A Philosopher's Blog

Automation & Administration: An Immodest Proposal

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 5, 2017

It has almost been a law that technological advances create more jobs than they eliminate. This, however, appears to be changing. It is predicted that nearly 15 million jobs will be created by advances and deployment of automation and artificial intelligence by 2027. On the downside, it is also estimated that technological change will eliminate about 25 million jobs. Since the future is not yet now, the reality might be different—but it is generally wise to plan for the likely shape of things to come. As such, it is a good idea to consider how to address the likely loss of jobs.

One short term approach is moving people into jobs that are just ahead of replacement. This is rather like running ahead of an inextinguishable fire in a burning building—it merely postpones the inevitable. A longer-term approach is to add to the building so that you can keep on running as long as you can build faster than the fire can advance. This has been the usual approach to staying ahead of the fire of technology. An even better and rather obvious solution is to get out of the building and into one that will not catch on fire. Moving away from the metaphor, this would involve creating jobs that are technology proof.

If technology cannot fully replicate (or exceed) human capabilities, then there could be some jobs that are technology proof. To get a bit metaphysical, Descartes argued that merely physical systems would not be able to do all that an immaterial mind can do. For example, Descartes claimed that the ability to use true language required an immaterial mind—although he acknowledged that very impressive machines could be constructed that would have the appearance of thought. If he is right, then there could be a sort of metaphysical job security. Moving away from metaphysics, there could be limits on our technological abilities that preclude being able to build our true replacements. But, if technology can build entities that can do all that we can do, then no job would be safe—something could be made to take that job from a human. To gamble on either our special nature or the limits of technology is rather risky, so it would make more sense to take a more dependable approach.

One approach is creating job preserves (like game preserves, only for humans)—that is, deciding to protect certain jobs from technological change. This approach is nothing new. According to some accounts, one reason that Hero of Alexandria’s steam engine was not utilized in the ancient world was because it would have displaced the slaves who provided the bulk of the labor. While this option does have the advantage of preserving jobs, there are some clear and obvious problems with creating such an economic preserve. As two examples, there are the practical matters of sustaining such jobs and competing against other countries who are not engaged in such job protection.

Another approach is to intentionally create jobs that are not really needed and thus can be maintained even in the face of technological advancement. After all, if there is really no reason to have the job at all, there is no reason to replace it with a technological solution. While this might seem to be a stupid idea (and it is), it is not a new idea. There are numerous jobs that are not really needed that are still maintained. Some even pay extremely well. One general category of such jobs are administrative jobs. I will illustrate with my own area of experience, academics.

When I began my career in academics, the academy was already thick with administrators. However, many of them did things that were necessary, such as handling finances and organizing departments. As the years went on, I noticed that the academy was becoming infested with administrators. While this could be dismissed as mere anecdotal evidence on my part, it is supported by the data—the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees in the academics has doubled in the past quarter century. This is, it must be noted, in the face of technological advance and automation which should have reduced the number of such jobs.

These jobs take many forms. As one example, in place of the traditional single dean, a college will have multiple deans of various ranks and the corresponding supporting staff. As another example, assessment has transformed from an academic fad to a permanent parasite (or symbiote, in cases where the assessment is worthwhile) that has grown fat upon the academic body. There has also been a blight of various vice presidents of this and that; many of which are often linked to what some call “political correctness.” Despite being, at best, useless, these jobs continue to exist and are even added to. While a sane person might see this as a problem to be addressed, a person with a somewhat different perspective would be inspired to make an immodest proposal: why not apply this model across the whole economy? To be specific, a partial solution to the problem of technology eliminating jobs is to create new administrative positions for those who lose their jobs. For example, if construction jobs were lost to constructicons, then they could be replaced with such jobs as “vice president of constructicon assessment”, ‘constructicon resource officer”, “constructicon gender identity consultant” and supporting staff.

