“Howard Stern is having fun on-air…THEN 9/11 HAPPENS! – (Radio History)”

16 years ago today, the events of 9/11 rocked the world.

Many people in the years since revisit the event on its anniversary. In all honesty, I don’t even like using that word in this context (it’s unfitting for a word normally reserved for more positive defining events). But it is what it is.

Where were you when you heard the news? What were you doing? How did you react?

These questions are asked and answered by many. And they elicit responses from others, also reliving their stories on that day (particularly after social media became more embedded into the fabric of society). I have even done this in past years.

Typically I would share my somewhat comedic story of the goings on of that day. Of being in the 8th grade at the time, at school. Though I didn’t hear anything about it in the morning or on my lunch break (my school didn’t really have TV’s anywhere, and no one was home at my house at lunch time), I did learn of it during gym first thing in the afternoon. We were all sat down and the gym teacher explained how 2 747’s had impacted each tower of the World Trade Centre, leading to their eventual collapse. Slightly wrong information we know now (forgivable, given how little ANYONE knew on that day). And after that, classes went on.

At the time I was less impacted emotionally than I was a bit perplexed as to what the World Trade Centre even was. The whole of the afternoon, I wondered. Picturing in my mind (for some reason) a gigantic glass structure leaving mountains of glass piled in the streets of New York.

It was only when I was just barely a block from my house, that it suddenly hit me what the World Trade Centre was, because of an episode of the Simpsons (of all things). I remembered the episode in which the family goes to New York City in order for Homer to retrieve his car from the World Trade Centre, left there by Barney Gumble.

And then I realized the enormity of what had happened.

I quit participating in this ritual a few years back, however. Primarily due to an article posted by a facebook friend sometime around the 10 year after mark. The article essentially made the argument that despite the loss of life and infliction of fear and terror brought on by the events of 9/11, events afterward should serve to make us pause.

Although over 3000 people lost their lives that day, the death toll in the ensuing wars and conflicts has since WAY surpassed those losses. This is not even taking into consideration the enormous financial cost of these wars on the US. Nor the legitimacy of the wars, in some cases. Nor the blow back aspect (be it 9/11 as a reaction to prolonged American intervention, or the prolonged post 9/11 interventions serving to fuel more potential blow back against the US and its allies). Nor is the effect on everyday civilian life taken into consideration, due to the everlasting presence of seemingly ineffective protection programs like the TSA or the worldwide NSA intelligence dragnet.

On September 11th, 2001, many US civilians paid dearly. But in the years since, the coin has flipped. Though US citizens may have started out the victims in this scenario, it’s easy to see why that is far from the case now. Thus the argument is made that it is time to forget 9/11. It became (and remains!) the justification for countless overreactions and atrocities. It’s time to let it go.

I found myself in agreement. To a point, anyhow.

I did quit posting my 9/11 story on the date, and didn’t interact with any such posts. At this point, I don’t react to ANY breaking stories of terrorism, really (with the exception of some dark humor shared with a select audience).

But back to the initial track. Should 9/11 be forgotten?

No.

First off, it will not be anyway (let’s be realistic). It shouldn’t be anyway.

What should happen, however, is the letting go of it as a blanket justification for pretty much every middle eastern intervention at this point (notably, not involving any nation that actually contributed attackers to the 9/11 plot). At this point, all that we’re doing is enriching the military industrial complex as well as feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indiscriminate killing of middle eastern civilians (or arming governments that do) only serves to create more enemies of the state.

Of course, this is not the only issue going on in the middle east. The problems here existed long before 9/11. The region has long been dogged by outsiders drawing invisible international borders without actually taking populations into consideration. For example, if the Sunni and Shia don’t tend to get along, then it might not be a good idea to force them all into the same geographical area. Sure, a well-planted dictator can keep things under control. But take that cork out of the bottle, and things can get . . . interesting.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Some people’s foresight is also 20/20, but we tend not to listen to those people. But no matter what, we must sleep in the bed that we have made.

But I will move on.

It’s interesting to look back from 20 years on, to see what has transpired since. How society changed. The military angle. One of the most notable things for me, however, was the so called Truther movement. How pretty much every angle of 9/11 has since come into question by a certain cohort of the population.

I have responses to many of these so called questions. But today, I think it more interesting to take a look back.

There exists hours of footage of the news coverage of this day. But I happened across something far more interesting back in July (when this piece was first inspired but put aside until today). I found a recording of Howard Stern’s show September 11th, 2001 show.

Normally an amusing and comedic show (of which it was in the beginning), this episode turned on a dime. Howard and the crew (along with their callers) ended up becoming a fairly reputable source of information not just for NYC residents, but also for syndicated listeners all over the nation.
I like this episode because of the non-journalistic aspect of all involved. While being careful with what they said and with what information they dispersed, it’s interesting witnessing their reactions to the situation without the filter of journalistic professionalism present on pretty much all other coverage.
Not to say that such professionalism is not a good thing. It can just at times be hard for ordinary people (prone to ordinary reactions) to identify with.

Which is where the Stern show struck an interesting balance.

Hosted by a group of essentially every day people, you get their unfiltered real time reactions to the situation. Something it seems many identified with. Yet they also were careful to filter, to ensure they were not spreading misinformation or condoning reactionary actions.
Yes, there is overt bias and jingoism displayed by both hosts and callers into the show. Words were spoken that make me raise an eyebrow.

But I don’t judge the hosts or the callers to harshly. The context is in the heat of the moment. It was a traumatic moment for people everywhere, let alone those directly in Manhattan, all of which will be touched by this in some way.

And so, there you have it. Likely my final acknowledgement of 9/11.

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Artificial Intelligence And “Human” Common Sense + Ethical Veganism

Today, I will again delve into the realm of Artificial Intelligence.  A response (rebuttal?) to an argument made by Sam Harris in one of his recent podcasts discussing (among other things) Artificial Intelligence with Kevin Kelly (here is some background).

Also, some Veganism stuff. It will come later, and it is related.

Fortunately, unlike the last article, I utilized for commentary  (written by one of the founders of Wired), Kevin (interestingly, founding editor of Wired) is not as sympathetic to the scare mongering as other notable names. Something I put in italics because despite many names being well-known contributors on the subject, even I question what exactly they are contributing.

Case in point:

 

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/896166762361704450

One thing I will say is that I didn’t think I would see the day when I would be in agreement with Mark Zuckerberg with much of anything. But it seems that this topic has made it happen.
In short, Mark thinks that Elon and the like are overreacting to the point of irresponsibility. Elon thinks that Mark . . . is not knowledgeable enough on the subject. Many Elon fanboys posted photos of ointment for Mark (he got BURNED!).
I put my hands to my face and shook my head.

Really Elon? THAT is the card you are going to play?

Don’t get me wrong, Mark and I still aren’t buds, this considered. Unlike the dystopian realities in the windscreen of folks like Sam Harris and Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg’s profit driven algorithm structures have helped to damage and divide nations the world over (and continue to do so). Indeed, The Facebook is not alone in this. But it was the trailblazer of the concept. And it appears to be doing little short of window-dressing to even acknowledge that a problem exists (let alone tackling it).

Either way, a feud between 2 rich techies that have WAY more intellectual influence than is merited is another subject altogether.

First, back to Sam Harris and the podcast.

He seems not as afraid of humanity being run over due to malice as he is of humanity being run over due to circumstance. Maybe these machines will become SO efficient in their replication that they will allocate ALL resources towards the purpose. Humanity will not be murdered but sacrificed to AI needs.

One of the first things that come to mind is, these people have GOT to pay more attention to the recent warning from Stephen Hawking. He gives the species 100 years (give or take) before the earth is . . . all washed up. To paraphrase George Carlin, a giant stinking ball of shit.

The Hawking warning comes to mind because his solution (we need to populate Mars or other planets) is questionable to me. Not just from a logistical point of view, but also from an ethical point of view. We know that humans will more than likely screw up any planet we ever inhabit eventually, so it is ethical to keep the process going?

My ethics angle to this question would not be taken well by a great many people (let alone agreed upon). The only person I did get an answer from seemed to default to it being automatically ethical if it enables continued human growth. That seems like a bit of a cop out to me. But it is what it is.
Either way, the only well-known voice to come out against this planetary Brexit movement seemed to be Bill Maher, outlining his reasons in the prologue of his earth day 2017 show. Many of which I am more or less in agreement with.

We know the general reasons why Stephan Hawking, Elon Musk, and others want to get us off of earth and into supposedly better places. It ranges between something cool to accomplish, and we have no choice. But to focus on the latter (or Hawking) side of the issue, what drove us to that point in the first place?

