Categories
Science Society Technology

When “ambiguity is a feature, not a bug”

Replied to Pluralistic: Netflix wants to chop down your family tree (02 Feb 2023) by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (pluralistic.net)

Suddenly, it was “computer says no” everywhere you turned, unless everything matched perfectly. There was a global rush for legal name-changes after 9/11 – not because people changed their names, but because people needed to perform the bureaucratic ritual necessary to have the name they’d used all along be recognized in these new, brittle, ambiguity-incinerating machines.

Digital precision

We encounter this problem often in the digital world in things like content-limited text fields and binary choices on a form (or limited options that drive us always to “other”).

The digital world demands exactitude in a way analog doesn’t. I recall my dad, a TV station electrician, explaining the difference between analog and digital signal to me as a kid; I couldn’t understand why the squared shape of digital signal — either you get it or you don’t — would win out over more flexible analog signal, which has some allowance to receive lower quality signal rather than none.

Too, this inherent precision of digital information influences the way we think about data. We interpret numbers to be more meaningful than they are:

Excel-calculated results down to four decimals falsely imply confidence unsupported by the input data.

Recipes call for a specific baking time, when everyone’s oven is a little bit different, and environmental conditions affect baking time by impacting the moisture content of the ingredients.

Ad metrics and pageview data and likes that don’t translate truly to reach or brand recognition or conversions. (Like Internet celebs with millions of followers getting book deals that don’t translate to sales.)

Ambiguity of knowledge

Information that should be more directional than exact is treated as gospel. “The numbers don’t lie.” (Well, actually…)

Anyone who’s collected scientific data is aware of the messiness of reality that must be translated into the concrete as “data.” Theoretically, methodology codifies the decision-making matrix researchers follow; but given the scientific reproducibility crisis, it’s clearly a tough job. Give five writers the same prompt and you’ll get five different stories; can you be certain five researchers will record the same value from the same observed reality? It is a tricky thing, as a communicator, to acknowledge the limitations of what is knowable and to what degree, without implying artificial uncertainties to be exploited through mis- and dis-information. (I know those are the terms we use nowadays, but sometimes I’d just like the plain language “lies.”)

Who determines reality?

As Doctorow points out, digital condenses complex reality into defined fields — and the people defining the fields are those in power / the elite. Powerful, controlling cultures demand that their perspectives be codified.

The “Shitty Technology Adoption Curve” describes the process by which abusive technologies work their way up the privilege gradient. Every bad technological idea is first rolled out on poor people, refugees, prisoners, kids, mental patients and other people who can’t push back.

Their bodies are used to sand the rough edges and sharp corners off the technology, to normalize it so that it can climb up through the social ranks, imposed on people with more and more power and influence.

When [Netflix] used adversarial interoperability to build a multi-billion-dollar global company using the movie studios’ products in ways the studios hated, that was progress. When you define “family” in ways that makes Netflix less money, that’s felony contempt of business model.

Netflix is careful to stick to the terminology “household,” but I suspect to many, household implies family. I know a married couple who live in different parts of the state for work; would you not consider them a household in how they run their finances and make their decisions? It is easier to justify a physical utility like Comcast requiring a connection at each physical location versus a digital service like Netflix that is not location dependent. This is true too for ebooks, which have fucked libraries royally by pretending a physical book could be loaned only twelve (?) times (lolololol I worked at a library back when we stamped checkouts and lemme tell you, those stamp slips had space for like forty checkouts, and often the book was still going strong when the slip was full), and individuals by pretending it’s only possible to loan a book to a friend once in a lifetime. Digital product corporations want the limitations of the analog with the benefits of the digital. The elites setting the rules want to have one account they can use at their multiple homes, but not for the poors whose families are spread across multiple dwellings to be permitted to share.

Categories
Mental Health Society Technology

I don’t want this to be the future

Bookmarked HUMAN_FALLBACK | Laura Preston (n+1)

I WAS ONE OF ABOUT SIXTY operators. Most of us were poets and writers with MFAs, but there were also PhDs in performance studies and comparative literature, as well as a number of opera singers, another demographic evidently well suited for chatbot impersonation—or, I suppose, for impersonating a chatbot that’s impersonating a person.

Let alone the present.

Each day when we reported for work one of them would hail us with a camp counselor’s greeting. “Top of the morning, my lovely Brendas!” they would say. Below their message, a garden of reaction emojis would bloom.

