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?

Subjective AI Results.

Banality. I don’t often use the word, I don’t often encounter the word, and it’s largely because ‘unoriginal’ seems to work better for me. That said, one of the things I’ve encountered while I play with the new toy for me, Tumblr, used it effectively and topically:

Project Parakeet: On the Banality of A.I. writing nailed it, covering the same basic idea I have expressed repeatedly in things I’ve written, such as, “It’s All Statistics” and “AI: Standing on the Shoulders of Technology, Seeking Humanity“.

It’s heartening to know others are independently observing the same things, though I do admit I found the prose a bit more flowery than my own style:

“…What Chatbots do is scrape the Web, the library of texts already written, and learn from it how to add to the collection, which causes them to start scraping their own work in ever enlarging quantities, along with the texts produced by future humans. Both sets of documents will then degenerate. For as the adoption of AI relieves people of their verbal and mental powers and pushes them toward an echoing conformity, much as the mass adoption of map apps have abolished their senses of direction, the human writings from which the AI draws will decline in originality and quality along, ad infinitum, with their derivatives. Enmeshed, dependent, mutually enslaved, machine and man will unite their special weaknesses – lack of feeling and lack of sense – and spawn a thing of perfect lunacy, like the child of a psychopath and an idiot…”

Walter Kirn, ‘Project Parakeet: On the Banality of A.I. Writing’, Unbound, March 18th, 2023.

Yes. Walter Kirn’s writing had me re-assessing my own opinion not because I believe he’s wrong, but because I believe we are right. This morning I found it lead to at least one other important question.

Who Does Banality Appeal To?

You see, the problem here is that banality is subjective because what is original for one person is not original for the other. I have seen people look shocked when I discovered something they already knew and expressed glee. It wasn’t original for them, it was original for me. In the same token, I have written and said things that I believe are mundane to have others think it is profound.

Banality – lack of originality – is subjective.

So why would people be so enthralled with the output of these large language models(LLMs), failing a societal mirror test? Maybe because the writing that comes out of them is better than their own. It’s like Grammarly on steroids, and Grammarly doesn’t make you a better writer, it just makes you look like you are a better writer. It’s like being dishonest on your dating profile.

When I prompted different LLMs about whether the quality of education was declining, the responses were non-committal, evasive and some more flowery than others in doing so. I’d love to see a LLM say, “Well shit. I don’t know anything about that”, but instead we get what they expect we want to see. It’s like asking someone a technical question during an interview that they don’t have the answer to and they just shoot a shotgun of verbage at you, a violent emetic eruption of knowledge that doesn’t answer the question.

“I don’t know”, in my mind, is a perfectly legitimate response and tells me a lot more than having to weed through someone’s verbal or written vomit to see if they even have a clue. I’m the person who says, “I don’t know”, and if it’s interesting enough to me for whatever reason, the unspoken is, “I’ll find out”.

The LLM’s can’t find out. They’re waiting to be fed by their keepers, and their keepers have some pretty big blind spots because we, as human beings, have a lot more questions than answers. We can hide behind what we do know, but it’s what we don’t know that gives us the questions.

I’ve probably read about 10,000 books in my lifetime, give or take, at the age of 51. This is largely because I am of Generation X, and we didn’t have the flat screens children have had in previous generations. Therefore, my measure of banality, if there could be such a measure, would be higher than people who have read less – and that’s just books. There’s websites, all manner of writing on social media, the blogs I check out, etc, and those have become more refined because I have a low tolerance for banality and mediocrity.

Meanwhile, many aspire to see things as banal and mediocre. This is not elitism. This is seen when a child learns something new and expresses joy an adult looks at them in wonder, wishing that they could enjoy that originality again. We never get to go back, but we get to visit with children.

Going to bookstores used to be a true pleasure for me, but now when I look at the shelves I see less and less new, the rest a bunch of banality with nice covers. Yet books continue to sell because people don’t see that banality. My threshold for originality is higher, and in a way it’s a curse.