A myriad of factors really would be a nuanced answer. To get right to the point, ourselves. We did it to ourselves.

There are multiple reasons to explore. Climate change, plastic pollution permeation, loss of biodiversity  . . . pick your poison. While all are generally drastically different issues, they are all rooted in the same ideology. Human (and later, corporate) growth. While our history is littered with this behavior, it would not culminate until our discovery and subsequent incorporation of fossil fuels into everyday life.

It could be said that this time in history presented humanity with a forked path and a stark choice. Proceed forward with this new technology with care and caution to possible ramifications, or go all in. It seems the humans of the time didn’t see (or choose to ignore) the possible future risks, and fully embraced and incorporated it into societies world wide. The same can be said for any number of technological revolutions that ended up turning into disasters in their own right. From asbestos to DDT, to plastic, to BPA.

Humans are not good at the long game. And really, humans have never been good with the long game. Unfortunately, unlike when there were too few of us to do too much damage, that dynamic has changed now. Not only are our staggering numbers ALONE a strain on the biosphere, all of our modern innovations only add to the mess.

Plastic and other trash now make up a layer of our very own creation, both on the surface and the bottom of the oceans. Large cargo vessels and tankers (along with seismic oil and gas exploration) in the very same oceans now have raised the background noise levels in the ocean exponentially, in every ocean. There is literally no part of the ocean that we can not be seen or heard.

Our industrialization period has forever changed whole continents. From forests and wetlands to farmland and concrete. Drive from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Key Largo, Florida, and you will see pretty much the same thing. An endless expanse of farmland or concrete. Drive from Winnipeg to Vancouver, and you will see more or less the same thing.  But for where the landscape made breaking impractical or impossible, it’s human controlled.

Over a single century (or half a century, really), humans have burned and contributed millions of years worth of carbon into the atmosphere. A rate of increase that far surpasses pretty much any other past event. We still don’t know what all the long term effects of this massive glut of CO2 will be, but all credible contributors agree that it will NOT be pretty. Today’s flooding storm surge is tomorrows baseline sea level. At MINIMUM.

Then there is space. We have now launched into orbit and abandoned enough junk for it to now be a legitimate problem with people and equipment operating in the great unknown. And our fingerprints are not just in near earth orbit. We also have left stuff behind on the moon. And we have shot some vehicles out even further into the solar system, destined to end up who knows where.

It seems that no matter what endless expanse of empty space that humans come into contact with, they find a way to clutter it up. A recent example of this, and a problem of urbanites everywhere (whether they realize it or not) is wifi interference and overlap. A few years back, few would even think about this since wifi was still in its infancy. But now, with more wireless devices than ever before in our possession and every ISP selling and renting routers to service these devices, the carrying capacity of the available spectrum is often filled to capacity, if that capacity can even be reached.
Networks and devices sharing a channel can more or less traffic one another for airtime (with the lag increasing according to active devices in the area on that channel). However, traffic on adjacent channels is seen as noise, hindering (if not entirely drowning out) wifi activity. Imagine trying to have a conversation in a crowded room. The louder the background din gets, the louder everyone else gets.
Since these ISP issued routers often set up shop anywhere on the 2.4ghz spectrum (not just on the recommended channels 1, 6 or 11), there is often lots of overlap. Which causes noise levels that actively reduce the already finite amount of bandwidth available to area devices.

Indeed, a first world problem and more of an inconvenience than anything (unless all the radiation from the wireless devices is considered, anyway). But it is yet another perfect example of humans managing to again completely clutter up a seemingly endless expanse to due unplanned and largely unregulated embrace of new technology.

Someone like Sam Harris could use this argument in the context of Artificial Intelligence (our total and complete embrace of largely untested technology have not always ended well). However, I have doubts that many got that far since dystopian fear of AI tends to write the whole issue off.

It’s not that the machines will one day turn on us either. It is more, the machines will become so efficient in replication that they will develop methods to essentially utilize ALL resources towards that goal. Such resources may include us, or all that we rely upon.

An example given is an AI robot that has only one goal . . . to create paperclips. All it does is hone and fine tunes the art of creation of the paperclip. The perceived risk is that this AI robot may become so good and efficient that it may develop ways to turn literally ANYTHING into paperclips. Yes, including us and all that we hold dear.

Indeed, the example isn’t the best (it needed to be dumbed down for a layman, but really?! Paperclips?!). But it gets the job done.

Either way, due to this fear, Harris figures it necessary that so called Human Common Sense is programmed into these machines, so as to ensure this result is not realized. On one hand, it can’t hurt.
But on the other hand . . . human common sense?!
To STOP the machines from consuming and destroying everything in sight, all for the goal of endless replication?

HUMAN common sense is going to achieve that?

To put it short and sweet, if humans had common sense, people like Stephen Hawking would not be telling the world that the species NEEDS to find a new planet. Really, one could even go as far as saying that common sense dictates the exact opposite of Hawkings wishes. Let this bad strain remain isolated to one planet.

One could say that. It’s certainly an interesting usage of the topic of ethics. Which is more unethical?

Keeping humanity on one planet, for better or worse? Or allowing humanity to spread out in the universe?

Either way, suffice to say, I am highly critical of the notion that our so called common sense is of any use to AI robots and bots. In my mind, the only difference between AI gone wrong and humanity is how they spread . . . reproduction VS replication. We’re certainly not a good example, as far as stewards of the earth are concerned.

But this is not all to slam the notion. More to highlight the arrogance of insisting that the obviously flawed (if not flat out non-existent) common sense of humans is an important trait for future AI technology. If anything, that seems as though it could go WAY in the other direction. Being the direction we are headed at current, it seems a wager worth betting on.

That said, however, it is not all bad. The benefit of knowing one’s own flaws is in fact, knowing one’s own flaws. We can ensure to program these problems out to the best of our ability.

Figuring out goals for future AI is not an unreasonable conversation, however. This is an important conversation to have, even though people like Elon Musk like to disrupt it. Seemingly based on a strawman.
The machines are coming . . . and eventually, they will TAKE OVER OUR LIVES! Not scared? Well, CLEARLY you have not given this much thought!

But enough about arrogant fools with a giant platform. You get the point. This frame of mind is harmful to the conversation, not helpful.

Since humans are in the driver’s seat, it seems apparent that those in charge will design and program these things not just to be benign to humanity, but also to be helpful. How exactly that would work obviously remains to be seen. But it seems, dare I say, common sense.
Fine, maybe not. It is more the conclusion that one comes to when they use the past behavior of humans as a predictor of future outcomes. Humans are selfish and self-serving creatures, utilizing pretty much every resource we have available to us towards this goal. It seems apparent then that new technology birthed by us would follow this same pattern. Be it conscious, sentient, or not.

I have to be careful here, I admit. I don’t have a good grasp on either consciousness OR sentience, so I have to be careful in my usage of the terms. Although from what I see, few (if anyone) in the Artificial Intelligence conversation have made much headway on that front either.

To go back where I essentially left off (what could AI mean for us?), it could go many ways. I explored this a bit in a previous post on the subject, but I have even more to add now.

One should not just assume that AI will be inherently our enemy, or could become so due to some unforeseen development or update (to use a technical term). It can’t and shouldn’t be ruled out. But ending the conversation here is akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Humanity is good at developing tools. It’s how we got as far as we did today, and it’s what will drive whatever future we have left. So rather than viewing what is essentially our future technological development as a foe, we should try and see it as a tool. Something that has the potential of introducing a whole new level of intellectual prowess to both humanities biggest problems and enigmas (let alone desires).

The first thing that comes to mind is something from my other piece on AI, which was pondering whether or not so called UFO’s and extraterrestrials were a form of AI, developed by some other life form elsewhere. Looking back, I wrote that piece under the assumption that these beings must have run over their creators in order to reach the high that they obviously did technologically. I was taking cues from Sam Harris, in that it was a previous episode of the Waking Up podcast that inspired my thoughts on the piece.

Despite starting there, however, it occurs to me that annihilation of the AI’s origin species is not necessary. Rather, the super developed Artificial Intelligence may, in fact, serve as a tool for them. A tool that accomplishes feats that may not otherwise ever be possible. For example, the ability to explore far beyond whatever their observable universe is. Not to mention possibly enabling these origin species to come for the ride.

