Category Archives: Politics

Swarm Thickness

Most people following this blog will be familiar with the notion of ‘swarm intelligence’. So here’s a question … Could ‘swarm thickness’ be a thing? (Seriously!)

Swarm Intelligence (SI) shows itself all over the place in nature and discussion goes back at least as far as Darwin. Through SI, birds and fish maintain apparently impossibly coordinated formations, ants find the best path to food and bees and termites build complex structures to name just a few examples.

The essence of SI is a wonderfully simple one. Individuals do the most basic of operations, follow the crudest of directives or instincts but the cumulative effect for the flock, shoal, colony or hive is something magnificently clever.  They’re guided, by something they don’t understand, to play a small part in something good.

You can probably see where we’re going here … Could humans be doing this the other way around?  Could we, guided by something we don’t understand, be playing a small part in something awful?

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Can AI Get Too Clever?

No, we’re not talking technological singularity; something a bit more down to earth: just good old fashioned fake news really but with a new twist. A fairly, short, simple, not terribly deep piece this month, but combining with what’s gone before to lead to next month’s proposition broadly along the lines of “Is it possible for a race to ‘stupid’ itself into extinction?”

In an early original episode of Star Trek, Jim Kirk gets into trouble when some recorded video evidence is falsified, appearing to show negligence. As the storyline unfolds, it’s generally accepted that few people would have had the necessary expertise to do this, which eventually points the way to the falsifier. In fact, this concept continued to turn up in many Star Trek series and films as the years passed.

At the time (of the initial episode), in the real world, of course, such an idea would have been almost unimaginable. Back then, it was hard to credibly manipulate still photographs, let alone moving pictures. And it’s hard to say if many people were even speculating so far as, “I wonder how long it will be before we can do that?” Really, it was just bonkers.

But we’ve come a long way.

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How to Win a Social Media Argument

The definitive guide to being one of those smug (or perhaps ***LOUD***) bastards that annoy you so much online …

Disclaimer: A few of the examples in this piece are from memory of particularly ‘interesting social media posts that have struck me over the past month or so. They won’t be exact and I can’t remember who it was anyway so there’s no attempt to have a particular go at anyone!

It’s frustrating isn’t it? You’ve got an idea, a thought, a suggestion perhaps, maybe even an opinion. And you’ve thought it through (actually, that might be your first mistake but let’s leave that for now). You venture into an online discussion and what happens? You get shot down by … yes, by what exactly? Swearing? Threats? Witty (but irrelevant) one-liners? *****AGGRESSIVE LANGUAGE USING CAPITALS AND RANDOM PUNCTUATION – DON’T(!!) ***INSULT*** MY INTELLIGENCE BY …*****? It really doesn’t seem as if they’ve any more knowledge than you on the topic (maybe even not as much) and the flaws in their reasoning are pretty visible but, somehow, they still seem to get the better of you. How does that happen? Are they just more forceful? Wittier perhaps? Better at expressing themselves? More experienced? Is their true genius hidden behind their apparent muddled logic? It’s probably simpler than that: more likely they’re just fundamentally different to you.

So, does that mean, to get anywhere, you have to become like them? Do you really want to? Perhaps not: by and large these people don’t lead rewarding real lives (it’s basically why they’re like this online). But, just in this context, there are some easy pointers to follow that will mostly see you right. You almost have to be a different person on- and off-line. (With any luck you can still keep some friends in real life.) It starts with mental attitude then a small number of simple steps and you can win any argument on social media. But before that, a little bit of context …

The irony is that a social media argument really should work the way an ideal face-to-face conversation would. Someone listens while the other speaks, digests what’s been said, then responds. At that point, the roles reverse and it continues from there. Of course, in practice, it never works like that in real life but you’d think that the enforced half-duplex nature of text-based exchange really would enforce that structure on its participants. Why doesn’t it?

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“San Francisco is first US city to ban facial recognition“

Well, this is interesting:

Something had to happen of course: we’ve been discussing this for years on this blog …

… etc. …

Obviously, we weren’t going to walk straight in to a 1984 scenario: there’s always pre-ripples to any of these social upheavals.

But whether this turns out to be a liberal victory or a camouflaged route to alternate forms of surveillance remains to be seen.  Watch this space …