13.0456 new on WWW: articles on philosophy & computing; Internet time

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Wed Mar 01 2000 - 08:22:23 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 456.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Arun-Kumar Tripathi <tripathi@statistik.uni- (368)
             Subject: Linking Minds and Machines and An American

       [2] From: "Jennifer de Beer" <jennifer@grove.uct.ac.za> (175)
             Subject: L.A. Times column, 2/28/00 -- PFIR

             Date: Wed, 01 Mar 2000 08:10:59 +0000
             From: Arun-Kumar Tripathi <tripathi@statistik.uni-dortmund.de>
             Subject: Linking Minds and Machines and An American

    Greetings Scholars,

    [I would like to forward the following NETFUTURE Newsletter, written and
    edited by Stephen Talbott..which contains Note on Linking Minds and
    Machines --a speech by Frederick Brooks and a note on collective action
    and community are different things, with other interesting items to read.
    Thanks and courtesy to Stephen Talbott.]



                          Technology and Human Responsibility

    Issue #16 A Publication of The Nature Institute April 22, 1996
                   Editor: Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@oreilly.com)

                 On the Web: http://www.oreilly.com/~stevet/netfuture/
           You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.

    NETFUTURE is a reader-supported publication.

    #### Don't forget the $5000 SPIDER OR FLY? deadline: April 30, 1996 ####
    #### http://www.ora.com/staff/stevet/netfuture/sof ####


    talk.netfuture? (Sebastian Mendler)

    Linking minds and machines
         Note on a speech by Frederick Brooks, and a comment

    An American philosopher and Internet chat groups
         Collective action and community are different things

    Web called 'ultimate act of intellectual colonialism'
         It's English or nothing

    Are the spiders crawling down your back? (Kirk McElhearn)
         Alta Vista shivers

    There is no planned obsolescence of software (Chris Howard)
         Is the editor a conspiracy theorist?

    Hardware vs. software upgrades: different issues (Mike Fischbein)
         We don't know how to make reliable software

    About this newsletter



                        Sebastian Mendler (smendler@well.com)

    How about you keep the newsletter as a newsletter, but set up a separate
    mailing list/newsgroup called NETFUTURE-D or something similar, where the
    issues raised could be discussed? You could mirror the discussion to a
    Web page -- with a little work, you might even be able to link the
    discussions to the places cited in the original text (true hypertext!)

    Just my .02. I enjoy the newsletter; keep up the good work.


                            * * * * * * * * *

    Skip --

    I'm open to the possibilities. Someone else would have to take the
    initiative to manage the thing, however.



                              LINKING MINDS AND MACHINES

    Interesting article in the March, 1996 issue of Communications of the ACM.
    It's the 1994 acceptance speech by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., the recipient
    of the first annual "ACM Allen Newell Award" for career contributions
    bridging computer science and other disciplines. Fredericks is Professor
    of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina. The speech was
    delivered at SIGGRAPH '94.

    Worrying about how the U.S. is becoming a "nation of consumption" given
    over to entertainment and recreation, Brooks has quite a lot to say about
    the failings of television and its effects upon our lives. Then he goes
    on to chide his audience:

         Well, what has all of this to do with SIGGRAPH? Quite a bit; SIGGRAPH
         also worships TV and its fame. Nowhere is this more evident than in
         the Electronic Theatre. Year by year we increasingly choose what to
         honor by the standards of the TV culture. It is increasingly an
         Electronic *theater*, rather than a showcase of computer graphics. We
         are treated to luminous dancers, bogus lip-synched music, and cheap
         distortions of 2D video images of the real world.

         Every year there are wonderful exceptions, from "Luxo, Jr." to the
         "Devil's Mine Ride," but I am struck that so often I can only marvel at
         what has been accomplished, rather than delighting in it.

    Earlier in his presentation, Brooks spoke about artificial intelligence,
    remarking that "the field has accomplished surprisingly little for the
    time and the investment. One need look only at the present state of
    speech recognition and of handwriting recognition to see how far there is
    to go, despite how much work has been done."

