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Comment: Re:jessh (Score 1) 389

by the gnat (#48919933) Attached to: "Mammoth Snow Storm" Underwhelms

individuals and businesses, made aware of the risks, can (and are supposed to!) make their own decisions

No, most individuals are at the mercy of whatever their employers decide, even if their employers decide that yes, they need to be at their jobs today even if it means driving in two feet of snow. Yes, they're quite "free" to quite their jobs, in the same sense that you are "free" to move to Somalia if you're unhappy with having a functioning government.

Comment: Re:Big Brother Is Expanding His Reach (Score 1) 122

by the gnat (#48822185) Attached to: Google Aims To Be Your Universal Translator

One problem with privacy is the lack of real information. I can read privacy policies. I can't be sure companies are following them.

Sure, but how can you be certain that the government is following the published laws? We've seen time and again that they'll simply ignore the law if it's inconvenient (my favorite example is China's state media whining about "constitutionalism", as if rule of law was some radical Western concept), and the US government has repeatedly used the justification of "we can't tell you why we're doing this because it's a matter of national security". If Google were to say "we can't show you our privacy policy because it's a trade secret", then you might have a legitimate comparison to make.

Comment: Re:Big Brother Is Expanding His Reach (Score 1) 122

by the gnat (#48822109) Attached to: Google Aims To Be Your Universal Translator

The US Government didn't have to pressure most telecoms to get access to their data.

They're the US government - the pressure is implicit. (And, I suspect, far more explicit than we've been told about, since some of the tech executives involved have made it clear that they can't really go into details about what happened behind the scenes.)

Presumably Google can purchase similar access.

Sure, but again, why is this necessarily more frightening than the government having access? If Google tries to blackmail or murder me, it's still against the law, but government employees have done exactly this with impunity, probably for as long as governments have existed. Again, this isn't an argument that we should trust corporations over governments - I'm simply trying to put our fears of companies like Google in the proper context. (Seriously, what's the creepiest thing that a tech company has done? Facebook's emotional manipulation is the best example I can think of, and while that's pretty creepy, it's still penny-ante stuff. And it's easy to avoid Facebook - I still don't have an account.)

Comment: Re:Big Brother Is Expanding His Reach (Score 1) 122

by the gnat (#48822047) Attached to: Google Aims To Be Your Universal Translator

The fact that people tolerate it is unfortunate but not an argument in favor of trusting corporations. We've already seen that corporations have far worse ethics and the only thing which keeps them from behaving even worse than a government is that they have less power. They do their utmost to exploit anything and everything if they can get away with it and - as already stated - have less transparency and less accountability to society. Think of e.g. the Bhopal disaster or Slaughter-House cases.

I don't think we're in disagreement here. But the kind of death and misery that results from corporate misdeeds is miniscule compared to what governments both democratic and authoritarian have inflicted over the same timeframe. I would certainly not argue that we should trust corporations; I think sensible regulation and enforcement of existing laws is a good thing. My objection is to the characterization of Google as "evil" based on suspicions alone. There are legitimate privacy issues involved but in an era where the past two US presidents believe they have the authority to torture and/or assassinate without due process, Saudi Arabia is flogging a man for trivial Facebook comments, China exerts stifling control over all social media and civil society in general, and so on, it's absolutely insane to assert that companies like Google are the real danger to human freedom.

Comment: Re:Big Brother Is Expanding His Reach (Score 3, Insightful) 122

by the gnat (#48816427) Attached to: Google Aims To Be Your Universal Translator

Ultimately, the government is accountable to the people since the people grant the government the power to do what it does. The government thus has an incentive to please the people since those exercising that power usually wish to get re-elected. And if a government does something horrible enough, the people rise up and topple it and replace it.

I'd argue that most of recorded history indicates that citizens are willing to put up with a huge amount of government misbehavior as long as it's not directed towards them personally, and are also far too willing to let bygones be bygones in cases where draconian punishment is called for. The CIA's torture is only the most recent example. Again, we're talking about matters of life and death, which is far beyond the powers of mere corporations.