It might be objected that it would be wrong, foolish and wasteful to create such jobs merely to keep people employed as jobs are consumed by technology. The easy and obvious reply is that if useless jobs are going to flourish anyway, they might as well serve a better purpose.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Solving an Unnecessary Problem?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on February 15, 2017

While motor vehicle fatalities do not get the attention of terrorist attacks (unless a celebrity is involved), the roads of the United States are no stranger to blood.  From 2000 to 2015, the motor vehicle deaths per year ranged from a high of 43,005 in 2005 to a low of 32,675 in 2014. In 2015 there were 35,092 motor vehicle deaths and last year the number went back up to around 40,000. Given the high death toll, there is clearly a problem that needs to be solved.

One of the main reasons being advanced for the deployment of autonomous vehicles is that they will make the roads safer and thus reduce the carnage. While predictions of the imminent arrival of autonomous vehicles are overly optimistic, the idea that they would reduce motor vehicle deaths is certainly plausible. After all, autonomous vehicles will not be subject to road rage, exhaustion, intoxication, poor judgment, distraction and the other maladies that inflict human drivers and contribute to the high death tolls. Motor vehicle deaths will certainly not be eliminated even if all vehicles were autonomous, but the likely reduction in the death toll does present a very strong moral and practical reason to deploy such vehicles. That said, it is still worth considering whether the autonomous vehicle is aimed at solving an unnecessary problem. Considering this matter requires going back in time, to the rise of the automobile in the United States.

As the number of cars increased in the United States, so did the number of deaths. One contributing factor to the high number of deaths was that American cars were rather unsafe and this led Ralph Nader to write his classic work, Unsafe at Any Speed. Thanks to Nader and others, the American automobile became much safer and motor vehicle fatalities decreased. While making cars safer was certainly a good thing, it can be argued that this approach was fundamentally flawed. I will use an analogy to make my point.

Imagine, if you will, that people insist on swinging hammers around as they go about their day.  As would be suspected, the hammer swinging would often result in injuries and property damage. Confronted by these harms, solutions are proposed and implemented. People wear ever better helmets and body armor to protect them from wild swings. Hammers are also continuously redesigned so that they inflict less damage when hitting, for example, a face.  Eventually Google and other companies start work on autonomous swinging hammers that will be much better than humans at avoiding hitting other people and things. While all these safety improvements would be better than the original situation of unprotected people swinging very dangerous hammers around, this approach seems to be fundamentally flawed. After all, if people stopped swinging hammers around, then the problem would be solved.

An easy and obvious reply to my analogy is that using motor vehicles, unlike random hammer swinging, is rather important. For one thing, a significant percentage of the economy is built around the motor vehicle. This includes the obvious things like vehicle sales, vehicle maintenance, gasoline sales, road maintenance and so on. It also includes less obvious aspects of the economy that involve the motor vehicle, such as how they contribute to the success of stores like Wal Mart. The economic value of the motor vehicle, it can be argued, provides a justification for accepting the thousands of deaths per year. While it is certainly desirable to reduce these deaths, getting rid of motor vehicles is not a viable economic option—thus autonomous vehicles are a good potential partial solution to the death problem. Or are they?

One obvious problem with the autonomous vehicle solution is that they are trying to solve the death problem within a system created around human drivers and their wants. This system of lights, signs, turn lanes, crosswalks and such is extremely complicated—thus creating difficult engineering and programing problems. It would seem to make more sense to use the resources being poured into autonomous vehicles to develop a better and safer transportation system that does not center around a bad idea: the individual motor vehicle operating within a complicated road system. On this view, autonomous vehicles are solving an unnecessary problem: they are merely better hammers.

This line of argumentation can be countered in a couple ways. One way is to present the economic argument again: autonomous vehicles preserve the individual motor vehicle that is economically critical while being likely to reduce the death fee paid for this economy. Another way is to argue that the cost of creating a new transportation system would be far more than the cost of developing autonomous vehicles that can operate within the existing system. A third way is to make the plausible case that autonomous vehicles are a step towards developing a new transportation system. People tend to need a slow adjustment period to major changes and the autonomous vehicles will allow a gradual transition from distracted human drivers to autonomous vehicles operating with the distracted humans to a transportation infrastructure rebuilt entirely around autonomous vehicles (perhaps with a completely distinct system for walkers, bikers and runners). Going back to the hammer analogy, the self-swinging hammer would reduce hammer injuries and could allow a transition to be made away from hammer swinging altogether.

