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    nmw 15:27:59 on 2016/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: academia, academic, , , , , , , , bandwagon, bandwagon effect, , , , , , , , , , compute, , corrupt, corrupted, corruption, , , , , , , group think, groupthink, , , , , , , , , , , , , majority, , , , , populism, populist, , , rason, , , , , , , , , , systemic, systems, , trusted, , , universities, , valid, validity, vote, votes, voting, ,   

    The Spectre of Populism 

    There is a spectre haunting the Web: That spectre is populism.

    Let me backtrack a moment. This piece is a part of an ongoing series of posts about „rational media“ – a concept that is still not completely hard and fast. I have a hunch that the notion of „trust“ is going to play a central role… and trust itself is also an extremely complex issue. In many developed societies, trust is at least in part based on socially sanctioned institutions (cf. e.g. „The Social Construction of Reality“) – for example: public education, institutions for higher education, academia, etc. Such institutions permeate all of society – be it a traffic sign at the side of a road, or a crucifix as a central focal element on the alter in a church, or even the shoes people buy and walk around with on a daily basis.

    The Web has significantly affected the role many such institutions play in our daily lives. For example: one single web site (i.e. the information resources available at a web location) may be more trusted today than an encyclopedia produced by thousands of writers ever were – whether centuries ago, decades ago, or even still just a few years past.

    Similarly, another web site may very well be trusted by a majority of the population to answer any and all questions whatsoever – whether of encyclopedic nature or not. Perhaps such a web site might use algorithms – basically formulas – to arrive at a score for the „information value“ of a particular web page (the HTML encoded at one sub-location of a particular web site). A large part of this formula might involve a kind of „voting“ performed anonymously – each vote might be no more than a scratch mark presumed to indicate a sign of approval (an „approval rating“) given from disparate, unknown sources. Perhaps a company might develop more advanced methods in order to help guage whether the vote is reliable or whether it is suspect (for example: one such method is commonly referred to as a „nofollow tag“ – a marker indicating that the vote should not be trusted).

    What many such algorithms have in common is that on a very basic level, they usually rely quite heavily on some sort of voting mechanism. This means they are fundamentally oriented towards populism – the most popular opinion is usually viewed as the most valid point of view. This approach is very much at odds with logic, the scientific method and other methods that have traditionally (for several centuries, at least) be used in academic institutions and similar „research“ settings. At their core, such populist algorithms are not „computational“ – since they rely not on any kind of technological solution to questions, but rather scan and tally up the views of a large number of human (and/or perhaps robotic) „users“. While such populist approaches are heralded as technologically advanced, they are actually – on a fundamental level – very simplistic. While I might employ such methods to decide which color of sugar-coated chocolate to eat, I doubt very much that I, personally, would rely on such methods to make more important – for example: „medical“ – decisions (such as whether or not to undergo surgery). I, personally, would not rely on such populist methods much more than I would rely on chance. As an example of the kind of errors that might arise from employing such populist methods, consider the rather simple and straightforward case that some of the people voting could in fact be color-blind.

    Yet that is just the beginning. Many more problems lurk under the surface, beyond the grasp of merely superficial thinkers. Take, for example, the so-called „bandwagon effect“ – namely, that many people are prone to fall into a sort of „follow the leader“ kind of „groupthink“. Similarly, it is quite plausible that such bandwagon effects could even influence not only people’s answers, but even also the kinds of questions they feel comfortable asking (see also my previous post). On a more advanced level, complex systems may be also be influenced by the elements they comprise. For example: While originally citation indexes were designed with the assumption that such citation data ought to be reliable, over the years it was demonstrated that such citations are indeed very prone to be corrupted by a wide variety of corruption errors and that citation analysis is indeed not at all a reliable method. While citation data may have been somewhat reliable originally, it became clear that eventually citation fraud corrupted the system.

     
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    nmw 14:57:18 on 2015/08/09 Permalink
    Tags: , fixed, flux, , , , , , , privilege, privileges, , , , systems, , variable   

    How to Fix the World via the Legal System 

    I have long since been a big fan of Edmund Burke — the “father of modern conservatism”…. He was probably far ahead of his time, but for today, I feel he is no longer far ahead of our time. What is more: I think I myself have figured out a way to improve on his ideas about conservatism.

    These ideas I have, I started having them during my college years .. but I have just now added one significant extra twist which make them far simpler to implement.

    The basic idea is this: People should be able to live out their lives under a single system of laws and not have to worry about whether laws might change at some point in time. The main reason why this is problematical is that lawyers (or legislators, or whatever) keep changing the laws … and therefore law (remember how Tom Paine wrote that “in America, law is king”?) is a constantly moving target. The problems, therefore might get extremely complicated if people are born at different times… as in the meantime (between their dates of birth) some of the laws may very well have changed.

