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Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 1) 307

You still seem to be missing my point: standards don't force the big vendors to do anything at all ever. The big vendors do what they want to meet their business needs. You can either write a standard that describes that (e.g., SCSI) or write a standard that fails to describe that, and thus generally fails (like HTML in the IE6 years).

Well that's one way of looking at it. Or we could consider that conforming to existing standards helped establish Firefox and Opera and break IE's dominance of the market and the long stagnantion of th Microsoft Years.

So maybe "fail" isn't the best word for what happened :)

I've been a secretary of a standards body working group, if we're appealing to experts here, but I don't see how that's particularly relevant.

I'm delighted that you've been secretary of a standards working group, it doesn't seem to follow that you know more about the SQL standards process that Michael Gorman who was secretary of that particular group.

But the point is that giving the big vendors everything they want does not necessarily result in a useful standard. And to support the point, I thought I'd provide a link to a case where exactly that had happened. And where the secretary of the working group (who might ordinarily be expected to support the standard in question) was the one questioning the validity of the result.

Just to be clear about this: I'm not invoking Gorman's name as an authority on the purpose of standards. I'm citing him as an authority on the standard that he oversaw, and the usefulness of that standard after the approach you advocate. And while I don't want to belittle your experience as secretary of an unrelated and unnamed group, it's not at all clear how that gives your opinion equal weigh as regards SQL.

"Because the big boys want it" is the only relevant thing for a standard.

Citation needed :)

Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 1) 307

We could ask them to keep that shit out of the browser and build their own client.

Ask all you want, standards aren't laws.

Aardvarks aren't kumquats. So what?

Browsers will have to support whatever the big players do, standard or otherwise, and we'll end up with the IE6 problem all over again. No thanks.

The problem with IE6 wasn't so much that the standards were wrong. It was one of wilful non-compliance on MS' part. MS wanted to use their then dominant position to turn IE itself into the de facto standard. That way all their competitors would have been forced to play catch-up with MS. They gambled and lost.

Alternatively, look at the SQL Standards process. The standard committee is composed of representatives of all the major database players, and rather than get into a pissing match about who gets what in the next standard, they've basically adopted the approach you recommend. Whatever any of them is doing or wants to do next goes into the standard.

The result is a standard that's probably unimplementable in its entirety. In fact all the groups represented on the committee announced that they intended to implement "a subset, plus extensions" of the standard. Even the secretary of the standards committee questioned whether the standard was in fact worthy of the name "standard". But don't take my word for it.

I've explained elsewhere why I don't think that "because the big boys want it" is in itself sufficient reason to include something in a standard. I hope I've shown here that even if that happens, it won't necessarily bring about any benefits.

Really, it's just an all round bad idea.

Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 1) 307

I suppose if there were any similarities at all between DRM and physical violence, you'd have a point.

The similarities are between standards and laws. While they are not without differences, they have a fundamental similarity in that they outline a common set of behaviours to which it is intended that we adhere.

The question is whether we use them to try and make the world a better place for everyone or do we use them to sanction existing practices?

Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 1) 307

It works in Ankh-Morpork. And you wouldn't want to argue with Vetinari would you?

So all we need now is a ruthless despot willing to throw anyone caught abusing the standard into a scorpion pit, and all will be well? That could work.

Of course reaching agreement about who to trust in the role of "ruthless despot" might take some time :)

Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 2) 307

A technical standard is in no way, shape, or form a law. That's probably where your thinking went off.

A technical standard and a law are both ways of defining how we want some aspect of the world be work. That's probably where you've failed to keep up. (BTW, do we really need to do this all snide and sarcastic? I mean I'm up for it if you are, but it's not exactly conducive to a constructive discussion. Your call :))

Standards are useful precisely to the extent they describe what the big players actually do, so that you can code against the standard and be content

Standards are only useful if people follow them yes. But that doesn't mean that we should use them to rubberstamp every counter-productive, short-sighted or destructive practice currently being persued.

Standards are supposed to be about how to make something work well.

Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 2) 307

A standard that petulantly refuses to describe what the big players are doing anyway is worse than useless. The W3C finally learned this lesson, but apparently /. has a shorter memory.

So presumably we should legalise mugging because muggers are going to rob people with violence whatever we do, and if we're going to have destructive anti-social behavior, it's far better if it's enshrined in some sort of formal framework?

Comment Re:Open source browsers? (Score 5, Interesting) 307

If it's so laughable, then isn't it better to just have it?

Well, the security aspects are laughable. The potential legal follow ons are not. For instance, the next logical step is to insist on digitally signed browsers and declare non-complying browsers illegal as "circumvention tools" under the DMCA or somesuch. You might not be able to detect hack browsers, but you could sure as hell sue anyone distributing binaries or patches. You might have a hard time claiming non-infringing uses as well.