Looking closer to home to the problems facing the future of humanity and the earth itself, this is another area where AI could be of more help than harm. For example, reversing climate change by developing a way to scrub (and put to use!) excess carbon in the atmosphere. Or developing viable means of scrubbing plastic pollution of all sizes and types from the worlds oceanic gyres (and again, finding a use for it). If the intelligence potential is close to (if not) infinite beyond so called singularity, then so too are the possibilities.

But even Artificial Intelligence that is on our side is not beyond issue, even if it is just as perceived by us.

One example is our current habits of resource consumption (among other things). We currently WAY overconsume what is available to us, to the point of taking from future generations. Every year, an article is released at about this time of year (August) telling us that we’re past that point. Before the back to school and holiday rushes have even begun! Either way, it will not take long for Artificial Intelligence to detect this, and obviously, follow the problem all the way to its conclusion (bye bye Homo sapiens!).
If a part of their programming or goal is the safety of the species, they could either recommend drastic action or just force it upon us. Essentially, for the good of the collective that is humanity, all may be forced into a more limited life of consumption than they are used to.

Or to up the ante a few notches, let’s consider the overpopulation conundrum.

At current, our population is WAY beyond the static carrying capacity of the planet. But it doesn’t much matter (at least in the short term) due to fossil fuels and other technologies extending the carrying capacity. We already know this house of cards will eventually topple, so of course, the machines will also know this.

Again, the AI does the calculations and concludes that without a meager to drastic reduction in either births or population numbers, the species is in trouble. Our numbers are either close to or beyond the maximum allowable for the survival of the species, so something has to be done to keep extinction at bay.

Disallowing children, despite being its own hot potato, is arguably the lesser solution (when compared to being forced to essentially cull the herd).
On that note . . . imagine either being a decider of that group, or of having to accept the AI’s decision on the matter. No matter how you slice it, things will not be pretty. People will (rightfully really) hate and fear the machines.

And yet, at its core, is the well-being of the origin species. Humanity has proven unwilling to face the biggest decisions even at the expense of its own survival. So if some external force (or intelligence) has to do it for us, is this really a bad thing?

Interestingly, questions and scenarios like this (brought to my mind by topics like Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles, and Veganism, oddly enough) have fundamentally changed my view of ethics and morality.

For example, the idea of some machine mandating or forcing a moratorium on human population growth (or worse, a cull of the population) would be seen as automatically evil (and thus immoral and unethical) by many, no matter what the circumstances. Even if the reasons are based on cold hard logic (too many people = too much resource consumption = No (or very few) people).
As for Veganism (since it can also be tied to this conversation, oddly enough), a common argument for is pain and suffering. This is more often than not buttressed by the terrible status quo that is mass factory farming in the US and elsewhere. There is a climate change component as well. But it’s primarily based on animal welfare.

My answer to that is to assert that the choice to (or not to) eat meat has little to do with ethics. Even though the status quo is far from optimal, it does not have to be and could be changed. In fact, compared to the suffering endured by the prey of many other species, humans have developed much less painful methods of slaughter. Though humans do not have to eat meat, we evolved (like many other animals) with such protein in our diets. As such, it’s hardly unethical to engage in what is as natural an activity as drinking water. One can use the climate change argument to attach ethics to the conversation. But even that is a stretch since something as normal as driving a car or heating (and cooling) your house could be turned on you. Not to mention that nuts and kale also have to be transported to market (and we’re not running EV transport trucks yet. Though I doubt their debut is far down the road).

If anything, framing this on ethics and morality (people who eat meat are unethical and immoral!) is doing damage to the cause of Veganism. Aside from inviting people like me to retort their rhetoric (a minority), it turns people off (the majority). While it may be seen as an excuse or burying one’s head in the sand, how exactly is that helping the afflicted animals? It’s not.

If anything, using the ethics and morality arguments to back a Vegan stance is unethical and immoral. If the tactics employed are resulting in a net negative in terms of action taken towards helping afflicted animals, then I don’t think it a ridiculous statement. It’s just an observation.

Here is another observation. PETA is inherently anti-Vegan.
I didn’t think I would ever find myself reading that sentence (let alone writing it).

One may wonder where that came from. How a piece about Artifical Intelligence ended up criticising Veganism. The answer is in ethics and morality. Or more, as I alluded to earlier, my fundamental change in acknowledgment of the 2 concepts.

Both are fluid, no 2 people have the same ethics and morals. Most tend to be very human centric (dare I say, self-serving) to the point of being irrational. As such, they are not inherent.

In a recent conversation, I was asked essentially what would happen if some alien race rounded us all up for some nefarious purpose. Would that be ethical?

The first thing that came to mind was, what does it matter? Like the many people that died at the hands of Adolf Hitler and other crazed leaders, I’m sure that those people saw the actions of the hierarchy as being unethical. Didn’t do them much good though, did it?

Now that I have triggered many into thinking that I am a crazed psychopath, I shall explain myself. I am not a psychopath.

Just a psychopath on demand. In a way.

I don’t walk around treating everything and everyone like shit. I have an ethical/moral code that I follow. If anything, I think that my ethical and moral code would rival that of many of the people that I just triggered. It’s a consequence of being overly analytical of almost every aspect of life. When you see more, the often thoughtless ethical infractions of the faceless populace become crystal clear.

Either way, I think that about wraps this up. Feel free to comment below if you have something to say.

Posted in All Things Tech, Artificial Intelligence & Such, Opinion | Leave a comment

“The Catholic Church Says Some Child Abuse Victims Gave “Consent” When Assaulted” – (Patheos)

Today in the stories that are sure to piss you off, we have this one out of Britan, reported on by The Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is the UK government agency that, among other things, compensates victims of child abuse and sexual assault with taxpayer-funded money. But last month, the Sunday Telegraph reported that some of the children who had filed claims had been rejected because they supposedly gave “consent” before being assaulted.

That sounds awful. And when you hear the stories, it gets even worse

I don’t doubt it.

One case highlighted by [non-profit group] Victim Support involved a 12-year-old girl who was plied with alcohol, led into the woods and sexually assaulted by a 21-year-old man.

Despite the fact that the man pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13, the victim was denied compensation.

This was because she had gone into the woods “voluntarily”, had not been a victim of violence, she emerged “happily” from the woods and that she had recently had sexual relations with another child around her own age.

You have got to be kidding me.

All of that is truly despicable. Of course this child was a victim. She was a child. Her outward demeanor throughout the ordeal is irrelevant. And her story was only one of many.

Enter the Catholic Church.

Oh dear god. What ungodly thing has that anti-Christian abomination gotten itself into NOW . . .

It turns out CICA is working with the Church to compensate victims of child abuse at the hands of priests. It’s unclear to me if taxpayer money is being used for this (and if so, why), but the same kind of stories are now turning up.

I really hope it is not the UK taxpayers paying for the diddling of the unholy scum. Because if that were the case . . . #InvadeTheVatican .

I said it before. And I will more than likely say it again.

One claimant was told by lawyers for the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark that his abuse, which included rape and began when he was 15, “actually occurred in the context of a consensual relationship (albeit one the Claimant in retrospect now appears to regret)”.

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told this newspaper that the use of the defence felt “insulting”. “I was below the legal age of consent anyway and there’s a grooming element to that kind of situation. It was totally disregarded and it made me feel really small,” he said.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2017/08/21/the-catholic-church-says-some-child-abuse-victims-gave-consent-when-assaulted/#iqd2oWBRpRBLb6Vj.99

No kidding.

It is less a defense than it is another method of covering up the madness, all the while letting the perpetrator get off Scott free.

#InvadeTheVatican

Both he and another victim who was told she “consented” pushed back against the charges. They eventually won their appeals and received compensation. But it’s truly disturbing that CICA was using this argument at all. If the victims hadn’t fought back in court, they would have received nothing.

Church officials offered mild sympathy in a sanitized statement to the press:

In a statement, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Southwark said that “out of respect for each claimant’s privacy and the confidentiality of the legal process, the Archdiocese does not comment on individual case“, but added that it “supports the right of anyone who has suffered harm to seek compensation. Such claims are complex and often involve a number of difficult legal issues.

Good for the victims for pushing the issue, and getting what is rightfully theirs. But I wonder about those that may not have had the strength (or means) to take on the challenge legally.

It also makes me wonder if the organization in charge of financial compensation of these cases has been corrupted. Indeed, it involves wearing some tinfoil. But if the church is willing to pay money to make many past cases of abuse go away, is it really that much of a leap to accuse it of buying off some of those in charge of holding it accountable?

This largely hinges on who is actually footing the bill, of course. If the taxpayers, then it’s hardly necessary. If the church itself, however . . .

