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Category Archives: Philosophy

Life lessons from artificial intelligence

If you speak to enough software engineers, you’ll realize that many of them can’t understand some everyday ideas without using computer metaphors. They say “context switching” to explain why it’s hard to work with interruptions and distractions. Empathy is essentially machine virtualization, but applied to other people’s brains. Practicing a skill is basically feedback-directed optimization. Motion sickness is just your video processor overheating, and so on. A few years ago, I thought I was the only one whose brain used “computer” as its native language. And at the time, I considered this a major problem. I remember one summer afternoon, I was playing scrabble with some friends at my parents’ house. At that time, I had just finished an internship, where day-to-night I didn’t have much to think about other than computers. And as I stared at my scrabble tiles, I… more →

Child prodigy

I watched a YouTube video this morning about a 13 year old boy taught himself to make iPhone apps and got famous for it. He took an internship at Facebook and then started working there full-time. There were TV stations and news websites that interviewed him and wrote about how he’s helping his family financially and how any teenager can start making tons of money if they just learn to code. And the story was nice and inspiring and stuff, except there are tons of kids that do the same thing and nobody writes articles about any of them. He’s probably 18 or 19 now1 and still working at Facebook as a product manager. How’s he feeling now? On the other hand, I’m a college senior, dreading the day when I have to start working like a grown-up and wondering if I’ll miss… more →

Grown ups

I haven’t posted anything to my Tumblr blog in 649 days, but in that time I’ve gained maybe 50 new followers, and they’re all strangers. I don’t think any of them are bots either. They found a link on my homepage and maybe they decided I would some day post something again. Sometimes, I click on their profile picture and check out their Tumblr blogs too. I open up web inspector and grab the URL of their avatar thumbnail, and then I change the _128 suffix to _512, because I knew that Tumblr offered avatar thumbnails with sizes in powers of 2, between 32 and 512. And then I remembered that a few years ago I built a tool to uncover Tumblr avatars and put it on RogerHub, and suddenly it feels kind of creepy checking out 512px thumbnails of… more →

Miscellaneous things

Last friday, there was an outdoor concert on campus and I went with some of the people I lived with in the dorms last year. I hadn’t heard of either of the bands performing, but that didn’t worry me. I try not to be stingy with my time, and I feel uncomfortable when other people are with theirs. It’s not like I am doing something important with every minute of my waking day anyway. Also, I don’t put a price on anything that concerns my mental well-being. I am not on the edge of going insane; that is not what I mean. I just mean that some things are more important and should not be valued the same way you value unimportant things. It just so happens that at the moment, I can’t think of very many unimportant things to… more →

Dead man's switch

A few years ago, I started toying with the idea of leaving behind contingency letters in case I died an early and unexpected death. I usually like being fairly well-prepared for all kinds of data disasters, financial disasters, and natural disasters, so death seemed like a sensible thing to prepare for too. It sounded kind of shocking and morbid at the time, and I didn’t want anybody worrying I was some depressed teenager, so I didn’t tell anybody about it1. These things usually work better when nobody knows anyway. I got the idea from this animated TV show where a scientist leaves behind computer programs that activate automatically when he dies, so that he can get messages across to people and manipulate events from beyond the grave. If anybody ever tried that in real life, I doubt it would work… more →

Gender roles

I hate talking about gender roles. I won’t even listen to other people talk about gender roles. Within the realm of all progressive fronts of social change, cultural movements regarding gender are the most immediate. The history of nontraditional women is frustratingly short and our cultural education is exceedingly androcentric. I think it’s already a small miracle that young people today don’t think like clones of their parents. Whereas we can comfortably throw around ideas about poverty and human rights from a distance, ideas about gender roles apply universally. And above all, I feel that nobody has yet produced the right answer to the question of gender roles so far. I’ll show you what I mean. A lot of people like to throw around condescending rhetorical questions that go something like: why do you you think (foo) can’t (bar) just because… more →

