Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Tim Harford, in the Guardian on how computers are setting us up for disaster:

We fail to see that a computer that is a hundred times more accurate than a human, and a million times faster, will make 10,000 times as many mistakes […]

As someone terrified of flying, the Air France crash from 2009 has morbidly fascinated me for half a decade. The Airbus plane was smart enough to stop the pilots from crashing it in some ways, but not others. When the autopilot shut off, the pilots were unprepared to take control of the plane; one of them made a fairly basic mistake, and stalled the plane into the Atlantic Ocean.

Harford points out that we might have this backwards.

An alternative solution is to reverse the role of computer and human. Rather than letting the computer fly the plane with the human poised to take over when the computer cannot cope, perhaps it would be better to have the human fly the plane with the computer monitoring the situation, ready to intervene. Computers, after all, are tireless, patient and do not need practice. Why, then, do we ask people to monitor machines and not the other way round?

When humans are asked to babysit computers, for example, in the operation of drones, the computers themselves should be programmed to serve up occasional brief diversions. Even better might be an automated system that demanded more input, more often, from the human – even when that input is not strictly needed. If you occasionally need human skill at short notice to navigate a hugely messy situation, it may make sense to artificially create smaller messes, just to keep people on their toes.

​See also my favorite law firm, Robot Robot & Hwang.

Filed on under Computer-Based Disasters, Lesser-Known

Andy Greenberg, writing for Wired, on Google’s Clever Plan to Stop Aspiring ISIS Recruits:

Google has built a half-trillion-dollar business out of divining what people want based on a few words they type into a search field. In the process, it’s stumbled on a powerful tool for getting inside the minds of some of the least understood and most dangerous people on the Internet: potential ISIS recruits. Now one subsidiary of Google is trying not just to understand those would-be jihadis’ intentions, but to change them.

Jigsaw, the Google-owned tech incubator and think tank—until recently known as Google Ideas—has been working over the past year to develop a new program it hopes can use a combination of Google’s search advertising algorithms and YouTube’s video platform to target aspiring ISIS recruits and ultimately dissuade them from joining the group’s cult of apocalyptic violence. The program, which Jigsaw calls the Redirect Method and plans to launch in a new phase this month, places advertising alongside results for any keywords and phrases that Jigsaw has determined people attracted to ISIS commonly search for.

On the one hand, interfering with the recruitment of Daesh—and we really ought to call them Daesh—is objectively A Good Thing. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder what will happen when Google and I disagree. More specifically, I wonder whether I’ll notice Google trying to change my mind.

Filed on under The Man Won't Let You Read This

Stephanie McFeeters, in the Boston Globe, on the protestors and counter-protestors at a museum exhibit about a collection of Japanese kimonos:

A playful attempt by the Museum of Fine Arts to engage summer visitors has triggered a controversy that is mushrooming beyond expectations, with protesters taking to the museum’s “Kimono Wednesdays” event in increasing force each week, and a group of kimono-wearing counterprotesters joining the fray. […]

It all began with a celebration last month for departing director Malcolm Rogers, when the museum invited visitors to “channel your inner Camille Monet” trying on kimonos and posing for photos next to Claude Monet’s painting “La Japonaise.” Art historians consider the 1876 work, which depicts Monet’s wife wearing a kimono, to be a witty poke at Parisians’ fascination with Japan.

But the event, originally accompanied by a “Spotlight” talk titled “Claude Monet: Flirting With the Exotic,” drew the ire of protesters, who argued that “Kimono Wednesdays,” scheduled to run throughout July, constituted a form of cultural appropriation and racist “exotification” of Asian culture.

As a white guy, I have absolutely nothing to add to the substance of the discussions and protests going on. However, I’m fascinated by how the for and against sides seem to break down by age as much as anything else.

Filed on under Turning Japanese is Not Cool Guys

I thoroughly enjoyed this Tim Alberta article in the National Review about the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican Party. Essentially, he does to the Tea Party what the Tea Party did to the Republican Party:

“What they’re doing is exactly what [the Tea Party] criticized establishment Republicans for doing all these years: succumbing to so-called political realities and setting aside principles to gain power for the party,” says Tim Miller, a prominent GOP operative and leader in the Never Trump movement. “That’s what they killed Boehner and McConnell for. And maybe those criticisms were fair. But sacrificing principle for power is exactly what they’re doing now.”

Why?

