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Comment: Re:So, a design failure then. (Score 1) 120

by hey! (#47921919) Attached to: Developing the First Law of Robotics

It depends on your design goals.

In Asimov's story universe, the Three Laws are so deeply embedded in robotics technology they can't be circumvented by subsequent designers -- not without throwing out all subsequent robotics technology developments and starting over again from scratch. That's one heck of a tall order. Complaining about a corner case in which the system doesn't work as you'd like after they achieved that seems like nitpicking.

We do know that *more* sophisticated robots can designed make more subtle ethical systems -- which is another sign of a robust fundamental design. The simplistic ethics is what subsequent designers get when they get "for free" when they use an off-the-shelf positronic brain to control a welding robot or bread-slicing machine.

Think of the basic positronic brain design as a design framework. One of the hallmarks of a robust framework is that easy things are easy and hard things are possible. By simply using the positronic framework the designers of the bread slicing machine don't have to figure out all the ways the machine might slice a person's fingers off. The framework takes care of that for them.

Comment: Re:The protruding lens was a mistake (Score 1) 202

by hey! (#47921441) Attached to: Apple Edits iPhone 6's Protruding Camera Out of Official Photos

I don't think you've really grasped Apple's design sensibility. Job one for the designers is to deliver a product that consumers want but can't get anywhere else.

The "camera bulge" may be a huge blunder, or it may be just a tempest in a teapot. The real test will be the user's reactions when they hold the device in their hand, or see it in another user's hand. If the reaction is "I want it", the designers have done their job. If it's "Holy cow, look at that camera bulge," then it's a screw-up.

The thinness thing hasn't been about practicality for a long, long time; certainly not since smartphones got thinner than 12mm or so. They always been practical things the could have given us other than thinness, but what they want you to do is pick up the phone and say, "Look how thin the made this!" The marketing value of that is that it signals that you've got the latest and greatest device. There's a limit of course, and maybe we're at it now. Otherwise we'll be carrying devices in ten years that look like big razor blades.

At some point in your life you'll probably have seen so many latest and greatest things that having the latest and greatest isn't important to you any longer. That's when know you've aged out of the demographic designers care about.

Comment: Re:Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 4, Insightful) 171

by hey! (#47915329) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

I'd argue that we do try to write about the future, but the thing is: it's pretty damn hard to predict the future. ...
The problem is that if we look at history, we see it littered with disruptive technologies and events which veered us way off course from that mere extrapolation into something new.

I think you are entirely correct about the difficulty in predicting disruptive technologies. But there's an angle here I think you may not have considered: the possibility that just the cultural values and norms of the distant future might be so alien to us that readers wouldn't identify with future people or want to read about them and their problems.

Imagine a reader in 1940 reading a science fiction story which accurately predicted 2014. The idea that there would be women working who aren't just trolling for husbands would strike him as bizarre and not very credible. An openly transgendered character who wasn't immediately arrested or put into a mental hospital would be beyond belief.

Now send that story back another 100 years, to 1840. The idea that blacks should be treated equally and even supervise whites would be shocking. Go back to 1740. The irrelevance of the hereditary aristocracy would be difficult to accept. In 1640, the secularism of 2014 society and would be distasteful, and the relative lack of censorship would be seen as radical (Milton wouldn't publish his landmark essay Aereopagitica for another four years). Hop back to 1340. A society in which the majority of the population is not tied to the land would be viewed as chaos, positively diseased. But in seven years the BLack Death will arrive in Western Europe. Displaced serfs will wander the land, taking wage work for the first time in places where the find labor shortages. This is a shocking change that will resist all attempts at reversal.

This is all quite apart from the changes in values that have been forced upon us by scientific and technological advancement. The ethical issues discussed in a modern text on medical ethics would probably have frozen Edgar Allen Poe's blood.