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Drone Ethics is Easy

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 16, 2014
English: AR Drone part

English: AR Drone part (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a new technology emerges it is not uncommon for people to claim that the technology is outpacing ethics and law. Because of the nature of law (at least in countries like the United States) it is very easy for technology to outpace the law. However, it is rather difficult for technology to truly outpace ethics.

One reason for this is that any adequate ethical theory (that is, a theory that meets the basic requirements such as possessing prescriptively, consistency, coherence and so on) will have the quality of expandability. That is, the theory can be applied to what is new, be that technology, circumstances or something else. An ethical (or moral) theory that lacks the capacity of expandability would, obviously enough, become useless immediately and thus would not be much of a theory.

It is, however, worth considering the possibility that a new technology could “break” an ethical theory by being such that the theory could not expand to cover the technology. However, this would show that the theory was inadequate rather than showing that the technology outpaced ethics.

Another reason that technology would have a hard time outpacing ethics is that an ethical argument by analogy can be applied to a new technology. That is, if the technology is like something that already exists and has been discussed in the context of ethics, the ethical discussion of the pre-existing thing can be applied to the new technology. This is, obviously enough, analogous to using ethical analogies to apply ethics to different specific situations (such as a specific act of cheating in a relationship).

Naturally, if a new technology is absolutely unlike anything else in human experience (even fiction), then the method of analogy would fail absolutely. However, it seems somewhat unlikely that such a technology could emerge. But, I like science fiction (and fantasy) and hence I am willing to entertain the possibility of that which is absolutely new. However, it would still seem that ethics could handle it—but perhaps something absolutely new would break all existing ethical theories, showing that they are all inadequate.

While a single example does not provide much in the way of proof, it can be used to illustrate. As such, I will use the matter of “personal” drones to illustrate how ethics is not outpaced by technology.

While remote controlled and automated devices have been around a long time, the expansion of technology has created what some might regard as something new for ethics: drones, driverless cars, and so on. However, drone ethics is easy. By this I do not mean that ethics is easy, it is just that applying ethics to new technology (such as drones) is not as hard as some might claim. Naturally, actually doing ethics is itself quite hard—but this applies to very old problems (the ethics of war) and very “new” problems (the ethics of killer robots in war).

Getting back to the example, a personal drone is the sort of drone that a typical civilian can own and operate—they tend to be much smaller, lower priced and easier to use relative to government drones. In many ways, these drones are slightly advanced versions of the remote control planes that are regarded as expensive toys. The drones of this sort that seem to most concern people are those that have cameras and can hover—perhaps outside a bedroom window.

Two of the areas of concern regarding such drones are safety and privacy. In terms of safety, the worry is that drones can collide with people (or other vehicles, such as manned aircraft) and injure them. Ethically, this falls under doing harm to people, be it with a knife, gun or drone. While a flying drone flies about, the ethics that have been used to handle flying model aircraft, cars, etc. can easily be applied here. So, this aspect of drones has hardly outpaced ethics.

Privacy can also be handled. Simplifying things for the sake of a brief discussion, drones essentially allow a person to (potentially) violate privacy in the usual two “visual” modes. One is to intrude into private property to violate a person’s privacy. In the case of the “old” way, a person can put a ladder against a person’s house and climb up to peek under the window shade and into the person’s bedroom or bathroom. In the “new” way, a person can fly a drone up to the window and peek in using a camera. While the person is not physically present in the case of the drone, his “agent” is present and is trespassing. Whether a person is using a ladder or a drone to gain access to the window does not change the ethics of the situation in regards to the peeking, assuming that people have a right to control access to their property.

A second way is to peek into “private space” from “public space.” In the case of the “old way” a person could stand on the public sidewalk and look into other peoples’ windows or yards—or use binoculars to do so. In the “new” way, a person can deploy his agent (the drone) in public space in order to do the same sort of thing.