    He also noted how the developers of expert systems suffered a "rude
    awakening: somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 to 3,000 rules, the
    rule bases become crashingly difficult to maintain as the world changes
    ...... So today we have a useful expert system technology, with many
    examples of systems with a few hundred rules, but not the infinitely
    extendable tool originally dreamed of."

    Brooks argues that intelligence amplifying (IA) machines can always beat
    artificial intelligence (AI) machines. That is, "a machine *and* a mind
    can beat a mind-imitating machine working by itself."

    Personally, I'd put that a little differently. A machine and a mind can
    routinely perform machine-like tasks better than a machine alone.
    (Actually, the case should be put more strongly; without minds, there are
    no machines.) It's not so clear, however, that a machine and a mind
    routinely perform mind-like tasks better than a mind alone. The presence
    of the machine easily degrades mental performance. For example, if one of
    the mind's distinctive tasks is to recognize new paradigmatic
    possibilities within a particular field of study, then the machine (with
    its highly sophisticated programming based upon existing paradigms) can be
    a difficult obstacle for the imagination to overcome.

    What may be obscuring the distinction between these two cases is our
    increasing willingness to convert social functions, commercial and
    otherwise, into machine-like tasks.




    Two interesting items crossed my desk at the same time, and make for a
    curious juxtaposition. One is from Peter Friedman, former Apple executive
    and now CEO of LiveWorld Productions, which is making a business out of
    professionally managed Internet talk shows (chat rooms). Interviewed for
    Online Business Today (vol 2, no. 4), Friedman displayed an exuberant, if
    naive, optimism about how the Net brings people together:

         What do I like about the Internet? That it can bring people together.
         It will enable people, especially children to see and participate in
         and shape the world without the barriers of the past. I like
         chats---you meet people and if the chats are managed well, you learn

         Some have said that computers and the Internet are the next steps in
         the dehumanization of the world. That's not true. The Internet heralds
         a stage of technology, perhaps the first in one hundred years, that
         actually brings people together; families, friends, new friends.

    The other item was an article about John Dewey in the *New York Review of
    Books* (May 9, 1996). My early and minimal brushes with Dewey's work
    never endeared the man to me, but this article quotes him regarding
    earlier technologies that helped to "bring people together," and I
    couldn't help hearing his remarks in the context of our own day. It is
    easy to forget, amid all the claims for revolutionary technological
    breakthroughs, that technology has carried us consistently in certain
    directions for several hundred years.

    Here's the text, authored by Michael J. Sandel. The Dewey quotations are
    from *The Public and Its Problems*.

         As Dewey wrote, "The machine age in developing the Great Society has
         invaded and partially disintegrated the small communities of former
         times without generating a Great Community." The erosion of
         traditional forms of community and authority at the hands of commerce
         and industry seemed at first a source of individual liberation. But
         Americans soon discovered that the loss of community had very different
         effects. Although the new forms of communication and technology
         brought a new, more extensive interdependence, they did not bring a
         sense of engagement in common purposes and pursuits. "Vast currents
         are running which bring men together," Dewey wrote, but these currents
         did nothing to build a new kind of political community. As Dewey
         stressed, "No amount of aggregated collective action of itself
         constitutes community." In spite of the increasing use of railroads,
         telegraph wires, and the increasingly complex division of labor, or
         perhaps because of them, "the Public seems to be lost." The new
         national economy had "no political agencies worthy of it," leaving the
         democratic public atomized, inchoate, and unorganized.

    But we never seem to require much convincing that the next technological
    advance will somehow neutralize or reverse the tendencies seen in
    conjunction with earlier technologies.