That would pretty much make any new browser impossible to distribute, and potentially puts enough regulatory red-tape on people like mozilla that they'd have difficulty continuing in their current open source form.

Then there's the possibility to pressure ISPs to only allow encrypted content (call it an anti-terrorism measure - that works for most things) and eventually to start chaging for access on a per web-page basis for all content.

From the point of view of some media and content cartels, that's a very desirable outcome. The genie would be back in the bottle.

On the other hand, if we don't have EME then the problems don't arise, so on balance I'd say better not to have it.

So instead of a world where content owners won't publish jack on HTML5

I don't see why that's a problem. There are DRM formats that work with PDFs so it's not as if your content dudes can't publish under DRM. They just can't try and make it apply to the whole web. Nothing of value is being lost here.

you get a world where content owners would and you can somehow mine the keys

Mine the keys illegally I think you mean. Possibly with disproportionate penalties as used by the recording industry in their anti p2p lawsuits.

Let's just not go there. Less effort + less risk == Win

Comment I wouldn't say "exactly" (Score 1) 631

They're strategy is exactly the same as Apple (and now Microsoft).

Well, not exactly the same as Apple. To get an exact match Apple would have had to introduced iOS before the launch of the iPhone, adding a number of increasingly controversial and unpopular changes to their otherwise beloved OS X. They'd then rename the result "iOS" and launch a phone around it.

What Ubuntu is doing is closer to MS' strategy. Only without the u-turn to reinstate a conventional desktop and start menu and without Stephen Elop waiting in the wings to deliver them a mobile phone manufacturer at fire sale prices. And also without MS' ability to absorb the losses if they pour money down the drain developing something that nobody seems to want.

What was broke was an interface that a user could use on all these different devices and screen sizes and still maintain some continuity in it's use.

So "continuity over different devices" is more important than "works well on the device in question" then? I'm not sure I'd agree. Especially given that canonical don't seem to have an ecosystem of other devices to support.

Die-hard Linux geeks may be fleeing Ubuntu and Unity

Nah... the die-hards tend to run Debian or Slackware or Gentoo. Ubuntu has always been aimed at the non-techies or casual hobbists. I think I might have mentioned that earlier.

but I'm seeing a lot of non-techies picking it up and asking me about it.

Well, yeah. Non-techies are the core of Ubuntu's users. If the non technical set weren't still showing interest Ubuntu it would pretty much be the end. No one is denying that Ubuntu has a lot of momentum. The question is whether they're gaining or losing that momentum.

Ubuntu is growing in China and several other countries outside the U.S.

I'm sure it is. Linux is growing in those regions, and Ubuntu is one of the better known distros. But if Ubuntu's share of the market (for want of a better term) shrinks relative to the other distros, that growth may not count for much. Just saying.

In the past everyone touted "choice" and freedom of "choice".

Completely off topic, but I love the way you put scarequotes around "choice". It's like you're saying "I don't really believe in this concept, but I'm going to reluctantly use the word in order to further the discussion".

That aside...

Ubuntu is just another choice among not only Linux, but operating systems in general. If you can't stand Unity or something Ubuntu does, then by all means please find an operating system that suites you.

Done and done. I started with RedHat, moved to Gentoo and I've alternated between Debian and Gentoo ever since. I've never used Ubuntu, although I've installed it for a fair few friends and family. I think I might mentioned that in my earlier post as well.

That said, I like Ubuntu. I like the focus on humanity and usability that the project had when it was launched, and I think Shuttleworth can Canonical did a lot of good.

As such I'm concerned to see Ubuntu moving away from the principles that made it so great. They seem to be moving away from "Linux for Human Beings" and toward "Who cares about the users? They'll get what they're given and like it!" That may have worked for Microsoft when they were the only game in town, but as you point out, those days would seem to be ending.

At least with Ubuntu my grandma or distant cousin has a choice against Apple or Microsoft or even Android!

And you know what? That would still be true if Ubuntu had kept Gnome as their main desktop and developed Unity as front end for mobile devices. Their penetration of the device market wouldn't (and couldn't) suck any more than it does right now, but they'd still have a legion of loyal and happy users.

But hey, users! Who cares about them, right?

Comment It depends on the user. (Score 2, Insightful) 631

How is anyone forced to use Unity in Ubuntu? There's still Kubuntu, lubuntu etc. And even with straight Ubuntu, you can still install whatever desktop you want, and select it at login.

I guess that rather depends on the user. The people posting to Slashdot are savvy enough to vote with their feet, whether it's to another 'buntu, or another distro. But Slashdotters aren't your typical Ubuntu users.

Ubuntu built its rep in no small part as the Linux that you didn't need to know Linux to use. A lot of the Ubuntu userbase are people who don't know how to change desktop environment or window manager. They're people who don't want to know how to do those things. All they know is that they found a computer system that they liked, and each release seems to be taking them further away from that system.