The Unexpected Twist

In the end, if people actually read what these things spit out, the threshold for originality should increase since after the honeymoon period is over with their LLM of choice, they’ll realize banality.

In a way, maybe it’s like watching children figure things out on their own. Some things cannot be taught, they have to be learned. Maybe the world needs this so that it can appreciate more of the true originality out there.

I’m uncertain. It’s a ray of hope in a world where marketers would have us believe in a utopian future that they have never fulfilled while dystopia creeps in quietly through the back door.

We can hope, or we can wring our hands, but one thing is certain:

We’re not putting it back in the box.

Society’s Squeaky Wheel: The Dolly.

I’ve been living in a community for about 5 years, and one of the issues that keeps coming up is the stupid dolly.

There were originally 2 dollies for our building, and they were purchased by the lessor to help people move in. They weren’t particularly fancy or robust, just regular dollies that might move a refrigerator, stove, or a stack of sedated children. It’s pretty clear that when they were purchased they were purchased for that sort of purpose.

Reasonable people made good use of them, but others decided that they were to be used for everything, from groceries (which they suck at) to bags of concrete. Contractors for individuals started using them as well, and lo! They started breaking.

My thought, as silly as it is, is that these were temporary dollies for moving in, not to be used by everyone for every stupid little things. If you have groceries to move, there are better things available at stores and online to move them than a dolly. I have my own dolly for moving heavy stuff, should I need to, and a collapsible box trolly (like a cart) for groceries. With all appendages still attached, I can tell you this did not cost me an arm or a leg.

Problems that arise with the dollies include, but are not limited to, finding them because people don’t always return them immediately, noisy wheels, being dirty (!) from the contractors and being broken because some adults don’t understand basic physics and so don’t know how to use them properly for larger loads.

We have bigger issues. The lessor still hasn’t painted the buildings, which in the lease they were supposed to do last year. People aren’t paying their maintenance fees, the floors in the corridors have the wrong tiles so they are porous and hold onto oil and dirt as if their very existence depended on it… but the WhatsApp chat is alive with the sounds of people jabbering about dollies.

The most recent chapter in this ongoing saga is that they repaired the one surviving dolly, using smaller wheels than originally so it has a slight tilt, and with the wheels it can likely only carry about 120 lbs – which should make people question whether it’s still a dolly. Why we keep repairing them is beyond me, but there are a vocal few who whine enough about it, so this is their circus and bread for some members of the Board.

As a former member of the Board, I was against replacing them since people need their own so that they can be responsible for their own stuff instead of being subject to the idiots other people who abuse the dollies. It takes one person to muck it up for everyone else. This, however, never stuck with the Board, so they keep attempting to fix stupid.

This last iteration included, since it was shared on the chat, that the remaining dolly couldn’t take as much weight (120 lbs expected), and should be used with care – but the people who have been abusing the common dolly are still the same ones using it. As responsible adults have gotten their own ways of dealing with groceries and miscellanea, the pool of people using the dolly has become a pool of an increasing concentration of people who treat them poorly.

In my mind, this is stupid. Using maintenance fees to humor idiots does not seem to be of good community value. Yet, they are being pandered to because… squeaky wheels get fixed.

That’s society.

So someone just posted on the chat that a sign should be made. Because one more sign will stop people from being stupid, apparently.


The Queue Issue.

We have had lines since people had to get things. I would think that this would coincide with the agricultural revolution, but it could have been before then. However it happened, we got lines, or queues.

I bring this up because Wendy’s is going to be using chatbots in drive-thrus. They’re doing this, they say, because they want the lines to go faster. I don’t think that would be the choke point, but I also wouldn’t want to think that they haven’t done studies on this, had metrics for how long things took in line, etc. I don’t want to think that, but… I think that. I wrote about that already so we can skip that.

We need to talk about people who slow the lines down.

I live in a gated community, possibly to keep the lunatics in the asylum with a question as to which side of the gate is the asylum. To get in and out while driving, we swipe these cards, which requires winding our windows down and waving our card at a little sensor.

This is hard for some people.

