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Humanity Is the Best Technology We’ll Ever Create

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It took millions of years and millions of iterations, all tested in multiple real-world environments to create this device. And it turned out to be a world-beater.

It can think, it can reason, it can deduce, calculate and communicate quickly and efficiently. It’s an elastic multi-functional tool that can move with comparative speed, and with great precision. It can solve problems, it can learn from its mistakes, it can absorb and process billions of bytes of information every second in text, visual or aural form, and make concurrent decisions on a number levels. It can also process by touch and smell, and in a combination of media. It can store, sort and retrieve information at lightning speed. It can also take a lot of punishment before it begins to malfunction either at the physical or processor level.

Described like that, a human being is a pretty awesome carbon-based hardware/software combo. In fact, it’s likely to remain the device that dominates the planet for a good long while to come, for as long, in fact, as we want it to. But, here’s the funny thing, the device known as the human being is also imbued with thoroughly non-mechanical traits, such as creativity, artistic potential, the ability to love, and a moral compass. Unlike a mere machine, we have a soul that can soar. The human device is far more complex and compelling than any other. Nothing will ever match it.  And its precisely those non-mechanical parts of who we are that make us human. Because over time we learn. Maybe there’s another way. A better way to be human.

As a result of our capacity for free thinking, we humans do stupid things because we want to, and almost always because the immediate goal overwhelms us and we fail or decide not to consider the consequences. Take war, or global warming, or the curse of religious righteousness. We flatten cities, we change the mix in the atmosphere so Earth warms up to unacceptable levels, and triggers an unstoppable feedback. And you know what, we did it all with machines that we created. We’re kinda silly like that.

To this long list we should perhaps add another more recent stupidity. A failure to understand the preciousness of our own inherent, and evolutionary, technology.

Only we humans have the power to enable the machines we build to compete and ultimately lord it over their creators.  And why would we do that? Because we incorrectly consider that too many elements of our own feature set can be replaced and improved upon by devices and features designed by us – to make our lives more convenient and that much smarter, cleaner, neater and more efficient. Many of them are blessings, but some may truly harm the human side of us, because unfortunately, redundancy for a machine and for the human device are completely different concepts. People atrophy if we’re not used or used incorrectly. We get into grooves we shouldn’t through addiction, laziness (physical and intellectual), peer-pressure, and fear.

Instead of celebrating our foibles, our uniqueness, and the fusion of our soul with our inherent technological functionality, we’re obsessed as individuals and groups with the idea of aggregating and outsourcing our skill sets, both mechanical and moral to lesser technologies than ourselves, as if we are mere machines to be replaced and improved. Chief among the tools we use to undermine ourselves is the computer, usually merely a one-way processor that could do nothing without being programmed by the higher being known as us. Of course, with machine learning, and complex algorithms combined with ever growing processing power, the potential of these once dumb waiters to learn and adapt is getting stronger every day. Their pull on us becomes ever more pervasive because they’re just so much better at doing what they do than they used to be, and in a smaller box than ever before. They can do so much for us we forget what we can do and decide for ourselves.

And with its magnetic, mesmerizing power the computer heralds a greater temptation than ever to express the human capacity for self-destructive atrophy and redundancy in smarter and subtler ways than ever. More importantly, we lose sight of the human, the organic, the soul, the beauty, the ability to learn from our mistakes and adjust our moral compass. “Being there” is no longer just about smelling the wildflowers, it’s about improving the human project as a whole.

In other words, we start believing our own distortions and group think about the leveling power of machines, and start belittling our own greater power, because that power is messy and hard to manage. We slavishly start thinking that technological innovation and ‘progress’ of the machines that we build is an end in itself which can supersede the cacophony that is being human.  Sadly, it’s a set of convictions now so widespread that it can’t really be seriously questioned without appearing like a dumb Luddite with a sledgehammer.  And if it truly takes hold, it will set up a battle royal between the quotidian amorality of the purely mechanical and the nuanced and unpredictable blend that is the evolutionary technology of us.

Like all popular cults, the cult of purity in mechanical progress is built on compelling foundations. Surely, there’s little harm in making our computers so talented they can do all the stuff we used to do so laboriously with more speed and precision, like reading, communicating, deliberating, researching, even relaxing? Why wouldn’t you want to digitize your every memory? And have it mined and aggregated with a flick of a switch? Can it be wrong to regurgitate our text so it comes out in bite-sized chunks? Or to be able to gamify the water supply? Can it be anything but a good idea to turn our eyes into cameras that help decide if someone’s telling us a lie?

Uhh, no.

Being more human, not less. That’s a goal worth celebrating. Over time we might convince ourselves that the obsessive fusion of machines with who we are might well have more negative consequences than we think. It might start to color and distort our souls and moral selves in ways that truly turn us into slaves to the very machines we created.

