The Age of Total Surveillance

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We keep hearing and reading stories about how your “smart” phone and your “smart” TV–beware the word “smart”!–spy on you for this or that government agency or private corporation. They see what you do and hear what you say.

And there are other headlines, scattered all over the Internet, about spy technology that can be placed in your furniture, light bulbs, food, clothing–even sprayed onto your skin without your knowledge. I have no way of knowing how much of this is true.

Now all this information, collected by “smart” devices, is way too much for any number of human beings to store and process: your head would explode. So they pass it on, instead, to a bigger computer and design Al Gore Rhythms to govern how the big computer handles the information. At no point is there an actual mind involved–just this misleadingly named “Artificial Intelligence” that simulates some of the operation of a mind without having any consciousness of what it’s doing–let alone anything we might call a “thought.” There is no intelligence in Artificial Intelligence.

We saw earlier this month how Facebook’s Al Gore Rhythm decided, on the Fourth of July, that our Declaration of Independence  was “hate speech.” That was mindless. The computer had no ability to take into account the historical context of the document, or to weigh the intent of its content against the current Political Correctness value of its language. Humans eventually had to override their own computer’s brainless simulation of a decision.

The point is, computers and their Al Gore Rhythms are bloody stupid–and so are those who put their trust in them. Just like those who put their trust in idols: see Psalm 135: 15-18 (“They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them”).

Our idols today are fancier, but they’re still just idols.

22 comments on “The Age of Total Surveillance

  1. There is no question that stupidity reigns everywhere these days. It is mind boggling to witness some of the levels to which people have fallen,
    or been pushed. Even big lumber companies like the one where my older son is employed is plagued by political correctness (or whatever it is).
    In jest, an employee said to another who had mentioned that he was able to get a ride somewhere with another man, “what did you have to do to get a favor like that?”. This caused a stir all the way to upper level management, called sexual harassment. The one who made the joking question was flabbergasted that his silly remark had made it all the way to the top, when he had meant nothing of the kind.
    Meanwhile, major operating procedures in the day to day job are going unaddressed by lower, mid or upper levels of management. I am disgusted with the way things are done these days. Ultimately, all this insanity adds to the cost of products to consumers. Time wasted and mis-used which should be used to improve quality of products and services, and to see how asinine even large companies are behaving.

    1. Somehow it seems the more education we get, as a society, the less we’re able to do things. Has anybody noticed that?

    2. I have noticed that. 49 years ago, almost to the day, mankind landed on the moon. We haven’t been back since December of 1972 and I doubt that we will be back any time soon. Progress has stagnated in many sectors.

    3. So true Erlene, PC has infected every facet of our society. I’ve seen what it has done to movies, comic books, games, etc. There are some common trends I’ve noticed. The quality declines as they value PC over profits, and they tend to be antagonistic toward their customers. The good news is there is push-back happening. The sooner we get rid of this virulent strain of Marxism the better.

  2. A very astute observation indeed, Lee. The problem with algorithms is that they possess zero intelligence whatsoever. That’s actually the greatest challenge to writing one because we, as humans are infinitely better at reasoning than computers ever can be.

    If you don’t mind, I’ll include and example of a very simple, useful, little Al-Gore-Rhythm that I wrote, complete with examples of how dumb it actually is.

    Following is a simple little script which runs on a specialized kind of computer known as a router. The script determines whether or not a given network (a range of addresses represented by numbers) exists on that router. This can come in very handy when you are solving a problem on a unfamiliar network, which is the sort of thing I might do in my work. Here goes.

    set o [exec “Show IP Interface Brief”]
    set fp [string first $argv $o]
    puts “\n”
    if {$fp >-1} {puts “Subnet beginning with $argv exists on this router.”} else {
    puts “Subnet beginning with $argv does not exist on this router.”}

    The first line asks the router what network is has and stores this information as $o. The second line remembers the command string which contains the description of the network you are inquiring about and compares it with the network you inquired about when you started the program. It counts how many times that group of numbers appears in the routers networks. If they exist that count will amount to more than minus 1 and stores that number as $fp.

    So, here comes the Al-Gore-Rhythm. If $fp is greater than -1 “if {$fp >-1}”
    put to the screen that the network you were looking for exists on this router “{puts “Subnet beginning with $argv exists on this router.”}”. If it doesn’t, put to the screen a message that it doesn’t exist “else {
    puts “Subnet beginning with $argv does not exist on this router.”}”.

    That’s it, one silly statement and I have an Al-Gore-Rhythm which is more useful, IMHO, than Al Gore himself, but possessing no more sense. It works, but only if the person operating the script gives it the right input. Here’s an example:

    If I inquire about a network which exists on that router it tells me so, in a fraction of a second, which is very useful.