I am tired of the exploitation and undervaluation of emotional labor.

In the same way that algorithms tell us what they think we want, and do so with such tenacity that the imagined wants become actual, these buildings seemed intent on shaping a tenant’s aspirations. They seemed to tell the tenant they should not care about regional particularities or the idea of a neighborhood. The tenant should not even desire a home in the traditional sense, with hand-me-down furniture, hand-built improvements, and layers of multigenerational memory. This tenant was a renter for life, whose workplace was their primary address, and who would nevertheless be unable to afford property for as long as they lived.

See also: Neutralizing reality to sell

Brenda, they claimed, said the same thing to everyone, which meant that she was incapable of bias. And yet she was awfully good at repelling certain people: people without smartphones or reliable internet, people unaccustomed to texting, people who couldn’t read or write in English, and people who needed to figure out if they could access a property before showing up for a tour. Brenda deflected them all with polite violence. She was not a concierge but a bouncer, one made all the more sinister for her congeniality and sparkle.

 

See also:

OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic (TIME)

But the working conditions of data labelers reveal a darker part of that picture: that for all its glamor, AI often relies on hidden human labor in the Global South that can often be damaging and exploitative.

The work’s traumatic nature eventually led Sama to cancel all its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months earlier than planned.

An OpenAI spokesperson said in a statement that the company did not issue any productivity targets, and that Sama was responsible for managing the payment and mental health provisions for employees.

🙄 Of course they’re not responsible for the work they hired out.

Conditions for vendors are so much worse than employees, so of course that’s the direction companies want to move: cheaper labor that they aren’t liable for. Ethics has no part in corporatism.

“They’re impressive, but ChatGPT and other generative models are not magic – they rely on massive supply chains of human labor and scraped data, much of which is unattributed and used without consent,” Andrew Strait, an AI ethicist, recently wrote on Twitter. “These are serious, foundational problems that I do not see OpenAI addressing.”

Categories
Business Technology Work

They don’t only take our labor.

Replied to This is a rant about beds at work by Meg Conley (homeculture by Meg Conley)

Last week, Twitter installed bedrooms for employees. They’re expected to be “hardcore” and being hardcore means working too late to go home. And then waking up and working some more. The rooms look like an answer to the alternative history question, “What if IKEA showrooms existed behind a 2022 Iron Curtain?” But they’re really just a reaction to the relative freedom of remote work and an empowered labor force. It’s just another lever to pull when seeking maximum extraction for maximum profit.

They steal our lives too.

My husband works in tech and in 2019 spent two months basically living in the office for a product launch. He’d already been working 60-80 hour weeks remotely, but then he had to add a commute — the opposite direction from my work. We only have one car so often I’d have to walk home — only 45 minutes but sometimes you’re wiped at the end of the day and just want to fucking sit down, not climb a giant hill.

But suddenly making his partner responsible for *everything* to keep our household going was a cost his work could extract from my body, though I wasn’t the one working for them.

His boss said he’d pay for us to go out to dinner when it was done. As if one meal makes up for months of missed dinners. There’s a photo of me with the fancy drink I got — I look exhausted, can barely smile. My husband was so wiped he forgot to expense it. And we don’t even have kids.

I have multiple friends who have nearly been driven to quit by the tech sector’s on-call schedule.

Because it’s a good-paying job, it’s hard to complain about the expectation to work long hours, knowing how many others have it so much worse. But even though we’re not in Silicon Valley, Seattle has a price bubble of its own. With shitty ramblers from the seventies starting at a million bucks, even tech workers can’t afford a home now without two salaries.

I wish white collar workers could recognize that while they’re rich compared to the poor, they’re not rich compared to the *rich*. If you have to work, you’re not really rich. Workers of all classes could build some solidarity together. There’s a lot of manipulative class warfare turning people who should be allies against each other, when workers are not the root of the exploitation problem: owners are.

Categories
Art and Design House Technology

Neutralizing reality to sell

Liked this house may or may not be real (Tumblr)

In my travels as McMansion Hell, I’ve increasingly been confronted with houses full of furniture that isn’t real. This is known as virtual staging and it is to house staging as ChatGPT is to press release writing or DALL-E is to illustration.

The better this rendering technology gets, the more it will rely on these totally neutral spaces because everything matches and nothing is difficult. You are picking from a catalog of greige furniture to decorate greige rooms.