Fuck it!

#InvadeTheVatican

There is often complexity in sexual assault cases. But when the victim is underage, the issue of whether or not they consented isn’t complicated. They didn’t. End of story.

Since 2012, The Independent reports, CICA has rejected payment claims to approximately 700 alleged victims of child abuse. It’s safe to assume they weren’t all rejected for the same awful reason, but we only know about these “consent” cases because non-profits working on the victims’ behalf brought them to the public’s attention.

How many more don’t we know about?

I think you could more than likely at the minimum, double the number. Cumulatively for the whole of the UK anyhow. And who really knows how high the number will go if you start adding up all the closet cases world wide.

What we see here seems to be nothing more than business as usual for the Catholic church. One of the least Christ like institutions there is. In more ways than one.

But there is a fitting way to end this piece. Can you guess what it is? You are right.

#InvadeTheVatican

In conclusion, I may as well end on a high note.

Posted in Opinion, Religion & Atheism, Social Issues | Leave a comment

“The Connection Between Ghosts, UFOs and God” – (Patheos)

I recently read an article that I found had interesting insights on the topic of paranormal and extraterrestrial beliefs of the nonreligious. I was surprised by the findings, and have a few comments of my own.

Here’s an interesting fact: People who are not religious are twice as likely to believe in ghosts and UFOs as those who are religious. It seems that the less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse ideas about hauntings, UFOs, intelligent aliens monitoring our lives and assorted government conspiracies.

These facts come from a new research study by Pew Research and Clay Routledge, a professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. But perhaps most interesting are the conclusions the professor and his colleagues make about how this relates to our search for meaning. Routledge writes:

The less religious the participants were, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning (resulted in) a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in UFOs and alien visitors.

This made me raise an eyebrow. But it also made a question come to mind.

The researchers seem to have concluded that the perceived meaninglessness of life as perceived by many irreligious people has driven them to find meaning. Apparently in UFO’s, conspiracy, the paranormal (well, aside from deity’s) and other sources.

I have to question if it is less a case of finding meaning than it is a case of just filling the void with another ideology. I wrote a lot in my early days as an atheist expat about the phenomenon of many atheists replacing one religion with another, this happening most often with very devoted religious believers turned atheists. Though the faith and ideology of religion are purged, the frameworks often remain. Hence why you can have the leader of Americas most prominent secular organization aside from the US government (American Atheists) regularly promote black and white dichotomy’s (“People are either theists or atheists, PERIOD!”) as logically and rationally correct.

Anyway, I suspect that embrace of seemingly irrational pursuits like conspiracy theory and the paranormal by irreligious individuals may be yet another branch of this phenomenon. Purging the ideologies of religion, but keeping some of the same frames of mind.

Which is understandable, really. The only thing harder than changing an actual ideology is changing the mindset that allows those like it to fester and conform. Call it a personal life lesson.

There’s just one problem with this. Routledge says that belief in ghosts and UFOS are poor substitutes for religion. While we all need something to believe in, a way to organize and understand the world around us, the researcher points out belief in the paranormal is “not part of a well-established social and institutional support system.” It also “lacks a deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning.”

That seems rather obvious. Anyone who is going to take the time to read these findings likely either already knows that, or is ideologically blocked from coming to the conclusion.

On a related note, I can think of at least 2 variables that could impact the findings of this study that seem to be missing. One is the length of time in the nonreligious mindset. The other is one’s level of education.

First off, it has to be said that the diversity of people keeps the overly generalized rule of thumb conclusions at bay, in terms of cases like this. That said, however, one should be careful with assigning too much weight to conclusions that may change.

While an initial step away from religiosity may bring people to some interesting places, people may not stay there. It depends on how much time these people want to devote to evaluating these things. And to a degree, ones education also guides where they land.

You can’t really fault someone for not having a “deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning” if they were never exposed to such pursuits in life.

In The Super Natural, a book about UFOs and alien encounters, Jeffrey J. Kripal writes that “the human species is a mythmaking species. Just as birds instinctively build nests and bees build hives, we “make worlds”, mythical universes to live in. We have no choice. Human beings need meaning, which is to say story, in order to live, much as they need food and air. No human community can live without meaning.”

This need for meaning goes back to the advent of man, when myth was used to explain the world. Just like we never lost the “fight or flight” response, which dates back to prehistoric man fleeing from threats in the wild, we may still possess the need for archetypes, primitive mental images that inhabit our psyche. The renowned psychologist Carl Jung believed we inherited theses archetypes from our earliest human ancestors and that they’re present in the collective unconscious.

To that end, Jung believed that UFOs were in fact “archetypal images” and “involuntary automatic projections.” He wrote that: “UFOs could easily be conceived as “gods.” They are impressive manifestations of totality whose simple, round form portrays the archetype of the self.” When we lose touch with our innermost being, these archetypes make themselves known.

In all honesty, I don’t even know what to do with that. But I can concur that humans need . . . something.

Meaning. A purpose. A reason for being.

For many, the prescribed road maps of society and culture do the trick, right to the end. Others find purpose in the counters to status quos of both society and culture. And some others dwell even beyond that. If the city is society and culture, and the suburbs are the status quo counterculture than these people reside in the far unlit unknown. Where the streets have no name.

People need something to look forward to. Something to get them out of bed in the morning. Otherwise, what is the point?

I am unsure really, where else one could go with this. Because there really is nowhere else to go. There is no advice to give. Those in the city or the suburbs will generally find their way to something compatible.

Those who venture beyond the lighted boarders can find something to. It will just take more legwork and potential trailblazing. And there is nothing wrong with that really. The best inventions and the biggest civilization advances rarely come from the comfortable status quo.

Posted in Opinion, The Paranormal, Various Commentary | Leave a comment

Eggs – Are They Dangerous?

 

Some time ago, I heard some claims made about eggs that I felt compelled to look into. My Being that they are a fairly common staple in my diet, it seemed something I should be check into.
The claims (of which I first heard from a vegetarian member of a podcast that I no longer follow) essentially boils down to eggs being dangerous due to containing some type of carcinogenic chemical (or chemicals). However, there is a possibility that the information in question is propaganda from a vegetarian and/or Vegan source (as is suspected by other members of the same podcast). If GMO documentaries (well, most ANY documentary) tell us anything, its that you don’t always need facts or proper context to sell a good story.

Before I begin my search, I can think of 2 factors that could play into this. Though I suspect neither will even be taken into consideration.

The first is Acrylamide (previously touched on by yours truly). I am almost certain that it can be associated with eggs because it can be associated with almost any baked or fried foods. But its formation can also be limited by avoiding certain preparation methods (boiled egg, anyone?). 

The second is bacteria. Due to differences in the egg handling procedures of North America and Europe, North American eggs can be more susceptible to bacterial contamination if not refrigerated. This is due to a special membrane that surrounds an eggs shell when laid. Though egg shells are porous, this membrane helps protect the internal contents from any infectious invaders.

Europeans tend to take advantage of this natural protection, and as such, you rarely will find refrigerated eggs in European countries. It’s not considered necessary.

North American standards, on the other hand, are quite different. Eggs must be washed before they can come to market, some would say for obvious reasons. But a drawback of that washing is that the protective membrane is removed by it. Being that bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels inside room temperature eggs in mere days, they must be kept cool.

But those are just guesses on my part. Time for some more in depth analysis.

First off, is dietary cholesterol. Aside from preparation methods, eggs themselves (at least the egg yolks) are well known to be high in cholesterol. As a result, many people choose to just consume the egg whites (be it by separating the eggs manually, or by purchasing them already separated). This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. Most of the iron, folate (folic acid, helps the body make DNA\RNA as well as metabolize amino acids required for cell division) and vitamins in an egg are in its yolk. As are the substances lutein and zeaxanthin (which support both eye and brain health). And also because dietary cholesterol has been getting less of a bad rap in terms of overall health effects in recent years. Potentially making this avoidance of egg yolks (or at times, eggs period) unnecessary.

http://time.com/4225819/eggs-nutrition-egg-yolk/

Moving on, upon typing the query Are eggs bad for you into most everyone’s favorite search engine, the very first result is quite interesting and attention grabbing. Published on the platform Quartz, the headline reads Hollywood vegans are trying to convince you eggs are as bad as cigarettes—that’s irresponsible and wrong . Nothing like getting straight to the point. Let us explore.

A new, high-profile documentary claims eating an egg is about as dangerous as smoking five cigarettes.