I personally don't mind Unity, I can pretty much work with whatever desktop is installed by default, as I use the apps and not the shell. So long as I can switch easily between apps, who cares.

Well, not the people who work with your computers the way you do, clearly. But not everyone does. I mean I'm happy with an xterm, launching apps from the command line and alt-tabbing between them. It gives me everything you want in a desktop ... but I know from experience that most people hate working that way.

And I guess most none-technical people just don't care either way. If it works, it works.

If that was true, they'd ALL be happy with an xterm, alt-tab and a choice of wallpaper. And the year of Linux On The Desktop(TM) would have happened ten years ago.

Ubuntu worked well for a large set of non-techie users. It wasn't a million miles away from what most of them were used to in Windows, except that for various reasons, it suited them a bit better.

Canonical seem to have an urgent need to fix something that wasn't even remotely broken. And while it doesn't affect me personally I still can't see what they're doing as a viable long term strategy.

Comment Re:So define your terms (Score 1) 600

So, let's look at your "nothing else!". What does it mean to say that the mind/brain is machine plus software plus "else"? It means that, in reducing the mind to its constituents, you end up with a list of elements we already know: particles, their interactions, plus that "else". Can this "else" in turn be reduced to its own constituents? If yes, then said else is a machine in its own right, built from those "else-parts". If not, then your quest to find stuff ends there.

Now suppose we find that consciousness is an irreducible. That in some way or another there are consciousnesses floating around that get linked to particles in the forming of brains. That being the case, actually understanding consciousness, how and why it works, developing new consciousnesses, improving them, even improving our own, all become unfortunately impossible. They are givens, to be, so to speak, harvested from the source of consciousnesses atomically as such, forever and ever locked in the state they came, unchanging, outside the domain of our technology, intelligence, hopes and wisdom.

That's an extremely sad outcome, which is why I sincerely hope our minds are indeed reducible to machine and software. If they aren't, we'll hit a insurmountable brick wall, and that'll be it.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I don't think I disagree with you on anything important there. There are a few minor issues: is it reasonable to assume that anything that can be understood is necessarily amenable to being modelled in software, for instance. And I'm not sure I'd share your sorrow if some element of our minds does turn out to be irreducible. We'd still be left with an awful lot we can potentially hack, and I quite like to think that there's an element of mystery to the human condition.

However, I can be very hopeful that our minds are indeed machinery and software, to the point of sounding almost certain, due to the researches and advances made in biology, neurology, cognitive sciences etc. in the last few decades. They all point out strongly into this direction, so there's indeed great expectation the mind will be understood in a few more decades and thus opened up for betterment, and strong betterment at that.

I don't think there's much doubt that our minds are largely (perhaps very largely) mechanistic. And I'll accept that there's strong emerging evidence in support of that notion. I'm just not sure that the evidence is also evidence of "nothing else" :)

As for the matter of souls, I don't criticize technical versions of the concept, only naive religious ones that think of it as some kind of "non-matter matter". What I said above is all compatible with Platonic, Aristotelian and similar advanced concepts of the soul as truly immaterial.

I think I better take your word for it in this instance :)

Reality is most probably composed, as the sages of yesteryear figured, of matter (ordinary matter, energy, space and time) and form (immaterial math).

Interesting way of looking a it. Personally, I'd have put space and time under "form" since they are basically the shape of the universe rather than the substance thereof. I also find myself uncomfortable with the idea that every non-material entity in the universe can be reduced to mathetics. Unless "math" is a philosophical term of art that I've not encountered, of course. Both minor quibbles in any event :)

The soul of a thing is its mathematical structure, which doesn't depend on the specific particles that are following that structure. Back in the day it was thought this referred to the human shape, but nowadays science advanced enough to translated that fuzzy concept of "shape" into the far more specific notions of DNA, the structure of which (not the actual molecule in your cells) fits Aristotle's concept soul, as well as that of algorithms and software, the running of which in a hardware fits Plato's concept of soul.

That reminds me of Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy. He makes q good case for souls as software. I'm not sure it doesn't miss the really interesting question though. Let me tell you how I see it.

The thing that interests me is consciousness. I know from personal experience that my existence has a strong subjective component. The question that really interests me how can we get an AI to share that experience, and if we can, how can we possibly be know?

Now, and engineer would probably approach the problem through functional equivalence. If the behaviours are the same under all circumstances then we can call that "good enough" and assume that equivalent behaviour indicates equivalent processes. From what you've written so far in this discussion, I'm guessing that you're broadly of that opinion yourself. For my part, I think that's just avoiding the issue.

This is what I meant by "magically self aware clockwork". Any combination of hardware and software can be modelled entirely in software by writing a software emulator for the hardware. It works both ways: any piece of software can be executed entirely in hardware. So whatever the program, there's no reason it can't be recreated in clockwork, along the lines of pre-Babbage calculating machines.