    The following short note came from the New York Times, via Edupage:

    Anatoly Voronov, the director of Glasnet, an Internet service provider in
    Russia, says: "It is just incredible when I hear people talking about how
    open the Web is. It is the ultimate act of intellectual colonialism. The
    product comes from America so we either must adapt to English or stop
    using it. That is the right of any business. But if you're talking about
    a technology that is supposed to open the world to hundreds of millions of
    people you are joking. This just makes the world into new sorts of haves
    and have nots." (New York Times 14 Apr 96 Sec.4 p1)


                         ARE SPIDERS CRAWLING DOWN YOUR BACK?

                            Kirk McElhearn (kirk@lenet.fr)

    Alta Vista is a repository of, more or less, everything that goes through
    the Net, with the exception of e-mail. It is an extremely powerful
    indexing engine which contains over 20,000,000 web pages and a database of
    11 billion words, as well as a dynamically updated the base of newsgroup
    articles. But, a lot of e-mail is there. Any mailing lists that are
    archived will be indexed by their spiders. So that only leaves private e-
    mail. Which is not really that private.

    When I subscribe to a mailing list, no one asks me if I have given up the
    rights to use my posts for any reason. Although my words are public (but
    only in a limited sense, that is, to those who are also subscribed) I
    might not want them to be at the disposition of just any robot around.
    After all, Digital never asked me if they could use my material to show
    off their computers (because the goal of the operation is just that:
    advertising for the powerful computers that Digital makes). And what
    about my rights? Here in France, everyone has a legal right to verify and
    modify any information concerning them that is kept on any database. I
    wonder how Digital would react if I asked them to remove some of my posts
    from their database. Or if I wanted to exercise my right to the
    copyrights on those words.

    Many people compare electronic information, and communication, to books,
    saying that books are permanent, and electronic information is not. I
    think that this is an example of just how permanent such information can
    be. Not only is it still floating around somewhere, but it is indexed in
    a database where someone can easily go fishing for it.

    The danger of this is obvious. Let us say that I have been posting to the
    alt.sex.minerals newsgroup, talking about how I like to do it with pumice.
    In ten years, if my wife wants a divorce, she can hire a bot to go
    snooping around and find that post, along with others, and get child
    support, keep me away from the kids; the whole nine yards.

    Or what about some young hacker, who later grows up and is elected to
    congress. The other party may find it useful to find out if he was
    spouting anarchist ideas in his youth. He will not be able to say he did
    not inhale.

    Or what about someone trying out netSex on IRC. Do those words get
    recorded too? Just think of the gold mine of information for
    blackmailers, if they can find out the real name behind the persona, that
    is available all too easily.

    Many of us have ideas that we later renounce, but when the words are there
    in black and bits, it is hard to place the necessary distance between the
    us-then and the us-now. Okay, I am probably ashamed of some of the things
    I did when I was a teenager, but I would not like to have to defend them

    It seems difficult to control this kind of snooping. Companies will make
    money from our words just as they always have. And the search engine is
    useful to those who are searching for information. But the danger is
    real, and it is right around the corner. I am not a Luddite clamoring for
    a return to the dark ages; I think the Internet will change the way our
    future happens. But we must be aware of the dangers, and react

    The first thing, is to demand that we be able to strike from the record
    anything that we no longer want available. We should have the right to
    filter what is made available in this manner. No one has the right to
    exploit our words without our permission. While Alta Vista is not
    financially exploiting them, it is using them to advertise, which comes
    down to the same thing.

    The second thing is to be aware that someone is listening. That whatever
    we say on the Net will be stored someplace. If Digital can do it, I am
    sure they would sell the necessary equipment to any government agency that
    asks for it (which they have probably already done). Alta Vista is more
    cost-effective than wiretaps.

    The final thing is to fight for encryption. The only way to make sure
    that confidential, or personal e-mail is safe from wandering eyes is to
    encrypt it. Of course, this is not possible in every part of the world.
    Countries such as Iran and France can put you in jail for using
    encryption. But this right needs to be fought for, and now.

    Don't forget, the walls have ears.

