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theluddite

@theluddite@lemmy.ml

I write about technology at theluddite.org

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theluddite,
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The purpose of a system is what it does

According to the cybernetician, the purpose of a system is what it does. This is a basic dictum. It stands for bald fact, which makes a better starting point in seeking understanding than the familiar attributions of good intention, prejudices about expectations, moral judgment, or sheer ignorance of circumstances.

The AI is “supposed” to identify targets, but in reality, the system’s purpose is to justify indiscriminate murder.

theluddite, (edited )
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Props to her, and this is intended as a friendly comment between people on the same side, but I think this can be dangerous.

Chomsky famously noted that brevity is inherently conservative, and that’s actually a pretty profound observation. Any time that you are brief to an audience that doesn’t have much context, your message is going to pick up conservative baggage. Just imagine debating someone on how American imperialism is bad in front of a crowd that has never questioned USA as the bastion of freedom and democracy in the world. Your opponent just has to say “freedom” and “support the troops” and “9/11” as pre-canned concepts with a lot of power and imagery, whereas you’re going to have to spend a ton of words unpacking all that. Any time that you say freedom, you’re going to have to explain what you mean, or the audience will interpret it as the canned American concept of Freedom™. This is something that the 19th and earliest 20th century anarchists and communists understood intuitively and talked about quite a lot, even if they didn’t articulate it quite as succinctly (lol) as Chomsky did. It’s everywhere in their revolutionary theories.

So, while I do think that it’s important to create effective and engaging short-form agitation and propaganda materials, they should be part of a larger messaging apparatus that leads you to some sort of more profound relationship with politics. Getting the entirety of your politics from short form video will necessarily lead to a shallow and mostly aesthetic understanding of politics, easily exploitable by reactionaries. It’s how you end up with the Red Scare podcast, or MAGA communism, or any of these other aesthetically pseudo-leftist but actually deeply conservative discombobulated ideologies.

edit: also meant to say that it was not a great interview lol.

theluddite, (edited )
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Other people have already posted good answers so I just want to add a couple things.

If you want a very simple, concrete example: Healthcare. It depends on how you count, but more than half the world’s countries have some sort of free or low cost public healthcare, whereas in the US, the richest country in the history of countries, that’s presented as radical left wing kooky unrealistic communist Bernie idea. This isn’t an example of a left-wing policy that we won’t adopt, but of what in much of the world is a normal public service that we can’t adopt because anti-socialism in this country is so malignant and metastasized that it can be weaponized against things that are just considered normal public services almost like roads in other countries.

A true left wing would support not just things like healthcare, but advocate for an economic system in which workers have control over their jobs, not the bosses. That is completely absent.

Also, this meme:

Two panel comic. top one is labeled republicans. bottom one is democrats. they’re both planes dropping bombs except democrats has an lgbt flag and blm flag

It’s glib, but it’s not wrong. Both parties routinely support American militarism abroad. Antimilitarism in favor of internationalism has been a corner stone for the left since the left began.

theluddite, (edited )
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I completely and totally agree with the article that the attention economy in its current manifestation is in crisis, but I’m much less sanguine about the outcomes. The problem with the theory presented here, to me, is that it’s missing a theory of power. The attention economy isn’t an accident, but the result of the inherently political nature of society. Humans, being social animals, gain power by convincing other people of things. From David Graeber (who I’m always quoting lol):

Politics, after all, is the art of persuasion; the political is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge this: it may be true that, if I could convince everyone in the world that I was the King of France, I would in fact become the King of France; but it would never work if I were to admit that this was the only basis of my claim.

In other words, just because algorithmic social media becomes uninteresting doesn’t mean the death of the attention economy as such, because the attention economy is something innate to humanity, in some form. Today its algorithmic feeds, but 500 years ago it was royal ownership of printing presses.

I think we already see the beginnings of the next round. As an example, the YouTuber Veritsasium has been doing educational videos about science for over a decade, and he’s by and large good and reliable. Recently, he did a video about self-driving cars, sponsored by Waymo, which was full of (what I’ll charitably call) problematic claims that were clearly written by Waymo, as fellow YouTuber Tom Nicholas pointed out. Veritasium is a human that makes good videos. People follow him directly, bypassing algorithmic shenanigans, but Waymo was able to leverage their resources to get into that trusted, no-algorithm space. We live in a society that commodifies everything, and as human-made content becomes rarer, more people like Veritsaium will be presented with more and increasingly lucrative opportunities to sell bits and pieces of their authenticity for manufactured content (be it by AI or a marketing team), while new people that could be like Veritsaium will be drowned out by the heaps of bullshit clogging up the web.

