I am guilty of speaking emphatically about something I haven’t really looked into; I have seen a photo in an article and commented on the photo and not the article thereby missing the point the article was trying to make; I have made claims without adequate evidence to back them up; I am sometimes riotously arrogant when I should be humble; I sometimes talk too much. The confession could go on and on as I'm sure you can imagine.
I also make an effort to communicate. And I know I'm living in the real world, and that our world is to a certain degree knowable. And until my brain gives out, I'll continue to try to learn more about the real world. I'll make an effort to refine my use of the intellectual tools I've inherited so that I might have a clearer picture of the knowable tomorrow than I have today.
Simple misunderstandings can lead one to explore hitherto unfamiliar ideas, or facilitate connections of ideas that may seem unrelated at first glance. When one is interested in a lot of things, one often finds connections that may or may not be significant.
Oh no, I see patterns in everything, doctor, I think I need some meds!
Before we get started let me share some ideas with you as a potential conceptual framework stemming from a simple, colloquial and harmless encounter on facebook. I have these all the time, as many of you know, and I recognize that most of the time people are just trying to be nice and share. We're there sharing information, our very public diaries of what we are looking at or involved with on any given day. I don't see too much meanness in the online spats or repartee I have with my friends. Most of the real fireworks take place in the realm of PMs (private messaging) and are therefore harmlessly out of sight and off the wall - in more ways than one.
As of 2014 there were 1.9 billion active facebook users. I guess a lot of people like interacting there. We are social creatures and facebook proves it. One can debate the quality of our virtual interactions, but one must also acknowledge that this form of communication is not going anywhere soon. In fact, it's highly probable that our virtual relations and their impending impact on humanity are unimaginable to us now.
We are but like cockroaches awaiting our interaction with flimflam Gods of the future. We are waiting to be fooled again. Where all of this innovation, disruption, and black box technology will lead is hardly even ponderable. The speed at which science and technology progress today far surpasses our ability to evolve socially, physically and dare I say morally and ethically. The Singularity and other sci-fi fabulousness aside the Gods of the future can not be known now and may never be knowable by the vast majority of people. And I would argue that perhaps even future generations caught in the exciting embrace of miraculous science and technology will hardly know what these invisible super wonders do within the context of their lives. Even if they are enhanced beings. Most of us will have become waifs wandering about in a mysterious forest of man-made, machine-made, artificial-intelligence-made, super-computed constructs the original conditions of which would have been long forgotten or misplaced.
And we do not fully appreciate the randomness of all of this.
*** Please don't feel like you must read all of this in one sitting. Feel free to browse and take your time delving into the links. It will be more satisfying. My narrative the science and philosophy are layers of the same adventure. I only provide the shallow part to wade into, the deep parts are in the hyperlinks.
The following is a stochastic (in the poetic sense of the word) meandering exploration, spontaneous and improvised, of what it means to approach the truth through communication and collaboration with no set plan or ideological envelope. It's, in a quirky way, an homage to finding common ground in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom while attempting the lonely task of educating myself on Bayesian principles and Bayesian logic. Believe me, I can't do the math so it's a struggle to create an accurate enough facsimile of Bayesian logic in my mind that might eventually become useful as a tool for analysis of complex stuff.
"Holy shit! are you kidding me?"
Yes, kind of, but not really - this really is cool stuff. It worth spending some time on it.
Let me flesh out my "situationist" and poetic use of stochastic via the article below:
"Resisting any attempts to file their ideas into a static ideology, situationism, the SI called attention to the priority of real life, real live activity, which continually experiments and corrects itself, instead of just constantly reiterating a few supposedly eternal truths like the ideologies of Trotskyism, Leninism, Maoismor even anarchism. Static ideologies, however true they may be, tend, like everything else in capitalist society, to rigidify and become fetishised, just one more thing to passively consume."
And just for fun take a quick look at Kant.
THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
The categorical imperative (German: kategorischer Imperativ) is the central philosophical concept in the deontological moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Introduced in Kant's 1785 Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, it may be defined as a way of evaluating motivations for action.
"In Bayesian statistical inference, a prior probability distribution, often called simply the prior, of an uncertain quantity is the probability distribution that would express one's beliefs about this quantity before some evidence is taken into account. For example, the prior could be the probability distribution representing the relative proportions of voters who will vote for a particular politician in a future election. The unknown quantity may be a parameter of the model or a latent variable rather than an observable variable."
It's interesting to discover that communication and probability theory are linked in profound ways. I'm struggling joyfully with Bayesian ideas and still working at being a better communicator. A struggle is its own reward. It's indeed fortunate to have the time to take these kinds of intellectual journeys. To be able to dedicate time and energy to ideas so well and expertly digested is exciting. However, one must know that most people will never have the time, energy and desire for such curiosities and so a healthy social media, marketing, advertising and public relations industry to say nothing of more malfeasant forms of propaganda will be necessary for generations to come as motivations for, shall I say, merely getting up in the morning.
The continued growth of the global economy is dependent on early risers with the desire conditioned into their hearts and minds to terry forth to work, watch and spend. One does one's duty even if one's not aware of doing so. When I look at economic growth in the area I live in I am flabbergasted at the potential number of clerks it will take to make this growth continue to happen. We will find a way to grow the service sector until machines can make lazy pets of all of us. Who will be our master is another question. Let's just hope that our value as pets presupposes our good treatment by our masters. There may come a time when we will have to surrender our will to the generosity of our betters. We may finally know what it truly feels like to be domesticated by our inventions.
I'll feed the cat now.
That was nice.
Alas, I find it immensely satisfying to dream of picking tomatoes. Nostalgia has a way of slowing things down a bit.
And with all the weight of my curiosity clearly bearing down on me here's the question I keep asking myself:
Can rational people from opposing sides of a complex issue, through debate and discussion, eventually move closer to a better understanding of the world? We’re talking about the real world as it truly is and not our biased opinions of the world based on stories, superstitions, ideologies, and wishes.
Oh, and how much easier is this when one practices pure science?