The security guards sometimes open the gate for people because they left their card somewhere, can’t find it, etc. This can cause issues. Recently, I noticed the guards enjoyed watching me pull through because… I have a method.

I have a card, in hand, window already down, pull up to the sensor and slow almost to a stop and swipe the card. It’s fluid, it’s fast, and I noticed that the guards would tap each other when I was coming through and point. “Here he comes!”, they seemed to say. I pulled over once and went and talked to them about it because I am a curious sort of person, and they told me that I’m one of 2 people who has rolls through quickly.

There’s about 160 families in the community the last time I checked, so let’s call it maybe 200 drivers. 2 of us know how to get through the gate efficiently, roughly 1%. And we’ve all been in lines most of our lives. In fact, some people think we stood in line to get lives and some people think there’s a gate to some version of an afterlife which will have a… line.

When I was growing up, lines were efficient. You jumped in the queue, everyone seemed to know what to do, they got to the front of the line and did what they had to do and moved on with their lives. It was brilliant. It was clockwork. When you got to the head of the line you were ready.

No screwing around, no asking stupid questions, you got it together and things got done so the people behind you wouldn’t be inconvenienced… and you want to go do something else, which likely involves a queue somewhere else.

This is one of the foundations of modern civilization. Lines. Queues. They are the lifeblood of modern civilization. We all do it all of our lives, and by the time one gets past 18, you should be expert level.

It ain’t happening.

Around the world, there are people who don’t get it.

There are people who go through an entire line at a fast food outlet, one that conveniently folds for maximum visage of the menu, and get to the front not knowing what they want.

I’ve seen people fumbling at the front of the line at Kentucky Fried Chicken where the only things you need to know are the number of pieces, what sides, what drink. They even dumb it down into combos, easily visible to anyone with operational eyeballs. People get to the front of the line and… don’t know what they want.

You want chicken or you’re in the wrong place.

Some are distracted by the children orbiting around them at speeds that make them look like rings sometimes, and that’s understandable I suppose. The idea of sending the children to find and hold a seat, as I did as a child, puts them at risk of… of… well, I don’t know, I’m not a parent, so someone help me out here? My nieces and nephews, once they were around 7, could go and hold a table while our elders would stand in line.

Maybe that’s seen as child abuse these days. I don’t know. But we did it, it worked.

Some are staring at their phones, which has me thinking about that recent study on attention spans (now 47 seconds?!). Maybe it’s impossible to know what they want while they’re sexting with someone else in a line somewhere else, I don’t know, but they get to the front of the line and are completely unprepared.

My personal favorites are the ones who do fish impressions when woke from their revery.

This is not hard, people. Homo Sapiens have been standing in lines for millennia.

I’m considering writing The Commandments of Queuing so we don’t devolve.

Any thoughts?

A Peopley Earth.

266843669_10165786532015150_2257642047355982724_nThis planet sucks. It’s full of people, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing but we seem to like it that way.

The people do silly things, play with anything with a flat screen that has some sort of light coming out of it, chasing red dots while sticking food in their mouths.

They drive around either in gasoline or diesel powered vehicles and pollute or buy electric cars that someone else already polluted to create.  The drive past each other, looking smug at each other about how they’re ‘saving a planet’. Carlin was right. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do.

We have billionaires who say really weird things and do weirder things, but that’s ok because they’re rich and eccentric. If they were poor they’d be locked away in an asylum somewhere. Billionaires just live in bigger asylums and nobody knows whether the inside or the outside is the actual asylum.

We have politicians that are dishonest who get elected to office on promises. People do it every election cycle and are surprised things don’t change. There has got to be a party somewhere where the other mammals get together and just laugh at us. I would. I’d go, but they’d probably want me to wear a hat and ride a tricycle.

I’m sure I wouldn’t like the hat.

English Bias: Overcomplicating Things.

