My latest Locus column is Teaching Computers Shows Us How Little We Understand About Ourselves, an essay about how ideas we think of as simple and well-understood -- names, families, fairness in games -- turn out to be transcendentally complicated when we try to define them in rule-based terms for computers. I'm especially happy with how this came out.
Systems like Netflix and Amazon Kindle try to encode formal definitions of "family" based on assumptions about where you live -- someone is in your immediate family if you share a roof -- how you're genetically related -- someone is immediate family if you have a close blood-tie -- how you're legally related -- someone is in your family if the government recognizes your relationship -- or how many of you there are -- families have no more than X people in them. All of these limitations are materially incorrect in innumerable situations.
What's worse, by encoding errors about the true shape of family in software, companies and their programmers often further victimize the already-victimized -- for example, by not recognizing the familial relationship between people who have been separated by war, or people whose marriage is discriminated against by the state on the basis of religion or sexual orientation, or people whose families have been torn apart by violence.
The ambiguity that is inherent in our human lives continues to rub up against our computerized need for rigid categories in ways small and large. Facebook wants to collapse our relationships between one another according to categories that conform more closely to its corporate strategy than reality -- there's no way to define your relationship with your boss as "Not a friend, but I have to pretend he is."
Teaching Computers Shows Us How Little We Understand About Ourselves
Kirby Ferguson, who created the remarkable Everything is a Remix series, has a new podcast hosted by the Recreate Coalition called Copy This and he hosted me on the debut episode (MP3) where we talked about copying, creativity, artists, and the future of the internet (as you might expect!).
James Cawley is a 50 year old Elvis impersonator from Ticonderoga, NY; his friend William Ware Theiss was costume-designer for the original Star Trek series, and left Cawley the blueprints for the original Star Trek Enterprise sets in his will — so Cawley rented out a 13,000 sqft shuttered supermarket and built an exquisite replica […]
In much of the world, copyright ends 50 years after the creator’s death, in some of the rest of the world, it ends 70 years after the creator’s death; in the USA, things have stopped going into the public domain until 2019 (unless America decides to retroactively extend copyright…again!).
The Black Friday Mac Bundle 2.0 is one of the Boing Boing Store’s best-selling Mac bundles yet, and it’s about to come to an end. If you don’t get your copy now, here’s what you’ll be missing:This bundle comes packing 9 top-rated Mac apps in one package, at the hugely discounted price of just $23.99. […]
The Boing Boing Store’s Gift Guide is full of ideas for pretty much anyone in your life like hipster ice cub trays, Xbox controllers, Halo Boards, and even diamond necklaces. As always, all products in the Boing Boing Store come at great discounts, too. Shop by price bucket starting at under $20. Under $20:Bloxx Jumbo Ice Trays […]
Unlike traditional lighters, the SaberLight features an electronic plasma beam that’s both rechargeable and butane-free. This sleek lighter is even approved by TSA, so you’ll never be stuck buying lighters you’ll just have to throw away partially used. For some people, like me, this is a pretty big game-changer. The SaberLight’s beam is actually both hotter and cleaner […]