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Monday, July 09, 2018

Dumb and dumber (Science, bitch)

Oh dear. Just as I suspected, we are getting stupider. I thought the anecdotal evidence for this thesis (ie, the news) was pretty strong, but now science has stepped with the hard evidence to back it up. And it’s even worse that I thought, in the sense that Darwin was right and natural selection is a thing and it works. Unfortunately it selects for traits that lead to reproductive success, which means that the whole idea behind the movie Idiocracy (that the stupid will outbreed the smart) turns out to be true.

this analysis suggests genetic contributions to intelligence and educational achievement are currently disfavoured by natural selection

[From Data from half a million people show that natural selection has not stopped - Evolution in the modern world]

Yes, you read that correctly. Natural selection favours the Jeremy Kyle show over the Andrew Marr show. There is absolutely no hope, and the result of natural selection operating in this reckless manner is measurable. And has been measured. Broadly speaking, our IQs climbed steadily from our time in the caves through the anthropocene age until roughly when Shirley Williams was the Secretary of State for Education and then went off the cliff.

Since around 1975, average IQ scores seem to have been falling… “The drop is around 7 to 10 IQ points per century,” says Michael Woodley of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium.

[From We seem to be getting stupider and population ageing may be why | New Scientist]

Basically, the robots are getting smarter and we are getting stupider, so the crossover point at which the robots are smarter than us is actually closer than we thought and, frankly, unless the robots take over fairly soon we are totally buggered. I mean, I feel humanity has given it our best shot, but we’re just not up to it. Do you think robots will watch Mrs. Brown’s Boys? No - of course not - they’ll be getting shit done.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Waging war with disinformation

In the superb BBC Radio 4 documentary on Marshall McLuhan, by Douglas Copeland, one of McLuhan’s comments (from half a century ago) that really struck home with me was that in the electronic, networked, instant media age there will be “ways of being evil that we don’t understand yet”. How astonishingly prescient of the man who invented media studies. I think we are beginning to understand what at least one of those ways might be: destroying the trust that keeps a society together. We can see this happening all around us as the internet and social media are creating entirely new opportunities for “influence operations" (IO) and the mass manipulation of opinion.

It seems that (yet again) McLuhan was spot on. The era of mass manipulation is indeed upon us and it is aided and abetted by social media. The well-known example of Jenna Abrams (@jenn_abrams) illustrates the general case perfectly well. Jenna was an “alt-right” blogger with 80,000 followers on Twitter, and her tweets were cited by Buzzfeed, the NY Times and other news agencies. It subsequently turned out that “she” was a creation of Russia's Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg.

This emergence of this kind of directed, industrial-scale trolling isn’t just about using mass media for propaganda purposes. That’s hardly new. But the scale and intimacy of social media make the misuse of them, as McLuhan predicted, a new and different kind of evil. The impact of this evil is not to convince the general public that some particular thing is true, but to undermine the general public’s trust of anything at all. Or, as noted in the Boston Review, the most toxic consequence of this kind of social media manipulation “[is] existential distrust".

It’s really hard to know what to do about this. In the past, new technologies (eg, rather obviously, printing) have come along and it has taken generations for society to evolve “political, cultural, and institutional antibodies to the novelty and upheaval” of the information revolutions set in motion by those technologies (remember the instructions manuals telling people to say “hello” when they pick up the telephone). However, the accelerating rate of technology-induced change is creating a shock wave, just as an airplane flying ahead of the speed of sound creates a shock wave (that we hear as the sonic boom).
Now that we’ve detected the shock wave, we have to respond. We have to change either democracy or social media.
Whatever  you think about Hillary, she is right that the issue needs to be addressed. I think she is thinking about fixing social media, but given that, for the time being at least, democracy is under our control and social media is not, we instead need to think hard about reinventing democracy in the McLuhan age. But how? At the conceptual level, it seems obvious that someone who thinks the moon landings never happened should not be allowed to participate in any decisions that impact the rest of us. But what about someone who thinks the government spends more on foreign aid than it does on the NHS?  What about the one in five British voters who think that Sherlock Holmes was a real person? These people exist in social media echo chambers that are impermeable to reason and therefore never participate in the discourse that the rest of us depend on to learn about the world and set our opinions in response.

If we don’t take action, then a generation from now the rule of President Kardashian will make us rue the day the universal franchise was conceived.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Films for Planes Review: Patti Cakes

Patti Cakes ☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️

I couldn’t sleep so I flicked through the “new on board” category. I wasn’t bored enough to watch “Murder on the Orient Express” and I thought I recognised the name of this film from a good review I’d seen or heard so I thought I’d give it a try. But when I selected it, it didn’t look promising as it seemed to be something about rappers. But I figured I’d give it a try for a few minutes…

Wow. A movie that shouldn’t have liked but I enjoyed it immensely. I was caught up in it from the very first scene and genuinely wanted to know what was going to happen.

There’s a slight corniness to the story but all of the characters are interesting the story moves along at a clip. Even though I wouldn’t call myself a rap fan, there’s an intensity to the music in the film that is universal. 

The woman who plays the lead character is absolutely excellent.

Rating System

In case you’d forgotten, I use a five sun rating system. It works like this:

  1. Movie gets one sun for interesting story with good acting.

  2. Movie gets one sun for not having an English villain.

  3. Movie gets one sun for not being too dark or having lots of special effects, so you can enjoy it properly on an airplane screen.

  4. Movie gets one sun if I watched all the way to the end without falling asleep or turning over because I was bored.

  5. Movie gets one sun if it doesn’t have Kate Winslet in it.

So any movie I watch on a place gets at least one sun, and if they pull out all the stops they can get five.