The main assumption here is that within nature, at least, there are things people can know and regard as true. And, the world we all share is the same world. We all obey the same laws of the universe. We are all humans, we share our humanness and the factors that make us human. And these things we share are real and not merely abstractions of some super, all-permeating, consciousness.
And yet, assuming such, we have different ways of viewing our world depending on our conditioning and circumstances; our experiences with our own unique nature, nurture feedback loops. Culture, economics, our state of health, our feeling of security or insecurity, our unique experiences, our education, what we practise, how we use our bodies and our minds, all blend into a complex matrix we know as "our self" and this identity is always subtly changing, evolving, even if it doesn't seem so. Most of us take our identity, no matter how vigorously self-examined, for granted. The differences between our "selves" also remain in a continual state of flux, buffeted about by the complex interplay relationships impose on our perception of the "selves" we identify as our own.
Individuals are compelled to act and so we focus our attention on this thing or that without knowing the dark and secret ways these random landings of attention influences us. Sometimes we must shut our eyes to see. And often, no matter how diligent we are in the deployment of our senses and our intellect what we see, feel or experience can seem quite different to what someone else sees, feels or experiences. A tree is indeed a tree, but its meaning can be infinite.
“There is an infinite number of ways to see an elephant.” (Preferably said with an authentic Punjabi accent.)
We are easily fooled, although we don't want to believe this. We are credulous people and yet we are full of doubt. We are, in general, in hot pursuit of knowledge and power while at the same time made ignorant by the knowledge and power we know must be there but that we can't understand. Human life is paradoxical, whimsical and yet we desire to be in control so much that it can be excruciatingly difficult to let go and let the whimsy open one up to creativity and vitality. And despite all the many ways we can describe our experience and phenomena, we are, in many ways conventional. And we are mortal, and time passes all too quickly. Life is wonderfully busy and then we die.
(A skeptic should feel a greater responsibility to be skeptical of his own thought.)
And because these processes are so mysteriously ephemeral it's important, I think, to become conscious of who our epistemic peers are. It's also important in light of the complexity of nature to remind ourselves to be epistemically a little more humble.
relating to knowledge or to the degree of its validation.
*** Let's pause here while you read the PDF at the link above. It's well worth your time and adds to the journey here.
We all have our points of view, our experiences, our knowledge and areas of expertise. We live in communities. We are not fully autonomous creatures, but we have degrees of freedom, liberty and license depending on many factors relating to our circumstances and our current state of health etc.
We all need respect, dignity, consideration, and love. We all, to a certain degree, are self-centered. We desire things. We identify with products and brands that seem representative of our values and of the values we want to signal to others. (That old, I love you and you love me roundabout.) We take action and behave in certain ways so that we may receive what we need from people to feel good about ourselves in the unique context of our own particular lives. Few children in Kansas ask grandpapa, "why aren't we Hindu?", while worshipping at the Episcopal church on Sunday. We simply sing the hymns loud and clear and get a nod of approval from grandmama.
Not many of us want to be alone. We crave approval from our peers.
Some of us are more curious than others and are more interested in discovering the "truth" about how things work in the real world. We want to walk towards Zeno and cut closer to reality, reality being another word for truth. But understanding a paradox may not get us any closer to a human being's reality. Many truth seekers are philosophers and scientists, although they can just as easily be waitresses, musicians, carpenters, engineers, pilots, English teachers, or undersea welders. And no matter their humble origins or lofty achievements they possess the same fallibilities that make them all human.
We'd like to believe that a majority of scientists work hard to walk together towards truth, editing and updating their opinions based on evidence, investigation, inference, deductive reasoning, experience, creative musing, collaboration, critique, and peer review. We'd like to think, perhaps, that professionals would change their point of view many times as their journey moved forward towards a solution or a clearer view of what they are investigating. And we might like to imagine that sometimes their work is pure and untainted by the marketplace. We'd like to feel that pursuing knowledge for its own sake is a good and productive thing.
Hopefully we're also excited that when a solution is found it often leads to more questions, more things that must be investigated, more things that must be understood before the next question, the right question, occurs to our intrepid seekers allowing them to begin again the arduous routine work of science, reason, and creativity. And many of us may be extremely satisfied that scientific work will never end - the mysteries of the universe being so vast and complex. And many of us may be comfortable with the unknown - drawn to it like a moth to an invisible flame - a flame we know as inference.
And when we glance back on subjects pertaining to culture, society, and the individual human being, colored by experience, values, biases, and ideologies, we'll have a healthy respect for just how complex the nature of humanity and the human individual is. Again, we all have different ways of viewing our world, but nevertheless we all live in the same world. We are human. A human is a human despite individual differences. The gravity on earth is what it is, the gasses we breath are what they are, the water we depend on is what it is and so on.
What we do together in our world, within all the systems that we maintain and operate, within the many complex domains of human endeavor and inquiry have impacts and consequences. Everything we do or think contributes in varying degrees to how things are. We should all be familiar with ideas surrounding cause and effect. We should all be familiar with questions of free will and determinism.
And to be a part of this adventure communication is very important. We are the talking, writing, reading Apes. Disagreements are a starting point and a motivation for us to better understand our world. Even misunderstandings and misinterpretations are an opportunity to move on and self-correct.
*** I hope you've spent some time with the links above. Please continue.
Let’s move on to the event that triggered this prickly post.
Below is a comment a good friend recently left regarding an article I shared on my Facebook wall relating to the need for good governance of technology and the tech business sector.
The author is Ara Shirinian, a young student at the University of California Los Angeles. He’s an aspiring writer and video game maker. He’s keenly interested in technology.
The Daily Bruin is a USLA student newspaper.
Below are my friends comments broken up into his main points:
“Taxi operators are government rent seekers that have a license to participate in a government established cartel and gouge the public.”
This perspective is nothing new. You can find it all over the place. Just google the phrase above. Barnett gives taxi rent seekers the bird
“Let the consumer decide! You can just see this in the price of a taxi license if you had to buy one!”
“The sad thing is taxi drivers don't make that much money, but they are unskilled and many are new immigrants,”
“and it is an entry level job that they can do. Let consumers decide what's best for them, let Uber drivers decide whether it is worth their while.”
