Sunday, April 18, 2010

You are not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier **

The internet and new technology has brought us many things to be thankful, but Lanier is concerned that it is actually slowing down our creativity, and that Moore’s law will help to actually slow down cultural change. He points out how the new technology is stifling us in ways, and he suggests some alternatives. But I have to say that evolution is not one to pick the best design or best possible solution, only the most expedient solution given the tools at hand. That is how I view the path that technology takes and the solutions that win out. It is in a sense survival of the fittest. I view Lanier's approach as a desire for intelligent design opposing the laissez faire approach of invisible hand. - Ben

Emphasizing the crowd means de-emphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad moblike behaviors. This leads not only to empowered trolls, but to a generally unfriendly and unconstructive online world. ..Finance was transformed by computational clouds. Success in finance became increasingly about manipulating the cloud at the expense of sound financial principles... Pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise, dominated by mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups. P20

Lanier talks about how crowd/cloud solutions should be limited to domains where the cloud cannot frame it’s own questions and its answers should never be more complicated than a single number or multiple choice answer… Problems that have both complex outcomes and unknown distributions of outcomes should be taboo for crowds.

Crowds and clouds do a very poor job of innovation. They do an excellent job of polishing an existing solution or framework. The open source movement is an example of that. Linux is really a 1960’s operating system based upon a Bell Labs innovations from that era. It is not a fundamentally new construct. Using the crowd to take a new construct, and extrapolate and refine it might be a worthy utilization of the crowd. Asking the crowd to come up with a new, well architectured solution is probably a waste of time.

People will focus on activities other than fighting and killing one another only so long as technologists come up with ways to improve living standards for everyone at once… Expanding wealth is necessary if morality is to have any largescale effect on events, and improving technology is the only way to expand wealth for many people at the same time. P80

If the crowd is so wise, it should be directing each person optimally in choices related to home finance, the whitening of teeth, and the search of a lover. Paid persuasion ought to be mooted. Every penny Google earns suggests a failure of the crowd – and Google is earning a lot of pennies. P83

If money is flowing to advertising instead of the content creators like musicians, journalists, and artists, then society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty. If content is worthless, the people will start to become empty headed and content less. P83

The social contract that exists on the web today is that authors, journalists, musicians, artists, etc. are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self promotion. Culture is to become nothing but advertising. P83

Can the internet spawn new middle classes for the creation of content? Wouldn’t be nice if today there were 3000 musicians making a decent middle class living solely from their music on the web? Then in a few years, 30,000. Then the S curve would manifest itself in full, and there would be 300,000. A new kind of professional musician would thunder onto the scene with the shocking speed of a new social networking site… To my shock, I have had trouble finding even a handful of muscians who are able to survive on the web even after 15 years of the web existing for the masses. P91

The people who are perhaps the most screwed by open culture are the middle classes of intellectual and cultural creation. The freelance studio musician, the stringer selling reports to newspapers from warzones are both crucial contributors to culture. Each pays dues and devotes years to honing a craft. They used to live off the trickle down effects of the old system, and like the middle class at large, they are precious. They get nothing from the new system. P93

Planet of the Help Desk

Computer technologies built by humans are endlessly confusing, buggy, fussy and error ridden. The icon of employment in the age of information is the help desk. This includes knowledge management, software consulting, data management, etc. We are headed toward Planet of the Help Desk. P94

China’s economic model focuses on manufacturing and thus the routine. India’s economy excels in non-routine services. The US has chosen a different path entirely, by controlling the network that everyone else is forced to pass through… I’ll be an optimist and suggest that America will somehow convince the world to allow us to maintain our privileged role. The admittedly flimsy reasons are that a) we’ve done it before so they’re used to us b) the alternatives are potentially less appealing to many global players, so American centrality is a least bad option. P96

Save those pennies!

Even if robots in the future are able to maintain your health and well being for just a penny, how will you ever earn that penny competing against them? Manual labor will be unpaid because the robots own that work, your creativity and expression would also be unpaid since you would be a volunteer in the army of the long tail. That would leave nothing for you… The only alternative would be to establish a form of socialism. P103

Digitially connected mobs will perform more and more services on a collective volunteer [or super cheap] basis, from medicine to solving crimes, until nearly all service jobs are done that way. The cloud lords that control the network behind these solutions [LiveOps, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Elance are examples today] encourage this way of thinking. This trajectory begs the question of how a person who is volunteering all day long will earn rent money. Will living space be doled out socially by the hive lords? Would be it awarded Digg style? Would you only inherit your space, so that your station in life was predetermined? Or would it be allocated at random? P104

We routinely spend more money incarcerating a thief than the thief stole in the first place. You could argue that it would be cheaper to not prosecute small crimes and just reimburse the victims. But the reason we do is to create a livable environment for everyone not riddled with petty crime… In the same way, the maintenance of liberties of capitalism in a digital future will require general acceptance of a social contract. We will pay a tax to have the ability to earn money from our creativity, expression and perspective. P106

You could stop paying your ISP in exchange for signing up for the new social contract in which you pay for bits. If you access no paid bits, you pay nothing. You would also have the potential to earn money for your bits – such as photos, music, and writings. You’d also pay when you visited the bits of others. The total you paid would on average initially work out to be similar [or less to encourage you] to what you paid for before because that is what the market would bear. Because people are entrepreneurial and would like a chance to try to make money, more and more people will make the transition. P106

About ½ the bits flowing on the internet originated as TV, movie or traditional commercial content. P123

An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force. P125

If you start searching for sequences of letters or characters that appear in each text under similar circumstances, you can start to build a dictionary of correlations. That could produce significant results, even if the correlations don’t always fit perfectly into grammar… Such approaches are incredibly inefficient, often involving 10,000 times as much computing as older methods… But set loose on the internet such a project could begin to erase language barriers. P166

In the 1st story of language, a protohuman says his 1st word ‘Ma’ for mother, and teaches it to the rest of tribe. A few generations later, someone comes up with ‘Wa’ for water. Eventually the tribe has enough words for language. In the 2nd story, the protohumans are making all kinds of weird sounds because evolution allows experimentation as long as it doesn’t interfere with survival. The protohumans are doing a lot of things in groups, and their brains start correlating certain distinctive social vocalizations with certain events. Gradually, a large number of approximate words come into use. There is no clear bound at 1st between words, phrases, emotional inflection and any other part of language. P169

In the wild songs probably had to be rigid in order for mates to find each other. Birds born with a predilection for musical innovation most likely would have had trouble mating. Once domesticated, the finches are assured the luxury of mating, their song variety exploded. p168

Which word is spiky and which is cloudlike? Bouba and Kiki. Across all cultures and languages Kiki is spiky and Bouba is cloudlike... The ability to make connections across senses might have initially evolved in lower primates as a better way to grasp branches. Here's how it could have happened: the image hitting the retina caused by viewing a tilted branch with an oblique sequence of muscle twitches leading the animal to grab the branch at an angle. This remapping ability became coopted for other kinds of abstraction that humans excel in, such as the bouba/kiki metaphor. p172

The UI for search engines, which have been around for well over a decade, is still based upon the 1960s command line. The UI for the Apple 2 to the Mac took less than a decade to evolve. At this rate, by 2020 we can expect software development to have slowed to near stasis, like a clock approaching a black hole. p181

People live longer as technology improves, so cultural change actually slows, because it is tied more to the outgoing generational clock than the incoming one. p182


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