    Kirk McElhearn

    Translations from French to English, English to French
    Traductions francais-anglais, anglais-francais



                          Chris Howard (choward@iastate.edu)
          Response to "Advertising and the pressure to upgrade" (NF-15)

    Dear Editor,

    In your reply to Mike Fischbein you say:

         A few decades ago a furor over "planned obsolescence" (particularly in
         automobiles) helped to kick off the consumer activist movement. Our
         discussion about employees resisting automatic software upgrades makes
         me wonder whether the forces of planned obsolescence haven't largely
         re-gathered themselves and snuck up on us from behind (encouraged, no
         doubt, by our own cooperation). What is the high-tech industry if not
         a massive, concerted experiment in accelerating planned obsolescence to
         the extreme?

    Is this really what you meant to say? Are you a conspiracy theorist? I
    think the thing tends to be market driven: sell new upgrade, make more
    money. But saying it is a "massive, concerted experiment" seems to be a
    bit much. Do you think Bill Gates and other software moguls get together
    on midnight conference calls and "concert" their upgrade strategies? Do
    you think they build in obsolescence? Built in degradation of software
    features exists in some cases, usually based on licensing and time limits.
    But I haven't seen anything that makes me think MicrosoftWord erodes over
    time, forcing me to purchase it again (which is what happens with cars).

    I agree with Mike. And I think your reply missed the mark.

    Chris Howard

    * * * * * * * * *

    Chris Howard --

    Why does "massive, concerted experiment" suggest to you a conspiracy theory? Especially when the immediately preceding phrase ("encouraged, no doubt, by our own cooperation") is intended to prevent any such reading? The experiment I had in mind was one in which most all of us participate in our own ways. (You may have noted that nearly everything I've said in this forum has aimed for that sort of universality.)

    Granted, the analogy was a moderately loose one. Software isn't rendered obsolete in exactly the way cars are. But you've heard a fairly forceful statement here by someone (Kevin Jones) who has found it difficult to ignore the pressure to upgrade -- which sounds very much like "the pressure to consider the old software obsolete."

    Certainly, as you say, the thing is market-driven. Which is to say that your, my, Kevin Jones' -- and Bill Gates' -- complicity in this market reality is very much at the heart of the experiment to which I referred. I don't know how much more massive such an experiment could possibly get.

    In my own view, what links the experiment to the idea of planned obsolescence has a lot to do with how far the broad thrust of technological development now runs on by itself, without conscious societal effort to subordinate it to worthy ends. The questions is much more likely to be "will it sell?" or "will it entertain me?" than "is it healthy?" or "what social tendencies will it serve?" I am therefore much less inclined than Mike Fischbein (following article) to see technical "improvements" as actually being improvements -- that is, as improving the human lot. The life that shapes itself around gadgets can all too easily be a hollow one. The heaping of (gratuitous) new capability upon (gratuitous) new capability can, in this light, be seen as a primary vehicle for a kind of built-in, guaranteed, fast-paced obsolescence -- as long as we all go on accepting the gratuitousness.




    Mike Fischbein (mfischbe@fir.fbc.com) Response to "Advertising and the pressure to upgrade" (NF-15)

    An interesting point, but I believe it is a partially (only partially) flawed analogy. I assume you mean computers when you talk about "high- tech;" I don't see airlines retiring usable 737s, carpenters tearing apart old furniture to use better glues, and so on.

    The flawed part comes when we examine the computer goods closest to this question: the hardware. Only rarely is hardware made so that it doesn't work as well after, say, five or even ten years as it did when new. As I recall, people were never disturbed about manufacturers coming out with improved products; it was about design decisions or intentional mis- features that would render a given article useless sooner than following reasonable design and manufacturing standards. My 11-year old Macintosh still works; my sister uses it for short MacWrite letters. Last year, on my annual Naval Reserve training, I worked in a government office that ran mostly on 80286 based Zeniths running DOS 3.3. They worked just fine.

    In short, while neither of those examples would be purchased new today, when they were built they were built with a reasonable degree of conscience, care and skill.

    The less flawed part of the analogy comes when we look at the other half of the computer equation, software.