One potential difference between the two situations is that a drone can fly and thus can get viewing angles that a person on the ground (or even with a ladder) could not get. For example, a drone might be in the airspace far above a person’s backyard, sending back images of the person sunbathing in the nude behind her very tall fence on her very large estate. However, this is not a new situation—paparazzi have used helicopters to get shots of celebrities and the ethics are the same. As such, ethics has not been outpaced by the drones in this regard.  This is not to say that the matter is solved—people are still debating the ethics of this sort of “spying”, but to say that it is not a case where technology has outpaced ethics.

What is mainly different about the drones is that they are now affordable and easy to use—so whereas only certain people could afford to hire a helicopter to get photos of celebrities, now camera-equipped drones are easily in reach of the hobbyist. So, it is not that the drone provides new capabilities that worries people—it is that it puts these capabilities in the hands of the many.

 

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Sexbots, Killbots & Virtual Dogs

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on March 30, 2014

Sexbots,_Killbots_&__Cover_for_KindleMy most recent  book, Sexbots, Killbots & Virtual Dogs, is now available as a Kindle book on Amazon. It will soon be available as a print book as well (the Kindle version is free with the print book on Amazon).

There is also a free promo for the Kindle book from April 1, 2014 to April 5, 2014. At free, it is worth every penny!

Book Description

While the story of Cain and Abel does not specify the murder weapon used by Cain, traditional illustrations often show Cain wielding the jawbone of an animal (perhaps an ass—which is what Samson is said to have employed as a weapon). Assuming the traditional illustrations and the story are right, this would be one of the first uses of technology by a human—and, like our subsequent use of technology, one of considerable ethical significance.

Whether the tale of Cain is true or not, humans have been employing technology since our beginning. As such, technology is nothing new. However, we are now at a point at which technology is advancing and changing faster than ever before—and this shows no signs of changing. Since technology so often has moral implications, it seems worthwhile to consider the ethics of new and possible future technology. This short book provides essays aimed at doing just that on subjects ranging from sexbots to virtual dogs to asteroid mining.

While written by a professional philosopher, these essays are aimed at a general audience and they do not assume that the reader is an expert at philosophy or technology.

The essays are also fairly short—they are designed to be the sort of things you can read at your convenience, perhaps while commuting to work or waiting in the checkout line.

Failure is Just another Chance for Success.

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 15, 2013
Adaptation of above image illustrating an Inte...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like most people, the highway of my life is strewn with the wreckage of my numerous failures. When I was a younger man, I looked at failure as a matter of disgrace and resented each failure. While I sometimes engaged in the shameful practice of shifting the blame to others, I learned to accept the wisdom of Confucius, namely that when the archer misses the target he should seek the cause within himself. Or, as this is expressed in the West, it is a poor craftsperson who blames his tools.

While I still regard failure as potentially disgraceful and worthy of resentment, I have learned to have a somewhat more developed view of the matter. After all, while I must bear the responsibility for my failures and they are most often entirely my fault, a failure need not be a matter of disgrace. Most obviously, if I have done the best that I could have done and still met with failure, then there is no disgrace in this. No more could have been expected of me, for I did all that I could possibly do. There are, of course, challenges that we face that are beyond us—what matters in such cases is not that we have failed, but that the challenge has been justly and bravely faced. After all, to fail well can be better than to succeed poorly or wickedly.  Perhaps it could even be argued that a noble failure is a form of success.

One thing that repeated failures have taught me is that there will be more failures. On the one hand, this view can easily lead to despair: if we can be sure that the road ahead will also be littered with the wreckage of failures, should we not greet this future with tears and lamentations at our fates? On the other hand, this view can lead to confidence and hope: have we not survived the wrecks that litter our pasts? Have we not had victories as well? Surely, there shall be more victories in the future and the failures shall be endured as they have before.

