Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Computer dating   Leave a comment

I recently got an iPhone which includes the virtual assistant, Siri.  Siri comes from the early Artificial Intelligence programme Eliza, which was an early natural language processing computer program created from 1964 to 1966 at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizenbaum.  You can have long conversations with Eliza and people thought she was human.

You can try Eliza here.

While Siri is descended from Eliza, she is far from being indistinguishable from a human.  That’s where the Turing Test comes in.  This test was developed by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.  Siri makes it clear she is not human and has a long way to go to become one.

I would say she is poor at doing her job.  My joke is that my wife should be worried if I had a personal assistant as inept as Siri since it wouldn’t be her PA skills that kept her around.

But there is a desire on the part of humans to have a machine intelligence which is useful, but even the best systems are flawed.  I had a private screening of two AI classics: the Twilight Zone episode, The Lonely (season 1, episode 7) which featured a young Jean Marsh as Alicia, and Spike Jonze’s Her. Both of these must take place in the future since the current state of the art of Artificial Intelligence is far from the level of humanity shown by the robot and operating system.  Especially if I use Siri and other systems as a benchmark.

The one issue I have is the autonomy shown in sci-fi for intelligent systems: especially the one Samantha shows in Her. I think the reality would probably be closer to how Alicia acts in the Twilight Zone episode, where she learns from her human master.  This then gets into the topic of sex robots, which at this point are basically the RealDoll that moves and speaks.  I can’t really address how well it does this since my experience of these comes from this Guardian video and my experience with other artificial systems.

You can see RealDoll’s Harmony app in action here.  I am not sure how well it will work in reality, but is sounds like Siri with a libido.

Although, I do have to disagree with the ethicist who thinks that machine sex is bad since it may reflect on human relationships.  I think there would always be the knowledge that the Sex robot was a machine. Again, I think the real experience might run closer to the Twilight Zone episode than actual slavery and debasement.

Then the other issue is the disembodied nature of an intelligent system such as Siri or Samantha.  Her got into that issue. But the fact is that an intelligent system may know a lot about me, but she can’t do a whole lot of tasks around the house.  Toss in there isn’t the real human touch with the current state of the art.  The interactions of Theodore and Samantha on a date seemed a bit like Lars and the Real Girl, but slightly more accepting.

On the other hand, enough people are glued to their cellphone that it could be someone on the other end instead of an intelligent agent.

The bottom line to me is that Siri is sort of useful, but I can do most of the tasks she does.  And I can do them much better.  It would be nice if the web search were weighted and more accurate (I want current information) and she could read a result to me: especially if I am driving.  Instead, I find myself correcting Siri’s inaccuracies, which is something one doesn’t want from a personal assistant of any kind.

My ideology

I can proudly say I am a:

Post-Colonial Anarcho-Monarchist

Turbotière

Ok, I have a thing for copper cookware, which I can blame on an ex-girlfriend.  Copper cookware is the ultimate.  The stuff is made to last (although older copper cookware requires retinning, which is worth the money).

“Copper pots are the most satisfactory of all to cook in, as they hold and spread the heat well and their tin lining does not discolor food….. To get the full benefit of cooking in copper, the metal must be 1/8 inch thick, and the handle should be of heavy iron.”

Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 1961

The turbotière is the  most exclusive and sought after item in the copper cookware aficionado’s wish list.  ‘It is a venial extravagance to acquire a turbotiere, as I did even before I owned a frying pan’. — Alan Davidson, North Atlantic Seafood.  I think some cooks own the things even if they will never use one.

DSCF2314

Turbotière front and centre of props at Hampton Court Kitchen.

I got the bug after watching “Duchess of Duke Street” where Louisa cooks her big meal using one. The suckers are BIG (as are turbots, who can grow up to a metre).  Turbot is the king of fish: Roman Emperors, Popes and the wealthy (makes sense since Lousia was cooking for the Prince of Wales) have all waxed lyrical on these mighty beasts.

They are expensive as heck new (around 2000 in most currencies).  But they can be found used for much less, but they aren’t cheap.  Turbot’s being a delicacy for the affluent is probably why turbotières are (1) coveted and (2) not cheap.  Although, a whole turbot isn’t that dear, around 60 in most currencies: making it less expensive than lobster.

They are also pretty big.  Someone pointed out he couldn’t get his in his oven (but one can use them on the stove).

Of course, the money needed to buy one makes sense if one owns a restaurant (or cooks a lot of seafood for wealthy people).  Again, these seem to be more status than utilitarian.

and one can dream.

Abolish the Electoral College

I am amazed that this institution has not gone away long ago, or at least been reformed.  This past election has demonstrated that most of the reasons for its existence are fatuous.

lets start with:

It prevents foreign interference in US elections

This reason comes from The Federalist Papers, No 68:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?

This seems to make  any allegation of foreign interference (read Russia) absurd if the reasoning behind this institution is sound.  I am surprised this hasn’t been brought up as a reason that any investigation into this is just silly.