This is where things are heading: artifice on top of artifice on top of artifice. It’s cheap, it’s easy. But something about it feels like a violation.

If neutrality makes a house sell, then personality – at all – can only be seen as a detriment.

So who’s doing this? The answer is real estate itself aided by their allies in mass media who in turn are aided by the home renovation industry. In other words, it’s the people who sell home as a commodity. That desire to sell has for some time overpowered all other elements that make up a home or an apartment’s interiority to the point where we’ve ended up in a colorless slurry of real and unreal.

Emphasis mine.

Categories
Activism Personal Growth Political Commentary

Read Rest is Resistance

Read Rest Is Resistance

Far too many of us have claimed productivity as the cornerstone of success. Brainwashed by capitalism, we subject our bodies and minds to work at an unrealistic, damaging, and machine‑level pace of work –– feeding into the same engine that enslaved millions into brutal labor for its virtuous benefit. Our worth does not reside in how much we produce, especially for a system that exploits and dehumanizes us. Rest, in its simplest form, becomes an act of resistance and a reclaiming of power because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.

From the founder and creator of The Nap Ministry, Rest Is Resistance is a battle cry, a guidebook, a map for a movement, and a field guide for the weary and hopeful. It is rooted in spiritual energy and centered in Black liberation, womanism, somatics, and Afrofuturism. With captivating storytelling and practical advice, all delivered in Hersey’s lyrical voice and informed by her deep experience in theology, activism, and performance art, Rest Is Resistance is a call to action and manifesto for those who are sleep deprived, searching for justice, and longing to be liberated from the oppressive grip of Grind Culture.

As someone who’s experienced burnout and still struggles with letting go of perfectionism and productivity, I was on board with a lot of this.

It’s interesting to think of rest as inherently valuable, not valuable by virtue of letting us feel rested — as an activity in itself, unnecessary to be justified by the outcome we produce from it. I fall into this thinking trap sometimes, of framing my breaks in terms of making me more effective and productive rather than part of life and a right to which I’m entitled.

Much of the book is repetitive — but that is intentional, as she frames herself the Nap Minister and approaches the book as a secular (theoretically) sermon, drawing on oral culture’s use of repetition to drive points home emotionally.

Her approach is rooted in religious beliefs and the text is supposedly secular, but steeped in spiritual language that can be a lot to wade through if you aren’t spiritual. She is dismissive of anyone who is not spiritual, claiming that capitalism and grind culture have separated us from our innate spirituality 🙄 We cannot rest because we are not spiritual. Thanks for the judgment lady. I almost quit at 75% because I don’t feel the need to be insulted but ultimately pushed through.

Unfortunately, she relied on spirituality as her justification for why humans deserve rest: because they are divine and their existence is a miracle 🙄 This feels like an oversight and missed opportunity to dig into this more. Relying on unexplained claims that depend on specific spiritual beliefs is not very convincing. Her explanation of the Dream Space also needed more, in my opinion.

She also claims it is necessary to “detox” from technology completely to be able to rest. I understand her stance on social media being an expression of Grind Culture, but I feel demanding a complete removal of technology is dismissive of those for whom technology is a connector of community — disabled people, anyone living in an area where they are out of place ideologically, anyone who does not have the opportunity to form local in-person community.

Categories
Future Building Society Technology

People will keep dying to cars until we decide their safety is more important than cars’ convenience

Replied to The Urbanist’s Ryan Packer Discusses Worsening Traffic Safety Crisis on KUOW by Doug Trumm (The Urbanist)

The pedestrian safety crisis has been worsening in Washington State and across the United States, even as most other industrialized nations have taken strides to reduce their traffic fatality rate in recent years.

Last year, the state saw nearly 150 people walking lose their lives on our streets, a 31.8% increase in one year and the highest figure seen in at least several decades. That trend is not showing any signs of slowing in 2022.

Graph showing a 30% leap in pedestrian fatalities from 2020 to 2021 in Washington State, after a slow increase over a decade

This is a choice we make when we put efficiency and convenience above all else. The design of our roads, the investments we choose to make in infrastructure for people walking and biking, the timing of our traffic signals, the laws we enact, the driver training we require, the penalty for vehicular manslaughter — these all shape how many people die needlessly on our streets.