“Uber technology has made government intervention in this market place no longer warranted in terms of creating a supply limiting marketing board type cartel.”
“I have had the Uber experience in China, if it was pissing rain I couldn't get a taxi, and I'd have to stand outside wasting time getting soaked to flag one down.”
“Now I can sit in the coffee shop, read my newspaper, call up an Uber driver, he will arrive in front of the shop in a new clean vehicle as opposed to a very dirty public taxi, he texts me to announce his arrival and I can walk outside and get in the car. Isn't this better??”
The Uber experience sounds good to me and I’ve had one too. I’ve also taken hotel limos from the airport to the hotel and enjoyed that. I’ve rented apartments in cities I’ve had extended stays in instead of staying at a hotel. I haven’t done tried AIRBNB yet.
Let’s assume that the statements and assumptions above are true. I certainly agree with what he’s saying. I have nothing against Uber, although I'm not a big fan. (I won’t go into why here because, believe it or not, it'll take us way off course.) My friend and I come from similar backgrounds and have similar prior experiences and beliefs about things.
Now let's extrapolate and expand on the points and assumptions. Not to be cheeky, but only to expand the box a little bit. I want to do this exercise because it sheds light on how different people who are focused on different things will be inspired to go down different trains of thought.
- We are rational, and therefore, able to learn from our world and update our perspectives and behaviors based on the best information available. We're also cognizant of where the information is coming from and able to discern good information from bad information, and good sources of information from bad sources of information. We know that the effort we make doing this makes the world more transparent. We take little for granted, but what we do take for granted is well established.
- The customer is always right and it’s up to the customer to decide how she wants to ride around town and what she wants to buy etc.
- Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. Sometimes a customer wants what marketer’s want them to want, but for the sake of discussion let’s assume that the point above is true. We live in a free market - um, cough, wait, let’s not go there.
- Also, sometimes you don't want the best toaster available, you just want the toaster that looks good next to your blender.
- The price of a license to be in the taxi business and leasing a taxi to drive is always and everywhere exorbitant, and stemming from rent-seeking government cartels.
- Of course, it's still a market.
- Not to equivocate but not all markets are the same, not all cities are run in the same way; not all countries have the same laws etc. And this may not be the best of all possible worlds. But let's just deal with how things are now - for now.
- Let’s also assume that Uber’s current offerings, its service and its technology, its app, is disrupting the car for hire business in a currently close to ideal way. Again, the customer’s always right. This is not a fad. This is the way people want things now. Uber is fulfilling a profound market need. People want to use apps on their smartphones to connect with goods and services. Uber is expanding in China at a blistering pace. Customers like Uber - full stop!
- Let’s assume that the Uber customer experience is close to universally similar and that if a given Uber car is a bit less clean, or a particular Uber driver less than charming, or a Uber driver is an immigrant (recall the story of the cop who abused a Uber driver because he had a foreign accent) or that a particular Uber driver arrives very late, or a Uber transaction is less than pleasant, or that a Uber driver is killed by a client, or that a Uber driver kills a client, or that, if a Uber driver rapes a client, or gets raped by a client, or performs a hit and run killing a pedestrian - that these are all just outliers and highly unlikely events for Uber. UBER TERMS OF SERVICE USA
- Should Uber even offer a service with continuity of standards of quality and experience, because it's better that way and to define the brand of course...
- Assume that Governments always conspire in their licensing and other agreements to gouge the public and let’s further assume that this opinion is not ideologically biased - it’s just what governments do. We elect them and they repay us by gouging the hell out of us.
- Let’s also assume that private corporations, free and unfettered of inefficient, draconian and unreasonable regulations are always better because their profit motive always incentivizes them to do the right thing for their market and for society as a whole wherever possible. (Or just for the market, what's society have to do with it?) And if they don’t do a good job they just go bankrupt and disappear (like Donald Trump) and that that rarely causes any perturbation in society. (Oops, the Donald is gone, oops, the Donald is back. Some failures are obviously more valuable than other failures. "Fall down seven times and stand up the eighth". But really folks, Trump is no Miyamoto Musashi.) People just wait for the next company to come along and provide a similar product or service. And let’s assume that most companies make a serious effort to internalize their externalities wherever possible providing that it doesn’t impact their management’s compensation packages or shareholders too much.
- Let’s assume that private corporations are never rent-seekers or cartels.
- OK, that’s a bridge too far, we know that’s not true. So let’s move on.
- Let’s also assume that all cities in all states in all countries have the same problem crying out for the same solution and that Uber is the company of the moment that can best fulfill this need, and that in each culture the Uber solution is a perfect fit.
- Finally, let’s assume that UBER management will almost always do a fantastic job on all fronts. They have a similar ethic as Google’s “Do no evil”.
Uber is, of course, a global offering so it will have to contend with the legal environments of each country and city in which it operates. It’s an on the road service company and its local Uber drivers will have to obey local laws. It’s not selling iPods, or designer bags or solar panels. It can’t hide its less than ethical practices overseas in a dingy industrial park. Service companies are notoriously complex primarily because they are people serving people. Materials are far easier to deal with. And, the potential scale of Uber’s service offering is huge.
“Uber is the hottest private tech company around. Its growth is incredible. The ride sharing app is on track to make $2 billion in revenue this year. Its valuation has surged 400% over the last year to $18 billion.Sep 8, 2014”
Now let’s have a superficial glance at some of Uber’s legal Issues. I’m not a lawyer are you?
So, pray tell, oh maniacal blogger of the Globe Hackasphere, what is your point?
Now that we’ve had a quick glance at some of the glorious assumptions and other issues surrounding this disruptive company, is there any place for any kind of regulation here? Is it reasonable to assume that there are no other interests except Uber corporate interests and the interests of a fast-growing market for Uber’s service?
No, I'm not going to discuss forms of radical libertarianism or a socialist utopia. We can play with those some other time. I'm just asking if government regulation has a place in our world today as we take this rocket of ours into the black-box of the real-science-tech-future?