This has an analogy in our physical world. As more and more of our physical world looks the same, as a result of the homogenizing forces of capital (office parks, suburbia, generic blocky bulidings, etc.), the fewer and fewer remaining parts that are special, like say Venice, become too valuable for their own survival. They become “touristy,” which is itself a sort of ironically homogenized commodified authenticity.

edit: oops I got Tom’s name wrong lol fixed

theluddite,
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Haha I was actually paraphrasing myself from last year, but I’ve seen that because lots of readers sent me that article when it came out a few months later, for obvious reasons!

theluddite,
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Vermont has several towns with as little as a thousand people that have fiber internet thanks to municipal cooperatives like ECFiber. Much of the state is a connectivity wasteland but it’s really cool to see some towns working together to sort it out.

theluddite,
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Thanks! It means so much when people take the time. And if the calendar does ever come to be, I will promptly announce my candidacy for pontifex maximus ;)

theluddite, (edited )
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It’s always easy to imagine why things won’t work, then decide to do nothing. Sometimes just getting your opponent to respond opens new opportunities, while predicting failure such that you don’t bother is a guaranteed path to defeat.

Also, just because they kept previous revisions doesn’t necessarily make it pointless, because they’d still be using the edit in the training data. And yes, they can probably figure out how to clean that up, but then let’s make them do that and see what happens.

edit: Most importantly, shit posting is fun.

theluddite,
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Yeah, me too. Here’s how I think about it, though: The French are famously proud of Paris. They love it. The French government also knows that if they push their citizens too hard, they will burn Paris to the ground. This is, surprisingly, very healthy, and has allowed the French to resist the neoliberalization that has swept the rest of the west much more successfully. Meanwhile, Americans would never do such a thing, so we don’t get healthcare, pensions, vacation days, etc. Tech companies are insufficiently afraid of their users. They should know that we’ll burn down the internet should they displease us. We might end up losing a few valuable things in the short term, but in the long term, we’ll have a much healthier relationship.

theluddite,
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😇

theluddite,
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I will always upvote Astra Taylor, and everyone with debt should join the Debt Collective!

theluddite, (edited )
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I cannot handle the fucking irony of that article being on nature, one of the organizations most responsible for fucking it up in the first place. Nature is a peer-reviewed journal that charges people thousands upon thousands of dollars to publish (that’s right, charges, not pays), asks peer reviewers to volunteer their time, and then charges the very institutions that produced the knowledge exorbitant rents to access it. It’s all upside. Because they’re the most prestigious journal (or maybe one of two or three), they can charge rent on that prestige, then leverage it to buy and start other subsidiary journals. Now they have this beast of an academic publishing empire that is a complete fucking mess.

theluddite,
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Yeah, it’s grotesque. Doubly so when you consider that it’s often public money that funds the research that they get to paywall. I’ve been really ragging on them lately for their role in the AI hype, too, which you can read about here and here if that sort of thing interests you.

theluddite,
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I’m suspicious of this concept of editorial independence. I think it’s a smoke screen that lets companies have their cake and eat it too. As far as I’m concerned, whoever cashes the checks also gets the blame, because either ownership means something, in which case the concept exists to obfuscate that, or it doesn’t, in which case why is nature buying up other journals?

theluddite,
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We need to set aside our petty differences and fight the true enemy: bloated IDEs.

theluddite,
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This has been ramping up for years. The first time that I was asked to do “homework” for an interview was probably in 2014 or so. Since then, it’s gone from “make a quick prototype” to assignments that clearly take several full work days. The last time I job hunted, I’d politely accept the assignment and ask them if $120/hr is an acceptable rate, and if so, I can send over the contract and we can get started ASAP! If not, I refer them to my thousands upon thousands of lines of open source code.

My experience with these interactions is not that they’re looking for the most qualified applicants, but that they’re filtering for compliant workers who will unquestioningly accept the conditions offered in exchange for the generally lucrative salaries. It’s the kind of employees that they need to keep their internal corporate identity of being the good guys as tech goes from being universally beloved to generally reviled by society in general.

theluddite, (edited )
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I have worked at two different start ups where the boss explicitly didn’t want to hire anyone with kids and had to be informed that there are laws about that, so yes, definitely anti-parent. One of them also kept saying that they only wanted employees like our autistic coworker when we asked him why he had spent weeks rejecting every interviewee that we had liked. Don’t even get me started on people that the CEO wouldn’t have a beer with, and how often they just so happen to be women or foreigners! Just gross shit all around.

It’s very clear when you work closely with founders that they see their businesses as a moral good in the world, and as a result, they have a lot of entitlement about their relationship with labor. They view laws about it as inconveniences on their moral imperative to grow the startup.

theluddite,
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This is nowhere near the worst on a technical level, but it was my first big fuck up. Some 12+ years ago, I was pretty junior at a very big company that you’ve all heard of. We had a feature coming out that I had entirely developed almost by myself, from conception to prototype to production, and it was getting coverage in some relatively well-known trade magazine or blog or something (I don’t remember) that was coming out the next Monday. But that week, I introduced a bug in the data pipeline code such that, while I don’t remember the details, instead of adding the day’s data, it removed some small amount of data. No one noticed that the feature was losing all its data all week because it still worked (mostly) fine, but by Monday, when the article came out, it looked like it would work, but when you pressed the thing, nothing happened. It was thankfully pretty easy to fix but I went from being congratulated to yelled at so fast.

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