    The “extra twist” I came up with today is this: There should be different levels of fixedness — I think perhaps four of them. The law we have today — basically: fully “variable” law (and by that I mean the laws could change at any time) — could be called “free” law (because we don’t have to “pay” anything for it — at least not apparently so). This is what everyone has today (whether they like it or not).

    To this I would add 3 levels of more “fixed” laws: 1. uniquely fixed law; 2. strictly fixed law; and 3. affordable fixed law. Affordable fixed law (a sort of privilege) could be bought at a rather affordable rate, and it would fix the law a person is subjected to to the law of a specific calendar year. Strictly fixed law would fix it to a particular date. Uniquely fixed law would go above and beyond that and fix it to a unique point in time. This reasoning adds some significant ideas. First, moving from free law to affordable fixed law to strictly fixed law to uniquely fixed law, one would advance from lesser privileges to higher privileges — in other words: the higher privileges would trump the lower levels of fixedness. Also, this would introduce something like market forces into the system — the price of affordable fixed vs. strictly fixed vs. uniquely fixed law could be set at the beginning, but might be allowed to rise and fall with the sentiments of how people wish to invest in having such a level of reliability.

    That is the basic idea, redux. I will leave it at that for now — at least I have finally written it down and posted it for all the world to see. :)

     
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    nmw 17:23:31 on 2014/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , map, mapping, maps, , metaphors, , , , , , , , , , , systems, territory, topological, topology,   

    Topological Maps: Don’t Even Go There — unless, perhaps, you wish to mention the exceptional case in which the map *IS* the territory 

    One of my friends since many years (who has taught me a lot about the way people might think or perceive stories, digest experiences, come to understand their life, etc.), namely Jean Russell, has posted some interesting remarks about the metaphors she uses (at times, I guess) to understand “the Internet”:

    So much of our experience of computers and the internet in the last 50 years has been disruptive. People didn’t know they wanted it, didn’t know what it was or what it did. And when one introduces such things, we use metaphors to bridge from the familiar to the new. Your domain is like your home. Your Home Page. Email is like mail but sent over the computer.

    And along with these metaphors come a set of protocols and expectations. If I buy a domain as a home, then I don’t expect other people to have control there. I am responsible for keeping it tidy and inviting other people there. I can get a prefab home or make one myself.

    And these are all really helpful ways of using metaphors to help a new disruptive innovation gain traction in the world.

    However, if we want to BE disruptive in our innovation, we want to look for a different kind of metaphor. Websites are not just like homes, they have some features that homes do not and lack some features that homes have. If we use models of the familiar in creating our innovations, we aren’t likely to be very disruptive at all.

    For many years now, I have attempted to drum home the distinction between domains (addresses, web sites, virtual land, etc.) and websites (the HTML and similar “content” built up on top of the virtual property [note that I view all of the content -- whether it is considered "artificial language" or "natural language" -- as content; some people consider parts of this content -- e.g. HTML coding, especially "metatags" and such -- to be something other than content... I'm not exactly sure what, but they apparently consider it to be special in some way]).

    Yet whether land or property or building or whatever virtual real estate analogy, all of the above do not draw attention to one of the most noteworthy differences between domains and “real world real estate”: When it comes to information, the map may in fact actually be the territory!

    Think about it: When you think of an elephant, do you think of the elephant as an astronaut? Or perhaps climbing the Empire State Building? I would say that before having read those two suggestions, you probably hadn’t thought of elephants that way. You might have thought of elephants standing, eating, sleeping, … — but probably not writing computer programs. Your experiences of elephants have probably included things your brain associates with such concepts as “stand”, “eat”, “sleep”, etc. and when you think of an elephant, you may very well be inclined to also think of such topics. Perhaps thinking of “eating” might even motivate you to get up and get something to eat (see also “Words as Puzzle Pieces“).

    Words describe elements of relationships. We cannot think about sleeping without thinking of whatever thing that is sleeping. Some things sleep while standing; other things sleep while lying down on mattresses, with pillows, in beds. The things which your mind conjures up with any particular word may very well have more to do with the way your mind works than it has to with anything in the “real world”. Much like you may associate a certain fragrance with an early childhood experience which might somehow be linked to that scent, you may also associate concepts with each other based on how your cognitive map has stored linked or related concepts.

    Perhaps one of the great challenges for creating information retrieval systems that are able to “disrupt” the status quo is how to make it easy for people to distinguish between information sources that are about “cooking food” (versus e.g. “cooking the books”) and information sources that are about “buying food” (versus e.g. “buying a video game”). “Food” by itself is only a beginning: It is but one piece of a puzzle that needs to match up with other concepts. Bringing these concepts together to build a story from these elements will probably involve building complex networks that are not necessarily related by “real world” proximity. Thinking about information as if it had something to do with the way paper books have traditionally been stored on shelves is a sure-fire way to miss the boat.

     
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