Saturday, March 22, 2008

Turing vs. John Henry

For the record, I think Kevin Kelly is a genius and often am extremely gratified to find him exploring weird, wild areas of technology and the mind. Even when I disagree with him, it's usually on small points or on wording.

In his latest post on The Technium, though... I just think he's wrong and oddly so, to boot. Read the post, so I don't have to paraphrase it too much, here. It's short. I'll wait...

So, where is he wrong? Well, let's start with the idea that computer scientists are more comfortable with technological change because, "They grok that many of the tasks they used to do can be done much better by computers." Really? There are computers designing computers and writing code? There are robots building robots? I haven't seen much of that.

What I've seen is that computer scientists use computers in their daily business, and that computers do more tasks than they used to. But not tasks that used to be done by CS folks. The scientists are doing the same tasks, just with more complex, robust and cheaper tools.

I also haven't ever seen good art created by a computer or good poetry or fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter) written by a computer. But many artists, designers and writers absolutely embrace technology because the tools are just so flippin' helpful. The writers I know love word processors, for example, and the spell-checking, note-taking, formatting functions now available. I don't in any way begrudge my computer the ability to look up spelling much quicker than I did with a dictionary back in college. Yet there isn't a computer out there that could, as of yet, write this blog post.

Same with designers. Those of you out there with a graphic arts background, especially those who have come-of-age in the last 15 years or so, will understand why "Photoshop is God" is a popular phrase. Does the computer do a better job at some mundane (and elegant) tasks associated with design? Hell, yes. Doing layout with InDesign or Quark Xpress is hundreds of times faster, easier and better than using the old paper layout methods. But a computer has yet to design a great piece of packaging or ad or children's book illustration.

In some cases, I think this is the opposite of what Kelly is saying. As a writer (and sometimes designer), I have absolutely no fear of adopting new technology, because I think it's impossible (or at least waaay down the road) for a computer to "do" what is at the heart of what I do: create. I'd put many musicians and film makers in this bucket, too. Again... I don't see any films being made by computers, but the movie industry is moving the tech ahead in many cases.

And about doctors... I'm not sure what docs Kelly is working with, but most of the ones I know are huge tech nuts; they love they new toys. The digital distribution of records and labs is something they *rave* about when I talk to them. Scans of X-rays go on the hospital computer system and show up on the computer screen in the patient's room, maybe even across town, in minutes rather than hours. MRI and CAT scan tech relies incredibly on computer power, obviously. Genetic engineering of drugs is almost impossible without computers. Maybe there are some good ol' GPs who don't want to computerize their bills... but I think this is a micro-example of a pain-in-the-ass system that nobody even likes the old way, so they don't want to spend time on it.

In short... I think this is just a weird argument. When computer technology disrupts your job to the point that you are totally disintermediated --  take, for example, the guys at the print shop who used to cut film -- you aren't, I think, going to be thrilled about it... but, to be successful, you may have to get on board. But there's a pretty decent chance you'll go the other direction and be pissed off. On the other hand, if computers make your job easier, you'll probably be OK with them in other instances, sure.

Oh... and I know some UNIX grey-beards who absolutely resent new computer technology. They liked being part of a small, elite band of brothers who understood computers when they were big and important and separate. Now that there's a computer in my cell phone, and kids can mash-up aps on the Web, they feel a bit massintermediated.

Turing proposed a computer that was indistinguishable from a person in a conversation. In Kelly's examples, he seems to be talking about our tech (computers in this case) besting us on particular tasks. Well, that's been happening  since spear-throwers came along. John Henry died trying to beat the steam drill. I'd die trying to beat a spell checker. Just because I respect a tool's ability to multiply my value doesn't mean I think it's likely to replace my value.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Best Gary Gygax eulogy stuff

16 Gary Gygax Jokes we better not catch you making

  1. “Quick! Someone cast Raise Dead!”

  2. “Don’t worry – he’s just playtesting the Astral Plane for the next edition.”

  3. “He’s gone the way of Star Frontiers.”

  4. “Analysts warn of a free-fall in Mountain Dew futures.”

