Does high tech necessarily lead to grievous inequality, and anyway does it matter?

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Every so often one comes across an article that is worth reading in depth for what it can tell us about new media and high tech in the days to come. David Rotman’s longish piece in MIT’s Technology Review is one of the best on offer.

First, he points out a long-neglected fact about Silicon Valley:

The signs of the gap—really, a chasm—between the poor and the super-rich are hard to miss in Silicon Valley. On a bustling morning in downtown Palo Alto, the center of today’s technology boom, apparently homeless people and their meager belongings occupy almost every available public bench. Twenty minutes away in San Jose, the largest city in the Valley, a camp of homeless people known as the Jungle—reputed to be the largest in the country—has taken root along a creek within walking distance of Adobe’s headquarters and the gleaming,… click here to read whole article and make comments



The slow death of traditional media

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Every so often I take a little time to talk about the slow death of traditional media

I don’t gloat over it. I loved newspapers. I left a proposed comfortable life in the academy to be a journalist. But times change.

And why is this even important? Because many people, including older people, still believe that traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio, TV) are in some sense the “real” news. Even when they aren’t. Even when they are obviously not up to the job. When social or political or artistic correctness prevents them from reporting plain facts.

Today, many look for trusted sources apart from traditional “news" media, while remaining aware that older folk especially still believe in those sources. So tact is definitely called for, especially when dealing with the sources’ deficiencies. Here are some things that might usefully be said.

First, when discussing… click here to read whole article and make comments



Can massive databases reveal a whole new set of truths?

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As Nathan Jurgenson asks at The New Inquiry,

As the name suggests, Big Data is about size. Many proponents of Big Data claim that massive databases can reveal a whole new set of truths because of the unprecedented quantity of information they contain. But the big in Big Data is also used to denote a qualitative difference — that aggregating a certain amount of information makes data pass over into Big Data, a “revolution in knowledge,” to use a phrase thrown around by startups and mass-market social-science books. Operating beyond normal science’s simple accumulation of more information, Big Data is touted as a different sort of knowledge altogether, an Enlightenment for social life reckoned at the scale of masses.

He goes on to note:

As with the similarly inferential sciences like evolutionary psychology and pop-neuroscience, Big Data can be used to give any chosen hypothesis a… click here to read whole article and make comments



Must Amazon’s monopoly be stopped? Can it be?

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Amazon is becoming a monster and must be stopped. So says editor Franklin Foer at The New Republic:

In confronting what to do about Amazon, first we have to realize our own complicity. We’ve all been seduced by the deep discounts, the monthly automatic diaper delivery, the free Prime movies, the gift wrapping, the free two-day shipping, the ability to buy shoes or books or pinto beans or a toilet all from the same place. But it has gone beyond seduction, really. We expect these kinds of conveniences now, as if they were birthrights. They’ve become baked into our ideas about how consumers should be treated.
Perhaps the debate over Amazon won’t take as many fits and starts. There are already a few ideas percolating—one would strip Amazon of the power to set prices; another would deprive it of the ability to use its site to punish recalcitrant suppliers. Those… click here to read whole article and make comments



Would you marry an intelligent robot or just stay single?

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It's remarkable how the idea of artificial intelligence (intelligence free of nature) meets some of the needs of the chattering classes of our culture. A New Scientist writer flirts with the idea that we will one day be able to marry intelligent robots, explaining, “Perhaps our evolving knowledge of the biology of love – as a brain state mediated by neurochemicals that evolved to increase reproductive success … will make society more understanding.”

Notice the unquestioning assumption that love "evolved to increase reproductive success," enlisted in support of the marry-a-robot idea. Many of us underestimate the extent to which concepts derived from Darwinian evolution can help shape eccentric movements.

If we think love "evolved" by natural selection acting on random mutations to increase reproductive success, we lose track of the idea that love is first of all a relationship between human beings; getting a robot programmed to act like it loves us is narcissism, the opposite of love.

click here to read whole article and make comments



Will intelligent technology create mass unemployment?