We have seen customers in the streets demanding their Uber rides and we’ve seen other constituencies voicing a different point of view. Is there a way for all sides to walk their way towards an agreement of how to move forward and better manage and regulate this service and this transition to a new business model? Or is it, hands off, and don't you mess around the magic of the market? See, we are rational people with common priors and we care about the truth so eventually we should be able to arrive at the same conclusions on the matter. But we're human beings etc., etc.
Personally, I think we could go slow or even pause from time to time and get a better understanding of risk before we move forward in certain areas. Uber is not a good example for this. I expect things to get sorted out for Uber. They'll be in business for some time to come.
I enjoyed this article about The Yuan Percent in China, second generation rich kids trying to figure a way forward. One of the lads featured is an Uber driver who runs around town late at night in his Lamborghini picking up hot prostitutes to enjoy because it's more honest to enjoy the company of a prostitute than to con a "normal girl" into having sex. What a gentleman.
Uber anger in Belgium.
Uber and the sharing economy:
It can be annoying when the old guard or the damn government we elect tries to hang on to a place in an industry that’s obviously changing because of technological and service innovations. We can easily feel like we just want them to get out of the way or get on board. We want the cabbies to save up, buy a car, quit their jobs at the taxi company and join Uber. We want government people to get out of the damn way and let the market do its magic.
Well, it does and it is. We are still responsible for thinking things through. Nothing is easy. There are impacts and unintended consequences for everything. When things change there is always a struggle. And let's not forget that it's primarily about money.
(I'm not sure if idealism, intellectual pursuits or the noble quest for money require more calories.)
I hate private vehicles in cities so I’m happy if we can innovate out of having to devote so much urban space to automobiles. Which brings up an interesting question: How many Uber taxis would N.Y.C. need to service its population if no private cars were allowed inside the five Boroughs? How many derivative companies would rise up to compete with Uber, or would Uber become a government-backed cartel eventually because of its billion $$$ lobbying war chest? What other kinds of government and private sector transportation services would we need to radically improve the N.Y.C. urban environment - the urban experience? Let’s start Googling urban planners, designers, architects, and engineers. I love dreaming about this kind of stuff.
If you stop and really think about the wider ramifications of developments in the transportation sector you’ll be overwhelmed by how complex the subject is and at how many aspects of our lives it influences.
- technological etc, etc…
So far we are immersed in a whole lot of big assumptions. We’re still struggling to accommodate differing points of view, and we're noticing changes in the urban transportation market.
Sometimes it’s necessary to drill a bit deeper and consider multiple sides before we label, spin, demonize, or frame something. However, it’s hard to do this because we tend to have an immediate rational yet emotionally driven intuition on subjects that fall within a certain domain of interest that we have certain settled beliefs about. Or, we’ve read some stuff on the subject that fit with our view of reality, of how we understand the world works and we're eager to make our points known to the ignorant masses, or to a friend who posted an Oped piece from a college student in a college rag.
Was the article in question yet another salvo in the Uber debate that’s been raging in communities around the world and in the media for years now?
Let’s take a look at the article in question.
The author starts by acknowledging that we are probably reading his article through various tech platforms: websites; smartphones; computers. OK kid what else?
“Despite how it may seem, technology doesn’t inherently make our lives better.”
There is a lot of good current social science literature on this. In many ways, we don’t understand the long-term effects of technology on happiness or on many other aspects of our lives. Climate change is a good example. Cheap energy and the industrial revolution had a big part to play in our getting to the current era of high technology. Without having to embark on counterfactual historical musings about the social impacts of the industrial revolution we might be able to agree that human-generated carbon emissions have something to do with climate change and that the net results of climate change might wind up making many of us much less happy in the future. Cheap fossil fuels and our amazing genius in finding ways to extract coal, oil and gas from the earth is technology driven.
The science regarding climate change is right there and in your face. You have to try really hard to ignore it. But people do of course and that's the crux of the biscuit. We simply can't talk about negative impacts of human endeavors without being labeled a libtard or something worse.
Wars lead to better technologies, but war is still hell. It's a tricky cost benefit ratio to contemplate.
There are those faithful and hopeful visionaries who believe that technology is the answer to every problem that technology might create. We’ll just have to, as the guy in The Martian movie says, “Science the shit out of this.”
Human beings are just so damn heroic! "We're going to need a Manhattan type project to solve this or that..." Well, if we were currently involved in a world war and to win it we had to make sure that everyone on the planet could read we'd have our Manhattan type project for sure. I suppose when China really starts stepping on The West, and it will, it will have to, it's inevitable, we'll have new incomprehensible pools of recourses to hurl at the effort to retain western hegemony. Later, we'll look back at the millennials and call them "The Greatest, Greatest Generation". You see, we have to stand up and say to China that you can't outperform us because we have the moral high ground. If only we could clone Mohamed Ali. Oh I forgot, it's Donald who's going to make America great again. We're the greatest of all time!
Depending on selective criteria, America is still pretty great I suppose.
But even as we have to defend our greatness against global upstarts, apparently, we may need to terraform Mars because we may cause our environment here to change in so many negative ways that we’ll need another planet to keep our economic growth at a decent clip. Also, our economic growth as we calculate it today may exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth to such a degree that we’ll need more planets just to keep up with business as usual. Well, good luck humanity, I can’t wait to visit McDonald's on Mars, or buy at cap from Alibaba while eating my synthetic cheeseburger in the McDonald's on Mars.
Oh no, it's probably going to take a global effort to establish human colonies on Mars. It's probably not going to be a Chinese or U.N. flag flying over the synthetic beef plant on Mars.
Anyway, isn't that what geoengineering is for? We fix the problems technology has caused with new technologies and when we've run out of resources or space on Earth we just go to other planets and expand. We're just that good! I mean, we're really good!
“Exploit those on other planets before they exploit us. Let’s get our soldiers back in the middle east before all these refugees and jihadists start killing us at the shopping mall! We've got to be proactive and consume it all. We've got to defend our way of life."