A corporation on the other hand is only accountable to the shareholders and its ultimate obligation is just to maximize shareholder wealth.

True, but a corporation is also obliged to follow the laws of the countries in which it operates, which includes the pretty much universal understanding that the government has a monopoly on force. The government can also invade my privacy at will, including interfering with my personal contracts with telecoms and Internet companies, but Google cannot simply decide to listen in on my cell phone conversations.

(And I'm not a libertarian, so I have no idea what your screed about libertarians has to do with anything.)

Comment: Re:Big Brother Is Expanding His Reach (Score 1) 122

by the gnat (#48816361) Attached to: Google Aims To Be Your Universal Translator

And you'd get no privacy with either, as well. So competition does not make a real difference to you

I hate to parrot the free-market fundamentalists, but seriously: if the privacy you speak of was really that valuable, there would be a market for it, and I could find a competitor who wasn't mining my emails for information. (And there probably is, I'm just too busy to look right now, and frankly I'd rather have the free service.) Or, hell, I could just buy a domain and set up my own email server, or do other fancy shit to hide from the eyes of Google, which is still perfectly legal, unlike (for instance) hiding from the IRS or setting up my own government.

Comment: Re:Big Brother Is Expanding His Reach (Score 1) 122

by the gnat (#48816341) Attached to: Google Aims To Be Your Universal Translator

Because in the end, Google gets your information anyways because I'm certain a significant number of people you email use Gmail. And on analysis, that can easily be 50% or more emails now archived by Google about you.

Which still doesn't negate points (2) and (3). What could they possibly do with partial email conversations? I don't put anything important and/or sensitive in email anyway - I mean, that's like the very first thing I learned about email ("don't send anything over email you aren't willing to have your worst enemies read", from my father who barely knows how to use anything beyond a word processor and web browser) and it is good practice regardless of who's running the servers.

And, frankly, while I'm reliant on email (i.e. GMail) for my professional activities, I have zero expectation of privacy there anyway. It would not kill me to do away with personal email altogether - I'd rather not do it, but again it's vastly easier to do than escaping the reach of the US government (or any other). But I find email convenient, and I am happy to trade away some privacy in exchange for the free email account and other nifty services. So Google knows I spend a lot of money on musical equipment, my mom doesn't like the GOP, and I'm incapable of making financial decisions without consulting my dad. So fucking what?

Comment: Re:Big Brother Is Expanding His Reach (Score 3, Interesting) 122

by the gnat (#48815097) Attached to: Google Aims To Be Your Universal Translator

I've thought for a long time that 'big brother' will not come from governments, but from corporations.

A few of the many important differences:

1) Consent. No one is forcing me to use Google products. (Well, except my employer, which contracts with Google for email and various other services, but anything that they have access to is my employer's property anyway and I have no expectation of privacy to begin with.) I could completely banish Google from my personal life without severely impacting anything I do. It's a little more difficult to escape the reach of governments.

2) Competition. Microsoft and Yahoo would be happy to handle my email instead. I can't switch governments without physically moving to another country. (Voting doesn't count, and I don't vote anyway.) Conversely, it would not be a huge burden for me to jettison all Apple or Microsoft products, although it would be problematic for my music collection.

3) Force. Google does not have the ability to dispatch a SWAT team to break down my door, shoot my dog, and haul me out in handcuffs. And why would they, anyway? They don't care what activities I'm engaging in offline except for the purpose of targeting advertisements.

There are certainly all sorts of things that corporations can do to make our lives unpleasant, but it seems rather perverse to worry about creeping corporate dictatorship because of Google's ad targeting, especially given the track record of governments.

Comment: Re:I'm scared. (Score 1) 381

Why is this necessarily any worse than in the past? In the 20th century, countries run by insane fundamentalist cults managed to make some very impressive technological advances that could easily have been used to enslave the world if they'd happened a few years earlier. The fact that these cults weren't technically "religious" is irrelevant - they were driven by absolute conviction, blind faith, and messianic pretensions, and willing to use any amount of violence to propagate their worldview. Remarkably, the planet survived.

