Broken down, we’re just algorithms, we humans. Complex algorithms, algorithms so complex that we’re still only scraping the surface.

‘The wall between machines and humans, between computer science and biology, is collapsing and I think the next century and probably the future of life itself will be shaped by this algorithmic view of the world.’

Historian: When Computers and Biology Converge, Organisms Become Algorithms“,Yuval Noah Harari, quoted by Daniel A. Bell, May 18, 2016.

Harari said that 7 years ago, and it doesn’t appear wrong – not just from the artificial intelligence side, but from biotechnology, genetics, psychology, medicine…

We’ve mapped the human genome, starting in 1990 and ending in 2003. And what is DNA? It’s pretty much an algorithm that gets replicated with some alterations as they get passed down. We haven’t figured it all out, but it’s a matter of time. That’s just the biological side.

Language, religion, culture, family – these instill frameworks for the algorithms to work within. Parameters which get bent more than we like, if we’re honest. “Be nice to other people” doesn’t seem to fit the way we really do things, but still, we stay within the framework even where we bend it – aside from those who just don’t care. Those who just don’t care generally end up in a jail of some sort or in charge of a sovereign nation, and every step in between.

We have an education system which provides a further framework, and so on. We’re not all good algorithms, and we’re all certainly not good at everything, but together we tend to survive. Maybe it’s just a game of numbers. Maybe someone is rolling dice. If there ever was a Plan A, I’m certain we’re out of alphabet by now.

Where this gets interesting is that if we consider the bonsai I wrote about yesterday, we can see how we alter our own algorithms… and most importantly, how education is a small part of being human.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this in entirety, but this is where I went.

Bonsai and Education: Human and AI.

Bonsai is a fascinating art form of living sculptures of carefully pruned, shaped and dwarfed trees. It is a hobby of mine and I’m not all that great at it. It requires time, patience, commitment, and not getting lost in your head and forgetting to water or deal with them on a daily basis.

A good bonsai captures the eye and evokes emotion. Each bonsai is it’s own little functional growing sculpture. Prune a branch here, trim the roots, and patience – I believe that to do this properly you have to have a picture in your mind of how the final work will look. There’s a plan.

Education systems aren’t very different. They cultivate minds, but largely to the same specifications. A little stream of bonsai trees come out of them looking remarkably similar yet all individual at some level.

How artificial intelligences learn, too, is also not very different when algorithms are designed to learn through a specific dataset.

The commonality of how we educate humans and artificial intelligences is, at least in concept, the same, but the results are not really the same. It’s peculiar that artificial intelligences are given large datasets to be trained on even as humans don’t have the same availability. In some ways, maybe we have it backwards, but time will tell.

We prune the knowledge we give to students and machine learning, or deep learning.

We provide students with knowledge based on accidents of geography. Every individual’s world is subject to geography, the geopolitics of the area, the socioeconomics of the area, culture, religion, language, etc. Some get transplanted and get exposed to differences (third culture kids), some don’t.

What languages a child can communicate dictate what information they have access to. A religion can forbid some knowledge, or even young women from having an education at all – which is an introduction into how gender can impact the available experience. A poor child is less likely to have opportunities than a child born more wealthy, and even then with how we address things, a poor child who is of one ‘race’ may not have financial help because they happen to be the wrong color.

The list goes on even before we touch the education systems themselves. It’s impressively and annoyingly complex. Then the education systems run by different governments – or not – have curriculum designed, increasingly for getting jobs rather than learning. These curriculum are focused on things that some groups think are important for the future, but to stay in business they have to make money so they attenuate things toward that end. Some books get banned in some geography, some due to content publishing/licensing are simply not available. Paywalls hold things at bay, too.

Memorization and regurgitating facts are rewarded. Understanding is hoped for, but not necessary to run the education gauntlet. Imprisoned by what the cage of what has been taught, few go further than their cages and simply rest in place when they’re done, breathing a sigh of relief and happy they made it through. They were told this was a necessary part of Life.

At the end of years of the education system, we kick students out of the nest and are expected to be something an employer wants to hire.

Artificial intelligences, on the other hand, have a different path. A group of people spend a lot of money on computer hardware and software, they find content that they want to train the artificial intelligence on. We’re not even sure what they are because that’s not made public. Neural networks crawl through the data, training predictive analytics, building natural language processing and recommender systems, and it gets released, imprisoned by the human knowledge it was fed. Garbage in, garbage out.