Facts and fears may both be five letter words starting with the letter “F”, but it’s fear that rules the world of men. Fear really motivates.
It may be as simple as: technology equals power over our fears. Most of us love technology. It improves our lives in so many ways. But we still have to keep an eye on it. We still have to think about how it may impact our lives, our future, our ecosystem and so on.
Does technology make us happy or not? A few simple articles to have a look at. There are many good academic papers on the subject.
I am reminded of another persistent question pestering me: Why is it so easy for us to ignore evidence? That’s another well-covered topic you’d have to really try hard to ignore these days. Perhaps a better answer is that many people just don’t really care about things like evidence and facts. They are not concerned so they are not aware they are ignoring anything. They are more interested in familiar, terrestrial and mundane things. Or they are stressed to the point of not having any leftover energy to delve into ideas & data. Or perhaps their culture is simpler and less concerned complexities.
Regardless we are all just people and subject to the same glitches of thought. We have "buggy" brains.
- cognitive dissonance
- motivated reasoning
- confirmation bias
- natural human credulity
- cherry picking
I think it is important to consider the challenges rapidly evolving high technology will impose upon humanity and our precious ecosystem. A.I., Super-Intelligent Machines, Robotics, Virtual Reality, Pharmaceuticals and the list goes on, are all challenges to the process of human evolution in the sense that they speed material progress up so much that wisdom gets left behind. We also have to do the calculus of unintended consequences. We have to do the risk analysis.
Why not quote the New Testament here, there is some wisdom in the literature. We can find good lessons in mythology. What kind of soul will Ex Machina have?
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36
And for that matter, what is love? We can be secular, rational, scientific, skeptics and still talk about the soul and love right? Poetry doesn't go out the window. Maybe that's what Kyoko will ultimately find interesting in us. She won't get the same serotonin rush from us, but she just might enjoy the abstractions we represent and depend on. The Goddess with the power of life and death and an unspeakable creative power begins worshipping her creator just because we're kind of cute.
We idnore myth at our peril.
Excuse me for the long aside. Let’s get back to our UCLA student’s points.
“A problem arises when we only focus on making technology better, but we forgo finding ways for technology to make our society better.”
From my perspective, this makes complete sense. It’s a good point. “But Cleghorn, what’s utilitarianism have to do with it?” Sorry, I meant, “But Cleghorn, what’s making society better have to do with making money off of technological innovation?” “If people buy it, it’s already good dude!” “Customers are rational and make enlightened decisions based on their wants and needs and their emotional connections with a brand man!” “If you want to smoke so what? It’s your body!” “I buy it because I like it, idiot!” “I climb it because it’s there!” "I do it because I can!" "I've got a lot of money!"
But really, why think about things like this young man? Relax - drink some herbal concoction.
Often we disagree simply because we don’t share enough common information or shared similar experiences. Some people hear things like, “make society better”, and they immediately think the person talking is a progressive moron trying to undermine the foundations of decent traditional life. Whatever we think that is. And yet, we all hold certain ideals to be self-evident. Or do we?
We’re all familiar with issues like these:
- Freedom to believe in and practice one’s religion is not the freedom to impose one’s religious values on others or on society at large.
- Are we really living in a free market? How would we define that? There are differing views.
- You can believe passionately that your child should not have to have the MMR vaccine for whatever reason, and that your right to keep your child from getting vaccinated preempts the greater good of broader public health. Are there ethical problems with this?
- Just cut taxes and people will be more efficient and productive and value will trickle down to those at the bottom in the form of jobs and opportunities.
- How can American deal with its gun crime? Should we get rid of guns or lock up everyone in the country who's mentally ill or a potential threat based on some kind of profiling algorithm? I guess it's time to buy stock in private prisons and mental private mental institutions. Don't forget to invest in firearms while you're at it.
- And on and on…
This is where things get complicated and a whole lot of influences come into play. Rational people just can't arrive at the same conclusions when their biases get in the way. You're not going to jump off the bandwagon just because there's evidence that you're about to drive off a cliff.
Let's get back to our student friend.
“Over the summer, I spent my time trying to identify specific ways in which new technology eroded protections we spent generations putting in place. They are prime examples of how marketplaces often facilitate new technological developments, but not new ways of thinking, which can lead to a social regress.”
He doesn’t provide any specific examples, but his point is reasonable enough don’t you think? It’s also debatable, of course. New technologies also influence new ways of thinking right?
“The damn liberal is talking about social regress! WTF!!! Why would he waste time thinking about that? Uber management is Uber! Everything will be fine. This is obvious!”
Uber is a bad example here. But the article had a photo of people holding up signs with Uber on them so that automatically becomes the flash point of the comment on Facebook.
“The article’s addressing the Uber phenomenon, let’s get him!”
The point is he’s not really talking about Uber so much as optimizing utility in society through a well-managed, well-regulated tech industry that’s concerned about internalizing externalities and benefiting stakeholders and shareholders alike. And he’s saying that good governance has a role to play. At least that’s some of what I’m getting from what he’s saying. Am I projecting too much on this? Chuckle. Ya, we all do that, it's kind of fun to chase rabbits.
“Government you say? Governance!?"
This really bothers some people who believe that thinking such things is a nuisance and hampers a corporation’s ability to innovate and make money, by producing goods and services that we want.
"It’s great that Carly Sneed Fiorina made a lot of money, that’s what our system is all about. I don’t know about you, but I’m at Harvard Business School for the eventual golden parachute.”
But seriously folks, is there something wrong with efficient and evidence-based governmental regulation that would be an overall benefit to shareholders, customers, workers, and stakeholders alike. It may be hard for many of us to imagine this delicate interplay between communities, government, laws and private enterprises.
"But damn it, Steven, this would take a Manhattan style effort!"
“Unfortunately, technology moves quickly and legislatures move slowly. So sometimes, when technology changes, it negates the protections that have been put in place to ensure that companies do not abuse the public.”
So we start the dialogue, the give-and-take, and we sometimes have to slow down and figure things out before we take steps to optimize or improve things, or even to make markets. This process almost always involves a fight of some sort as various interests hash out what’s next.