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Resulting in a brave new world of adult children who needn’t work?

It’s a question to take seriously.

A new book, The Glass Cage by technology writer Nicholas Carr, is raising some sobering questions. As Hiawatha Bray puts it at the Boston Globe,

By examining the fallout of a series of technological advances, Carr makes the case that millions of us will have lots of time for television, as machines are becoming smart enough to do the high-skill jobs we once believed “computer-proof.” And he fears that all of us will see our skills eroded, our intelligence debased, and our work devalued, if we sacrifice human responsibility to black boxes full of microchips.

Is this "new book" hype? 

As I mentioned in an earlier column, new technology doesn’t actually replace the doctor unless we think that a docbot can handle such tasks… click here to read whole article and make comments



Let’s start asking politicians about Internet privacy

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Recently, I mentioned that telephone companies actually get paid to provide information to governments about their customers. And they don’t have to tell the customers. 

Of course, it could be routine and completely harmless, but we don’t know. Also, it might be an attractive business opportunity for otherwise less profitable telecoms.

However, the big telecoms don’t like this situation (see the vid below). They are well-established and can compete without selling data on their customers; maybe they would do all the better by offering privacy guarantees.

Some eye-openers surfaced recently in Canada. Merely because someone asked for details, not because it is necessarily any worse there. The practice is probably happening everywhere, for example in the United States (dragnet surveillance), Britain (via undersea cables) Australia, and New Zealand.

Now, it would be one thing if government was snooping to stop terrorists from capturing and beheading… click here to read whole article and make comments



A surprising fact about YA novels: Many readers are forty years old. Hmm

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Should we feel embarrassed when we are reading material written for people under the age of consent? Amazingly, a vast public for “young adult” (YA) novels, aimed at ages 14–17 ... is adults.

As Slate’s Ruth Graham tells it,

The once-unseemly notion that it’s acceptable for not-young adults to read young-adult fiction is now conventional wisdom. Today, grown-ups brandish their copies of teen novels with pride. There are endless lists of YA novels that adults should read, an “I read YA” campaign for grown-up YA fans, and confessional posts by adult YA addicts. But reading YA doesn’t make for much of a confession these days: A 2012 survey by a market research firm found that 55 percent of these books are bought by people older than 18.

One factor might be this: Many young people today move back home to live with their parents after they graduate from university. This group should not be equated with… click here to read whole article and make comments



Are Google’s cheap smartphones a strategy for world domination?

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Time for an upgrade.  sarahaminaCC BY-NC    

Google launched its Android One initiative this summer, with the aim of bringing smartphones, apps and the whole mobile internet to the five billion people around the world who do not yet have access to a smartphone. The program targets worlds’ most populous areas, especially in Asia, and the first devices have just recently been announced in India.

Google will not manufacture or sell the phones itself. The company provides a reference design for an affordable Android device to its partners in the developing world, and software tailored to its target users, such as an offline version of the YouTube app in order to save its users from racking up data transfer bills. Manufacturing partners can modify the reference design to differentiate their products from one another’s. All… click here to read whole article and make comments



Does flunking grammar make a student less adept at new technologies? Maybe.

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Paul Budra, a dean at Simon Fraser University (British Columbia, Canada), got on the wrong side of a lot of people when he identified a problem with the way students are taught to write today. Fronting a storm of abuse, he said it is not due to social media—or not particularly anyway.

Here is his side of the story in Canada Education (Fall 2014):

Students are asked to generate ideas, plan their writing, do the actual writing, get feedback (often from peers), and then “publish”. This is in accord with what my own children experienced in grade school: they regularly produced little “books”. They were charming and creative but, like much of the work my university students are doing, full of grammatical errors.
This “process” method became the standard after a seismic shift in the philosophy of writing instruction. In 1966, at a conference at… click here to read whole article and make comments


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Connecting is MercatorNet's blog about social media and the virtual self. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your tips and suggestions. Post comments. We want to make it as lively as possible. The editor is Denyse O'Leary, a Canadian journalist. 

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