The concepts are the same between educating the artificial intelligences and humans. The artificial intelligences are given the best opportunities to learn as judged and afforded by those who train them, as our human education systems. The difference is that there are significantly less artificial intelligence systems, and human education has become a manufacturing process that produces plants in pots that at a certain angle might look like a bonsai.

Here’s the thing: In my life, I have not many of either I would call a bonsai.

Have you? Shouldn’t that be our goal?

Stewed Biases.

Nowhere smallOur lives are impacted by our decisions and the decisions of others, for better and worse, and humanity has this strange propensity to make things either/or when the dimmer switch has been around at least since 1959. We know that there’s more than 2 options for a light bulb, we have known for generations, but there is this cultural imperative to boiling things down to 2 choices.

If you see only 2 choices, you’re likely missing something. Even matter has at least three states we are taught of in basic physics and chemistry: Solid, Liquid, Gas.

One of the things I appreciated in the 1990s were thrift stores – books in particular, with knowledge on paper handed down from what I expect were dead people who did not throw away their books. I could walk into a thrift shop and use it as a used bookstore, where the books had been condensed into things that people found value in and so did not throw away. This, of course, was muddled by the books that were just donated to make space, but the good books to bad books ratio was pretty good, and it was a great way to get books cheap for someone like me. An intellectual omnivore.

Quite a few books changed my perspective on things, some because they had ideas worth adopting, and some had some antiquated ideas that formed the basis of modern ideas. Both had value. One of these books was “The Theory of Error” by Yardley Beers. A surprisingly slim book, it cost me all of 25 cents at the time, yet it gave me pause in dealing with calibrations, statistics, and everything else under the sun.

One of the major aspects of it was demonstrating something very simple that most people don’t consider: When there is a degree of accuracy, there is a degree of error. Understanding the nature of error and decreasing error is a powerful thing, the basis of which had me exploring fuzzy logic and bayesian probability for predictive things but also interpreting aspects of life. It was not Boolean (which oddly enough, accuracy and error are in an odd way), so there was room for more than 2 perspectives on anything.

As a then young software engineer that during formative years was obsessed with the idea of artificial intelligence, I found myself using these ideas where I could in code that wasn’t always understood by others but which worked. Some of it may still be working after some decades in what must now be an antiquated system that decided which medical transcriptionist to send a Doctor’s audio file to based on affinity and experience, weighted choices instead of the former ‘must match exactly’ choices.

What is hot for someone can be cold to someone else, what is warm for someone can be hot or cold for others. We live in an inexact world because what we as human beings process is subjective. I often wonder if this is why people have different favorite colors. Do certain colors appeal more to someone because of how they perceive it through senses? Maybe, maybe not, but we do know that we associate colors with things. We don’t really know, but we have some interesting guesses based on studies, statistics and… probability.

I bring up the favorite color because it’s a bias. And that bias demonstrates other biases, like the pseudoscience of racism, the idiocy of politics, and which brand one associates with a simple thing such as a hamburger. We are biased creatures, all of us, and we are often blind to our own biases.

The odds are good that by an accident of geography, you were born in one spot on the planet, with certain weather, with certain politics, with a certain predominant religion, with a culture, tradition and the bureaucracy that comes with them. When we encounter others who are different, they are the ‘thems’, and we are the ‘us’es. Are we open to others? That can have a lot to do with the red dots of life, too, where we are influenced by someone else’s laser pointers, and underlying it all is a stack of stuff we think we need to accomplish so that we have some purpose or worth.

It’s worth reflecting, every now and then, on this stuff because simply recognizing we are biased and allowing that our biases can be wrong can have impacts not just on ourselves and those around us, but in allowing that other’s biases impact them when they are dealing with you.

It’s a weird soup of reality we all share. Now that we’re so much more connected, we have gotten into our little tribes that throw rocks at each other and never find the commonalities as endearing, perhaps because we like our biases too much, guarding them against everything so that we can live a simpler life.

Sometimes we simplify too much, sometimes too little, and it’s in this grey soup of bias we see the worst and best of humanity. And now we’re seeing output from different things accused of being artificial intelligence reflecting those biases in interesting ways.

This could be an opportunity.  The choice is somewhere between “Now Here” and “Nowhere”.

The Tyranny of Stuff.

A dead planetAs I mentioned in this post, I’m fiddling around with this world and have been researching a lot of what we know about Terra Conferti, or what some of us call Earth, and in particular, the history of the self-proclaimed dominant species on the planet, which we can shorten to ‘us’.