    Now, it's *partially* flawed because, while I believe the effects of planned obsolescence are there, the intent is not. I believe that most programmers are trying to do a good job, but programming is harder than most people (even programmers!) realize. The result is the current plethora of poor and mediocre quality software.

    Back to the automotive analogy. If cars were either very expensive or just weren't built right (*couldn't* be built right) and had frequent failures, doors dropping off, windows cracking, engines catching fire, etc., and this was true of nearly all brands, people wouldn't be surprised at these things happening. Nor would they object to replacing these fragile objects once or twice a year. Of course, if someone (Henry Ford, say), figured out how build a reasonably priced car that wouldn't fall apart, that someone could sell a lot of cars. Even if they were all the same color.

    The problem is, to date, we haven't figured out how to generate quality software on demand, nor how to convince the general market to use the quality software that is available. As I allude to in my earlier submission, the mass market computer field is driven far more by advertising than by any technical argument. Looking for objective technical rationale in the "upgrade, upgrade, upgrade" push is doomed -- it isn't a technical push, save for those very few who are working at the real limits of today's technology (and that group isn't complaining -- they're working hard at advancing the state of the art).

    No one is forcing an upgrade upon the vast majority of computer users out there. Oh, Microsoft would really like you to keep contributing to their coffers, but if the operating system and applications you used yesterday met your needs then, why do they not meet them now? Bravo to resisting "automatic" upgrades: figure out what the gain may be before leaping.


    -- Mike Fischbein mfischbe@fir.fbc.com CS First Boston



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    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Wed, 01 Mar 2000 08:12:01 +0000 From: "Jennifer de Beer" <jennifer@grove.uct.ac.za> Subject: L.A. Times column, 2/28/00 -- PFIR

    ------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 09:07:18 -0600 To: chapman@lists.cc.utexas.edu From: Gary Chapman <gary.chapman@mail.utexas.edu> Reply-to: gary.chapman@mail.utexas.edu


    Below is my Los Angeles Times column for today, Monday, February 28, 2000. As always, please feel free to pass this on, but please retain the copyright notice.

    We're doing fine here, although a little exhausted after a three-day weekend workshop on "Responsible Use of the Internet" for 13 high school students and 12 graduate students. This is a year-long project we're doing at the LBJ School that we hope will produce a Web site to teach young people how to use the Internet ethically and responsibly. More on this as the project develops.

    Carol is headed for the Persian Gulf this Saturday, to work on a magazine story she's doing about horse racing in the U.A.E. She'll be there for three weeks. We'll hook up together in Muscat, Oman, on March 12th and I'll be there for about a week. I plan on doing some scuba diving in the Arabian Sea and we're going on a Bedouin-guided trek in the Wahibi Sands desert. Should be fun!

    Hope everyone is doing well. We send our best, as always.

    -- Gary



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    Monday, February 28, 2000


    Efforts Urging Responsibility on Net Call for a Pause to Reflect, Teach

    By Gary Chapman

    Copyright 2000, The Los Angeles Times, All Rights Reserved

    It's commonplace now to hear about how different "Internet time" is from merely ordinary time -- Swatch, the Swiss watch company, even sells a wristwatch that displays "Internet time."

    Internet time is said to be dramatically speeded up compared with ordinary time. A few months in Internet time is equivalent to a year or more of ordinary time.

    The chief characteristic of Internet time is a headlong rush into the future, with no time available for contemplation, reflection or pondering alternative futures.

    But some computer experts are beginning to question whether the widespread acceptance of the Internet's acceleration of everything in life is wise or good for society.

    So late last year, computer scientists Peter Neumann and Lauren Weinstein launched a new effort they call People for Internet Responsibility (http://www.pfir.org) because, as Weinstein explains, "Things need to slow down somewhat. All this is happening in the absence of any thoughtful technical, legal or regulatory framework."