It prevents an incompetent from becoming president

The 2016 US election was one of duelling idiots. While one may defend Hillary Clinton as Threat not chicebeing well educated, she certainly lacked the knowse to deal with the election process (I refer you to Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign for documentation of her lack of political savvy, but that was pretty obvious to anyone watching the campaign). [1]

On the other hand, the US has been saddled by someone who appears to believe he wouldn’t have won.  I could get into Trump’s  candidacy, but this is a really bad one if this is one of the reasons for having the electoral college.  I’d toss in the 2000 election as another example of the wrong person becoming president.

More reasons

I found Richard Posner’s Slate article defending this anachronism.  In defence of Posner, his article was written in 2012 before this past election fiasco.  Posner gives the following reasons to keep this:  Certainty of Outcome, Everyone’s President, Swing States, Big States, and Avoiding Run-Off Elections. I have to admit that the learned judge seems to be offering confused reasons.

Certainty of Outcome is a bad one for the learned judge to begin with since Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes in 2000 and Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes (2,868,691).  I found it hard to find  a graph which gave the popular votee in the 2016 election, as opposed to graphics that showed the electoral vote, since this number is so disparate it makes this argument risable. [2] It would seem more certain in a truly democratic society, or at least one that likes to pretend to the rest of the world how great its democracy is.

Or is that pretence a relic of the cold war?  Now that democracy is no longer an issue the US can get rid of its pretending its democracy is somehow better than the rest of the world.[3]

Everyone’s president is a truly laughable assertion under Trump.  How many people DIDN’T vote in the last election? Then there are people like me who voted for third parties.

The reality of the “everyone’s president” argument made by Posner is silly is that he then goes on to “Swing States” and “Big States”.  Posner is trying to use the founder’s belief that somehow the Electoral college prevents regionalism.  Then he goes into the glaring examples of regionalism.  It was Clinton’s failures in swing states that cost her the election!

Bottom line on those three arguments: you can’t claim that somehow the electoral college prevents regionalism when regionalism is what ended up costing the election of someone who won the popular vote by 48.5% (as opposed to the electoral college winner who won by 46.4% of the popular vote).

Reading Posner’s article, the 2016 election points out the flaws in his arguments: the electoral college serves no point other than to be anti-democratic, which gets into “run off elections”.

Those would be small prices to pay if they would be the cost of having the democracy the US has presented to the rest if the world through the last part of the 20th Century and the beginning of this one.

The problem is the electoral college is an anti-democratic institution which is an extreme danger to the electoral process.  The sad part is that the travesty caused the electoral college is again being ignored.  I noticed that the democrats were blaming everything except this fossil for their loss.  Now, the silliness of foreign influence in US elections overlooks a reason given for this artefact.

The 2016 Presidential election has demonstrated that this institution needs to be abolished, or drastically reformed.  Its existence has led to a constitutional crisis (not that the US hasn’t been on the verge of one since its inception).  But this one is one of proportions that can no longer be ignored.

The real bottom line here is that the US system of elections is in drastic need of an overhaul: does it take a Constitutional crisis to force this to happen?

notes:

[1] disclaimer: I voted for Jill Stein for many reasons other than just the “democratic” party running Clinton, but her choice was one of many sickeners the party gave me.  The entire US election process makes me sick, but the duopoly really disgusts me.

[2] I knew Clinton was going to lose when the election results focused on the electoral votes as opposed to the popular votes.

[3] there is little difference between a republic and a democracy in modern political science.  Besides, the French Revolution pretty much put paid to most of the anti-democratic v republican beliefs of the founders.

[4] Here is my wish list of changes to the US system of elections.  Only Jill Stein and the Greens seems to be willing to mention them:

open debates run by an impartial body like the League of Women Voters, shorter election cycles, open primaries, ranked choice voting, return of the fairness doctrine and equal time rule (Trump used the lack of it to get shitloads of free publicity), campaign finance reform–if not publicly funded campaigns, easier access to the ballot for parties, reform or abolish the electoral college, end gerrymandering, handcounted paper ballots or receipts, and I am sure that is only the beginning.

Thoughts on US Third Parties.

This comes from watching the French election, which is a similar legislative-executive system to the US.  I will also admit to voting Green from a disgust with the US duopoly (i.e., the Democrats and Republicans) and its stranglehold on the system.

In a way Dan Savage is correct, the third parties should be running candidates lower down the ticket, in particular for the legislature. That is because a third party would be more effective in pushing its agenda there, or at least in blocking other parties from pushing theirs. It is more effective to be a spoiler/fixer in the legislature than in an election.  Third parties will become a force to be reckoned with once they demonstrate they have power, but they need to be the force to do what the obstructionists in congress have been doing. Or to thwart the obstruction.

One of the Clintonista/Democrat talking points was that the party is a coalition of various political views, but the duopoly parties are failed coalitions.  In some ways, they have become titular left-right parties, although I would argue any difference is more in appearance and relation to hot button issues (e.g. abortion and gun control [1]).  The past election showed how detrimental relying upon hot button issues is to real issues (e.g., the environment).