Another thing that my repeated failures have taught me is that failure is just another chance to succeed. For example, when I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to be on a sports team. Since basketball was a prestige sport and I had played before, I have it a try. I was awful and after one of the tryouts, the coach said to me “we have an important position for you. We need a manager.” I said, “Coach, I need to do a sport.” He replied, “Go out for winter track. They have to take everyone.” I went to the track practice the next day, wearing my basketball sneakers.

I found that track had its own tryouts—the coach tested everyone’s abilities to see how well a person could jump, sprint, or throw. It turned out that I could jump seven feet forward from a standing start, but could not long, triple or high jump worth a darn. I was also found to be unsuitable for sprinting, hurdling and throwing. So, I ended up where people without any talent in the prestige events ended up—I was slotted to be a distance runner.

Being in poor shape, the practices were tough. By throwing up, I learned to not eat before I ran. By having my feet torn up and bloodied by the basketball shoes, I learned I needed to get better shoes. I was a poor runner my first season and a poor runner in the spring track season that followed. However, by the time cross country arrived, I could run without throwing up and without bringing shame to my ancestors.

When I went off to college, I stuck with running and went all-conference in cross country. I am still a runner today. Without my failure at basketball, I might have never become a runner—so, I owe my success to that failure.

As a second example, when I was in college I thought that I was a good writer, so I sent off some of my work to a game company. I received a brutal rejection letter in reply. I kept at it, earning a stack of rejection letters. However, one day I got the letter I had been waiting for—my work had been accepted. I did the same thing in philosophy—earning a stack of rejections before earning a publication.

Lest anyone think that I am a Pollyanna, I will say that I have encountered defeats that seem to still remain as failures—aside from the lessons learned from them, of course. But even in those cases, I did succeed at learning to not fail in that way again. Also, I recognize that there can be failures that put an end to all opportunities for success—that is, failures that are complete failures. However, saying “failure is just another opportunity for success, except when it is not” does not have the same appeal as the original.

 

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Space 2011

Posted in Politics, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 9, 2011
Texas Tech alumnus Rick Husband was the final ...

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As a kid, I watched Space 1999 and read both 2001 and 2010. When I started professionally writing game scenarios in the early 1990s, I set some adventures on the moon and envisioned that we would have a base there by 2010.

When 1999 arrived, it was obvious that a moon base was not going to happen. When the world failed to end in 2001, it was also obvious that nothing like the Discovery would be built. In 2010, there was no real hope for a moon base. Now that 2011 is here, we won’t even have the space shuttles in operation anymore. In short, if Space 2011 were a show, its lameness would be intergalactic in  scope. Naturally, I am only a bit shamed that some of my predictions in the 1990s were so wrong.

Naturally, I am inclined to wonder why there has been so little progress in regards to space. One obvious answer is that as a species we seem obsessed with fighting each other and wasting our time, lives and resources on petty dominance games and absurd conflicts over dirt, oil, and make-believe. As such, rather than expanding into space, we have been working very hard to make this world into a bloody nightmare. This seems unlikely to change.

Second, while some corporations see space as potentially profitably (there is, after all, an entire universe out there), most prefer to stick with business here on earth. Selling people chips, beer, cars, and TVs tends to be more profitable than doing things with space (other than communication satellites and such, of course). However, there are some companies who do see space as a potential money maker, if only for tourism and satellites. Of course, this does not do a great deal in terms of allowing us to become a space-faring species, rather than being a bunch of pants wearing monkeys squatting on a ball of dirt and water.

Third, technology is a serious limiting factor. While we now have hand held devices (for watching porn and being narcissists) that are vastly more powerful than the computers used in early space flight, the technology for lunching vehicles and moving them through space has advanced very little. There has been little incentive to improve things and, of course, the laws of physics certainly impose some serious limits. In fact, it might be the case that expansion into space is actually physically impossible. That is, maybe a ship simply cannot be built that could actually reach another star. As such, perhaps we are doomed to remain here until extinction puts an end to us, maybe in the form of a big rock smacking into our ball of dirt and water.