I think it's just as hard to predict how the values and norms of society will change in five hundred years as it is to accurately predict future technology. My guess is that while we'd find things to admire in that future society, overall we would find it disturbing, possibly even evil according to our values. I say this not out of pessimism, but out my observation that we're historically parochial. We think implicitly like Karl Marx -- that there's a point where history comes to an end. Only we happen to think that point is *now*. Yes, we understand that our technology will change radically, but we assume our culture will not.

Comment: Where the pessimism comes from. (Score 4, Insightful) 171

by hey! (#47914675) Attached to: Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

The pessimism and dystopia in sci-fi doesn't come from a lack of research resources on engineering and science. It mainly comes from literary fashion.

If the fashion with editors is bleak, pessimistic, dystopian stories, then that's what readers will see on the bookshelves and in the magazines, and authors who want to see their work in print will color their stories accordingly. If you want to see more stories with a can-do, optimistic spirit, then you need to start a magazine or publisher with a policy of favoring such manuscripts. If there's an audience for such stories it's bound to be feasible. There a thousand serious sci-fi writers for every published one; most of them dreadful it is true, but there are sure to be a handful who write the good old stuff, and write it reasonably well.

A secondary problem is that misery provides many things that a writer needs in a story. Tolstoy once famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I actually Tolstoy had it backwards; there are many kinds of happy families. Dysfunctions on the other hand tends to fall into a small number of depressingly recognizable patterns. The problem with functional families from an author's standpoint is that they don't automatically provide something that he needs for his stories: conflict. Similarly a dystopian society is a rich source of conflicts, obstacles and color, as the author of Snow Crash must surely realize. Miserable people in a miserable setting are simply easier to write about.

I recently went on a reading jag of sci-fi from the 30s and 40s, and when I happened to watch a screwball comedy movie ("His Girl Friday") from the same era, I had an epiphany: the worlds of the sci-fi story and the 1940s comedy were more like each other than they were like our present world. The role of women and men; the prevalence of religious belief, the kinds of jobs people did, what they did in their spare time, the future of 1940 looked an awful lot like 1940.

When we write about the future, we don't write about a *plausible* future. We write about a future world which is like the present or some familiar historical epoch (e.g. Roman Empire), with conscious additions and deletions. I think a third reason may be our pessimism about our present and cynicism about the past. Which brings us right back to literary fashion.

Comment: Have they Denied? (Score 2, Interesting) 191

NSA officials were unable to find any evidence Snowden ever had.

This is essentially the "I do not recall" equivalent of paperwork investigations.

The essential question here is whether the NSA can conclusively deny that Snowden never raised concerns at the agency. Since if he did raise concerns, he probably would have raised them to people personally, a document search is not nessesarily going to uncover whether he did.

What will uncover this conclusively is a simple interview of NSA and affiliate company employees and especially supervisors who worked with Snowden. But since such a set of interviews would either a) reveal that he did raise concerns, b) involve people having to sign their names to untruths, or most unlikely c) reveal he really raised nothing, then I think it's easier for the NSA to just pretend that a half-assed email server word search constitutes an appropriate investigation.

Comment: Re:When the cat's absent, the mice rejoice (Score 5, Insightful) 283

Well, I'd be with you if the government was poking around on the users' computers, but they weren't. The users were hosting the files on a public peer-to-peer network where you essentially advertise to the world you've downloaded the file and are making it available to the world. Since both those acts are illegal, you don't really have an expectation of privacy once you've told *everyone* you've done it. While the broadcasting of the file's availability doesn't prove you have criminal intent, it's certainly probable cause for further investigation.

These guys got off on a narrow technicality. Of course technicalities do matter; a government that isn't restrained by laws is inherently despotic. The agents simply misunderstood the law; they weren't violating anyone's privacy.

Comment: Re:Crude? (Score 2) 96

by hey! (#47904781) Attached to: Original 11' <em>Star Trek Enterprise</em> Model Being Restored Again

Compare that to some of the ST:TNG props that I've seen that look fine on screen, but when examined closely look like someone gave a 5-year old a couple of shots of vodka and turned them loose with a paintbrush.