When there were significantly less of us, we wandered around the planet. It wasn’t necessarily a great life, but we migrated where we could find food, shelter, and when those things weren’t as good as somewhere else, we wandered off.

Nowadays, we pretend to deal with this wanderlust by going to hotels in other countries which, generally, are like hotels in any other country with some distinctive and sterilized things. Experiencing the way real people live in a country isn’t really in the offing except, perhaps, some eco-tourism.

Before the Agricultural Revolution, we wandered around, found food, had sex and probably got rained on a lot. The less lucky ones got snowed on. Everyone adapted to their general areas and environments, found traditional migration patterns they followed just like many other creatures. The agricultural revolution, though, meant large populations could be supported, and with those larger populations, we got to do nifty things like find places for stuff that we could have without carrying it around.

Some of that stuff allowed us to share generational knowledge, like twig technology. Some of it, maybe even most of it, is just useless stuff that we pay rent for with space that we pay for, one way or the other.

Where once we only carried what we needed to survive, we cling to things that we want. I’m not sure how much of that is progress, but it bears some scrutiny for any sentient species.

Refining a Soundtrack Of Whispers

Whisper Fiercely
Original image by Henry Woods, 1894, via

I’ve been delinquent a while as I have pretended to live, going through the motions as I waited for inspiration to strike. It’s a rut that many people live in, doing the same things over and over, a life of repetition that some enjoy. I have found that I am passable at being normal. As a writer, I have procrastinated more than written. I tried using my other experience to help others, and I I’m not sure that I have failed as much as they have – there is a wisdom in that to contemplate.

In doing all of this, I have shot tendrils of myself out into things I haven’t done before, or haven’t done well, or could do better. One of these things relates to one of my passions, music – but probably not the music you might enjoy, those who find themselves neatly in a category. I am at home listening to The Hu, Marillion, and Passenger, to name some. The top 40 is a curse of radio in the world of social media.

My former music teachers in will tell you that I was a dismal failure, that I did not apply myself, etc. My former art teachers would say the same.A few weeks ago, it struck me that my math teacher would have said the same, and I am not deficient in Math. My former Physics teacher actually kicked me out of class in high school only to find out later that I was studying Nuclear Propulsion in the Navy. Why did I listen to some and not others? Perhaps who I was at the time, and who I was at the time is not who I am now.

At Karaoke, with enough alcohol in me a few that I know and many that I fortunately don’t have heard my violent and bloody attempts to sing, and some were drunk enough to appreciate them. Perhaps I’m not that bad, but the point is that I’m not that good and I’m quite certain of it. Still, I have a love of music – it has been my opiate when things are bad, it has been my pedestal upon from which I dove into enjoying accomplishments that few could understand much less appreciate.

As someone who read poetry under the unwavering tutelage of Tom Reese at the old Beaux Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, a way of connecting with my mother who also wrote and read her own poetry, I found I had some oratory ability and with his patience and sometimes complete lack of it (those who knew Tom Reese will know well what I mean), but the expressiveness of voice was something I appreciated more than I practiced. I’m sorry, Tom, and ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne Waite, my bill collectors made me choose the pragmatic path. Plus, I am an introvert, after all. 

Thus, I found myself enjoying The Charismatic Voice channel on YouTube. A whole new world opened up for me. I began to understand how different singers could evoke different emotions and effect. It’s an amazing world. I shopped around for different ‘reaction’ sort of YouTube videos and ended up sticking with The Charismatic Voice, through subjective good and subjective bad. It’s actually a pretty interesting business model in that every video becomes it’s own ‘channel’ that attracts some more than others. Some hop. I finally did find one song being analyzed – one artist – that I was completely blech about, but as with writing, reading bad writing or styles one doesn’t agree with often gives us tools we don’t use the same way, or to different effect.

I found, as with most things like this that happen in life, that it made me revisit my own life soundtrack, a soundtrack of what I consider my personal whispers in a world that continuously shouts and screams. As we grow older, it becomes more and more difficult to do this – I can’t tell you how many times over the last decade that I have read new books on old topics and had to re-evaluate for days, how decisions need to be weighed differently, how I need to look at things differently, and now, how I need to listen to things differently.

This, I suppose, is what the elite call refinement.

Nothing of Consequence

©#74A few people who I have run into lately have asked the standard question: “What have you been up to?”, a troublesome question of cultural dimension.

My answer lately has been, “Nothing of consequence.”, and the reactions to that have been interesting to note.