    And the blockage of Web sites this month due to denial-of-service attacks -- which brought down Yahoo, Amazon.com, E-Trade, CNN and several other high-profile online services -- has given PFIR some new visibility and urgency.

    After the attacks, Weinstein wrote, "For now, it might be advisable for everyone to remember that the Internet, for all its wonders, is in many ways very fragile. We must not allow ourselves to get into a position where being cut off from a site for a few hours -- or even longer -- puts people or property at risk. Our lives should not revolve around guaranteed 24/7 access to EBay, or Yahoo, or ANY site on the public Internet, regardless of its importance."

    Neumann says, "This craze to get on the Internet, irrespective of whether it's secure or not, is ridiculous."

    Weinstein notes that the Internet was designed for collaboration, not for e-commerce. There are things that can be done to make the network more secure, but for the foreseeable future the public needs to understand the network's vulnerabilities and capabilities, and there's little financial incentive for companies to educate people in this way. That's what PFIR is all about, he said.

    Neumann and Weinstein are not just curmudgeons.

    Neumann, a researcher with SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., is the longtime moderator of the Risks Forum on the Internet, the premier place for technical experts to share information about the perils of using computers and networks.

    And Weinstein, of Vortex Technologies in Woodland Hills, is the moderator of the Privacy Forum, the most-respected and longest-running conversation on the Internet about privacy and technology. His experience with the Internet goes back to the days of the ARPAnet, in the 1970s.

    Weinstein and Neumann have pointed out that with the current rush to get nearly everything we do onto the Internet, and as quickly as possible, long-established principles of safety, security and system reliability are being compromised. And there's insufficient reflection about the possible impacts.

    "Do people really stop and think about what it might mean to vote on the Internet?" asks Weinstein. "Or about the vulnerability of their health information?" Once data are revealed from a system, he says, "you can't put it back in the bottle."

    Neumann concurs.

    "Privacy is an issue that's just being trampled on."

    Weinstein says that it's equally ominous that legislatures or policymakers may, in a rush, adopt Internet-related laws and regulations that are not well designed.

    Neither Weinstein nor Neumann is exactly sure what PFIR is, for now. Weinstein says they're in a "request for comments" phase. The use of this term is an appeal to the kind of people who helped develop the Internet and who may be increasingly alarmed by what it's turning into.

    "We're interested in ideas about how we can get across critical information about the Internet to citizens and policymakers. The key thing is to keep important information about system security, vulnerability, risks, privacy and other issues in the public eye," Neumann said.

    "We intend to take a hard, objective, nonpartisan look at problems that have yet to be addressed."

    Neumann said that he thinks PFIR will not be a grass-roots organization, such as Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) in Palo Alto, "but we will need grass-roots support."

    Both Weinstein and Neumann are pursuing this without any compensation, but they are open to financial support "from institutions that have no desire to shape the message," Neumann said.

    There have been quite a few efforts in the past to develop a form of "civil society" for the computing and networking field -- a form of dialogue and influence that is independent of both private sector enterprise and the government.

    Unfortunately, not many of these efforts have been wildly successful.

    CPSR is still around but not very influential, unfortunately. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is in the same straits. The Internet Society has been flourishing but has yet to tackle the kinds of issues that might divide their professional constituency.

    The most successful examples of a "third way" have been the loose collaborative efforts of the technical professionals who built the Internet itself, and the ongoing work of the Open Source software movement.

    Neumann and Weinstein appear to be mapping PFIR to these models, which they not only understand but deeply respect. The open question is whether an international class of selfless technical experts can turn their attention to policy issues, including some in which their employers will have specific interests.

    If that happens, if Weinstein and Neumann are successful, we may be able to keep the Internet aligned with the public interest.

    Gary Chapman is director of The 21st Century Project at the University of Texas in Austin. He can be reached at gary.chapman@mail.utexas.edu.


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    Jennifer de Beer - Project Assistant c/o the Adamastor Trust Cape Town, South Africa POINT TO PONDER: Complex machines are an emergent life form The Post-Human Manifesto 8.13

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