We can only hope our inferiority complex isn’t terminal.

With thanks to Evgeny Morozov and his excellent book “To Save Everything, Click here”.

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Written by coolrebel

June 6, 2013 at 9:07 am

Posted in Washington

The Most Boring Election Season In Years.

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Ever since Mitt Romney ground out his interminable victory in the GOP primary race, this has become the most stultifying election season imaginable. Two lumbering giants throwing dung-balls at each other doesn’t exactly make for much edifying discussion. The news outlets, cable pundits and bloggers try to squeeze out whatever importance they can from it all, but it’s pretty slim pickings. What will impact the race? The monthly job figures? How about Paul Ryan’s lies? Or Mitt’s Tax Returns? Or Obama “saying you didn’t build that”?
The truth is nothing is going to impact this race unless it’s really, really big.
A terrorist attack, a total zinger at the debates aside, the poll variations in this race are 95% statistical noise. The polls have been unbelievably static and will very likely remain that way until Election Day. 
What will decide this race is turnout of key demographics in the ultra-close battleground states. Tiny incremental shifts created by ground games will be key. That gives Obama an edge, because of his campaigning depth, and the very slightly statistical lead that he has where it matters. But will enough Hispanics turn out in Virginia? Or will enough seniors in Florida make it to the polls? Will the angry white voter be pissed enough to get out of bed? Will enough Independent women give Romney a second look? 
There is simply no way of knowing.
Pundits like to imagine there is a plan, because you can’t parse a dice roll, but the politics of this race has become so calcified that it’s hard to see anything meaningful emerging from all that hot air. 
All the noise, all the campaigning, all the boring attack ads, all that vaunted super-PAC dough, all the speeches, all the spin, all the gotcha moments, all the blogging (like this), all the tweets and all the money will be wasted, because in a race like this, as boring and static as it is, the only thing that matters is who shows up. 

Written by coolrebel

September 5, 2012 at 11:12 am

Posted in Washington

Akin Trainwreck Points to Bigger Problems for GOP Among Women

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Todd Akin’s comments have been a disaster for the GOP and they signpost a much deeper issue for Mitt Romney. The absolute cratering of Akin’s support in Missouri – recent polls show McCaskill up by as much as ten points after Akin was up by 5% – suggest that women are prepared to dump the GOP in droves over this sideshow.

The “War on Women” is a great Democratic line, and certainly there are marginal voices in the GOP who want to turn back the clock, but women’s issues could be seen as a major distraction from what was thought to be the number one issue of this election – the economy, and even the new issue du jour, Medicare and Medicaid. Appeals to the Christian Right keen to strip down already thinning Abortion rights, along with absurd attacks on contraception by people like Rick Santorum (the trigger to the “War on Women”) have already done serious damage to the GOP brand among the single most important demographic there is in this election.

Women.

The majority of voters, female were already leaning moderate and more predisposed to supporting Obama for a variety of reasons, and they don’t see the “War on Women” as a sideshow. They see it as an attack on their ‘group’ albeit a group that’s the majority of the American population. In an election that’s essentially devoid of substantial policy discussion, except among the twitterati silo, it’s issues like Akin’s harebrained remarks that hit home.

The depth of the reaction against Akin’s remarks has been so huge that it looks very possible that it could not only significantly damage the GOP’s chances of a crucial Senate majority, but could also impact some very tight races for Mitt Romney, if the Dems play the card as well as they have to date.

We’ve reached the point where Gotcha politics is defining our discourse. It’s pathetic, but at least our side may the one that benefits.

Written by coolrebel

August 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Washington

Ecuador To The Rescue: Assange To Be Busted Out of Britain

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The New Duke of the Puffins.

The plan is blissfully simple. 

The elite Ecuadorean Parachute Brigade ( ten guys who can skydive ) drops a perimeter (of steel) around the Embassy in Knightsbridge, creates a diversionary attack in the haberdashery department at Harrods, and whisks ASSange into Ecuador’s Air Force ( its one old rickety Chopper) and flies him (hopefully) to Sark, where he’ll be met by an the Ecuadorean Navy ( an ancient WW2 Liberty Ship with an Uzi mounted on the bridge ). The steamer will zig zag the ocean for the duration of the secret eighteen-week seasickness-addled trip to the Galapagos, which has already elected ASSange Lord of the Iguanas.

Ecuador is hush-hush about the timing of the ASSange asylum bid, but they did not deny it may have something to do with the exorbitant bills for the specialty game and wine Mr ASSange is demanding his hosts buy from Harrods Food Hall. Since Julian has been holed up in the spare room at the embassy, half of Ecuador’s diplomatic budget has been spent on Pheasant, Venison, and some rather impressive Chateau Laffite ’64 to wash it down. The Embassy cook had a nervous breakdown after ASSange insisted the the Foie Gras was “lackluster”. This may have triggered a “red phone” call to President Correa which resulted in the new Ecuadorean break-out plan, codenamed “Quick Silver” in order to preserve the sanity of everyone at the Embassy. We’ll continue to update you with news as we hear it.

