If I Had A Robot, Would I Hammer in the Morning?

10 02 2011

You can tell the robot is happy from its glowing eyes and smile of satisfaction.

Giving this its own post: a tool is itself morally neutral until used by a human, be it for good or ill. That goes for hammers and guns, oil rigs and printing presses, yes, and technology — so far including robots. Ethical import is of, by and for us as people, not our tools.

The difference with robots is that we’re not confident we haven’t outsmarted ourselves and created a tool that perhaps one day will out-human us.

In the race to build computers that can think like humans, the proving ground is the Turing Test—an annual battle between the world’s most advanced artificial-intelligence programs and ordinary people. The objective? To find out whether a computer can act “more human” than a person.

In his own quest to beat the machines, the author discovers that the march of technology isn’t just changing how we live, it’s raising new questions about what it means to be human.

It’s a good story, full of quotes like “Just be yourself . . .seems to me like a somewhat naive overconfidence in human instincts” and “It’s an odd twist: Read the rest of this entry »

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New Power-of-Story Acronym Thinking Parents Had Better Think About

10 02 2011

While over at Killing the Buddha, this caught my eye and then made me catch my breath.

As a schoolchild I originated a jolly, homegrown, completely benevolent version of “do it for the story” — first to get myself through dreaded necessities like family reunions or hospital stays, and then because it had helped me endure and often, even frame an entertaining bright side, I shared my approach with our kids. Now I just feel dirty . . . Read the rest of this entry »





Nothing is Immutable, Including School Rules

31 01 2011

Neither the philosophical nor scientific meaning of of life itself is immutable. The magnetic core of the planet upon which humans live (so we can argue about conflicting rules and broken authority and inhuman corporations and what’s in a name) is not immutable. It’s moving all the time and sometimes even reverses polarity!

Magnetic north has of late moved right out from under our airport landing strips. It literally isn’t where we thought we left it even though we were right at the time; it’s not there anymore.

How much less immutable then, are our standardized textbooks and test scores? Seems to me the smarter and better educated we really are, the more likely we will be to admit and accommodate the reality of change as the closest we come to unchanging.

Nothing about school is immutable, none of the who, what, where, why, when or how, certainly not its administrative authority over the rights of sovereign citizens such as the legal construct of uncrossable school zones say, conceived and enforced as critical borders worth sacrificing children to, nor how to mark the race box on school registration and test forms, much less academic pronouncements even when they aren’t borne of changes in religious or political power of story — which planets aren’t planets anymore when the rules and definitions change, say, or something as seemingly cut and dried as how to spell a word correctly:





State of the Union: What’s in a President’s Word?

25 01 2011

Some words feature prominently in every US presidential State of the Union message, others come and go as events dictate or fashions change.

As President Barack Obama prepares to address Congress, we look at the ups and downs of the 10 nouns and adjectives (and one pronoun) used most often since 1790.

And to play the game at home, try Speech Wars: the Words That Make a Nation. Enter a word and find out how it ranks in SOTU speeches. For example, I discovered “war” has been said 2,757 times and “education” a comparatively few 544 times. The notes at the BBC site suggest war is underrepresented, too, because during the VietNam era it wasn’t used in SOTU much — it wasn’t officially “war.” (Maybe that’s what is in a name too, what isn’t talked about?)

You can get colorful timeline graphs you just roll your mouse over to instantly see which president/s used that word or those words compared head-to-head, more and less. For example, I could easily see that war is always being talked about more than education! — except two points in time separated by 40 years, when a beloved general and a beloved draft avoider each briefly saw education as worth more mentions than war — Ike and Clinton.

Then I compared “spending” and “investment” because I heard Mitch McConnell making a big deal of that on Meet the Press. (Something about how Democrats aren’t capable of investment, only spending no matter what they say. Presumably GOP pols know the difference and can do both.)

Anyway, that difference and when it’s used was worth thinking about and easy to do in this new way: I instantly saw that neither word came up much, until a huge spike of “spending” during the GOP 70s and 80s (Nixon, Ford, Reagan but not Carter) upon which time Clinton switched dramatically back to a whole lot of “investment” — and then Bush switched right back to “spending” again! 😉





“What the Vitriol is Actually About”

10 01 2011

“If this tragedy is going to be a teachable moment,
the lesson won’t be found by determining whose vitriol is warranted.
It will be found instead in what the vitriol is actually about.