Just last night someone wrote about an electrical outage, “The apparatus on the feeder pole has an issue”. It annoyed the hell out of me because the only thing on that ‘feeder pole’ is a transformer with it’s fused connections. Why not just say it’s a transformer problem rather than making the issue more complex than it is? It confuses people, it doesn’t inform them, and it only gives the appearance of information to quell those with questions. They might as well have said, “You’re stupid, you won’t understand, so we can just say gobbly-gook to you and you’ll like it. If you ask about it, we’ll just give you more complicated bullshit.”

I take it as a symptom of bureaucracy, and before you say technologists do it too, technologists do have bureaucracy. I know. Some people consider me one, but I consider that a bit of an insult through pigeon-holing.

Bureaucracy confounds me. It likely confounds you to. It comes up a lot when I write (both here and here) because it just doesn’t make sense to me how we can make the simple so difficult.

I read something this morning that floored me. Hidden in this article, “Unnecessarily Complicated: Hidden Bias Influences Everyone – Even AI Chatbots“, I was a bit boggled to read the following:

…Language that deals with the idea of “improvement” is often associated more with enhancement, rather than reduction. This can prompt us to take actions that unnecessarily complicate the things we aim to enhance…

The research also finds that other verbs of change like ‘to change’, ‘to modify’, ‘to revise’ or ‘to enhance’ behave in a similar way, and if this linguistic addition bias is left unchecked, it can make things worse, rather than improve them. For example, improving by adding rather than subtracting can make bureaucracy become excessive...

I drilled down and found the study, “More is better: English Language Statistics Are Biased Toward Addition“. The authors were kind enough to make the paper available under a Creative Commons License, so you can actually read the paper which I did, and I’m fortunate that I understand enough of the math to understand how it was done. If you’re into math and can handle Bayesian probability and binomials, I encourage you to read the paper.

Suddenly, much of what I have seen and continue to see around me makes sense, and the science looks right to this layperson, so I’ll fold this into my brain though I had it banged into my head long ago, “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify”.

Laws of AI?

_web_purple AIAt some point, we will create some form of artificial intelligence. I’m not sold on what’s being marketed as artificial intelligence actually being artificial intelligence. In the broad strokes, there’s a knowledge base provided to them to train with so that they can customize their own inference engine to suit.
Let’s look at this as if they were true artificial intelligences – theoretically getting the best education that many humans cannot afford, which updates more quickly than the human education system curriculum and is done much more cheaply. Too many human administrators, perhaps? The only real thing that seems to change in education systems?

We then have people paying to access this through a subscription.\So people, at present, would be paying for their education while paying for using something that got a free education, was unregulated, uncertified, lacked all manner of human education milestones and whose ethics are largely as fluid as a society always looking for a witch to burn is.

Meanwhile, they’ll take over things we call ‘jobs’, that somewhere along the way we began thinking were necessary even though someone else reaps the benefits, usually. To what end? We built a world of currencies, so what happens there?

I wonder how much thought people really put into these aspects of artificial intelligence. Things like that have bugged brilliant minds for some time. We’ve created genres of fiction from that, perhaps most famously Asimov’s, “I, Robot”, though most people just stick with the Laws of Robotics and forget that the entire book proves that the Laws of Robotics don’t actually work, and should leave us wondering if they should work.

The marketers will pitch artificial intelligence until they wind up a pitch on something else – it’s the way of things. Yet maybe the point is that society needs to come to terms with itself beyond the teenage zits it see\s on it’s face when it looks in the mirror.

Maybe we need to revisit some of the questions posed in the books of authors like Asimov, even Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has an interesting AI), and really reflect a bit not only on what they should be able to do… but what we should teach them.

What Direction, Humanity?

_web Staring at chaosWhat if we’re all parts of one organism we call humanity? Like cells, but not. We’ve even managed to grow a nervous system which you’re using to read this now. Everyone wants to be the brain, and we like to speculate about things like collective intelligence when more often than not we see collective stupidity. There’s a reason that the intestines weigh more than the brain.

So, what’s the plan? As an organism, what are we doing? Aside form warring with other parts of ourselves and evolving structures, what, exactly, are we up to? At this point we just erode a planet, but to what end? We don’t have a plan.

