to further weaken the president and as a means to move their political agenda forward. As a political strategy, the move is almost brilliant. They were able to attack Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (three programs that the Republican Party has been attempting to repeal sent each of them were first adopted) while at the same time further demonstrating the weakness of this President.

The mistake President Obama continues to make is to attempt to negotiate substantive programs with a group of people whose agenda is not to negotiate on those programs, but to attack the man himself. They will never negotiate to yes until they have used the so-called negotiations to attack the President (demonstrating his weakness) and until they have also gotten what concessions they otherwise wanted.

I predicted when this whole debt limit “crisis” began that the Republican Party would string this out until the end of July, after they had extracted significant concessions from the President and the Democratic Party, that is they had gotten as much as they could based on the time limit left. I am being somewhat facetious when I suggest that if these negotiations continued much longer, President Obama would eventually have negotiated away the entire Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It is telling that the Republican Party started these negotiations stating that there could be no revenue increasing tax changes that would affect the wealthy. And that exactly where they ended. How can you have negotiations when one side gives up nothing in the other side makes all the concessions? That because their whole purpose of the Republican Party was to use the debt ceiling issue as a means of moving their political agenda forward with demonstrating their basic weakness of President Obama. And the Democratic Party and this President let them.

What Barack Obama should have said to the first overture from the Far Right that they would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless there were major cuts to the various social programs, was “no.” He should have simply stated that he would veto any legislation that came across his desk that did anything other than simply raise the debt ceiling. And then stopped negotiating. Whenever they said “well let’s talk about this,” his response should have been “there is nothing to talk about.”

The President should have said, “I’ve told you my position. Congress, you do what you feel you need to do. If you want to pass legislation that has provisions other than raising the national debt attached to it, do so. I will veto it. And if you choose to then put the full faith and credit of the United States government at risk because you want to attach non-relevant politically motivated subject matter on what should be otherwise routine legislation, do so, but I will not be a party to this game-playing”.

If he had said that from day one, and then stuck to his guns,, this so-called crisis would’ve gone way. Then should he want to discuss modification of Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security that could have been done in conversation along with tax code changes.

The president has got to learn to stand up. If he doesn’t he will be a one term president. As it is, he is losing his base and maybe a one term president in any event. It may already be too late.

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“Tripping over Buddha” is an expression about not recognizing the obvious…or important stuff.

“If you were looking for Buddha [or insert subject of VALUE here], you could trip over him and be unaware of whom you had encountered.”

Such a statement can be pejorative or it can be about nothing more than the difficulty in not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Likewise, if we’re looking for a way to understand what the hell is going on in the world and we need some place to start, the recommendation is for you to start with “The Man in the Mirror” (thank you, Michael Jackson).  Us.  Homo sapiens.

By starting with ‘us’ then there’s a chance that you’ll learn how frustratingly complex organisms we are. For starters, perhaps you’ll be amused that we all

  1. sense things that aren’t there (do we really need examples?) and
  2. don’t sense things that are there (do we really need examples?)
  3. but continually muster outrage, violence, and retribution when we aren’t taken serious about our interpretations of life – from art to asinine and politics to potentates

So, as a starting place for getting to know what makes us tick, what makes us frail and what is the best hope we have of recognizing Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] if we should trip over him (or her), START HERE.

www.g2conline.org/#

This is by far the best site I have ever come across with regards to what’s going on about ‘us’. Yes, great for sorting out the complexity from the hyperbole. No, it can’t be watched and absorbed in a week, or on YouTube.   So go look, mess around, add it to your computer’s links, find what you are interested in or just gape at the wonders of it all but do it.

And, if you do, I hope you enjoy it.

But, like the Earl Nightingale once recounted, if you do take the time and effort to examine only a spat of the rules that govern you, in the end you’ll find you’re alone because the effort to grasp even the simple rules was too great a challenge for pretenders.  You know, those who claim to be looking for Buddha [or what the hell is going on] but don’t recognize what is there in front of them when it’s encountered.

If you do process what is there and you come away convinced there is something more or better or of greater value, then fine.  Now you know some serious empirical stuff you are rejecting and Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] may be right around the corner.

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I lost one of my best friends this week.  My first father-in-law died at 89.  We got off to a rough start.  He called me ‘Meathead’ and I quietly referred to him as ‘Archie’.  Almost from the beginning we were diametrical opposites when it came to politics, religion, parenting; all the big stuff it seemed then.  We mostly agreed about the other things like sports, family, sales first, and of course, his daughter.

I’ll miss his passion for life, his love of fart jokes, his harsh opinions on opinionated people and the fact that he made no excuses for what he did, when he did it or to whom. I never went with him anywhere where he didn’t have a friend, make a friend or treat people like a friend.  Yet, he knew he was flawed.  Some of those flaws he relished.  I learned that although he relished and even nourished some flaws, he was conspicuous in never wanting to accidently offend anyone.  To the contrary, he could get hurt so easily when he couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t agree that he was right about a matter, just about any matter in fact.

He taught me a lot.  One-liners were always in his presence. When I once double-clutched at taking a risky job, he bristled over the phone and said,

“You can do anything for 6 weeks.  You don’t have to love it for kiap’s sake!  After 6 weeks you should have come to other decisions.”

When we talked about the good and the less good times, he was most proud of supporting his family, living his faith and yet almost ashamedly apologetic for the 2 ½ days he didn’t have a job in 65+ years of working during tough times, depressions and discourse.

Ya, we had our own ups and downs.  Some things we didn’t have to talk about so we didn’t. Luckily he didn’t like silence any more than I.  Other subjects were a running online commentary or the content of our attempted weekly phone calls but never face-to-face.  Face-to-face time was spent listening and laughing and occasionally discussing how the other one saw the world.  As usually happens, I thought he got smarter as he got older but we all know what was really going on.

He was intolerant, had high expectations and believed in an assortment of ideals – many of which went out of fashion everywhere but in his presence.

He cut a wide path in a lot of areas of life without much fan-fair approaching an allegorical Willy Loman-type character but instead ending as a hero he never saw himself as being.  We’ll just have to wait and see who steps up and strolls down Don’s path now.

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