And that, as Sheriff Dupnik nailed it, is “tearing down the government.”

From “The Vitriol in Our National Bloodstream”
Marty Kaplan
Director, Norman Lear Center and Professor, USC Annenberg School
Posted: January 9, 2011 07:38 PM

**************

UPDATE:
Something I was just sent, about tone not being enough to change: Read the rest of this entry »





Homeschool Dad Sam Sending Sons to School

22 12 2010

Nance and Lynn, Meg and Beta are homeschooler moms who also sort of parent schooled kids. And sooner or later many of us get far enough along in homeschooling to see kids off to college and university (yep, sorry, schools!) and to see that not as giving up identity but the opposite, and such a GOOD thing.

So Sam will have a lot to talk about with all sorts of Thinking Parents, going forward after the holidays. Meanwhile in his signature introspective style, here is how he sees it:

A huge part of my desire to continue homeschooling, I have to admit, is that I’ve allowed homeschooler to define my identity to such an extent. . .It’s like that whole homeschooler thing. I don’t really think that I’m losing the identity or becoming not a homeschooler, I’m becoming more, maybe?

I admire Sam, more and more. Like a homeschool-to-school parent I wrote about here in town, he’s thinking about some school for himself along with his children.

The first time I encountered Sam, he struck me as a young dad who still had a lot to learn about parenting and homeschooling as identity, vastly richer and messier than clear, tidy fundamentalist labels can define and delimit:

Last night an unschooling dad . . .finally sniffed at me and Nance, said even his eight-year-old son understands how calling something by a different name doesn’t make it so.

This dad, let’s call him Sam — because he says that is his name, although it might be an online alias, and I once knew a schnauzer named Sam, but hey, it’s not my business to research and relabel this fellow homeschooler, or worry about whether the name he chooses to use in this context is confusing, disingenuous, or possibly outside the LAW as documented on his official government birth certificate — DadSam says Nance and I are clearly wrong, and he figures we know we’re wrong but won’t admit it and he’s done listening or thinking. . .

. . .who has more to fear here, the definers or the defined?

Now DadSam has learned so much about labels that he can leave them behind and as he says it himself with the wisdom of well-earned education — not mere schooling! — he isn’t losing his individual identity. He’s becoming more, maybe.

Here’s how I had described for Sam, what our son was learning at home, whatever anyone wanted to label it:

He already grasps at some level that learning about the world and negotiating it through relationships with all its inhabitants, no matter how you do it or what you call it, doesn’t mean being TOLD WHAT IS RIGHT.

It means thinking and feeling for yourself, and the words you eventually choose to express it all must be yours and yours alone. Don’t let anyone tell you different, son, no matter what they call themselves or you or your education, your work, play, politics, parents or future children.

Vaya con Pasta. Go with the FSM, Sam and sons. It really is about home, not school, and we’re all traveling companions on the roads home that count.





What JJ’s Reading and Being Confounded By

30 11 2010

. . .mostly news and commentary, mostly online, although the other night I did finish the latest Grisham legal thriller in real book form, with a hard cover and paper pages. It reminded me of a true story of my own and of the book, Bonfire of the Vanities — all about the power of conflicting stories full of both truthful fiction and factual fakes, stories that compete to confound us into real rage and real riots in our streets, but to no real (much less happy) end either as individual persons or as The People.

I am both aflame and unable to stop shivering.

“For all its apparent realism, Mr. Wolfe’s novel is not realistic. A 650-page narrative in which it is almost impossible to find a character who experiences a generous impulse or acts out of a generous motive may be said, in fact, to defy realism.”

As our new century’s political storms rage on and the light is dying, we can rage, rage back against it, and against each other. We certainly have the right to live our mutual lives as satire in the streets.

But if this reviewer was right, Tolstoy offers us the more enlightened lesson of problem-solving in a storm . . .

So what I’m reading is always a story with power but which story are we in, these days? And which story has the power? The more I read, the harder it is to know. Seems that as our stories and their power implode, power of story increasingly is all about power of story itself:

In a democracy, people have a right to know what their government is actually doing. In a pseudo-democracy, Read the rest of this entry »