It’s one of several bizarre claims made in What the Health, a new, feature-length documentary backed by Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix and filmed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, who made Cowspiracy, a 2014 documentary about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, produced by actor (and outspoken vegan) Leonardo DiCaprio.

By cherry-picking nutrition studies to make rickety claims, the makers of What the Health risk ratcheting up fear of certain foods based on weak science. It’s not a responsible way to try and change people’s behavior, and it does a disservice to nutritional scientists in the field.

I have not seen either of the films in question (What the health, Cowspiracy).  And in all honesty, I doubt I will ever. But I have come across numerous references to the film Cowspiracy, including in a fairly recent article published by the acclaimed Christopher Hedges.

The filmmakers set out to make the case that a vegan diet is the best answer for preventing and treating an array of chronic diseases—including heart disease, colorectal cancer, and diabetes—and that foods derived from animals raise the risk of those ailments. But the film relies on a few cherry-picked studies to make its case, and ignores many others that contradict its position.

The film cites three sources of information: The first is a 2012 study (pdf) linking egg yolk consumption and risk of carotid plaque buildup in those at risk for heart disease. A second source is simply a video referring back to the 2012 study, and the third source doesn’t once mention the word “egg.”

There is a consensus among America’s leading nutrition experts that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial for the average diet. But none argue that any one food should be tossed out of the diet wholesale. That includes meat, dairy, and, yes, eggs.

In fact, in 2016, a federal panel of nutrition experts that convenes every five years updated its dietary recommendations and removed cholesterol as a “nutrient of concern,” thus absolving eggs. That decision—which was consistent with the position of the American Heart Association—was the subject of huge amounts of media attention.

It should be noted that in the Christopher Hedges article I linked to earlier, seeming pro-cholesterol stances of organizations such as the American Heart Association are noted. However, there is a distinct accusation of food industry financing. Essentially, if someone is throwing a bunch of money your way, what would YOU tell the world about the product they are selling?

I’ll let the people come to their own conclusions on that. I don’t know what to think of it. That is my general reaction when some conspiracy is alluded to, and the narrator of whatever the medium happens to be is pushing me in that direction.

And eggs weren’t What the Health‘s only target. The film overhypes the World Health Organization’s (WHO) position that red meat is carcinogenic, as well as non-WHO nutrition studies linking milk consumption to cancer.

2 things also highlighted in the Hedges article, interestingly enough.

On any given day, researchers around the world produce studies containing evidence that common foods—eggs, wine, coffee, meat, and more—both prevent and hasten health problems. There isn’t anything necessarily insidious going on; these studies, while in some cases individually contradictory, are part of a large and growing ecosystem of evolving science. If a bulk of those studies have evidence that points to a similar finding, nutrition experts weigh those data when advising people on diet. But no one should be taking health advice based media stories on individual studies.

Nutrition science is a particularly tough field to tackle. It isn’t ethical for researchers to play Dr. Frankenstein with someone’s livelihood by experimenting and testing different diets on them, so nutrition scientists often lean heavily on observational studies rather than randomly controlled trials, which are the gold standard in scientific research. And because there are so many observational studies published every year, there are a lot of whiplash-inducing headlines like these trickling out on a near-daily basis:

With this kind of competing information published virtually all the time, it’s easy for groups with agendas to take advantage of the fact that most people are not health experts.

The claims made by What the Health about eggs are particularly egregious, and have generated so much attention, that even vegans have weighed in with critical views, including this one written by vegan health professional Virginia Messina and published on Vegan.com. “I suspect that in the long run…this kind of outreach sets our efforts back and slows our progress on behalf of animal rights,” Messina writes.

This explains the placement at the very top of the search results. I am far from the only one that has made the query. In fact, those people deserve a pat on the back. Because while some may have the sense to confirm, a large cohort of others will likely not. Just absorb the information and go on spreading the alarmist information that is ultimately bad for the overall cause of Veganism.
It’s unfortunate that some of those people also happen to be respected journalists. Even I almost took that sources word verbatim. Good thing I learned a long time ago that doing so is never a good idea (no matter how much you trust the person publishing the material).

As for the observational scientific studies that are always popular in media . . . one is best suited to pay little attention to these. One reason is that media en mass has a habit of cherry picking (or flat out falsely representing) the findings. Or the study itself could be suspect, though few but those in the know would think that anything labeled as scientific could be suspect. All of this contributing to either misinformation or apathy towards these studies from the public. Both of which can be dangerous in their own right.

Since such often results in time-consuming research, I generally just try to pay little attention. If it turns out to be a big breakthrough, it will get more coverage as others repeat (and thus, confirm) the data.
If not, then I didn’t waste any of my (or anyone else’s time on something unworthy of our attention.

Anyway, I have more or less managed to answer the question that I out to upon starting this piece. Are eggs bad?

Maybe.

Do they contain a large amount of cholesterol? Yes. Almost a whole days worth. Something I will take into consideration going forward (I used to eat many at a time, yolk and all).
However, are they worthy of being in the same category as cigarette smoke or asbestos? One study points to yes with the former.

However, it appears not to be a clean cut case of either Yes or No.
They can be bad if overconsumed, being their energy content. Eating 4 of them are essentially eating 4 chicks (an interesting way of looking at it, as dictated by one of the sources I skimmed to write this). But they also appear to have a place in a healthy diet. One just has to be careful.
If you eat very few, you are likely in the clear.

One thing I will give the vegetarians and the vegans is that cutting out eggs and meat is generally the best move ecologically. The biggest reason is the pollution footprint of both industries on lakes, rivers, and oceans. Also methane output (more of a concern with meat than with eggs, I would think).

But there is also one often overlooked factor. Packaging.

While some alternatives exist, at least where I live, I lot of both meat and eggs are sold in styrofoam containers. Even local eggs are sold in foam packaging. I brought this up with the owner one day. First, he was surprised to hear that styrofoam is generally not accepted for recycling, but he also claimed that using paper packaging (the most easily recycled of them all!) was too expensive. Something I don’t doubt, looking at all of the stores and brands that use foam.

Meat trays are almost ubiquitously styrofoam. Some use square plastic containers (generally made from different colors of PETE, or plastic #1). But I know that recycling of even THESE is questionable. Unless there is more demand for clamshell type packaging than there was before (including plastic egg cartons).

Some things to consider, no matter how you decide to conclude the great diatry enigma that is the cackleberry.

Posted in Opinion, Other | Leave a comment

Autonomous Vehicles And The Trolley Problem – Why It Annoys Me

A few months ago (October 2016 to be precise), I came across an article that caught my attention. I was planning on doing something with it earlier, but it ended up falling through the cracks. Life became chaotic on most all fronts, and so this fell to the bottom of the pile. Until I came across it once again today.
The article, posted on LinkedIn by a fellow named John Battelle (journalist and founder of a number of media platforms such as Wired magazine), focused on the long and messy transition period between the driver operated and autonomous vehicle eras.

The article took a decidedly common approach to the topic. Outside of fascination, the next most common approach to futuristic technology (such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence) is often what I call the Boo factor. Essentially, contemplating the absolute worst case scenario.
For AI, this tends to be the possibility of our enslavement (or extermination) at the hand of our own creation (I have touched on this subject before).  As for autonomous vehicle technology, the highlighted issue is usually the trolley problem.

For me personally, the answer is incredibly obvious. If the goal of preserving life requires a sacrifice, the choice with the fewest fatalities is the always the right choice. In fact, the only thing that makes this a problem, to begin with, is emotion. Which is why it’s important to keep them in check when pondering these things. If we’re using the trolly scenario, an emotional response (which could well end in inaction) will end in maximum fatalities.

A better way of looking at the trolley problem is to scale it up. In fact, not only scale it up but make the situation potentially realistic. Use situations that real deciders may very well face in real life. For example, rather than a mere trolley, let’s switch it up a bit.

Commercial airliners.

Instead of an empty trolley on a path towards 6 non-existent people (and a non-existent fat man), I give you an aircraft filled with potentially hundreds of innocent bystanders.

Everyone remembers 9/11. With that in mind, consider this scenario.