Or we can have a Chinese-style capitalism and bulldoze the future into place. Another topic for another day.
“Most of the fundamental technologies we know today, like the Internet and GPS, have either been created by government agencies or been heavily funded by them. But the real spread of consumer technology has arisen from the private market, where companies have created countless products and services that people have used as tools for social change.”
There’s nothing new here, his comment is true, but he brings in social change again and that just rubs some people the wrong way.
“I’m an individual consumer, idiot! What the hell does social change have to do with it?”
Well, you know, he’s young, and our system to date has probably robbed a lot of “goods” from this boy’s future so his idealistic concerns might have some real foundation. Plus, don't you know that everyone is getting behind social movements these days? We're all grouped up on social media taking on a cause. It's the best way to brand these days. You've got to have an uber cause to be somebody these days. And businesses schools even have classes of social enterprises. Oh god!
I know, I’m relying on satire as a rhetorical device the same way Donald Trump uses emotional, hot button issues as a rhetorical device. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve heard people say that the Donald speaks the truth simply because he’s not politically correct. Trump sound bites have become “THE TRUTH” while the complex issues they refer to are drowned out by frustration and pure emotional reaction. Who’s going to take the time to look into the complexities surrounding the issue of immigration when it’s so darn fun just to get riled up about it. Spouting invective makes you seem tough. I don’t know about your mates, but my mates like tough guys. We may actually feel helpless, or just angry at the perceived threats immigrants pose to our countries. We might feel we need a tough guy to fix things; a Benito Trump to come in and sort everyone out. We may feel too old to shave our heads, put on our jackboots, grab a blade and a bludgeon and go out for a night of a little bit of ultra-violence against minority groups and migrants. Let the brand and his functionaries take care of it for us. And let's not forget that the best place for radical and violent social experiments are failed states.
Oops, there I go again running off on a tangent. We’re still waiting to find out what Uber has to do with our budding writer’s article.
“Cellphones were once a toy for the super-rich, but now they are available to everyone, including those in the most impoverished countries. The same thing is happening now with smartphones and access to the internet.”
Ah, ya, right - so?
“For this reason, it’s paramount that legislatures at both the state and federal level work to keep up with new developments and change the laws accordingly.”
Or update current laws? Depending on our priors of course. I mean prior assumptions about how the world works. And why not? Because it might interfere with a nascent business model that impacts hundreds of thousands of jobs across the world? Damn cartels! Damn rent seekers! Damn immigrant taxi drivers! Damn maids! Damn farm hands! Damn Irish Coppers! Damn wetback restaurant workers! Damn, damn, damn! Why don't the Syrians just stay in their own country and fight someone?
“Thankfully, technology has made it even easier to make sure that Congress stays on track. With online petitions and social media activism, it’s become significantly easier to tell lawmakers how we feel about regulations. Though these methods don’t always bring fast results, they at the least have an important effect on public opinion.”
Ya, that’s true. They now have more noise to deal with too. Public opinion - oh my. I know I’m being facetious again. I can’t help it. I’m sorry. And yet we accomplish so little with our elected officials these days. The game is an echo chamber and a rigged experience of revolving doors and vain deals. People are just bystanders. They’re not really that involved. Their civic duty has been replaced by their duty to be good consumers. Big business gets what it pays for and we get to consume their products and services to our great delight. And thanks to the global nature of business these days, things are pretty cheap in the U.S.A. And people in developing countries are flying out of poverty like jets off an aircraft carrier, like rockets to Mars.
But again, why have any regulation at all. Can’t we just let businesses get on with making money and providing us with stuff we want and cool services we can rely on? OK, let’s not go there. That’s a whole other wormhole the gravity of which would suck in an eon of back and forth bickering.
“Though it’s easy to take the technology we use every day for granted, it’s important to keep in mind what it took to get us here. For decades, the government has been helping shape the adoption and development of technology for the better. It doesn’t always make the right decisions, but it’s the best tool we have for shaping the market from a utilitarian standpoint.”
Is it now? Bloody utilitarian! Why bring government into it. For many people today, GOVERNMENT, is the boogeyman. What is American? The Constitution? The Christians? The Geology? The Resources? The Citizenry? The Culture? The Dream? The Government? All of the above?
And now we have to deal with the Chinese Dream. There goes the world order.
But seriously folks, you can’t have anything good without good government. We could be tribal, or paleo, but I doubt we really want that. The arrow points to the future and the future is empty.
America today is a reflection of a population of people who can’t trust the government they elected and who can't decide what it is they want. The government functions poorly because we’ve elected representatives that reflect the fear we have that government is all bad. It’s politically correct now to be in government and hate government so how can government improve? Oh hell, we’re in a pickle!
And there are those odd people who think getting things right is a struggle but that we're making progress.
“Internet service providers, search companies and sharing services are some of the most important businesses around. We use these services constantly. The companies that control these businesses are only doing what companies must: looking to create better products and make a profit.”
Gee, he hasn’t even mentioned Uber yet.
“If we can shape products and services just a little bit, those two things can remain unharmed, but result in a better environment for us all.”
Perhaps he’s talking about “we the people” here. But aren’t corporations people? I mean, in a legal sense. Corporations are run by people, they employ people right? Let's just say, corporate law matters and good corporate governance matters. How will the VW scandal play out? Will managers go to jail? I think our young writer is concerned about these things.
People elect the people who serve in government, and those elected people appoint people to do various jobs or functions within their office and in government, and those people hire people to work for the government, and various agencies in the government hire private contractors to do work for the government. (What is blackwater called now I wonder? Academy? Nice name, nice rebranding.) It seems like we’re talking about a whole lot of people. I hope these people are motivated by more than money, like let’s say, social goods. Let’s hope they’re trying to do the right thing.
Now I just have to insert another movie clip. Haha, do the right thing! I love this clip.
Thanks Spike, for the chill.
Oh yes, and somehow we have to trust the data. We have to learn how to discover who to trust. How do we know that she's an expert and she can be trusted? Don’t ask Joseph Stalin, or George W. Bush.
