Thursday, November 26, 2015

Curation of Social Media

I apologize for the awkward title, which hints at but does not capture my meaning. So far I do not know of a good way for either producers or consumers of media to integrate new content from the social media firehose dynamically and appropriately. Authors would benefit from having the capability to add new content incrementally to a topic that they have established, in a way that allows them to organize their work and guide readers through it, while allowing it to evolve dynamically. Readers also could add value to the organization of online information by contributing serendipity, making connections and associations that the author overlooked or evaluations that have more value when not controlled by interested parties directly. This already happens in a primitive way, when bloggers or podcasters create a continuing series on a particular topic or when a search engine allows you to find pages that link to a page.
For example, I am interested in evaluating web pages that contain criticism of libertarians. This would be a very large project if I attempted to make it comprehensive, and even if I keep my ambition modest, it would benefit from allowing me to update it dynamically as new pages appear or old ones change. I'd like to create a list of such pages and some summary info about them; is the criticism new and original, from what perspective does it attack, what aspect does it criticize, etc. I'd like to have the capability of inviting others to contribute to this effort, perhaps a selected group of collaborators or a more Wikipedia-ish free-for-all. 
l can do all this by hand, or I could develop software to automate it for my specific case, or someone could develop this as a general capability available for use by anyone for any purpose.
Google plus has just come up with the idea of a collection, which may provide a move in this direction. I haven't seen a serious example of someone using it yet.
Every blog has a comments section, usually requiring some sort of log-in. Comments "belong to" the article they comment on, rather than being separate items that relate to each other. I want to own all my comments, and be able to comment on whatever I like without the permission of the thing I comment on. I'd like to see a system that would allow any reader looking for comments on a particular item to be able to find them and perhaps filter out certain sorts of comments. I'd like to be able to find all the public comments made by a particular person, along with links to the things that inspired the comments.
Another example: I'd like to write a book online, by first making some notes and an outline, then writing more notes on a particular subtopic, engage in a discussion about something else related, come up with a draft chapter, etc. Old revisions and elisions would remain available in the history. At the end, I might produce a conventional book, or a strange hyperlinked multimedia hybrid. I want to have the capability to build it very dynamically, to make it visible before I am finished, in fact visible from the beginning.
Hashtags could play a big part here. We could use hashtags to add a web page to a topic, or to question the inclusion of a web page in a topic. So someone seeing this post might tag it #webCuration (to indicate it is about web curation) or #notMuseum (to indicate that it has been mistakenly associated with the topic of museums).

Please comment if you know of some existing solution or proposed innovation in this area, or an example of a well-curated dynamic web creation. I suppose Wikipedia itself would sort of qualify, if they weren't so chauvinistic about references to respectable print publications. I am tempted to launch a "scholarly" print journal whose only real reason for existence is to print articles so that people can make changes on Wikipedia. You might be able to make a profit, who knows? Sort of the Journal of Irreproducible Results minus the funniness requirement. Maybe the Journal of Questionable Claims? Publish it here when you want someone else to do the homework.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

UPB Comment, page 28-30

Page 28: According to UPB, a valid theory is logically consistent and empirically testable. 

Page 29: Moral propositions claim that human beings should act in a particular manner, or avoid acting in a particular manner. 
Page 30: A personal preference is what?
A universal preference, is what is objectively required, or necessary, assuming a particular goal. If I want to live, I do not have to like jazz, but I must eat. “Eating” remains a preference – I do not have to eat, in the same way that I have to obey gravity – but “eating” is a universal, objective, and binding requirement for staying alive, since it relies on biological facts that cannot be wished away. Isn't all human action goal oriented? Life is a universal goal? Is this the same as universally preferable?
Ethics as a discipline can be defined as any theory regarding preferable human behaviour that is universal, objective, consistent – and binding. Where does this come from?
Page 32: If you want to live, it is universally preferable that you refrain from eating a handful of arsenic."   it is universally preferable that your theories be both internally consistent and empirically verifiable. “Universally preferable,” then, translates to “objectively required,” but we will retain the word “preferable” to differentiate between optional human absolutes and non-optional physical absolutes such as gravity.
One adopts a goal, then a causal relationship exists between the goal and the means of achieving it. Sometimes the means is unique, sometimes many means are equally preferable. Why talk about preference or preferability at all?
Similarly, if ethical theories can be at all valid, then they must at least be both internally and externally consistent. In other words, an ethical theory that contradicts itself cannot be valid – and an ethical theory that contradicts empirical evidence and near-universal preferences also cannot be valid.
What does that mean? How can an ethical theory contradict empirical evidence, since it is not a factual claim? Feasibility? What are near-universal preferences?

