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
Unified Patents raises money from companies that are the target of patent-trolling and then uses it to challenge the most widely used patents in each of its members’ sectors: now it’s going for the gold.
Jamie writes, “A photographer filed on Monday a $1 billion copyright infringement suit in New York against Getty Images’ American arm, alleging that the company is sending out letters demanding licensing fees for her photos that were donated to the Library of Congress.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has just filed a lawsuit that challenges the Constitutionality of Section 1201 of the DMCA, the “Digital Rights Management” provision of the law, a notoriously overbroad law that bans activities that bypass or weaken copyright access-control systems, including reconfiguring software-enabled devices (making sure your IoT light-socket will accept third-party lightbulbs; tapping […]
Those of us who love music wish we could listen to it 24/7. But it’s impossible when we’re trying to converse with our friends, or when are swimming in the local pool.That is, until now. The KOAR Bone Conduction Bluetooth Headset, now 48% off, has changed the audio game.Made with lightweight titanium memory metal, this headset boasts patented bone conduction technology to transport sound […]
It’s one thing to enjoy dinner at home and a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with your best friend, Netflix, but it’s another thing entirely to make that meal from scratch and get that wine delivered right to your doorstep.But what if we told you there’s a way to make this possible? To keep your social life, […]
Having to pack and drag your stuff through security can put quite the damper on your vacation plans. Thankfully, we’ve got your back with one way to make traveling more painless: the Jumper Overnighter Travel Bag.This compact bag is so lightweight that you can effortlessly carry it, and fit it into any overhead compartment. But just […]