    Lab-2811#tclsh netexist.tcl 10.1.1.

    Subnet beginning with 10.1.1. exists on this router.

    If I inquire about a network which does not exist on that router it tells me that too, just as quickly, which is, once again, very useful.

    Lab-2811#tclsh netexist.tcl 10.1.2.

    Subnet beginning with 10.1.2. does not exist on this router.

    If I quote Churchill to the Al-Gore-Rhythm, it simply tells me that the router has no appreciation of history.

    Lab-2811#tclsh netexist.tcl We_shall_fight_on_the_beaches

    Subnet beginning with We_shall_fight_on_the_beaches does not exist on this router.

    If I put in a very vague request it answers with the same degree of authority, which is to say, it can make useless information sound just as important as useful information.

    Lab-2811#tclsh netexist.tcl 1

    Subnet beginning with 1 exists on this router.

    Therein lies the problem. Computers have no sense. The first two examples had a 1 in 16,777,216 chance of matching, which means that the answer was very meaningful. The last example, where I asked it to match the number 1, had a 1 in 10 chance of matching, which is to say that the information was all but useless, but it spit out that answer with as much profundity as if it had found a needle in a haystack. The value of an algorithm is all in the information put into it and the interpretation of the information it returns.

    Algorithms can be useful, but they can also function as a ventriloquist’s dummy, just a phony mouth spouting the ideas of the ventriloquist whom controls it.

    As you can tell by my words, I have considerable interest in and passion for this subject. This is because I know firsthand that computers do only what they are told to do. Tell it in just the right way and you get what you want. Make one tiny mistake and the output can be misleading.

    There have been some very serious accidents with self-driving cars under testing, including at least one where a pedestrian was killed. The worst thing is that a computer operating an automobile based upon all sorts of algorithms may not anticipate an impending collision, so it may not brake before impact the way a human driver would. I find this last point quite frightening, to say the least; with regard to self-driving cars, but even more so, with regard to policy decisions which could be based upon computer algorithms.

    In the computer business, we have an expression: GIGO. This stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. A lot of what comes out of computes is pure garbage.

    1. “Alexa! What must I do to be saved?” I wonder what the algorithm is for that.
      I know you took a lot of trouble over this post, and I’m sorry to say it went over my head almost from the get-go. However, there must be some people around here who understood it. Please don’t let my ignorance stop you from contributing insights into the computer world.

    2. My main point was that the output from the algorithm was completely dependent upon the information sent into it. An algorithm is logic, but it’s limited and cannot apply any sense.

      Most algorithms are much more complex than my example. There are ways to test the validity of the information entered, but even these have significant limitations. Ultimately, it all comes down to the limitations of the programmer’s imagination.

      The algorithm for salvation was written by a super-human God who can foresee much more than any human.

    3. It’s actually a very simple program, written in a very simple language called TCL. Believe it or not, you could learn to do that in an hour or less.

    4. I wouldn’t bet even a very small of money on that.
      You should’ve seen my poor father trying to teach me how to drive a standard shift.
      Me and technology–not a good mix.

    5. I’m with you, Lee. Math and I just don’t understand each other. My dad tried hard to teach me algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, etc. Nothing. Nope. In fact, I sailed through 9th grade algebra because my friend Sharon sat in the next row over and one seat down. She held up her paper so I could get just a couple right – enough to pass. I suppose that’s a confession lol. The fact is, if we have perfectly good letters that do a great job being letters, and we have perfectly good numbers that do a great job being numbers, why on earth do we have to mix them up? That does not compute.

      But I do know how to drive a stick shift 🙂

  3. I can do algebra if the terms are attached to something meaningful. I’ve always had a hard time with the way they teach it in schools.

    Richard Feynman was very critical of math education, concluding that algebra is taught in such a way as to pass as many people as possible instead of teaching something meaningful and actually useful. When I took aviation ground school, in the very same high school, I did math far beyond anything in algebra class without difficulty, because it was meaningful. Schools would be much more effective if they taught things that were actually useful instead of subjects distilled to the point where they lose all meaning.

    1. Now that makes sense!

      And even though I didn’t understand a bit of your Al Gore Rhythm I did like your presentation. You have such patience! 🙂

  4. Great blog post, Lee. As our Lord is omniscient, so man tries to become omniscient in his rebellious quest to be his own god. As unlawful knowledge corrupts, so absolute unlawful knowledge absolutely corrupts.

    1. But of course it isn’t really “knowledge,” in the sense of acquiring relevant information which, when weighed and pondered, can lead to wisdom. This is just heaping up vast amounts of random data.
      Man as a god: it would be hard to come up with a less worthy object of worship.

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