As individuals we’re very busy, racing to and fro, but the almost all of what we produce is not what other species are too interested in. This is why the dolphins have not evolved feet; they do not want to see our great cities. Some primates stay in the trees and fling poo at us as we pass by. Some species just say, “screw it!” and go extinct, even as elephants wander around trying to reclaim territory from invaders who are just trying to sustain themselves.

Self-interest. We’re all pretty busy with self-interest, like all the other creatures on the planet. It’s a survival trait, it’s nothing to be ashamed of – we’ve come from a long line of self-interested people who somehow managed to procreate. Certainly, we help each other, but do we really? Does that farmer in India in that village really need to be having it out for some subsistence farming while facing our elephants?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be productive members of society, but it also seems like we are just racing against each other all the time and as a species we don’t really have a direction. We have the people who have the most of what we’re told we should produce doing some pretty odd things that don’t really benefit us, like a car as space junk in the solar system. What other species does that?

“We’re going to expend all this energy to fling a car into space!” doesn’t seem like something myself or anyone else agreed to. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have approved had I been asked, but it’s not likely.

Allegedly the intent is to get people interested in space travel, though I’m not sure what the selling point of space travel to the old lady who just got home from Walmart with sore feet, which she has basic health insurance to help her with as long as she makes her co-pay. It’s a reality. Does that car, that costs more than she may make in 3 years, inspire her in Space travel, or does she wish she could live freely without her feet being sore all the damned time? Her grandson might be inspired, but he’s busy dodging gluten while stationary and staring at a flat screen.

“Grandma, they sent an electric car into space!”
That’s nice dear.”

Grandpa, who died of a heart attack on the way to the ground as he fell off that roofing project, would have been more practical had he been paying attention, “Well, that electric car spinning it’s wheels in space has no purpose!”, and promptly got back to making those, “Get off my lawn!” signs. He sold those as a side project so he could afford the co-pays on health insurance. Sadly, he could not invest in the future NFT disaster before he died otherwise he would have been noteworthy to his grandson for 15 seconds, between swipes.

Personally, I like the space exploration thing, but I’m writing here that it’s not the top priority for everyone. It’s not even my top priority, honestly. Hear me out.

Genetics has proven we’ve got loads of ancestors who loved two main things: Sex and Travel. Someone way back when whispered, “Go forth and prosper!”, and let me tell you we took that very seriously – so seriously that we’ve pretty much run out of spots on the planet. In fact, some people might even consider that this happened a while ago. There’s a clip of Sam Kinison cracking a joke about people who need food are living in a desert, which, on it’s face, is funny and should have people asking why people are living in those areas. Maybe they could move somewhere else, but now we have lines on the planet that restrict travel.

So what we have is a survival trait of being nomadic becoming a liability. The “stay put” gene, if there is one, is becoming dominant. As a society, we’re becoming conditioned to stay in certain places rather than wander – and that makes the idea that by the time those people in the desert can wander space they just might want to stay put since the idea of nomadism was finally extinct. After all, they’re in a desert without Netflix. You know there will be kids born.

What we’re deciding, really, is who gets to go exploring. The grandchildren of that farmer in India isn’t going to get a Willy Wonka ticket to get on that spaceship.

I don’t know where we’re going as a species, but I’m pretty sure where we’re not going.
I’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled life of productivity to whatever end.


Solar System hurtling through the galaxyWe believe we’re somewhere we’re not because we already left.

When we’re very young it doesn’t really matter, because we have less of a ‘distance’ to look back on. We believe we’re safe when we’re not, and we get hurt – and we learn, a landmark. We can be hurt by this, by that, and plenty of the other. In fact, it’s not too outrageous to think that Life is a porcupine turned inside out with barbs ready for us at every turn. This is where the metaphorical umbilical cord introduces the narratives.

But somewhere in our minds, we lose track of where we actually are and instead think of our younger selves. Every now and then, something prompts us about it – so we, of course, deny it until it blatantly catches up with us.

By the time this happens, something has already started as we spiral and push toward a destination we do not quite know other than general directions. Like the very planet we are stuck to.

This scales to be even weirder at a societal level.