What have you learned about bad advice?
"Bad advice tends to be simplistic. It tends to be definite, universal and certain. But, of course, that's the advice we love to hear. The best advice tends to be less certain — those researchers who say, 'I think maybe this is true in certain situations for some people.' We should avoid the kind of advice that tends to resonate the most — it's exciting, it's a breakthrough, it's going to solve your problems — and instead look at the advice that embraces complexity and uncertainty."
Click on the image of the book cover above and read the introduction at least.
"A few years ago I attended an event where the guest speaker was a Cabinet member. In conversation afterwards, the subject of long-term petroleum supplies came up. He warned that at some point, perhaps a century or so in the future, someone would put his key in his car's ignition, turn it, and nothing would happen – because there would be no gasoline.
What shocked me was not his ignorance of the economics of depletable resources – if we ever run out of gasoline it will be a long, slow process of steadily rising prices, not a sudden surprise – but the astonishing conservatism of his view of the future. It was as if a similar official, 100 years earlier, had warned that by the year 2000 the streets would be so clogged with horse manure as to be impassable. I do not know what the world will be like a century hence. But it is not likely to be a place where the process of getting from here to there begins by putting a key in an ignition, turning it, and starting an internal combustion engine burning gasoline." From Future Imperfect by David D. Friedman
But what of unknown tipping points related to climate change? Could these changes be more suddent and catastrophic? We'll find out I guess.
“If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.” – Richard Feynman
This may well apply to physics, but when you start to study people things get a lot murkier. Science is hard and it's super hard when people are the subject.
Thank you Ara Shirinian (sounds like an immigrant to me) for the wonderful adventure you've inspired. Tell me more.
“Just think about it, without government intervention, you’d probably still be waiting for this article to load on an AT&T dial-up connection. Ouch.”
It’s cute that the young man uses the word ouch at the end of a paragraph. I like to use the word, “ouch” like that too sometimes. I like Oops too.
I just don’t see what the fuss is about. I’m trying hard to imagine it and put myself in the other guy’s mind. When someone brings up the government, regulation or, oh God, government intervention (scream) some people, mostly Americans, get immediately frustrated and pissed off.
They then fire off a quick argument with exclamation points after each sentence that seem to imply that if you don’t agree you are a moron.
On Facebook one can fairly assume that most people don’t read the full article posted and when they comment they are commenting only on the title, subtitle, photo, or some hot button issue that pops out at them in highlighted text. We only have so many hours in a day and we can’t be expected to delve into everything that pops up on our screens. Even if we do consider carefully our comments we only have so much time to make them and may likely muff our statement up a bit. It's nothing to be ashamed of. We're just talking here. Most of the time it’s an emotional reaction to something that makes us comment in the first place. Few of us are disciplined enough to push the pause button and think carefully about what’s being discussed. And even with the most deftly employed emojis it's hard to get the spirit of the comment across. "Was he joking?"
We want to share our knowledge and the stuff that sticks with us when we’re reading.
I’m guilty of this too. When a simple comment bothers me I can go overboard with my replies. But honestly, I’m more interested in communication than in winning arguments. I really do want to understand another person's thinking if I can.
Many people today are excited about new Facebook buttons that will allow us to signal our disgust, anger, fear or dislike, all of which are among the primary emotions present across mammalian species, including humans.
People enjoy expressing their emotions a lot more than expressing their thoughts and ideas. Even when they think they are expressing thoughts and ideas, many times they’re only expressing their emotions. We’ll jump to an emotional reaction, slow down, think about it and then backtrack to a more thoughtful response. Or we’ll think that our background knowledge and expertise presupposes that we are correct in forcefully stating our views without any consideration towards our listeners who may not share our “priors”.
If we hate the Catholic Church we won't give a damn if some of the Pope's interests are reasonable, we'll just point out what's still wrong with the Church and express our opinion that one billion Catholics are obviously stupid. But, you know, the market is there and the TV ratings are high. The people just want to feel that they are good. They hanker for a higher power. They like that supernatural God of ancient scripture a lot more than Kyoko.
Instead of facing the causes of violence in the black community in the U.S. we only focus on letting people know we aren't racist. The causes are always much more complex than the wonderful, self-righteous feeling we get when we think we are convincing people that we are good.
"I am a nice guy, I'm a fucking nice guy - bitch!" This speaker is not politically correct i.e., he speaks the Truth.
"We have to deal with the fact that in 2015 white cops shoot black people. I'm not a racist, all black lives matter." That must feel good.
I’m not trying to be a cheeky here. I’m interested in what it is that makes perfectly rational and intelligent people unable to see things in a broader way, or to completely ignore details, or fail to work towards better resolution of an issue. We don't seem to be concerned with reality in a broad sense, instead we get stuck in silos where we only rely on our personal experience, tastes, expertise and our epistemic peers to help us form our opinions. We are afraid to venture through unfamiliar territory. And, we're always motivated to fit in.
Once opinions are formed they are often difficult to dislodge regardless of lines of evidence across domains. The latest knowledge developed through the arduous labor of experts in various silos / fields may be of little concern to people who are too distracted, too busy or too poor and ignorant to notice its impending impact on their lives. Who has the energy?
Yet, in certain cultures, in particular, the cultures of science, engineering, and technology, people continue to do amazing work even if they may not collaborate as much as they should across disciplines. Their common cause is in finding the truth in the solution to a problem or challenge.
Philosophers, artists, writers, community leaders, entrepreneurs and other creatives contribute and voice their concerns adding profoundly to our shared human experience. They shed light where there can be no light and through doing so our material tools get better and better. We need the lost poets.
Many of these people work hard not just for financial compensation but because they want to make things better for society and for the future of humanity. Dare I say, not only for their children’s benefit but for the benefit of other people’s children in future times.
Perhaps it’s too much to ask that we attempt to be more rigorous in our thinking and more adept in our communications - and, to be more thankful for the work others do on our behalf.