It’s a busy travel day at any large international airport around the world. One of these massive intercontinental birds takes to the sky and initially sets out on its long journey, filled to capacity with passengers and fuel.  All is well for the first part of the journey, the plane is traveling and checking in as anticipated. However, at some point, something changes.
The plane stops answering radio calls. Worse yet, its transponder disappears (but it is still trackable). And then you see the plane change course. It goes from its original heading to a heading that will eventually bring it to a population center. If the aircraft were to crash in this city, you are looking at a MINIMUM of hundreds of casualties, with a distinct possibility of thousands.
The aircraft is carrying just over 500 people of all backgrounds, ages, and cohorts. Fighter jets that were scrambled to the scene observe chaos in the cabin, and suspicious persons at the aircraft’s controls. All radio calls to the aircraft are going unanswered, and no attempt is being made to acknowledge the communications in any way (the plane equipment is unlikely to be faulty). By all accounts, it looks like the hijackers are not looking to cooperate.

There you have it. The trolley problem, on steroids. Knowing these details, what would you do?
Not do anything and hope (pray?) for the best possible outcome, ignoring past instances of such situations ending in disaster? Or do you take down the aircraft, in doing so guaranteeing the death of over 500, but potentially saving the lives of thousands?

Are you glad that you are not the one who has to possibly make this decision on a split second basis? Me too.

This is why I fail to take the trolley problem all that seriously. It is not as much a problem as it is a test of judgment. Does reason prevail in your decision-making processes no matter what variables are at play? Or can they be clouded by emotion?

We can call that part 1.

For part 2, I will move on to something that it seems it missing from these conversations. That is, the fact that we have had at least semi-autonomous vehicles around for decades.  The technology has just been primarily deployed on vehicles that average people generally do not have operational access to. Once more, we come to aircraft.

Planes of all sizes and uses have been increasingly autonomous (or at least, semi-autonomous) for decades now. And as the percentage of overall human input has dropped, the safety of the industry as a whole has improved. These systems have improved so much in fact that pilots have increasingly grown TO reliant on this technology. A fact that became all too clear in 2009 after 2 modern Airbus aircraft (Airbus being known as a leader in fly by wire technology) crashed due to their operator’s overreliance on automated safeguards. One in France (an A320) crashed due to some of the protections being disabled for a test flight. And the other (an A330) was Air France 447, which went down due to its operators lacking skill in hand flying the aircraft. A glaring oversight on the part of airlines, considering that the automated systems forgo control to the human operators when abnormalities (such as receiving conflicting data about important external parameters) are detected.

While human observation is an integral part of aviation (at least for now), an argument could be made in some instances for giving the machines even more control. One instance is collision avoidance.

While Technology exists to warn other aircraft if they are dangerously close to any other nearby. Called TCAS, it issues either climb or descend requests to each aircraft in order to safely separate them. However, this only helps if both operators take the proper evasive maneuvers.
A lesson learned after a midair over Germany in 2002 took 71 lives. While one aircraft obeyed the TCAS generated request (descend), the other did not, due to confusion caused by conflicting instructions from Air Traffic Control. As a result, both aircraft descended and collided.

Another easily avoidable problem is a stall. In this context (aerodynamic stall), it means the threshold speed below which the aircraft’s wings can no longer generate enough lift to stay airborne. While there have been many accidents caused by this over the years, one of the more prominent ones is AF447.
Improper inputs ended up putting the aircraft into a stall, which could have been easily remedied.  The stall resulted from the aircraft’s nose being held up, causing the wings to lose lift. While one pilot was aware of this and was attempting to correct the angle, the other was continuing to hold the nose up. Neither properly communicated their actions to one another, and so their conflicting actions were essentially canceled out. The opposing operator eventually realized his mistake and took corrective action, but by then it was too late. The aircraft had fallen below 10,000 feet and didn’t have room to recover.

In both of the above circumstances, I can’t help but think that more autonomy of the aircraft may have resulted in very different end results. Systems already existent had detected the problems and issued the proper warnings. It was the human inputs that culminated in the situations ending in tragedy.

If the case of the midair, if both aircraft are communicating and one aircraft detects that it is taking opposing action, would it not be logical for the automation to take over and reduce the threat? In fact, for the automation to take over on both aircraft until the threat is alleviated?

And how about AF447?
The aircraft detected an imminent stall long before anyone on board had followed the trail. The aircraft also theoretically detected the conflicting inputs from the pilots that were causing the stall to occur. So if it is that cut and dry, shouldn’t the aircraft take corrective action of its own accord?

It is indeed, complicated. While humans are fallible creators, machines do not always have the most accurate picture either, thus even they can not alone, be entrusted. I guess the big question is, what is the right balance between man and machine. It has been a conundrum in aviation for decades. And it will be increasingly a conundrum for car designers and manufacturers going forward.

And on that note, I will start with the article, as promised 1400 words ago.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sorry-driverless-cars-arent-right-around-corner-john-battelle?trk=eml-b2_content_ecosystem_digest-hero-22-null&midToken=AQGRmqoPzgMN3Q&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=37oPSlWFJcN7s1

Our most current case in point is the autonomous vehicle. The received wisdom in the Valley is that the technology for self-driving cars is already here — we just have to wait a few years while the slowpokes in Washington get with the program. Within five years, we’ll all be autopiloted around — free to spend our otherwise unproductive driving time answering email, Snapchatting, or writing code.

Except, come on, there’s no way that’s gonna happen. Not in five years, anyway.

I can agree with this sentiment. While automation and software in the workplace will make big advances in the coming years ahead, I doubt that autonomy in vehicles is going to keep pace. There are WAY too many variables to consider.
The most obvious being the other human drivers still using the roadways. First, because of the flawed nature of the human (of which these machines have to work around). But also because most people are tied to their vehicles for at least 5 to 10 years (leases, and the typical lifespan of many modern vehicles). It should also be considered that it may be very difficult (if not impossible) both practicality and/or expense wise to outfit many vehicles currently on the road with the necessary modifications to make autonomy possible.

We will get there, I have no doubt (well, aside from some calamity that renders it all irrelevant anyway). But I would ball park 20 or 30 years. Because not only will all the equipment (vehicles) have to be updated, but so too will human psychology. Not only people that enjoy the thrill of driving. Also, people that don’t want to part with valued obsolescent vehicles, but don’t have the funds to cover necessary upgrades (at least 2 people in my circle of people come to mind).

Reprogramming a computer is one thing. Reprogramming a human mind geared to a given status quo is quite another.

It’s the messy human bits which will slow it all down. Sure, the technology is pretty good, and will only get better. But self-driving cars raise major questions of social and moral agency — and it’s going to take us a long, long time to resolve and instrument the answer to those questions. And even when we do, it’s not clear we’re all going to agree, meaning that we’ll likely have different sets of rules for various polities around the world.

It will indeed be an interesting conversation, though I don’t think it will differ much from country to country. It seems to me a conversation of drivers vs passengers. Once the technology is more deployed and proven (with the reduced accident and fatality rates to buttress reasoning for its mass deployment), it seems that a choice will have to be made.

Do you allow both types of vehicle to operate? Do you designate each to separate corridors? Or do you outlaw human piloted vehicles altogether?

One thing is for sure . . . libertarian party platforms EVERYWHERE will get a whole lot more interesting. The days of fretting about whether or not drivers licensing is a government overreach will be gone.

It will also be interesting to see how this could be deployed, particularly in very interconnected places like Europe. For big countries like Canada and the US, who will take the lead?
Actually, for the US, I don’t need to ask. New technology is automatically put under the jurisdiction of the federal government. So they will be the decider of sorts.
For Canada and others, however . . . I am not sure. Particularly for Europe.
While it would be interesting to see how the Canadian provinces tackle this problem, Europe will be even more interesting. While Canada will have the federal government to ensure at least a minimum amount of consistency between provinces, all the independent nations of Europe are another ball game altogether.

A mess indeed.

At the root of our potential disagreement is the Trolley Problem.

We have been through this (and then some), so the explanation is unnecessary.

The following quotes are slightly paraphrased.

Our current model of driving places agency — or social responsibility — squarely on the shoulders of the driver. If you’re operating a vehicle, you’re responsible for what that vehicle does.

But autonomous vehicles relieve drivers of that agency, replacing it with algorithms that respond according to pre-determined rules. Exactly how those rules are determined, of course, is where the messy bits show up.

In a modified version of the Trolley Problem, imagine you’re cruising along in your autonomous vehicle, when a team of Pokemon Go playing kids runs out in front of your car. Your vehicle has three choices: Swerve left into oncoming traffic, which will almost certainly kill you. Swerve right across a sidewalk and you dive over an embankment, where the fall will most likely kill you. Or continue straight ahead, which would save your life, but most likely kill a few kids along the way.

What to do? Well if you had been driving, I’d wager your social and human instincts may well kick in, and you’d swerve to avoid the kids. I mean, they’re kids, right?!