To answer that question is to accept that pragmatism is being practiced by individuals who were willing to shut down the government to prove a philosophical point; to appreciate that congressmen survive by satisfying the whims of their constituents; to understand that Republicans are desperate to avoid blame for a November defeat that many view as inevitable; and to acknowledge that Trump has taken over the Republican party by annexing many of its most conservative voters, proving that their anti-government rage is not necessarily a mandate for ideological purity.

Succumbing to political realities, as seen here, used to be known as governing. Alberta and his establishment interviewees can barely hide their amusement at the way the Trump wing of the Republican Party is holding the Tea Party wing hostage. ​

There are too many good bits to choose from. ​Here’s the sobering realization that most of the Tea Party voters weren’t interested in any particular policy position so much as anti-government everything:

“A lot of us [predicted] the anti-establishment wave,” Mulvaney said. “We’d seen it in 2010 and 2012 and 2014, so we knew it was coming to a crest. We just never expected it to take the form of Donald Trump. We like that he’s anti-establishment, we like the fact that he’s kind of blowing up the internal party politics as we’ve known them. We’re just not sure if he’s a conservative.”

And their constituents aren’t sure if it matters.

​And because this is the National Review, there’s this gem, which I’m not sure is ironic:

The Freedom Caucus is a diverse cast of characters, markedly different in their geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds.

Fun stuff.

Filed on under The Movie Speed is 22 Years Old

Sam Kriss, writing in VICE UK, recently attended an event hosted by the Young White Men Obsessed with ‘Free Speech’:

The Young British Heritage Society is the latest half-formed thing to rise out of our increasingly stupid free speech wars. Its general secretary, Jamie Patel, used his brief speech to announce that “cultural Marxists have hijacked the country’s institutions.” […] Keynote speaker Milo Yiannopoulos remarked that “if you question feminism you can find yourself thrown out of university.” The impression from all sides was that we’re now living in a society under politically-correct totalitarianism, where any opinion that falls outside the academy’s liberal dogmas is ruthlessly silenced. […] If the PC police really are trying to shut down free speech, they’re not doing a very good job of it.

Free speech here doesn’t really mean free speech. These are, after all, people from the same alt-right milieu who in “ Gamergate” threw an extended tantrum over video-game journalists writing things they didn’t approve of, with the implicit prescription that these things should not be allowed to be written, and then another one over an all-women Ghostbusters film, with the implicit prescription that this film should not be allowed to have been made.

Today, Leslie Jones, one of the stars of the new Ghostbusters movie had her personal web site defaced by hackers who posted nude photos of her, as well as copies of her driver’s license and passport. Yiannopolous was banned from Twitter for inciting harassment against Jones a month ago.

Filed on under the Increasingly Stupid Free Speech Wars

Elected Governor of California in 1990, Pete Wilson faced an uphill battle in his re-election four years later. His approval ratings were down and he was a 20-point underdog as his campaign began. A wildly divisive ballot proposition was placed before voters in 1994, months before election day. I’ll let Charles Fraser tell it:

Proposition 187 would bar publicly funded health care, public education, and social services to illegal immigrants, and would require public servants to report people they suspected might be illegal immigrants. Prop 187 was immediately popular, and Governor Wilson ran hard on it, promising vigorous enforcement.

Prop 187 passed with an 18 percent margin, and Wilson won re-election by 15 percent. But the campaign prompted two very important and closely related long-term changes in California politics. First, Prop 187 impelled legal Hispanic residents of California to become citizens and register to vote in unprecedented numbers. Second, Prop 187 all but eliminated political diversity among California’s Latinos. After Prop 187, Hispanic Californians largely abandoned any interest in the Republican Party, committing themselves to the Democrats.

In other words, the shrinking non-Hispanic white population chose to alienate and unify the fastest-growing demographic in the state.

Wilson’s support among Hispanic voters was at a respectable 47% in 1990; while they were a rapidly growing part of the electorate in 1994, Hispanic voters were just 26% of the electorate. White folks were still the majority (57%) of voters. Fraser goes on to describe the lasting repercussions of Wilson’s campaign on Prop 187 for Californian politics, and how profoundly a single campaign can poison the future of the state Republican party. Sad!

Fraser’s a recent addition to my RSS feeds, and his political commentary is sober, insightful, and always interesting. Strongly recommended reading for the interesting political times we live in.

Filed on under Make Political Blogs Great Again