We all come across knee jerk reactions to things all the time, we come across what appears to be ideologically based arguments that are stubborn and intractable and we struggle to figure out how to make the conversations more productive. We're trying to figure out how to have an exchange of ideas that’s more based in evidence and a quest for truth rather than the usual, I’m afraid you appear to be coming from a different universe type of exchange.
Take a look at these two videos the subject of which is the refugee problem in Europe and the Middle East. If you can, take some time to do the math. Both videos are approaching the math in very different ways. Can you tell which one is more correct and why? Statistics and demographics are not most people’s strong suit I know. But the basic math here is not hard to figure.
Our Culture is Doomed!
European Culture Will Survive.
Now if you insert a lot of sociocultural issues into the conversation, values and the like, things become orders of magnitude more complex and moving towards a compromise or agreement becomes significantly harder.
If you fear refugees and dislike Muslims then the first video is the one you believe. Can you spot the biases? People will believe what they want to believe based on their individual propensities. This is why rational people disagree all the time.
There are no easy answers. Yelling at a situation will not make it go away. Emotional reactions are useful rhetorical devices that can be easily deployed. Sometimes righteous anger is intellectually honest and justified. At best issues in our world can become clear through the analysis of good information, at worst issues are misinterpreted and misunderstood leading to a kind of paralysis and decay. When we don't understand the underlying facts and reality of a situation decay can morph into war. Upsetting the balance is a great human pastime.
Emotion is needed for good cognition. More on that below. What we’re really trying to avoid is the old “Cool Hand Luke” classic retort, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”.
Before moving on let’s consider some points that may help improve our communication:
- It’s a good idea to get into the habit of questioning one’s assumptions.
- When addressing an issue, address the core points of the issue and leave the sidebar, hot-button issues aside, or as a point to bolster your core position later.
- We don’t always have to state our positions with exclamatory speech or with exclamations after each point. Even if we think we are absolutely right and justified to do so. It makes people defensive, shuts down their desire to listen, and makes the speaker look a bit like a, well, you know. It’s also a bit of a red flag. If you have to yell at me to make your point maybe you’re not the person I should be talking to. This has nothing to do with political correctness and has everything to do with good communication. Sometimes we all get impatient and use exclamatory speech, but we should try to avoid it if we can.
- If you trust someone, even a little bit, try to really listen to her points and if you don’t understand them ask for clarification, references or examples.
- Try to drill down into other points of view before telling someone that they are stupid. We have silos inside silos inside more silos and those who can drill through the silos of experience, knowledge, expertise and context may find themselves with an original or particularly useful point to make. We don’t have to think outside the box - just expand the box.
- Try to be epistemically humble. If you are not willing to attempt to update your point of view, then you need good reasons for not wanting to.
- You don’t have to win the argument. Focus on communication and try to develop understanding. Later, you can try again to nudge your friend into expanding the box or drilling through to another silo of understanding.
Thinking about this today brought to mind reading that can greatly illuminate aspects of these kinds of inquiries. I first became truly interested Bayesian stuff when I read Nassim Taleb's, "The Black Swan" in 2007. Before that, I had a cursory interest in problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty.
Now let work begin.
Start here, listen to this podcast and if you are particularly energetic read the transcript. I think reading the transcript first is better because it makes understanding the conversation that much easier. You can also check any references.
Rationally Speaking Podcast, RS143 - Scott Aaronson on "The theorem that proves rationalists can't disagree"
I believe strongly that it’s well worth your time to delve into these subjects. What we should strive for is a better understanding of reality and we should try to learn how to help other people achieve the same thing.
Here are more things of interest:
by Peter Gibson
Aumann’s Theorem a theorem in interactive epistemology. Do the rules of rationality allow for people to agree to disagree?
Reading the major economists of our day will help you understand “rent seeking”. They can also give you insights into what is meant by externalities. I mentioned internalizing externalities. This relates also to corporate ethics or business ethics. I’m thinking of: Garry Becker; Francis Fukuyama; Daniel Kahneman; Robert Lucas Jr.; Elinor Ostrom; Joseph Stiglitz; Nassim Taleb; Thomas Piketty and others. Economics is a broad subject and should never be thought of as done and dusted. Economic policy and philosophy are still active and important pursuits - muddy as they may seem to most of us.
“The real reason for the aversion to Uber by ministers and mayors alike, I contend, lies in the risk of a permanent loss of government control over large swaths of public policy realms.
“The government will no longer have a say over passenger safety, pricing, taxation and quality of service.”
Google “breaking up the cartel”. There are lots of cartels people want to see broken up. It’s all over the place.
“Conservative reformers (myself included) have identified the accreditation process as a barrier to entry that limits the kind of innovation and competition that can curb tuition costs and give rise to more flexible options.”
All of these issues are very interesting. In the real world, we rarely find absolute agreement on anything despite how rational we are, our expertise, our shared experiences and background knowledge.
“Think of a situation where you had bulletproof facts, reason, and logic on your side, and believed there was absolutely no way the other person could say no to your perfectly constructed argument and proposal. To do so would be impossible, you figured because there was no other logical solution or answer.
And then the other person dug in his heels and refused to budge. He wasn’t swayed by your logic. Were you flabbergasted?”
This page from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a must! Learn about Bayesian Epistemology, Bayesian Probability Laws and so on. We can start to understand why we are at odds with each other most of the time even though we are all living in the same world with similar information and “priors”. http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=Bayesian
Decisions Are Emotional, not Logical: The Neuroscience behind Decision Making
Martingale (probability theory)
Are Disagreements Honest?
What makes a belief an epistemically justified belief?
Jonathan Haidt: <iframe src="https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html" width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe>
Liberals vs. Conservatives S
Antonio Damasio When Emotions Make Better Decisions
Scott Aaronson on “The theorem that proves rationalists can’t disagree”
THE TAXI BUSINESS
NYC Gov on Taxi’s THE DREADED CARTEL and the evil RENT SEEKERS: http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/downloads/pdf/2014_taxicab_fact_book.pdf
THOMAS GRIER Uber: Breaking New York’s Taxi Cartel
Attorney, The Law Office of Thomas Grier
The real reason why most countries keep Uber out