Yearly Archives: 2015

Mont Saint-Michel

Unusually high and low tides due to the every 18 years full-moon-perigee coöccurance, coupled with the natural topography that causes some of the most extreme tides in the world, Mont Saint-Michel in France, temporarily became both fully attached and fully detached from mainland today.

The supertide phenomenon occurs only every 18 years when several astronomical factors coincide
Crowds gathered on the causeway were pushed back by the advancing tide
Picture: AP

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Hack The Zero Rating

When Paraguayan hacker Matias Insaurralde, found out that largest mobile provider in Paraguay, TIGO, had patterned with Facebook’s Internet.org to zero-rate Facebook, he decided that all the web should be accessible, not just Facebook. So he build IP over Facebook. While still in early development, his project routes network packets to a proxy via Facebook Messenger.

This is good. We need more of this.

Previously.

Springfield Mayor Pals Around With Terrorists

Springfield, Illinois’s Mayor Mike Houston presents Cobra Commander, the operational head and founder of a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world, with the key to the city. This is just like giving the key to Osama Bin Laden.

Upon receiving this gift, this tribute, Cobra Commander said, “Springfielders near and far, I accept your mayor’s generous gift. And let it be known that I, too, bring a gift for every man, woman and child of this city that is so near and dear to my heart; an invitation to join with me. Join Cobra!”

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised. Springfield has long been associated with Cobra

Antipope’s 19 Theses

Charlie Stross has written what he termed a new cluetrain manifesto, although it bears no relation to the original except in form. Instead of talking about businesses and marketing, his is about the relationship of labor, capital, and government in the early 21st century.

I don’t think most of his points are all that controversial, with notable exception of 14. I find the idea of mass civil unrest in the Western democracies laughably absurd. For the United States, it’s doubly absurd when it’s supposed to be the outgrowth of a populist economic revolt. As John Steinbeck put it, “[America’s] poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

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Red Carpet Fashion

Vox:

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.]

Slate:

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?