Written by coolrebel

August 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Washington

Do Those In Private Luxury Really Want Public Squalor?

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Mi Casa es Siu Casa

While my family is anything but wealthy, we live in a high rent district, also known as Disneyland, also known as the West side of Los Angeles. I do the family shopping in downtown Beverly Hills, and frequent its restaurants and bars. I take my children to the same ice cream and pizza parlors that are favorite haunt of numerous celebrities. Ferraris driven by kids roar by with annoying regularity. Beautiful women with unattractive, balding husbands stroll by carrying shopping bags filled with expensive stuff they don’t need.

Along these busy, wealthy streets, with their cupcake emporiums, designer frozen yogurt stops, and concept-driven Korean restaurants, life is very, very good.

For most.

There are also far more bums than there used to be, scrawny, desperate, drug-addled bums, who have nothing at all to look forward to, but death. They sleep, still and sad, with their twisted plastic bags in awkward positions in the manicured parks. They beg for change, they bring their grimy cups into the coffee bars, ignoring the repugnant stares of the turned-out shop girls and junior agents.

The contrast between wealth and poverty in Beverly Hills is very painful. It is also steeped in history. Early modern to Victorian London was very similar. Stumbling syphilitics, child prostitutes, urchins, gin-drunks, and peddlars shared public space with aristocrats, who wore nosegays to hide the smell, and had their servants clear a path for their sedan chairs in the mud.

There came a time when enough people with Private luxury became disgusted with the idea that so much of humanity with whom they shared a city were so utterly degraded. And so began the Britain that exists now, which is grounded in a substantial, although fluid social contract. There are slide towards and away from greater social justice, but nobody dies in the gutter.

America’s social contract is in tatters, and part of the reason is that the degradation, up until now, was kept in its ghetto. Fired up by the rural red voters, for whom life is pretty monchromatic and the contrasts limited, Romney and Ryan are storming to take us back the past. If they get their way, and restore their version of “real” America ( which of course is utterly fake ), there will be more bums on the streets of Beverly Hills.

And if there are, a time will come when those in private luxury will become sickened by the sight of the renewed public squalor that’s congregating at their al-fresco lunch tables as they tuck into a light summer salad, and cold glass of Chablis. My hunch is that enough of them will have enough of a conscience to suggest that the public squalor needs to be reduced, if only to clear their urban vista of detritus. They know people, they have influence, they buy elections.

They may realize that they have taken their amoral selfishness too far

Written by coolrebel

August 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Washington

Romney Keeps Up His Whine-a-thon

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When the Romney campaign calls an ad a low blow you can bet it’s a good one.

And to suggest that it “veers into deception” is a tad rich coming a Mr. “Out-of-Context prepared to turn an Obama word scramble into a ship-sized souffle. If you listen to the nutjobs it does, if you listen to the left it doesn’t, which means it’s probably more true than not.

What’s even better is that it was an Obama super-PAC that delivered the goods in the latest attack on Mitt’s bane, which is of course, Bain, showing that there’s blow-back to be had from Citizens United as long as the good-guy oppos know what they’s doing.

The reality is simple. When you’re a card-carrying shit like Romney, going negative just reinforces attitudes, in this case the “narrative” (this campaign’s word-du-jour) that he’s a silver-spoon slurping, entitled, rich-kid with an attitude problem. But if you’re a Spock-like good soul like Obama, who’s problem is that he wants everyone to love him, then going into attack mode makes him seem a better-rounded, tougher campaigner.

Poor Mitt. He just can’t catch a break. Which is very good.

Written by coolrebel

August 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Washington

Romney Is All Over The Place. Panic Must Rule

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It’s a sure sign of campaign disarray when you start running desaturated ads of a nice-guy president that suggest he’s a really, really mean guy.

But to cap it off in this waste of edit bay time, Romney’s peeps have really gone for the solar plexus by suggesting that “America deserves better than a President who will say anything to stay in power”?

This from a challenger who’s pretty much universally known as someone who will say anything to gain it.

Worth it for sheer irony. Otherwise boring, off the mark crap.

Grade: D+

Interestingly, the new Off The Rails Romney seems to have been triggered by his terrible trip to Europe.

Usually a candidate’s foreign trips are a waste of time, but this one seems to have been genuinely damaging by disrupting Mitt’s rhythm and denting his confidence. The poor man was never much of a force on the personal connection front, but he seems to have lost some what little mojo he has in the last couple of weeks.

Written by coolrebel

August 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Washington