One of the more mature human beings I know, Mark Lyndersay, took it in stride, perhaps because I have been uncharacteristically open with him a few times.

Others, though, seem boggled by my response. The modern human condition, most certainly as fatal as it ever was, comes with a need to demonstrate some level of progress to others. It is expected that the progress will be exaggerated to some degree – some overdo that – but there is this need to report some level of moving forward in the context of society.

Buying a house. Buying a car. Getting a better job, or promotion, a new significant other, the removal of an old significant other… all the way down to minutiae, like buying new clothing or something that somehow is supposed to improve status.

And this, in turn, is used by others who are connected to you to show others the value of their status being connected to you, and so on. This is how those networks are built.

So to tell people you are doing nothing of consequence, whether true or not, is amusing, and I think productive.

It’s a reality check. When I think of what I have worthy to report, I think of what will be remembered not even 100 years from now, but 20, and in this day of age it boils down to…

Nothing of consequence.

Peering Into The Past: Speyside, Tobago

Speyside Estate, TobagoI stood there, reading a sign about who once owned Speyside Estate in Tobago, the smaller island of Trinidad and Tobago. It told me who owned it since 1773, how many slaves they had, and even how much compensation was received for the slaves upon Emancipation.

Context is an important thing – I was standing there, reading this, as people of African descent were keeping the area clean – Tobagonians employed, not slaves, but there was an unsettling feeling that I had just gone back in time. The cars didn’t belong.

It isn’t hard to imagine that the descendants of the slaves were now making a living keeping the area clean – pristine, in fact.  It’s hard to imagine that less than 100 years ago, slaves maintained this Estate. It’s an uncomfortable reminder, one I’d argue is necessary.

It’s necessary to feel that discomfort, I think, as an outsider looking in – a witness across the timeline of Tobago. It’s that discomfort, I expect, that causes people to react in different ways, even going so far as to attempt to misappropriate a history not their own by attempting to speak for those who have their own voice.

I cannot presume to know anything but that discomfort I initially felt as I read that sign and was surrounded by quiet people who gave me a wide berth, letting the outsider look upon their ancestors’ history. I can write as neither someone who owned nor was a slave, I am of different heritages, seafaring and indentured mixed in my blood.

My decision was to not to take pictures with them there, because there was no way I could find to capture that deep feeling I felt when I looked around. It’s all too easy to misinterpret. Some might have called it ‘art’.

At the time, in the moment, I saw it as a disservice to those around me.

I was the one that didn’t belong.

This was their history, this was a history that they maintained, this was something that through the centuries was maintained for reasons beyond me, but left for me to stand there and contemplate.

And it was beautiful. In fact, not having visited Tobago in 32 years, the pristine cleanliness of Tobago struck me, but here at this Estate there was a different sparkle, a tie to a time when things changed in 1833, where the numbers of owned people was noteworthy enough to keep in a ledger to later be reported on a green sign in front of me.

It was a shorthand for an embarassing aspect of humans and our capacity to treat others so… inhumanely.

History and NatureThe black and white history of the bricks was being replaced with the living color maintained by these Tobagonians. They had left here a lens through which to see their history, their culture, in the crumbling bricks of a retired watermill and it’s surrounds.

These scars of our histories are something some wish to remove. I do not hold an opinion on such things when it relates to history not my own, but what I will say is that I have a fondness for scars, I see a beauty in them not for the harshness of the wound but for the healing afterward.

It takes more strength to heal than to wound, and we need to remember what caused the scars to recognize the paths some have had to travel to be who they are, to be who they will be.

That discomfort was a gift.

Swimming in Ambiguity

without a trace
“For in tremendous extremities human souls are like drowning men; well enough they know they are in peril; well enough they know the causes of that peril;–nevertheless, the sea is the sea, and these drowning men do drown.”
 ― Herman Melville, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852)

Generally, it seems that people don’t handle ambiguity well – a call, maybe, to the tunnel vision that we unconsciously cling to like straw.

The ambiguity of our reality is perilous. We build ships of ways to live – philosophies, religions, bureaucracies, traditions – to ride upon the ambiguity of our world. It leaks through, and society has those at the pumps to try to keep it on the outside of the ship. Sometimes they’re lawyers, sometimes they’re educators, sometimes they’re even politicians – holding onto a way of life, trying to keep everything together even when the shoals drive toward us with a strong wind behind.

We like our society. Some of us like it more, some of us like it less, the degree is unimportant: We all resist understanding the ambiguity below the hull of the ships we sail in. We wish to understand the hull, the structures that we can understand, the things that we are used to. It is the fool who looks to dismantle the ship with no plan for that ambiguity.