Thus in ethics, just as in science, mathematics, engineering and all other disciplines that compare theories to reality, valid theories must be both logically consistent and empirically verifiable

Social Contract, Holocaust, chattel slavery, North Korea

Is there anything in the idea of the social contact that should have protected Jews from the Holocaust?  If not, what is it worth? If we must trump the social contract with other principles of justice, why not just stick to the principles of justice and forget the social contract?
Does North Korea have a social contract? How can the people of North Korea request a renegotiation?
Did chattel slavery somehow violate the social contract? If so, why didn't anyone notice at the time?
Why should this philosophy-flavored pacifier satisfy anyone?

Comment on UPB page 49

Certain preconditions must exist, or be accepted, in order for ethical judgments or theories to have any validity or applicability. Clearly, choice and personal responsibility must both be accepted as axioms. If a rock comes bouncing down a hill and crashes into your car, we do not hold the rock morally responsible, since it has no consciousness, cannot choose, and therefore cannot possess personal responsibility. If the rock dislodged simply as a result of time and geology, then no one is responsible for the resulting harm to your car. If, however, you saw me push the rock out of its position, you would not blame the rock, but rather me. To add a further complication, if it turns out that I dislodged the rock because another man forced me to at gunpoint, you would be far more likely to blame the gun-toting initiator of the situation rather than me. 
Should we count situations of coercion as exceptions to moral principles, or violations, for the purpose of enforcement or self-defense? 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Penn cops out on global warming

I just listened to Penn Jillette's podcast (Penn's Sunday School, May 31, 2014). He briefly discussed his change of heart on global warming, which I would paraphrase as "whether or not global warming is a problem, this is all stuff we want to do." This is a cop-out.
Sure, some things that have been discussed as reducing carbon emissions or ameliorating the effects of global warming would be beneficial. They might save lives. But are they more beneficial or more life-saving than other things we could do instead? What is the goal here, and what assumptions are we making?
Don't forget, trying to save lives by reversing global warming prevents us from trying to save lives in other ways, some of which could be more effective.
My point is, there are many things we want to do, but we can't do them all. If the politics of global warming did not impose unwelcome costs on anyone, no one would complain, and the controversy would never have exploded.
Global warming is both a scientific and a political challenge. What do we know, and how certain are we? What can we do about it? Can we get the entire planet to agree? How will the agreement be enforced? We will not solve these problems easily, and no one would embrace them without strong motivation. Certainly we would prefer to avoid catastrophe, but do we actually know how? And finally, in response to Penn, if global warming is not that big a problem, no, we don't want to do all those things anyway.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Debunkery: Motivation

A lot of ideas I took for granted when I was young now seem questionable, or just wrong. Motivation provides a good example. I used to think, if you don't want something to happen, attach a cost or punishment to it. If you want something to happen, attach a reward.
Psychologists have attacked this idea. Alfie Kohn wrote a book on this, titled "Punished by Rewards." Punishment is complicated by factors such as the certainty, swiftness, and severity. But even rewards have unexpected limits and complications. Intrinsic motivation taps in to persons' understanding of the world, their identity, and the meaning and significance of the activity. Motivation can be affected by group morale, effective leadership, and other factors. And none of this is uncontroversial, psychologists disagree with each other, and business consultants will be happy to sell you help based on theories old and new.
Maybe it's a good thing we can't quite figure his out. If it was easy, advertisers would have us buying robotically, our bosses would have us filling out TPS reports enthusiastically, and the legislature would prevent us from having any sort of fun.


If we want to help, or try something new, or opt out of something we dislike, yes, we can. We seek a society where everyone strives to rely more on cooperation, empathy, and mutual respect, eliminating coercion where we can. We should not need to ask permission to do a good deed, never face denial or coercion. Conscience without law may be confusing. Law without conscience is tyranny.