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Being Stale

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on October 1, 2010
Full size life reconstruction of a mammoth (Ma...
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My blog post on Deleting Principles was selected for Freshly Pressed and in a later post I speculated about the impact of that pressing. As I predicted, being Freshly Pressed provided a brief spike. I normally get about 200-300 hits per day, when I was Pressed I hit 1,700. The next two days I was a bit over 2,000 per day. Then it dropped down to 1,300. Then just over 400 and now it is back to 300.  Such is the fate of my Fresh Press, to go stale in a few short days.

On the plus side, I think that the spike will have a slight impact on the visits to my blog and I might garner a regular reader or two. Out of curiosity, I went to some of the recent Freshly Pressed blogs and was not surprised to see many of the folks who commented on my Fresh Press. After all, one way to generate traffic is to leave comments on blogs that are getting hits (and hope that the comment leads people to click on over to the blog). I imagine, metaphorically, a virtual tribe pursuing the Freshly Pressed blogs like hunters once pursued the woolly mammoth. Rather than sticking spears into the beasts, they pierce it with comments in the hopes of bringing some of that meat home.

All part of the blogging biz, though.

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Engines of Conformity

Posted in Politics, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 2, 2010
Standardized Test
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But it is difficult to get from youth up a right training for virtue if one has not been brought up under right laws; for to live temperately and hardily is not pleasant to most people, especially when they are young. For this reason their nurture and occupations should be fixed by law; for they will not be painful when they have become customary.

-Aristotle

In the United States this is the time of year when people go back to school. As such, it is fitting to have a brief discussion about education.

As most educated folks know, the United States used to be a world leader in K-12 education and higher education. While we still do very well in higher education, our K-12 system is something of a stricken ship. Test scores are low and drop out rates are high. These two factors cover a myriad of problems. However, one thing that rarely gets attention is the fact that a prime function of schools is that of being engines of conformity.

The basic idea is that in addition to providing a basic (though often poor) education, schools also condition children to a certain way of life. Thinking back to my own education, it worked like this: when the kids arrive in the system they are taught to stand in line, to follow a time schedule marked by bells, to sit quietly in rows, to ask permission to even go to the bathroom, to conform to authority, and to do work at the behest of someone else even when they have no interest in it nor see value in it.  The model is, as others have claimed, clearly based on getting children accustomed to working for a living. After all, that involves going some place unpleasant, living by a schedule set by someone else, and doing work one cares little for, often in an uncomfortable little chair.

Of course, things have changed a bit since I was a kid. There are now metal detectors and police at many schools. There are zero tolerance policies that result in kids being expelled for having aspirin. There are security cameras, strip searches, vehicle searches, and more. In short, the factory model has been augmented with what can be regarded as the prison, security or police state model. Presumably this is intended to properly conform the children so that they will be ready to serve their corporate masters and be prepared to live in a world in which the threat level is never below Orange.

Given these conditions, it is hardly shocking that the kids are not doing that well. Such conditions are hardly conducive to true learning. Of course, this is not the only problem-there are many, many more factors at work here, such as an obsession with standardized tests, budget problems, and a need for more good teachers.

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Texting

Posted in Technology, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on April 27, 2010
Nokia E71 against black background

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A few years ago I noticed a student who was twitching his arms and not paying attention in class. I took a step for a clearer view and could see that he was staring intently downward, his hands jerking away under the desk. At first I thought he was having a seizure…then the horrible thought crossed my mind that he was doing something else (one time someone was conducting phone sex in the classroom across the hall, so strange things happen). When he noticed that he was being watched by myself and the students, he looked up and said “sorry, texting.”

Since then texting has become the standard classroom activity. Students seem to think that they cannot be seen as they twitch away with their hand under the desk, but it is rather obvious. Of course, at this point most students make no pretenses about it-they openly text in class.  I have had students try to cheat using their phones-hence my early adoption of a no phones during tests policy.

While I do warn students that texting in class will tend to have a negative impact on their performance, I do not have a strict no phone policy. The main reason for this is that I believe that people have a right to self-fail. After all, a student can zone out and not pay attention as they wish. A smartphone just lets them take zoning out to a new level. Also, I am something of a libertarian-if a student is not interfering with me or the other students, then I do not feel compelled to interfere with his/her choice.

