Monthly Archives: February 2015

Red Carpet Fashion


Do the guys matter at all?
“They wear tuxedos. I’m sure they’re all wearing Tom Ford tuxedos but they’re just tuxedos,” [said Jennifer Wright, the author of upcoming book, It Ended Badly: The 13 Worst Break-Ups in History.]


Male attire, by contrast, is typically treated as a footnote. This bias is partly the result of the tuxedo’s intentional deference to the finery of the fairer sex. But it is also reflective of commentators’ ignorance of what defines a good tuxedo.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots

In a Twitter inspired story, CNN asks, “is it cruel to kick a robot dog?”

In what has become a become a regular demo by Boston Dynamics, engineers kicked the Spot the Robot Dog in order to push it off-balance and watch it stabilize itself. This time (and probably every time as well) number of people on Twitter said, “that poor robot!”, and so CNN rounded up the tweets and asked retired AI and robotics professor, Noel Sharkey about the ethics of kicking robots, who said, “The only way it’s unethical is if the robot could feel pain.” He then followed it up with the warning that because humans anthropomorphize things, we may become more likely to abuse things that can experience pain, because we’re used to it. He drew comparison to the philosophers who argued animals were “clockwork” (I’m not familiar with anyone using that term, but certainly the comment that animals are lesser than humans because they are soulless has been around for thousands of years), but none the less argued that animals should not be abused because it debased the abuser.

His comment that it wasn’t unethical because animals did not feel pain, got me thinking. Yes this is certainly true, that the robot does not have any sensors to indicate damage with respect to these kicks, and it does nothing other than regain its balance, but the idea that “It’s cool, it doesn’t feel pain,” strikes me as just a variation of the old thinking machine conundrum. We say computers don’t think, because we completely understand the rules that govern its behavior. We say robots don’t feel pain, because they’re not alive. But it seems to me, that with pain, we have a simpler Chinese Room. I know that when I’ve run computer programs integrated computer programs that were suffering from some sort of system fault and logging errors continuously as “being in pain.” No the programs weren’t alive, but what is pain other than a signal indicating damage or negative reinforcement? Certainly error counters and exceptions do that. In a sense, that’s pain, or at least a reasonable functional facsimile there of.

So is it wrong to kick Spot? I’m thinking it’s not, but at the same time, if you’re do it too much, and for enjoyment, maybe it is. Perhaps that’s not very satisfying, but isn’t it often the case, that the motivations of the actor the determining factor when deciding if something is moral or not?

When Charity Isn’t

Quartz recently reported that “Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the [I]nternet”. Specifically, in southeast Asia and Africa, there are more self-identified “Facebook users” than there are “Internet users.” Most of the Internet basically just said “Ha! Ha! Look at those stupid people!”, but that misses what’s really going — and explained in the Quartz article.

In the developing world, most people don’t have computers, they have phones, and those phones aren’t even smartphones, they’re feature phones. When they browse Facebook, they aren’t using an app, or even, they’re using what’s called “mbasic“. Additionally, the bandwidths are limited — say 2G — and the data rates are relatively expensive. In a very real sense, trying to surf the modern web is nigh-unusable. So Facebook experience is in certain sense not the Internet. The trouble comes in from the fact, that’s how Facebook wants it.

FB is a walled garden. It always has been. It’s a walled-garden with a billion users on a 7 billion person planet. There’s just not that much growth in the wired world available beyond population growth… unless you increase the number of potential users. And that’s where comes in. is a corporate partnership between Facebook and various feature phone manufactures that is “dedicated to making affordable internet access available to the two-thirds of the world not yet connected.” It sounds like a charity. It talks about the good works it does. But in reality, it’s just a ploy to increase the number of Facebook users. One of’s main tactics is “zero-rating“. Zero-rating is a network-biased approach where telcoms or ISPs don’t charge customers for packets exchanged between them and the zero-rated site, thereby biasing user behavior.

There’s nothing altruistic with, it’s all about increasing advertising revenue. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, that’s how the company makes money, and hell it pays my bills. And yeah, Facebook is primarily user generated content, and yes it is possible to do your own things on it, but the thing that bothers me about is the whole mission from God rhetoric about it. “Is Internet connectivity a human right?” Well maybe, maybe not, but spouting this while promoting a walled garden is bullshit.