[Firstly, I will admit that this post is part of the problem it diagnoses.] Recently watching Hans Rosling‘s rather fun “The Joy of Stats”, I encountered Microsoft Research‘s Head of Computational Science, Stephen Emmott, discussing how advances in statistics and computation are leading the way towards a new model of science. Where previously, he says, science worked according to experiment and hypothesis, our new ability to process vast amounts of data as never before is in fact opoening up new realms of study, allowing us to make new proposals and even to ask entirely new kinds of questions. We have changed the words, and now we are playing around with the syntax and grammar. (Link to Dr. Nico Sommerdijk of Eindhoven University of Technology discussing the same matter here) Continue reading
Man survived the fierce test of the Ice Ages because he had the flexibility of mind to recognise inventions and to turn them into communal property.
Let us pose a challenge to the prevalent attitude towards intellectual property. The society in which we live exists as a result of previous technological successes in overcoming environmental difficulties. Now, what if we are to posit some new difficulty on a par with the last Ice Ages. It would be a way of asking, with John Rawls, in what type of society we want to live. How would we ideally cope with flows of information in such a world?
Imagine a new crisis. Take, for example, some purely hypothetical fatal disease with the annual death toll in the millions. (This is surely a stretch to imagine in these advanced and civilised times, but try to suspend disbelief with me) Continue reading
What qualifies you best to be a politician? The American political system seems to have made its choice, and accordingly the role is self-selecting: “out of the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, only 22 have science or engineering backgrounds, and of these only two might be considered experienced scientists or engineers.” [Source] Western democracies elsewhere have followed suit, and Ireland is no different. I ask this because Fencingwithkierkegaard rightly poses the question as to why politics is not regulated as a profession, with the following points for discussion: Continue reading
Does a new subject in philosophy lead to a new style in philosophy? Sometimes it does, because it causes us to drop previous disputes, or to take up preoccupations. This is the content however, as contrasted with its expression. How does new content lead to a new style, and is this only of interest in terms of aesthetics or rhetoric? Does a different style of philosophy imply new thought?
The following is an attempt to trace some of the outlines of an element of the ideology of technology, it is not a detailed sociological analysis. The standard political model favoured by many interested in information technologies point to the supposed inevitability of openness. It is a techno-libertarianism that hovers over all discussion, our standard right-on refrain. Certainly it can be regarded as a goal, but more along the lines of a regulating ideal, rather than a Five Year Plan. This is a polite way of saying we don’t back any of this up with action. The argument for openness is in its essence a historical one, which notes that once there had been an information technology that somebody attempted to control, there followed a breakdown of this control, with a free and open exchange following. I draw a parallel with Herbert Butterfield’s
[If open source is to have its day, some implications must be examined]
Technologies of privacy:
- Old style : passive, reactive, the default position.
- New versions?: Opt-in, active privacy; specifically designed ways of deciding what we share, and with whom.
Transition away from previous economic models. Manufacturing and the mass ownership of capital has been on the wane for generations. Consider the MIT model of spinning-off industries. According to this study “Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT”, if one were to regard companies developed by MIT alumni, collectively they would form the 11th largest economy in the world. Technologies must be proven, thus they must be peer-reviewed as well as tested by the market. If everybody can use the same ideas (goodbye proprietary anything), if open source and the intellectual commons get their day, then the matter of ‘economic viability’ is set aside in favour of “technical viability” and ‘environmental viability’. The new models will have to incorporate recognition that there are diseconomies of scale, and what we called economies of scale were all too often a fetishization of size. This is a realization from the realm of network theory, which brings the long tail to bear on our everyday lives. It is not merely a niche element – the long tail is not long tail, as it were. (E.F. Schumacher had an intimation of this in his collection of essays, Small is Beautiful.)