There's a certain wonder to that too.

I had the same reaction when I saw the ST:TNG props in person. You wouldn't buy a toy that looked that cheesy. The wonder of it is that the prop makers knew this piece of crap would look great onscreen. That's professional skill at work. Amateurs lavish loving care on stuff and overbuild them. Pros make them good enough, and put the extra effort into stuff that matters more.

Comment: Re: Great one more fail (Score 1) 577

by hey! (#47904749) Attached to: High School Student Builds Gun That Unlocks With Your Fingerprint

These kinds of responses are conditioned on certain assumptions that may not hold for all users.

For example, let's assume that you have no need whatsoever to prevent other users from using your gun. Then any complication you add to the firearm will necessarily make it less suitable, no matter how reliable that addition is. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a big game hunter who carries a backup handgun.

On the other hand suppose you have need of a firearm, but there is so much concern that someone else might use it without authorization that you reasonably decide to do without. In that opposite situation you might well tolerate quite a high failure rate in such a device because it makes it possible to carry a gun. An example of someone on this end of the spectrum might be a prison guard -- prison guards do not carry handguns because of precisely this concern.

This isn't rocket science. It's all subject to a straightforward probabilistic analysis *of a particular scenario*. People who say that guns *always* must have a such a device are only considering one set of scenarios. People who say that guns must *never* have such a device are only considering a different set of scenarios. It's entirely possible that for such a device there are some where it is useful and others where it is not.

Comment: Re:Gamers are the Victims Here (Score 1) 1134

by ObsessiveMathsFreak (#47830737) Attached to: Combating Recent, Ugly Incidents of Misogyny In Gamer Culture

First Person Shooter players do not represent the entire gaming community. This stereotype is being used to label Pokemon and Super Mario players as misogynists and bigots. All gamers are being tarred with a toxic brush.

This kind of labelling is wrong and morally bankrupt. The gaming community is being forced to defend itself against these kinds of disgraceful libels, by people who are genuinely ethical bankrupts. Simply browse the #Gamergate and #NotYourShield twitter hashtags to get a sense of where these accusations are coming from, and exactly who is in denial.

Comment: Because SJWs are not Feminists/Progressives (Score 4, Insightful) 1134

by ObsessiveMathsFreak (#47830599) Attached to: Combating Recent, Ugly Incidents of Misogyny In Gamer Culture

Question, why do you (generally speaking) feel the need to lump all the people who disagree with you together into one group, give that group a sarcastic name,

I call the people involved in this scandal "Social Justice Warriors (SJWs)" principally because I refuse to insult the feminist or progressive movements by calling these people with feminists or progressives. Genuine second-wave feminists have publicly criticised their behaviour.

If you want to understand the difference, look up the #Gamergate and #NotYourShield hashtags on twitter. The Social Justice Warriors are hateful, disingenuous, at times sociopathic bigots. They are adult, internet-empowered versions of the bullies and tormentors which many gamers remember from secondary school.

Gamers are the victims here. The modus-operandi of the SJWs is to cast themselves in the cloth of underprivileged groups -- most SJWs are in fact white, upper middle class, college aged -- then proceed to level accusations of privilege, bigotry, and misogyny against just about anyone involved in gaming for even the slightest perceived infractions. A climate of fear has developed, first in the indie and later wider gaming industry as a result of the "social justice" witchhunts which these people regularly engage in. Worse, this has resulted in SJW-aligned developers and journalists rising to positions of power and being first in line for awards and increasingly development funding, with cronyism trumping competence.

For Gaming, so often a hobby of last resort for the excluded and isolated in society, this is an awful and tragic outcome. For gamers, male, female, straight, gay or trans, it is a frightening development. Their hobby, their refuge, is being taken over by bullies.

Because their rhetoric and especially actions come across as so farcically disingenuous, I don't believe for a second that SJWs actually believe in or support the causes of homosexuals or transgender people in video games. Their support for women is also largely forced, and disturbingly biased towards the conservative view of women as a weaker sex who must be protected/defended (A view consistently challenged by the games industry over the years).

