Robots: better than neglect

I’ve just been reading Sherry Turkle‘s book Alone Together, why we expect more from technology and less from each other. It’s a good contrast with Jane McGonigal‘s Reality is Broken. The latter is all about how games can bring out the best in us, the former about how technology is not a universal panacea (Ok those two things are quite separate, I could have drawn a description that would have depicted the two positions as complete opposites but I didn’t).

Though Sherry argues that the effects of modern technology on children needs to be more carefully thought out, I was struck by the parents checking their e-mail so constantly that the children never feel they get any attention. Robots (hypothetical for now) are preferred because

“A robot would remember everything I said. It might not understand everything but remembering is a first step. My father, talking to me while on his Blackberry, he doesn’t know what I said, so it’s not much use that if he did know, he might understand.”

A robot would cook me a proper dinner and not give me  cereal for supper.

Speaking of robots that will exist sooner, to look after elderly people, Sherry pointed out that we seem to be starting from the assumption that, even with unemployment through the roof, we will not have the time and resources to have people looking after older people, so we should give them robot companions and robot nurses. But as Sherry quotes Apppiah: the options are shaped by the question, we need to challenge which question is posed and ask what care we want to provide.

Islington Library Opening Hours insert for the Filofax mini

Here are all the Islington library opening hours in a simple matrix so you can quickly see which libraries are open at any given time. Can’t wait for amazon to post your new must read book (DVD, CD)? See which library has it and go to the one that’s open. With at least four libraries open into the evening each week, work needn’t get in the way of reading. You can also login and order books to be waiting for you at your nearest library. The only thing missing is a Netflix setup. Ideally I would have a list of all the books I want to read in my account and they would send them to me one at a time as I return the previous one.

I think I should point out that far from being paid by Islington for this endorsement, I pay them.

I’ve sized this print out to fit into a filofax mini. The mini has almost no accessories so I’m reduced to DIY inserts (though filofax probably doesn’t publish Islington opening hours in any size).

The Order of the Stick

Further to my list of favourite daily webcomics: I love reading The Order of the Stick, by Rich Burlew. Its’ amazing how expressive stick figures are. This is an good illustration for my argument against HD, the story is far more important than the resolution of the picture.
The current book has just ended, on quite a dramatic note (well nobody ends on a boring note). There are always lots of references to pop culture (the banana muffin shaped hole on the belly of the dragon) as well as actual culture (but what if I don’t want to fight in the shade?) My favourite is the resolution of the old classic ‘there are two paths one guarded by a custodian that always lies and the other by a custodian who always tells the truth’. Turns out if you shoot one of them in the foot, their swearing will enable you to figure it out pretty quickly. 

The kickstarter event back in 2012 was also great fun. With an initial goal of $60,000, the Kickstarter ended on $1.2 MILLION, with new graphs every day or two telling their own story. Turns out that working hard every day for 9 years will bring you overnight success.

Justice, The terrorist dilemma

I recently read Justice, what’s the right thing to do? by Michael J. Sandel.

I loved the way the book broke down a lot of moral questions to show you all the pieces that go into a moral dilemma.

One discussion covered the dilemma ‘Is it ok to torture a terrorist to tell you the location of a bomb that is about to go off in a few hours?’

Sandel points out that there are two approaches.

1) Do the maths to figure out the greater good.

2) It is never right because freedom from torture is a human right that is beyond calculation, even if the benefits are huge.

My previous thought was to go with 1 and widen the ‘maths’ consideration to show that the costs will always be higher than the benefits (people can take a lot of pain for a few hours, benefit=0, freedom from torture will encourage people to dob in their friends/family as they can be sure they will be safe from mistreatment, and such citizens information is much more valuable than information extracted under torture).

The second argument is far more courageous and hard.

Sandel then breaks down the pieces of the argument by asking: What if we don’t have the terrorist, but his 5 year old innocent child. Is it ok to torture that child to locate the bomb?

It’s the same cost for the same benefit, but this is much more awful. This shows that our question of torture ‘for the greater good’ is also mixed up with the idea that the terrorist ‘deserves’ punishment. You could say the torture is in lieu of the jail time he would have to serve anyway. Not so with the child.

My webcomic recommendations

I’ll start with my recommendations for my favourite webcomics. When I was little my father would bring home the evening standard each day and I’d go straight for the comics. Now I have custom made my own version of that page on my browser.  Here is my daily line up.

I started reading Narbonic by Shaenon K. Garrity, this is her current project in collaboration with Jeffrey C. Wells. Great fun.