When texting was new, I noticed a clear correlation between grades and texting: students who spent class texting generally did rather poorly. However, I have observed that texting has had less and less of an impact on performance.  One possibility is that students have gotten accustomed to multi-tasking so that they can text with their hands while still absorbing some of the class with their ears. Another possibility is that students do their texting in class and do their class preparation outside of class (or in other classes).

While I do not text, I would bring a laptop (now a netbook) to meetings. I have found that I can actually track what is going on during the meeting while working on my netbook. As I see it, I am shifting my attention often enough to keep up with what is going on, sort of like looking at a TV show once in a while and being able to follow the show. It is sort of a mental snorkeling, like a submarine shifting from sonar to a snorkel view.

This seems to work because, to be honest, most of what I or other people say is not really critical or important and can generally be safely ignored. Of course, the shifting is not quite as good as paying full attention and it can be a problem when the majority of what is being said is actually important. For example, when I am going over how to build a truth table there is no fluff and hence anything that is  missed will be rather important information.

The problem that students face while texting is that they are not often very good at discerning between what they can drift through and what requires their complete attention.  The easy and obvious solution is to simply not text during class.

However, this is probably very hard on students. Apparently texting is actually addictive-sending and receiving messages stimulates the brain like drugs. Since humans are social animals and enjoy communication, the appeal of this sort of instant gratification is hardly surprising. I also suspect there is something about the technology itself that adds to its addictive quality. Texting is still new enough that part of the appeal might be the shiny factor. Or perhaps it is because when people are not texting they feel they are missing out-that things might be happening with their friends that they do not know about.  This addictive factor also effects adults-when I go to faculty meetings it is just like being in a class in terms of texting.

I am apparently immune to the addictive power of texting, probably part of my general immunity in regards to phones. I do, of course, blog-but this is merely an extension of my love of writing (actual sentences).

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iPorn

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on April 26, 2010
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While Apple’s iPad is designed to restrict the user’s access to things like Flash animations, a porn company has found a way to get around Apple’s restrictions (and the app store). Apparently users can now access porn via their iPads, thus creating iPorn. I suppose that is one use for the iPad given that it has a decent viewing screen and is…um..small enough to hold with one hand. I suspect that this porn option will help boost sales of protective coverings for the iPad’s screen. While Apple will probably try to close this loophole, the porn folks will no doubt find a way to reach around it once again.

The arrival of porn on the iPad is hardly a shock. After all, porn has been at the cutting edge of technology all along (movies, VHS, DVD, the web). Years ago I jokingly came up with an Iron Law of Technology: “any technology that can be misused will be misused.” Shortly afterwards I added “Probably for porn.” This Iron Law has been dead on ever since.

One reason why porn keeps up with technology is that it is a moneymaking business without any pretensions of art or merit. New technology means new ways of making money, hence the early adoption. Another reason is that although porn is a huge industry, most of its consumers would rather not have their consumption known. Technology adds new ways to view porn in private and in secret. For example, before VHS, DVD and the web, folks had to go to sleazy porn theaters to see videos, thus risking being seen and judged. Now people can view it in the privacy of their own home (or cubicle at work). A third reason is that porn is probably like other addictive things-a person always needs something more. Technology can help add that something more, be it HD porn or 3D porn (seriously-they are already filming it).

Another possible reason why porn is generally on the technological edge is that perhaps people who are tech geeks are also inclined to like porn. This might be because most tech geeks are men and most men like porn. Or it might be that tech geeks often lack access to the genuine article and hence are drawn to porn. Then again, married men often view porn, so maybe that reason is not a primary motivation. It might be, as per the episode of Futurama, that porn is driving towards its ultimate form: robotic “women” to replace real women. There are already crude sex-robots and the R&D on such machines is continuing. If the past is any indication, it is just a matter of time before sex-bots are available on Amazon.com.

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