Third parties are good for keeping politics real. Case in point are the presidential debates which are no longer run by the League of Women Voters.  The president of the LWV, Nancy M. Neuman, denounced this action when the LWV ceased having any real control over the debates:

“It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions,” Neuman said. “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

Neuman said that the campaigns presented the League with their debate agreement on
September 28, two weeks before the scheduled debate. The campaigns’ agreement was negotiated “behind closed doors” and vas presented to the League as “a done deal,” she said, its 16 pages of conditions not subject to negotiation.

Most objectionable to the League, Neuman said, were conditions in the agreement that gave the campaigns unprecedented control over the proceedings. Neuman called “outrageous” the campaigns’ demands that they control the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press and other issues.

“The campaigns’ agreement is a closed-door masterpiece,” Neuman said. “Never in the history of the League of Women Voters have two candidates’ organizations come to us with such stringent, unyielding and self-serving demands.”

Neuman said she and the League regretted that the American people have had no real opportunities to judge the presidential nominees outside of campaign-controlled environments.

lwv.org/press-releases/league-refuses-help-perpetrate-fraud
I would that change is drastically needed in US politics, particularly its system of elections, but that will not come as long as the duopoly holds power.

I have pointed out that the Electoral College needs to be abolished, yet the fact that Clinton’s “loss” was due to her failing to secure enough votes in the Electoral College is again overlooked and substituted for blame on everything except the existence of that body (as was the case in 1990).  Both times the “losers” won the popular vote.

Of course, abolition of the Electoral College is only one thing in what is probably a long wish list of electoral reforms needed in the US:

open debates run by an impartial body like the League of Women Voters, shorter election cycles, open primaries, ranked choice voting, return of the fairness doctrine and equal time rule (Trump used the lack of it to get shitloads of free publicity), campaign finance reform–if not publicly funded campaigns, easier access to the ballot for parties, reform or abolish the electoral college, end gerrymandering, handcounted paper ballots or receipts, and I am sure that is only the beginning.

While one can dream that there will be internal change, it doesn’t seem likely since the parties still seem entrenched in the same behaviours which have led to the US political system being the disaster it is.

OK, we also need to add in media consolidation here since it is one way the “state” can get away with  form of censorship, but only allowing one message to get out.  Also controlling any opposing voices.

Any real change has to come through the system since violence will backfire and result in the wrong type of change.  Thus any dissenting parties best chance has to be to try and thwart the duopoly and use the duopoly’s power against it.

Change has to come, but it must come by using the system to gain power and then force change.

[1] This is not to say gun control is not important (or abortion), but these issues have been used to get people to vote against their interests.  Neither is one of left and right, but of public welfare and safety.

An ironic motif

I was contemplating Lynnewood Hall’s progress into decay and noticed the hourglass in the sculptural design in the pediment:
lynnewood24.0
I wish that architecturally significant buildings were not as much of an endangered species as they are in the US.

Lynnewood Hall was added to the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s 2003 list for most endangered historic properties and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It is cited in Cheltenham Township’s Comprehensive Plan as one of the township’s cultural and historical resources, and in the township’s Open Space Plan as a priority for preservation, warranting a conservation easement.

A sister property, Whitemarsh Hall, the Edward T. Stotesbury mansion, in Wyndmoor, PA was demolished in 1980.  Another house, Ardrossan, has been made into a housing estate, while preserving the mansion.

While these are the size of wings of some European palaces, they are significant to US culture, but somehow that history has been made egalitarian. The homes of “robber barons” are not to be saved. This is unlike the European estates which are intended to last for the ages (whether they do is yet to be seen).

I have been told to read James T. Maher’s, The Twilight of Splendor for an explanation of why these estates have been ravaged by time.

 

See also: Horace Trumbauer.

Market Forces for Change

Or as Lenin is supposed to have said, “When we hang the capitalists, they will have sold us the rope.”

One of the things the right and Libertarians like to push is the free market system, which they don’t really like. They like it as long as they can control the rules making it into a game of Monopoly: where they win.

On the other hand, they run scared when their market share is threatened.

The real problem is that there isn’t really a “free market system” out there.  Governmental decisions can act as market forces even if they aren’t set forth as being economically based. For example, building highways rather than public transportation has effected US society in ways which have been detrimental to its interests (or “Detroit: the city that committed suicide by favouring one industry with a very limited lifespan”).

The reason I tossed gun control in here is if the trend for fewer people to want to own guns keeps up, we will have de facto gun control.  The NRA can loosen up laws all it wants, but that may end up backfiring for it as people begin to realise that there was a reason the NRA blocked the research showing gun ownership was detrimental.

The right can continue to try to use emotion to sway people to vote against their interests, but that cannot go on for very long once people realise they have been had. Once that happens not only will people’s economic decisions change, but so will their voting decisions.