Thursday, 1 October 2015

Paranoid Android Syndrome...

... or PAS for short, should come in as a handy filler if they're stuck for yet another new disorder to pad out DSM-6, the next milestone in the ongoing Let's Medicalise Every Human Personality Trait project.  Here's a case study for some enterprising psychiatrist eager to spot and classify the next big thing in personality disorders:
An IT help desk staffer at New York City's Health Department is facing his second suspension for answering customer calls in a robot voice.

Ronald Dillon has worked for the Health Department since 1976, and holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics as well as an MBA.

He was once a project manager and supervisor at the Health Department, but three years ago was transferred to the help desk job, reported DNAinfo...

...[Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings Judge Ingrid] Addison stated that Dillon seemed to have a chip on his shoulder regarding his position at the Health Department.

"What was apparent from his rambling explanation and his general testimony was that he felt his skills and education to be superior to the requirements of his current job, especially given the kinds of projects to which he had been previously assigned," she said...
... writes Alexander J Martin, at The Register.

We've all been there, haven't we, Marvin?
‘Reverse primary thrust, Marvin.’ That’s what they say to me. ‘Open airlock number 3, Marvin.’ ‘Marvin, can you pick up that piece of paper?’ Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to pick up a piece of paper. 
Marvin was, of course, the result of the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation's ill-advised attempt to build robots with Genuine People Personalities, although in our enlightened time, all non-standard personality traits have been reclassified as disorders, because 'the subject meets the diagnostic criteria for PAS' makes you sound way smarter than 'that guy was acting like a jerk.'

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Volkswagen paradox

Here's another way to look at the former VW CEO's Rebekah Brooks-style claim that people at the top of his organisation had no idea about the systemic wrongdoing being perpetrated at more junior levels. Belle Waring finds this unbelievable, too, although following a directive from above must have meant that loads of people further down the corporate food-chain had to know, too, but all kept schtum for years, which is also pretty hard to believe:
I think cheating on this scale required, not just massive amounts of fraud, but a massive amount of complicity. No one at a lower level in the organization would take on the risk of freelancing a scheme of this nature. The benefits coming to you would be attenuated, and the danger would be great. This means that (minimally, some) people at the very top of the organization had to know about the software. Software powerful enough to determine when the car was being tested is complex and requires input from many sensors. This means (minimally, not a small number of) people had to know about the software. The person writing the proprietary code governing the steering wheel’s performance would have to be involved at least enough to have been told, “create an alert when the wheel hasn’t been moved in 2 minutes but the engine is running hard.” But it has always been my belief that, by and large, complex, dangerous conspiracies involving many people simply don’t happen. 

Read the whole thing here (the NYT piece which Belle references, is also good, highlighting the digital rights management angle on what was going on in VW's sealed black boxes).

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Volkswagen does a Renault

I'm grateful to Volkswagen's now ex-CEO, Martin Winterkorn, for this opportunity to yet again recycle one of my all-time favourite movie quotes:
"I am shocked by the events of the past few days," Winterkorn said in a statement released Wednesday. "Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group."
Maybe the head honcho really didn't know what was going on, but I do suspect that, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, he would say that, wouldn't he?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: [aloud] Everybody out at once!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The usual suspects

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

The greatest trick the political right ever pulled was convincing the world that their ideology doesn't exist.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Forbidden ex-planet

The latest batch of Pluto images downloaded from the New Horizons probe look alien and stunning, sure enough. But to me, they also look both unreal and strangely familiar. They remind me of the artwork from some vintage science fiction film, an alien world as imagined by a visual effects artist from the 1950s.

To see what I mean, compare Pluto with the planet Altair IV, as visualised for the 1956 classic Forbidden Planet - the desolate plains, punctuated by towering mountain ranges, the hazy, layered atmosphere. The only thing missing from the New Horizons download is Louis and Bebe Barron's unearthly electronic film score.
Science fact is finally starting to look like science fiction.

The Forbidden Planet image was nicked from NZ Pete's Matte Shot blog, a highly-recommended wunderkammer of cinematic visual effects artistry, in what I hope is an act of fair use.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

If you can't say something nice...

... don't say nothin' at all (at least on Facebook):
In December 2014, [Zuckerberg] flat-out stated that the company will not build a “dislike” button that gives people a way to disapprove of one another’s posts. (I explained in some depth at the time why Facebook wouldn’t want that.) Rather, he said, Facebook was exploring ways to allow users to convey fuzzy sentiments like surprise, laughter, or empathy.

That’s very similar to what he said Tuesday, when he asserted that “what they really want is an ability to express empathy. If you’re expressing something sad … it may not feel comfortable to ‘like’ that post, but your friends and people want to be able to express that they understand.”
Will Oremus

So long as you uncritically approve of something, your Facebook opinion counts. If you actively dislike something, you don't deserve a voice, you hater. Stepping into Zuckerberg's walled garden is like entering the brightly-coloured, advertising-saturated, micro-managed corporate dystopia of The Lego Movie, where everything is officially awesome and no form of negativity is allowed.

Being rather counter-suggestible, as Mary Beard would say, this attitude irritates me. You don't have to be a fan of spoilsports, wet blankets and abuse-hurling trolls to understand the simple fact that, in the real world, everything isn't necessarily awesome. Inevitably there are also really terrible ideas, things that are dumb, obnoxious, badly thought out, or just plain annoying. In what reality* does it make sense to record only positive evaluations of absolutely everything and disallow any other point of view?

I've not had a Facebook account for years, so it's not my problem, but here's an idea for any resistance fighters still living in Zuckerberg-occupied territory. According to Zuck, what you're going to get, instead of a proper dislike button, is some form of  general purpose 'in deepest sympathy' button, maybe in the form of a little heart, intended for those times when somebody else's life isn't so great. But who says you have to use that symbol in the Zuckerberg-approved way? Why not appropriate the 'I'm so sorry' button as a sarcastic alternative to 'liking' something truly appalling, whether it's some ill-advised or obnoxious post from an individual, or a piece of advertising puffery from some dreadful, socially irresponsible organisation?

Instead of simply ignoring some horrible thing you've been invited to like, channel Father Jack Hackett's 'I'm so, soo sorry!' and turn the sarcasm meter up to eleven.

I'm sure that Facebook HQ would try to disrupt any such networks of subversion as soon as they became apparent (come to think of it, the system probably won't allow you to 'heart' advertisers from day one - that loophole's probably too much to hope for), but any sabotage you can get away with sounds way more fun than the lobotomised form of self-expression permitted by the authorities. Bon chance, mes braves!**

*Yeah, I know, it makes sense in the reality of the hucksters who are paying to shove their adverts into your eyeballs....

** Schoolboy French howler belatedly corrected