Mutinies – revolutions of a minor sort – rarely take this into consideration. A revolution with no plan of the aftermath isn’t as much a revolution as a harsh criticism with no constructive plan for progress.

Then there are the people who unwittingly fall into the ambiguity, somehow not meeting the requirements of being on board that ship. Maybe they were thrown off, discarded into the ambiguity. The souls of society we cannot understand – the criminals, the insane, the misfits, the artists…

And then there are the people who manage to swim in that ambiguity, boarding different ships – strangers aboard that somehow get past an intruder alert. They come aboard maybe to explore, maybe from a respite from the ambiguity of the world underneath the hulls of these ships. They see, they meet – maybe they meet their fate involuntarily going overboard, maybe they voluntarily take a swim, and maybe they even stay because of the comfort of the lack of ambiguity they find aboard.

This is really our last realm of exploration. How we deal with the ambiguities. As the world changes faster and faster, the ships falter, the storms push them too and fro, and so many are left to swim in ambiguity. Some drown.

Some don’t.



Digital Abstract Oil PaintingIn the context of social networks, I have found myself feeling feeling it as repressive – thus I have left them behind other than for broadcasting, really, and even that is debatable.

I’ve always been a proponent of simply creating content and allowing people to find it; I’m not sure shouting in the bazaar is useful when you don’t actually own the bazaar. It certainly doesn’t add to the appeal of the bazaar unless you love being shouted at by random people.

The Internet is my bazaar, not their social network. Their social networks are algorithmically cathedrals disguised as bazaars.

So, to simplify that part of my life, I am withdrawing. Even email has a new layer of obfuscation to protect me from the constant drivel of marketers and their marketing, of conversations with those who don’t want to have conversations but to shout at you as if your ear is their bazaar.

There is a poetic symmetry in randomly popping up in someone else’s bazaar and whispering, “Hey. I wrote something new.”

I have retreated to the Internet, the bizarre bazaar, the foundation upon which cathedrals disguised as bazaars are built. 


Blue Bottle ExperimentationIt’s been 24 hours since I walked away from Facebook – and there are a myriad of reasons for that, but the one I’ll write about now is distraction. With roughly 1,200 connections – ‘friends’, in what Facebook has branded such connections – it got to be too much.

One of the problems with social networking platforms is that, as a business model, they cater content and advertising based on what you have done or liked or interacted with. It’s in their financial interest, and their bedrock of advertising forms a fatal flaw in the experience that most users don’t know enough to understand, and probably don’t want to understand in an age where social connection is as diluted or strong as the algorithms behind it.

I’m a big fan of strong connections. Of thoughtful discourse. Of wide and broad knowledge shared by people with depth and breadth in a world that doesn’t reward broad experience and only specialization. When one reads things, for example, that Richard Feynman said or wrote, you encounter an original mind, specialized in Physics, who spent time thinking beyond his specialty and into the realms of how what he was specialized in affected other things – and vice versa. In essence, he was connected to the world and whether conscious or not, it was a choice. I just read that he spent the latter years in his life working with Hillis on some great stuff, too. Interesting man, Mr. Feynman.

In finding myself creating thoughtful comments on thoughtless posts and comments, trying to maintain a level of interaction, I found all too often that the lowest common denominator wasn’t static but dynamic – where someone who was thoughtful would be momentarily thoughtless without looking back. And then I wondered if I was as guilty. There’s a want to be right, of course – no one wants to be wrong. And yet, there are many right ways to look at the same thing and it’s the intersections of those ‘right way of looking at things that has a sweet spot. The sweet spots are not constant, they too move.

‘Right’ is built on a foundation of sand, and I found Facebook was a bunch of people trying to create sand castles on a foundation with sand while others, for no good reason, might come over and kick their castle. It’s like what happened when children stopped being raised by televisions and instead by networks that they could interact with – where they could easily hide what they shared with others from brick and mortar society.

How unappealing.

And yet blogs remain, where people can be thoughtful or thoughtless – but blogs err on the side of thoughtful, in my experience, when compared to social networks.

Now I’ll have more time to write. “Oh no!”, some social media ‘expert’ might say, “no one will see your content!”. Well, shucks, it’s not like people saw it when I posted it on Facebook anyway – and those who liked it did not see fit to share it, even when cracked across the skull with blunt words.

Facebook is pretty fucking useless to me. Why spend time on it?