My honest opinion of SJWs is that they are privileged Neo-liberals, who adopt a forced social justice persona both to project their own (increasingly obvious) bigotry onto others, and ultimately to benefit themselves socially and financially. They are disingenuous, extremist bullies, and the gaming community is under co-ordinated PR attack, and has been almost completely censored on gaming websites.

The Social Justice Warriors are right about one thing though; this is a historical moment. Whether they win or lose, the GamerGate scandal will be seen as a watershed moment in the history of online-communities, and who controls them. Two weeks ago, I would never have believed that a clique so small could all but take-over a community so large, but it is becoming clear that this is precisely what (almost?) happened to gaming. There are lessons to be learned here, unrelated to the immediate issues, and I only hope the right people will take note and heed them.

Comment: Re:I predict (Score 1) 1134

by ObsessiveMathsFreak (#47830035) Attached to: Combating Recent, Ugly Incidents of Misogyny In Gamer Culture

Is it possible that some of the entertaining, amiable geeks that I spar with, party with, code with and blow things up with turn feral and run in packs when I'm not around?

It is unlikely. If you read further into this scandal and its surrounding issues, you will find that it is the gaming community which has been libelled by a clique of disingenuous bullies. These people will routinely label their opponents as bigots while displaying shocking levels of bigotry and hatred themselves. You can see ample evidence of this behaviour in these very comments.

For a better understanding of where the real "Ugly incidents" in this scadal are coming from, simply look up the #GamerGate and especially #Notyourshield twitter hashtags. The vitriol, hatred, and misrepresentations in this debate are coming from Social Justice Warriors (I refuse to apply the terms feminist or progressive to these frauds.)

Comment: Gamers are the Victims Here (Score 1, Insightful) 1134

by ObsessiveMathsFreak (#47827269) Attached to: Combating Recent, Ugly Incidents of Misogyny In Gamer Culture

This isn't about Zoe Quinn. This is about Gamers being bullied and their hobby being culturally colonised by corrupt hypocrites.

Gamers are the victims here. The people crying misogyny are the real bigots. Look up the harshtags #Gamergate and especially #notyourshield on twitter to get a real feel for what is going on here.

Comment: Where Do These Stats Come From? (Score 1, Informative) 546

by eldavojohn (#47819359) Attached to: Does Learning To Code Outweigh a Degree In Computer Science?

Nearly half of the software developers in the United States do not have a college degree. Many never even graduated from high school.

What? I pored over the article and the US BLS link in it to find the source of these statements. Aside from a pull quote that appears as an image in the article but isn't even in the article itself and is unattributed, could someone find me the source of this statistic?

Because I'm a software developer in the United States with a Masters of Science in Computer Science. All of my coworkers have at least a bachelor's degree in one field or another. And my undergrad very much so started with a sink-or-swim weed out course in Scheme and then another in Java. Yes, they were both easy if you already knew how to code but ... this article almost sounds like it's written by someone with no field experience. Granted that's a low sample set, I'd like to know where the other half of us are. Everyone keep in mind that a Computer Science degree is a relatively new thing and there very well may be elderly coders doing a great job without technically a degree in computer science.

The only way I can see the misconception spreading is that people who use Wix to drag and drop a WYSIWYG site (for you older readers that's like FrontPage meets Geocities) erroneously consider themselves "software developers".

Comment: Re:Troll much? (Score 1) 613

by ObsessiveMathsFreak (#47813735) Attached to: You Got Your Windows In My Linux

Well it does solve some problems, just not problems many server administrators largely cared about while creating problems some systems administrators really do care about.

Well, if the project really is an NSA backed obfuscation of Linux a la SELinux, then confusing sysadmins and hampering their ability to control their own systems would be less of a bug and more of a feature.

When the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the plane, the plane will fly. -- Donald Douglas

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