(The encouraging aspect of this is that both cults had some wholly unscientific blind spots that helped cripple them in the long term - for instance, the denigration of certain areas of physics as "Jewish Physics", and the mass exodus of Jewish scientists from 1930s Germany, which were among the many reasons that the US had nukes before Germany did.)

Comment: Re:...and... (Score 4, Informative) 381

My favorite part about working with a Russian scientist: In the original Star Trek series, Chekhov often makes comments claiming specific discoveries or cultural artifacts as Russian - "discovered by famous Russian astronomer" or "old Russian fairy tale: if shoe fits, wear it". It's sort of a running joke, I assume related to the fact that 20th century Russian science tended to be totally cut off from the rest of the world. The really funny thing: THEY ACTUALLY DO THIS. And not just about historical discoveries either. I left a perfectly good job in large part because of this kind of crap.

Comment: Re:...and... (Score 1) 381

I think you'll find many anti-vaxers & anti GMO people these days are Conservative homeschool sorts.

Sadly, no. I live an a notoriously lefty enclave and the level of anti-GMO (or anti-nuclear, or anti-cell phone radiation, etc.) sentiment is much higher here than in most of the US. I find it marginally more tolerable than creationism (which is almost entirely a right-wing phenomenon), but only because I especially despise the overtly anti-intellectual goal of indoctrinating children with creation myths.

Comment: Re:Do I buy it? (Score 5, Insightful) 235

by the gnat (#48709177) Attached to: The Billionaires' Space Club

neither Branson nor Musk have ever said that their space ventures are anything other than a method of making them a bunch of profit

Musk has repeatedly stated that he wants to retire on Mars, and making orbital launches affordable is a first step towards that. It sounds a little nutty, but I wish him the best of luck anyway. If he succeeds, we should all benefit in the long term; if he only makes a fool of himself, at least he's not doing it with my money.

Comment: Re:What about efficiency? (Score 1) 90

by the gnat (#48556225) Attached to: Berkeley Lab Builds World Record Tabletop-Size Particle Accelerator

Anyone know what the efficiencies are on these sorts of "tabletop" laser particle accelerators versus say a linac? I'm curious as to whether it'd make an effective "tabletop" spallation neutron source

I don't know about efficiency, but the problem with the tabletop synchrotrons (which accelerate electrons, but X-rays are the primary product) is that their X-ray flux is much lower than the football-field-sized rings, which means they're not as useful for molecular imaging applications. My guess would be that the same problem would apply to a tabletop neutron source.

Comment: Re:"Physics" (Score 1) 289

by the gnat (#48492731) Attached to: Physicist Kip Thorne On the Physics of "Interstellar"

I'd even say there has been very little fundamentally new stuff for the last 100 years.

Depends on what area of technology, and what you consider "new" as opposed to a "technical refinement" or "manufacturing advance". Does the transistor count, or is that just an incremental improvement on vacuum tubes? The physics required to build, say, an iPhone were mostly understood by the 1920s, and I don't think there was any theoretical work suggesting that it was impossible. On the other hand, the concept of ubiquitous handheld multi-functional computing and communication devices connected by a global network containing nearly all human knowledge required levels of technology that couldn't even be guessed at.

If you consider the life sciences instead, our background knowledge is as far beyond 1920s biology as the iPhone is beyond the telegraph, and revolutionary discoveries and technical advances are still being made.

Comment: Re:Recognize the crisis in US Big Pharma... (Score 1) 70

by the gnat (#48467849) Attached to: Canada's Ebola Vaccine Nets Millions For Tiny US Biotech Firm

Free market indeed, it's funny when the market is far freer in a politically communist nation

China has a huge number of trade barriers, including price caps on pharmaceuticals. The other half of the "free(er) market" you're describing is a failure to enforce IP rights (or, possibly, failure by companies to file the relevant patent applications in China, but that seems unlikely), so that pharma companies are having to compete with generic products that would be illegal in the US. You can applaud this if you like, but it's not generally considered a good environment for inventing new drugs.

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