I like that I am not the only one that thought of modifying the trolley problem in creative and morbid ways to get a point across. I still like mine better though, because it’s far more realistic.

The first things that come to mind are both breaks and horn. Whether you or a machine, these tools are both available. But yes, that is a very simplistic way to view the scenario. Considering that I was once in a similar (but very real) situation due to my negligence as a child.

I was riding my bike with a couple friends one evening. We were headed to a store to buy candy, which involved crossing a fairly busy road. It seems that in my excitement, I didn’t look both ways, putting me right in the path of a motorist. Rather than hit me, they ended up swerving and hitting a utility pole.

I remember (and will likely always remember) the impact. Riding along and out of nowhere (right beside me!) a “BANG!”, followed by a cloud of dust and plastic debris from the vehicle flying in the air. It scared the holy hell out of me.
At the time, I told the authorities that the car came out of nowhere and that I thought the street was clear (a claim contested by the driver). I don’t think I was lying (I can still picture a clear street). But either way, despite no doubt writing off the vehicle involved, as far as I know, no one was hurt. I do wonder what became of the driver, however. That being at least 20 years ago (likely longer).

While a conveniently handy anecdote, it is an anecdote none the less. While they do not tell the whole story, they can provide color to add context. In this case, it could be seen as a literal real life interpretation of the trolley problem. Involving a VERY real child and a VERY real adult. In this real life scenario, the adult made a decision that is generally accepted as the right one. The driver swerved and hit the pole as an alternative to more than likely killing me. Though my feelings on life have fluctuated in the following years since that incident, I am still grateful that this person allowed me this chance. Possibly even at their own lives expense.

Yet, there is an overlooked factor here. A quite substantial one at that. That is, the fact that the risk profile (not sure how to term it) is not equal for both parties in the equation.

The authors of the article (and really, many people tackling this subject) seem to assign the same level of risk (fatality) to both sides of the coin. If no corrective measures are taken, I and the children in the scenario presented by the author would perish. If corrective measures are taken, the drivers in both scenarios more than likely perish.

This does not jive with reality.

There once was a time when many (if not all) cars on the road could be considered death traps in an accident (particularly in a head on collision). Becoming a projectile due to the lack of seatbelts is one reason. Becoming impaled (literally) on the steering column is another. However,  those days are long gone.

Seatbelts are generally mandatory, but for some grandfathered exceptions. The use of airbags reduces the risk of fatality. As do vehicles that are designed to crumple and collapse in order to dissipate impact forces. While the driver may end up getting HURT, assuming fairly low speeds, the driver will more than likely come away alive. As opposed to anyone outside of the protective bubble that is the vehicle.

In short, using the trolley problem in this context is problematic. It may be justifiable in some contexts. But those should be considered carefully.

Not doing so risks placing too much weight on extremes and exceptional circumstances. Which is unfortunate, since vehicular autonomy in the long term will do far more to mitigate vehicle travel risks than pretty much any innovation that predated it.

But Mercedes Benz, which along with just about every other auto manufacturer runs an advanced autonomous driving program, has made a different decision: It will plow right into the kids. Why? Because Mercedes is a brand that for more than a century has meant safety, security, and privilege for its customers. So its automated software will chose to protect its passengers above all others. And let’s be honest — who wants to buy an autonomous car that might choose to kill you in any given situation?

I am going to come right out and call this is ridiculous, and bordering on fear mongering.

I have to add a small caveat here.

When composing this piece, I did not even notice the link to (or take into consideration) the link to the car and driver article above, which was the basis for the author’s stance. Having said that, however, I still stand by what I had written. Which was essential that I doubt public outcry or governing bodies would ever allow vehicles with such programming to grace public roadways.

Yes, people are self-serving creatures. And big business will do almost anything to cater to damn near any cohort that will help to pad its bottom line. But designing algorithms that essentially condone murder for the sake of the occupants of the given vehicle?

Not a chance.

For one thing, this kind of hysteria is almost certain to cause governments to enact laws against this sort of thing. And for another . . . what vehicle manufacturer would WANT to be known as the one with the deadly software?
It may be a selling point for some. But I am fairly certain that they will not out number those that are turned off by that given programming choice.

And this isn’t even taking social implications into account. Short of a contrarian that loves to do anything and everything to mess with the masses, would people really want to be associated with such a death machine?

I could be wrong. Humans are known to release technology onto the world in mass, only to discover problems and flaws later. However, in this case, I doubt such an oversight would occur.

With the illiterate public only consuming awe or fear inducing information about the world of vehicle autonomy, it will be total and absolute stupidity on a MONUMENTAL level, for vehicles with such programming to ever be released into the wild.

It’s pretty easy to imagine that every single automaker will adopt Mercedes’ philosophy. Where does that leave us? A fleet of autonomous robot killers, all making decisions that favor their individual customers over societal good?

To be fair, the author dials it back a bit after this statement. It feels a bit dishonest not to bring that up, so there you have it.

This is a perfect example of one of my biggest pet peeves about futuristic technology conversation. This seeming necessity to take the threat right to the VERY edge of reasonable possibility, and run with it.

Humans are dumb, don’t get me wrong. It will be our undoing. But we are also largely self-serving. Even if I can’t trust that ethics or morality will keep killer software out of autonomous vehicles, I can count on selfishness to do it.

I doubt there would be much long term desire for inherently murderous vehicles.

And yes, I did overlook the possibility of all manufacturers embracing such software (and this making contact with it unavoidable in every way). Mainly because I figure that bad press will keep this out of the realm of possibility, to begin with. Or if nothing else, the laws of all our lands will.

Ralph Nader got us all seatbelts (among other consumer protections). I don’t doubt that someone will step up to the plate to tackle this issue, if necessary.

It sounds far fetched, but spend some time considering this scenario, and it becomes abundantly clear that we have a lot more planning to do before we can unleash this new form of robot agency on the world. It’s messy, difficult work, and it most likely requires we rethink core assumptions about how roads are built, whether we need (literal) guardrails to protect us, and whether (or what kind of) cars should even be allowed near pedestrians and inside congested city centers. In short, we most likely need an entirely new plan for transit, one that deeply rethinks the role automobiles play in our lives.

That’s going to take at least a generation.

There is going to be a transition period, I have no doubt. But I don’t like the emphasis on the negative (whether we need (literal) guardrails to protect us).

All that is changing is the driver of the vehicle. The same precautions that apply now are also going to apply in the future. My way of hinting that we will ALWAYS have to be careful in potentially dangerous situations. If I walk into the street without looking because I am busy texting, it does not matter if I am hit by an ordinary or an autonomous bus . . . I am still the idiot that was not paying attention.

I know “Don’t be stupid!” is a red pill in some circles. But it’s a good rule of thumb to stay in one piece, in the journey of life. In many contexts.

And as President Obama noted at a technology event last week, it’s going to take government.

…government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs because, by definition, democracy is messy. This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view. And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with. — President Obama

Otherwise known as, essentially what I have eluded to previously.

I do have one criticism of president Obama however. Well, the author of the article (being that the quote is used in the context of his work). I disagree that no one else wants to tackle these type of problems (with the exception of government, being forced the task by the founding fathers). Even if heavy issues like this are generally beyond what most ordinary folks want to delve into, there are many philosophers and other wise minds that live for this stuff. People that could well provide helpful insights.

We are here. We have always been here, attempting to nudge the hopelessly misguided towards the beacon of reason. All you have to do is ask.

Governance takes time. The real world is generally a lot messier than the world of our technological dreams. When we imagine a world of self-driving cars, we imagine that only one thing changes: the driver shifts from a human to a generally competent AI. Everything else stays the same: The cars drive on the same roads, follow the same rules, and act just like they did when humans were in charge of them. But I’m not convinced that vision holds. Are you?

I am convinced. Not only am I convinced that things will not be all that different from today (aside from the vehicle operator anyway), I think they will be BETTER.

Roadways world wide are a disaster. There are some good and proficient drivers. But there are many, MANY that are lacking in various ways. The human element. Even the best drivers may not be able to avoid disaster if they come across one of these problematic drivers. Making terrible drivers (and really, humans in general) not just a danger to themselves, but also a danger to everyone sharing a roadway with them.