One of the people killed was an elderly woman in my city who was hit walking in her own neighborhood by someone backing out of their driveway. Since that day, I always back into my driveway so I have a clear view pulling out.

Traffic deaths should be so rare as to be a shocking tragedy, not an everyday occurrence. It infuriates me when people dismiss Vision Zero as unachievable because there will always be one or two people who die in totally random accidents, using pedancy to avoid confronting a real cost of our time-obsessed capitalist society.

These conversations are vital to have now, before self driving cars become common and accepted — what norms of pedestrian deaths will we accept as our cost of convenience? Especially since self driving cars so far cannot accurately identify a person on a bike.

Categories
Business Marketing The Internet

Content marketing has become hollow signaling

Liked Media, Messages, and Meaning: Is it time to rethink content marketing? by Tara McMullinTara McMullin (explorewhatworks.com)

At one time, Medium was the place I visited to discover new ideas and fresh writers.
I don’t know what it’s like on other people’s feeds, of course. But when I visit the feed of articles that Medium suggests to me today, I’m not just underwhelmed. I’m often appalled.

While there is a straightforward meaning to the message contained by the medium, the medium itself contributes another message. That second message, and for McLuhan, the more influential of the two, is character.
The medium conveys both the straightforward message and a certain character that informs how we relate to it.

Williams dreamed of making Medium synonymous with quality, depth, and thoughtfulness. But the message Medium delivers today colors many of its posts as clickbaity and attention-seeking.

Articles like the ones I listed above…aren’t meant to be examined in detail, either. They’re designed to create a certain effect: i.e., conveying the appearance of expertise, usefulness, and/or value.

Yes! This puts a finger on what bothers me about so much headline writing, and so many articles: I can tell from the title of the post that it will be substanceless. Somehow, there will be a 1000+ word article composed of nothingness, from which I’ll learn and recall precisely nothing.

So much online writing circles around the same type of mildly repellant business productivity and creativity advice — all selling the get rich quick mentality with a recipe for success. In a capitalist world, that story has draw — we are all busting our asses and getting nowhere. Yet it’s terminally empty; a few words of advice cannot change a system, and probably also can’t help most people get ahead in that system.

The internet has become a diluted sea of bland 101 content, quoting the same sources, adding the same vapid life stories to try to force personal connection. Everyone desperately signalling, a twisted capitalist version of mating signals: pick me! Pick me! The textual equivalent of a ruff of fluorescent feathers, the payoff receiving work rather than passing on genes: individual survival, not reproduction. It reminds me of the proposal to eliminate mosquitoes by releasing sterile males into the wild to breed with the females, burning out their reproductive lifespans. We’re distracted by the overwhelming drone of valueless, impersonal writing: junk food of the mind.

So now, writers need to learn how to signal the opposite to discerning readers: to promise something worthwhile and convince people to read without looking like content mill pablum. To demonstrate respect for readers’ time, to offer real connection, to write and share something worth the reading. This is the slow path, the path of patience, requiring a long-term commitment to the practice of writing and thinking.

Categories
Culture

Monoculture: the compression and collapse of cultural challenge

Everything in our culture—every social media algorithm, every corporate ad buy, every “poptimist” influencer—wants us to narrow the possibilities of art. To make our culture smaller and smaller, and thus easier to control and profit from. Art with any value, that pushes us toward new experiences and new ways of seeing the world, is always a struggle against the odds.

— Lincoln Michel (Counter Culture)

+

This is the indulgence of monoculture. There are no challenges here. There are no edges. Everything is soft and that’s very bad.

— Kyle Raymond Fitzpatrick (The Trend Report)

See also: Article pairing: the monotony of modern culture

Categories
Society

Darth Vader’s voice immortal

Bookmarked An AI program voiced Darth Vader in ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ so James Earl Jones could finally retire by Igor Bonifacic (engadget.com)

After 45 years of voicing one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, James Earl Jones has said goodbye to Darth Vader…That forced the company to ask itself how do you even replace Jones? The answer Disney eventually settled on, with the actor’s consent, involved an AI program.

Tally another one for “makes sense in this instance but ohhhhh the repercussions of this technology in unfettered capitalism” — ripe for exploitation of voice actors.

(Story idea: Little Mermaid cyberpunk retelling where she sells the license to her voice 🫠)

Categories
Getting Shit Done Personal Growth

Precious productivity

Quoted

🙃