So let's try a thought experiment: suppose you reduce a human mind to software, and then re-implement that software as a clockwork calculator, albeit an extremely large one. Is that collection of cogs conscious in the same way that I know myself to be conscious. And if it is, by what process did that conscious come to reside in all that moving metal? Is there a critical number of cogs after which the machinery becomes capable of apprehending the beauty of a sunset (as opposed to merely recognising it as something humans would find beautiful). Or is that self awareness intrinsic in all clockwork to some lesser degree, such that a clock on a mantelpiece is actively enumerating seconds as they pass, rather than just mechanically moving over time.

And if you're happy with the notion of conscious wristwatches, how do you feel about simpler machines still? Do pulleys and levers also have some dim awareness of their condition? And more to the point, where do you draw the line, short of adopting Animism and declaring that all matter is alive and aware? Because I think that's a notion that many in the AI field would find deeply disturbing.

And then of course you might consider that, at a particle level, the distinction between the clockwork and the building that houses it is more or less arbitrary. Does that mean the building is conscious while the clockwork is running? Maybe we should extend that to the planet, or further still. Is there a line we can draw before we run into some sort of universal consciousness and start debating whether or not it should be labelled "God"?

On the other hand, if that internal subjective experience is not a component of all clockwork, that why does it suddenly arise? And by what mechanism? I think a lot of AI reserchers would very much like to draw a black box at this point, label the issue MAGIC and tell us all to stop asking awkward questions. Personally, I'm no happier with black boxes than you are.

The trouble is that Science is founded on the rigorous elimination of the Subjective. That, to my way of thinking makes it a poor tool for investigating Subjectivity. Science can find the footprints of the subjective world (electrical activity in the brain, behavioural statistics, etc etc) but it can't address the actual subjectivity directly. This leads a lot of scientists to dismiss the subjective as unimportant, or worse to deny aspects of its existence. I think that's a mistake - Black Boxery of the worst kind, if you will.

There's a lot more I could write on that subject, but I think I've rambled on for long enough. I suppose it all boils down to two questions: if you emulate me perfectly in software, does my emulation have the same subjective experience as I have in my daily life - or indeed any subjective experience at all? And whether it does or not, how can we possibly be sure? I don't have any answers, only questions.

Thanks again for the thought-provoking response :)

Comment Re:So define your terms (Score 1) 600

"This is mysterious! It can't be known! Stop asking the difficult questions!"

Sorry, but no, we won't. :-)

Needless melodrama aside, I think you've got that exactly backwards. You're the one saying "The Brain is a Machine and our Minds are Software, and Nothing Else!"

I'm asking the hard question: "How can you possibly be so sure?"

And to avoid answering that hard question, you're drawing black boxes around everything, and then blaming them on me.

Comment So define your terms (Score 1) 600

Not unless you go to the trouble of defining your terms. The problem is that words such as "soul", "consciousness", "self awareness" etc. work as black boxes with a "don't look inside" sign hanging from them

Interesting way to look at it. I wouldn't have thought "consciousness" to be particularly awash with ambiguity, given that pretty much every person on the planet would seem to experience the phenomena on a daily basis. "Self awareness" is a little fuzzier, granted, but I'd still have thought the meaning was clear, given the context.

Still, you're quite right in that problem lies with the definitions. Without a definition of "consciousness" (your term, by the way) it's going to be very hard to point to any evidence that the phenomenon arises either "arises from individual particles interacting" or even "from a higher level of organization such as synapses signaling".

So feel free to define your terms and raise the level of the debate. Or if that's too much like hard work, maybe we can argue informally without carping about definitions. Either way is fine by me :)

"On the other a purely MAGIC view of MAGIC where any sufficiently MAGIC must necessarily become MAGIC by some MAGIC? I think there's probably room for some middle ground there. It should be possible to question the idea of MAGIC without bringing OTHER MAGIC into the debate. I also find that in the absence of any evidence for either proposition, I really don't find MAGIC any less convincing as a hypothesis than MAGIC."

I like that! I wonder if there are any other poorly defined sentences where we could apply that approach? :D

"Your brain is MAGIC. It can be MAGICKED, MAGICKED, MAGICKED, MAGICKED and MAGICKED. You're already MAGIC running on appropriate (and at some point in future becoming outdated) MAGIC."

Great fun, but it doesn't really advance the argument, does it?

At the end of the day, "consciousness" is an intangible abstraction that defies any sort of physical measurement. The only evidence for its existence is either annecdotal or purely subjective. As such I still doubt that you have any evidence to support your assertions over any sort of MAGIC[1], or vice versa for that matter. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and all that.

[1] Where "MAGIC" can be taken to mean "self awareness" , "computational processes", "souls", "particle physics" or "Great Aunt Elsie's Fondue Cake".

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