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Essays: Futurism and Equifax

October 4, 2017

I’m very happy with an essay that just came out this morning with Boston Review, on futurism:

Know Thy Futurist

Also, my newest Bloomberg View column came out this morning, about how we’re having the wrong conversation about personal data:

The Equifax Hack Started the Wrong Conversation

For the rest of my Bloomberg View columns, go here.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Guest2
    October 5, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    I think that your discussion of futurists needs a 2D graphic. Richard Landes at BU (2005/2014 pg 27) proposes a three-dimensional view:
    x-axis catastrophic/transformational apocalypticism
    y-axis active/passive agency
    z-axis hierarchical/demotic millennialism

    Singularity narratives can be catastrophic or transformational; active or passive; top-down or from the masses themselves.


  2. October 7, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I wish so many of us had not substituted the word “algorithms” for “inappropriate/unwise reliance on specific algorithms.”
    Back when Pol Pot’s followers* started rounding up any of their countrymen who were seen wearing glasses (in the assumption they were intellectuals) that was following an algorithm. A STUPID algorithm, but an algorithm.
    So I wish we’d use some term to denote stupid, slavish reliance on some arbitrary test, rather than sanely considering unanticipated exceptions and checking for relevant changes to the base assumptions.

    Cyberlaziness? Nah … gotta find a word …

    * Yes, this probably violates some corollary to Godwin’s Law.


  3. October 7, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Cathy, excellent article.


  4. Thomas Colthurst
    October 10, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Scott Alexander has posted a response to this essay at http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/09/in-favor-of-futurism-being-about-the-future/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. SomeSSCReader
    October 11, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    Well, Scott Alexander (author of the blog post you linked to about Effective Altruism) certainly isn’t happy with your Boston Review essay, judging by his scathing response. At first I was merely amused, but when I realized the essay he was tearing apart was written by the same author as Weapons of Math Destruction, I wanted to believe he was being uncharacteristically intemperate and uncharitable. After all, surely someone of your technical background, who’s been engaging with rationalists and their ilk for at least a couple of years now, would have a more substantive and constructive critique than the usual shallow mockery based on stereotypes about autistic nerds and the sort of snarky identity-politics rhetoric that proliferates on left-wing social media ad nauseam these days, right?

    Unfortunately, after reviewing your essay, I don’t really see any reason to disagree with Scott’s assessment. Your summary of opposing views is the sort of journalism that inspired Michael Crichton to coin the phrase “Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect,” but Scott’s central complaint, I think, is that you just skipped right past any pretense of debating rationalist/transhumanist/singularitarian ideas on their merits, so that you could instead present them as self-evidently risible and float unflattering speculations about the supposed hidden motives of their authors. (“… a science fiction fantasy for sex-starved teenagers”? Really? Did you really have to go there? What the fuck does that have to do with anything, besides being a convenient way to take nerds down a peg? It’s like if someone dismissed your arguments about unjust algorithmic bias on the grounds that you apparently have some body-image issues, and are therefore a pathetic loser whose opinions shouldn’t count. Please don’t turn into one of these wankers.)

    I suppose the obvious thing for you and like-minded readers of yours to do at this point would be to ignore critics like Scott, or get defensive and double down, and it would be pretty easy to justify that to yourselves by skimming his comments section and noticing all the examples of commenters living down to stereotypes of libertarian or reactionary nerds who love to rag on social justice warriors. But in so doing, you would also be missing out on a lot of opportunities for thoughtful, constructive discussion (based on those principles of rational discourse laid out by Eliezer Yudkowsky that you seem to approve of, so long the discussion steers clear of weird rabbit holes like Roko’s Basilisk). Scott himself isn’t particularly right-wing, but he has lots of right-leaning commenters, I guess just because he’s committed (far more than anyone else I know of) to the idea that people who disagree about politics can make actual progress towards mutual understanding through respectful dialogue, as opposed to treating politics as a competition to raise one’s status within one’s own tribe by coming up with the wittiest arguments against the enemy tribe. I think you could make a really valuable contribution to this dialogue, but it would require you to be willing to seriously engage with people you disagree with as intelligent, self-aware humans, not caricatures.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. lindiwen
    October 12, 2017 at 4:26 am

    See also the thorough and well thought out but possibly kinda missing the point reaction on SSC: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/09/in-favor-of-futurism-being-about-the-future/
    I’d love to see a counter-reply!


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