  5. “In the next town, you meet a stranger named Barry Bygax.”

  6. “Now who will lead our young people to Satan?”

  7. “With his last breath, he cursed the name of Marlon Wayans.”

  8. “I wonder how they’ll divide up his XP.”

  9. “Pallbearers, make a Bend Bars/Lift Gates roll.”

  10. "At least he didn't live to see Disney's Greyhawk On Ice."

  11. “Lorraine Williams is behind this somehow, I just know it.”

  12. “The worlds of adventure gaming, fantasy fandom, and van painting will never be the same.”

  13. “When I heard, I cried 2d10 tears.”

  14. “Is there anything in the will about electrum?”

  15. “Heart condition? Wow, I always thought it’d be owlbears that got him.”

  16. “Suddenly, nobody in Heaven wants to hang out with Marilyn Monroe on Friday night.”



Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why I love teh intertubes (part 31,076)

This is good:


And this is good, and makes the other one better:


Absolutely, totally random thought-of-the-day

Had a biz meeting in a local restaurant. Noticed that there was a painted-on window treatment above the big picture windows. You know... fake, painted valences. It occurred to me that "valence" and "painted" are words that do not get together often.  This restaurant had another couple fun painted, atmospheric effects, including a painted-on fireplace and bookshelf.

Which prompted the thought, "I hope the urinals are not trompe-l'oeil."

Words that don't get together much: "urinal" and "trompe-l'oeil."

Probably a good thing.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Internets.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Postmodern cartoons

If you haven't seen Garfield Minus Garfield, check it out. Pretty amusing.

The number of things you have to know about culture, psychology, etc. in order to find this funny is creepy in and of itself. The deconstruction of a comic strip, minus its star, points to a public that is increasingly sophisticated when it comes to choosing how to read material at any given moment.

Question for the gang... is this funnier if you hate or love Garfield in its original state?

Google Sites: A front door into the Universal Library

After more than a year, JotSpot (bought by Google that long ago) has come out from behind the gCurtain and has reemerged as Google Sites.

I blogged the Google purchase of JotSpot back in November of 2006; I called it the "2nd wiki that Google bought." Writely (the engine for Google Docs) being the first.

So... now you can use Google to create not just pages that you can view (iGoogle), but pages that you can share with everyone. Visitors can view the pages, registered users can create/edit stuff. [I'll have a better review of the functionality after I get a Google Site up and running]

So what? So you can now use Google to search, create docs, create Web pages, share stuff, etc. etc. Nothing new here, right? These aren't the droids you're looking for...

Maybe they are.

I keep pointing people to this essay by George Dyson on Edge. In it, he says:
The books that have been written are easy. They represent the collective memory and imagination of mankind, and the technical resources now exist to deliver The Complete Works of Homo Sapiens, Unabridged. Who can argue against this? It is the realization of every librarian's dream — unless you harbor suspicions about who is going to need librarians once the Universal Library has digested all the books... The Universal Library promises us a repository for the souls of all existing books — and the resurrection of all titles that have gone extinct. And the books that have not been written yet?

Emphasis mine.

The biggest library in the universe is the one of those works as yet to be written. Every year the Web sees the creation of more content than exists in the Library of Congress. I don't want to discuss the relative value of those materials at this point. I'm just noticing that lots of people are adding lots of new stuff to "The Library" all the time.

And now Google has pushed out another service by which that content can be... manipulated? Captured? Serviced? Advertised? Searched? OK... whatever you want to call it. You can do it on Google.

So what? Some will ask. I can create a Web site on MySpace or WordPress or with a free, generic tool and a couple bucks on GoDaddy. It's not that what Google is doing with Google Sites is particularly unique, it's that it's doing it in conjunction with everything else.

Creation, too, has a much bigger brand footprint than search, advertising, etc. When you create something, you put yourself into it. The Web becomes more "yours" when you create a Wikipedia entry or post a YouTube video. Or if you create a site with Google.

No prognostication on this post. Just observation. The world's mightiest search/advertising engine is now even further into the business of creativity as well as findability. It's the printing press for the Universal Future Library as well as the table of contents and advertiser.