Automation has a proven track record of reliably replacing often flawed human inputs in all manner of contexts. Be it on the factory floor (where our flaw is both cost and productivity) or in the aviation industry (which has seen significantly fewer accidents as automation became more prominent).
More vehicular automation and autonomy could make common trips even faster. Consider traffic devices like stop signs and lights. If every vehicle on the road was keeping track of where every other nearby vehicle is at any moment (like TCAS does for aircraft), the need to stop (or yield) at many intersections will vanish. Though traffic flow or pedestrian crossings may keep the need for traffic lights (or some flow control mechanism anyway), I sense that these intersections will flow much more quickly than they currently do. Instead of timing to clear a mixture of aggressive and passive motorists, autonomy should ensure a standardized speed for all vehicles in the queue. Which means that the turnaround rate should be faster overall.

Another context that will be greatly helped by the autonomy of vehicles will be emergency response times. I can not list the number of times that I have seen emergency vehicles caught behind people that don’t do what is mandated of them (GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY!).
Having a transmitter in emergency vehicles that changes traffic lights within 2 blocks of them to green would help even now. But automation would make things even better. All opposing traffic would automatically clear and deviate as necessary.

I do concede that the basis of my interpretation of autonomous vehicles is based around an interconnected fleet. All vehicles would need to be fully compatible with one another, which would likely require manufacturer cooperation (or a government mandate). Not to mention possible infrastructure upgrades to add external control inputs either under or near all existing roadways. This seemingly is in stark contrast to the individual islands of autonomy and automation that are presented in this (and most other) articles on the subject.

It is my hypothesis of a future that could go anywhere from here. But I ended up at this conclusion for seemingly rational reasons.
While self-driving vehicles may be able to exist as stand alone entities, adding a component of communication and interconnection opens up the potential of the technology even more. From travel time to overall safety, interconnected deployment would be the best option for maximizing this technologies full potential.

I haven’t a clue where the future of autonomous vehicles is headed. I don’t even know where the conversation is headed. What I do know, however, is that there are interesting things to come.

Posted in Opinion, Various Commentary | Leave a comment

Things That Annoy Me – Part 15

72.) Performance Evaluations / Appraisals

If there is one part of typical jobs that has always annoyed me, it is this yearly bullshit session. The appraisal.

You sit down with your boss (whether they are likeable, tolerable or a downright fuck face) and you go through your work life. Everything you may or may not be doing. Every way that you may or may not be conforming to company policy. And of course, they dissect your general appearance. You are told how you are doing, but more importantly, what can be improved.

Personally, with all of these, I tune out. Because I just don’t give a shit. At present, I have a boss that is worthwhile. Someone that respects me and everyone else that he oversees. I return the gesture. But I still feel the same way about appraisals.

It is one thing in an ideal world, with competence at all levels. In fact, if people of intellect suited to their placement on the corporate ladder was a thing, I might feel very differently about these things. But as it stands, that is not generally the case. From the local boss to the suits in some far off boardroom, more often than not, you take your cues from some clueless hack with a high wage.  It might not make sense, or always even be executable outside the realm of on paper.

Even so, you better get it right, or so help you . . . you will not get a good appraisal! And if you don’t get a good appraisal, it will also more than likely be reflected in your pay. If not worse.
It does come off as the complaints of someone of whom more than likely gets shit grades in such situations, I admit. Which is unfortunate, since I tend to ace these things in almost every way. Time and again.

But I still hate the system. So long as my actions are being evaluated by some busy idiot that demands respect based solely on job title, I will not take it seriously. It might not be popular (or advancing) stance, but people earn my respect, PERIOD. I don’t give a fuck if you are a co-worker of seniority or the head of the organization. My respect is earned, not automatic.

* * *
On a slightly related note, is manager stress.

Managers telling their employee’s things like “It must be great for you guys to just come in, work your day, then go home. No stress”. As though I (or any other employee) should feel guilty about not wanting to do much beyond what is expected of them.

Yes, the buck stops at the manager, understandable. What doesn’t get done (or is neglected) has to be done by someone. Along with the duties that are entailed by being a manager . . . anywhere.

Having said that, however . . . cry me a river.

You made the choice to take on the responsibilities when you opted into the higher pay associated with the position. No one put a gun to your head. It was voluntary. While I don’t dismiss your stress, I also don’t feel guilty about someone else’s personal choice.

There is a reason why I never took any of my employers up on so called opportunities for advancement. I evaluated the situation in each case and realized that I didn’t want to deal with the bullshit. And looking back, in pretty much EVERY single case, my foresight was right.

A time may come where an upward advance feels like the right move. But until then, to those that do make that choice . . . piss off.

 

73.) Go Fuck Off

I really hate crowd funding sites.

I will admit that they have their good points. People afflicted by illness can sometimes use a helping hand. A hand not available even 5 years ago, but a hand that I now have no real problem with. And crowd funding can fund and help promote all manner of innovation that would otherwise go unnoticed or underfunded. Something that is critical in these scary days of booming population numbers and ecological instability.

Yet, as much as crowd funding is a savior, it is also a scourge.

Supporting innovations that more than likely have no future in reality (supporters and developers just often refuse to accept this truth). Enabling scam artists to easily make a small fortune. Or just enabling the entitled lazies to pawn personal responsibility off onto the rest of us.

Like the above campaign.

I don’t know the people involved. I do not know their financial situation. I do not even know of their youtube channel. But from reading the description, I can glean that they are not really in dire straights.
The old computer flunked out. So between eating, living in something other than a cardboard box, bills, and a new baby on the way, replacing the computer is out of the question (at least in the short term). Very inconvenient for a youtube creator. Particularly if they are earning any kind of revenue off of the material.

My reaction to that being . . . tough shit.

In life, we all have to find a way to make it all balance. Rob Peter to pay Paul if the need arises. And as for bringing a child into the equation . . . well, good for you for making the choice and commitment. But like I said to managers and supervisors previously . . . it was YOUR choice. There are financial consequences to children, one of which is not having as much disposable income to throw around. But that is YOUR problem, NOT mine (nor the rest of the worlds).

My old laptop conked out 2 years ago. It was highly inconvenient, being that I love to write and research things online. I got by with a smartphone and a tablet, but it was not at all the same. Shit happens, so you deal with it.
I now have a new machine with which to research and type to my heart’s content. A machine that I figured out that I could afford by putting money aside.

Each payday, $50 of my earnings goes into a savings account. There it sits, growing every 2 weeks (and earning a bit of interest to boot). Forming a nice little nest egg that allows some financial freedom in case of disaster or want.
As such, I never have to borrow money from people (not that I would anyway). In fact, I can even lend a helping hand should a friend ever need one. I have some options.

Now, I know that not everyone has $50 bucks to put aside each week. But most of us have something. My bank recommended $25 a week when I opened the TFSA (Tax-Free Savings Account. It’s a Canadian thing), but I upped the amount since it speeds up the process. But even $5 or $10 is better than nothing.

You see. I do not criticize just for the sake of crapping on so called e-beggers. I criticize because the solution to the money problem is often available to us all. You just need to be patient.

When the generous are more responsible for their donations, and the receivers are more responsible for their own well being, real charities benefiting often FAR MORE IMPORTANT causes do not have to get the short end of the stick.

74.) Democrats

This is what you are up against (barring circumstances don’t change in the next 3 years). THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE UP AGAINST. A fool.

But at this rate, you guys once again will be run over like fools.

I am not always a fan of Kyle Kulinski (host of daily podcast Secular Talk). But his absolute anger and disillusion towards the Democrats are well placed. By failing to mount a legitimate opposition run against the clown show that is the GOP, they are letting down the citizens of the United States of which they are supposed to be serving. And by extension, the citizens of the world (since actions of some nations have consequences for us all. Like climate inaction).

I hope the Justice Democrats run them pricks right the fuck out of Washington once and for all (even if that is almost a pipe dream, at this point in time).

75.) Individualist Sheep

They are everywhere. They go by a wide variety of names. They think they are witty and clever. But they bore me.

Self-critique and evaluation is ALL the rage these days. Almost everyone is wrong, and no one is beyond reproach. That is the general rule anyway. Until you take up the offer anyway.

If you do take the challenge, expect to be diagnosed, regarded as such, and flooded by a sea of rational buzzwords.
Logic. Rational. Reason. Nuance. All of those things that are obvious but for when they come from the horse’s mouth.

There was a time when I enjoyed being the opposition, the contrarian. But I am not a teenager anymore. And all of this prescribed individuality that permeates the fringes of social media isn’t exciting or engaging. It’s just boring. And oh so disappointing.

Why are people so disappointing?

How do the formerly wise become so painfully ordinary?

Am I the moron?

Am I but an island in a vast sea?

Am I delusional?

How would I know?

Posted in Opinion, Things That Annoy Me | Leave a comment