Mobile technology in the modern age

In our modern age, people usually associate cellphones with introversion and isolation. At my cousin’s home in Tokyo, businessmen and students alike keep to their flip phones and novellas on the subway. Nobody is allowed to talk1, save for the foreigners and newcomers who haven’t yet learned to respect the silence. How fortunate it is, then, that we have phones to keep us busy, without which we would have to stare uncomfortably at our feet or out the window—heaven forbid you accidentally make eye contact with somebody. To some lesser extent, this self-inflicted alienation is present in urban cultures all over the world, and for good reason too. The subway is hardly an ideal place to meet new people, and loud talking is rude to those who prefer to sleep or read. With the proliferation of inexpensive smartphones and mobile… more →

Theory of Everything

I remember pausing the first time I read those words. They were in an astronomy book or magazine or something, and it initially struck me as a bit conceited that a bit of cosmological discussion could suddenly lay claim to an word that literally referred to everything. Might not musicians or archaeologists or some other unfamiliar professional discipline have already taken the “everything” name and applied it to one of their own big ideas? Perhaps an idea that was pervasive through their own fields but hardly relevant in others? Before I got to understanding what a ToE really embodied or even attempting the cut-down version that the text presented, I conjectured my own theory of the phrase’s meaning and came up with something that I feel, to the non-physicist, applies to everything even more than the Theory of Everything does. Watching… more →

Crime and affliction

Who is responsible for poverty? Whose fault is disease? All but the most skeptical of people agree that there is unpleasantness in the world whose persistent endurance is beyond the wicked capacity of any one person, but instead is the result of simple things that we understand but cannot control. Searching for the answers to these questions quickly reduces your humanitarian contemplation to rehashes of the physical properties of matter. At their essence, there is no cause for sickness and death beyond antagonistic configurations of elementary blocks and flaws in our quaternary information storage system1. Consequently, we have to introduce abstract entities before we can really plunge into these philosophical problems: humans, their affiliations, and their relationships among one another. Whom do we blame for heartbreak? Whose sin is mass deception? And whose is envy? To understand a human being,… more →

Manifesto

A great number of people publish from positions of power, after experience has granted them a gift of wisdom along with the responsibility of spreading it throughout the world. They then find their task very clear and simple. They command authority over some particular subject in which other seek insight and validation. In short, people write about what they know best. However, the great majority of people are not experts nor leading researchers on anything at all, other than themselves. It falls upon them to identify subjects using which they can write assured of their own competence. Many choose the circuitous solution and become the expert they need to be, but even more will shirk the duty and end up abandoning their honest efforts or redirecting them to wasteful self-entertaining ends. Likewise, I disclaim and despair to know little outside… more →

Flowering random

As human beings, we have misconceptions of the nature of randomness. Try it and write down a sequence of random digits. You’ll notice that certain numbers tend to be repeated, or that no two consecutive digits are the same. Maybe your numbers tend to go up and then down and then up again, or that you’ll use all the digits before repeating any. It’s simply our natural tendency to look for patterns where there may not be any. All cell phone numbers appear, to the human mind, to exhibit patterns. Some follow a circular path around the keypad and the digits of others are contained within an unnaturally small subset of the ten possible digits. It is the same reason why we cannot at first understand how a group of only twenty-three people have a 50% probability of containing two… more →

Functional unity

It seems like the next big thing is always trying to combine the knobs and buttons of your life into a single revolutionary new paradigm of luxury. Especially exemplary are the new developments in heads-up display devices1 and the various misnomers for cloud computing. At a primitive level, we understand the advantages. It’s integrated. All of it is, like a strict building code in a top-dog neighborhood. As human beings, we’re predisposed to patterns because it’s part of our innate behavior. The predictability and uniformity of life comes from the hunter-gatherer era when fewer things to worry about meant an easier life. But, humans, as usual, make bad choices for themselves. Think about every invention in the world that has stood the test of time. Each does only one thing and it does it well. From the resistors and capacitors of integrated… more →