Laudatory categories

Theseus’ ship is a philosophical thought experiment that asks what happens if you take a ship, replace it piece by piece until none of the original pieces are left. Is it the same ship, or is it a different one?

Now imagine the following response: “It depends. Is the ship seaworthy?”

This response is a bit absurd, because clearly the question does not depend on whether the ship is seaworthy. A ship may still be the same ship while falling into disrepair, or perhaps the ship was never seaworthy in the first place. And on the other hand, you could have another ship which is also seaworthy but is nonetheless a different ship. We may disagree on how to answer the question about Theseus’ ship, but surely whether the ship is seaworthy is besides the point.

Nonetheless, this seems to be the way people think about many categories. A laudatory category is one whose definition has become intertwined with the question of “is it good?” A pejorative category is one whose definition has become intertwined with the question “is it bad?” Let’s talk about a few examples.

[Read more…]

Accuracy standards on the internet

A basic observation about the internet is that there are differing accuracy standards in different contexts. For example, the accuracy standards of a newspaper are supposed to be higher than that of a “hot take”. This here blog has standards somewhere in the middle. I’m not speaking extemporaneously, so I’m expected to do some fact checking. But I’m also not paid to do that for you, so reader beware.

Conflict can occur when content of certain accuracy standards get judged by different accuracy standards than was understood by the author. The classic example is when someone tweets out a casual thought they had while in the shower, and then it goes viral because it contains some error. A small indiscretion–a stupid thought like what we all have–gets turned into a large one.

Audience size has a lot to do with it. The price of an error is spreading misinformation, which is proportional to the size of the audience. The price of fact-checking is spending time to do your homework, which is unrelated to the size of the audience. So for a larger audience, the cost-benefit analysis leans more and more towards fact-checking. For a small audience, at some point it’s like, why bother? You can issue a correction later if you have to.

[Read more…]

Slogans, and “Born this way”

Back when I was in college, California passed Proposition 8, which notoriously banned same-sex marriage, after it had been briefly legal. Many queer folks my age describe it as a formative experience, when they realized that progress was not as assured as they had hoped. So you could say that marriage equality was on our minds. And so it was the heyday for all sorts of slogans. “NO H8”, “Love is Love”, or “Born This Way”–Lady Gaga’s single of the same name was hot during the brief window when I was clubbing.

“Love is love” still seems to be fairly common, but I don’t hear “born this way” nearly as much anymore. I’m bracing myself to be proven wrong–within moments of hitting publish, I will see a dozen different people independently referring to “born this way”, and a dozen readers will tell me that they had just taken a break from scrolling through “born this way” memes so they could read this article. But if I trust my personal experience, “born this way” is kind of out of fashion now, isn’t it?

Is that what eventually happens to political slogans? They live on in our memories, but we stop thinking about them? If so, that may be for the best.

[Read more…]

Spam bloggers get

There’s a certain kind of spam that bloggers get, which is mostly invisible to non-bloggers. So many people may not recognize it as spam, for lack of experience. Let me describe it for you.

The end goal of the spammer is to create links back to a website. I don’t pretend to know how their business model works, but I’d speculate that these spammers are paid by some website to boost their search rankings. The websites are generally disreputable shoestring budget operations, filled with plagiarism, AI-generated text, and other nonsense, and absolutely do not deserve to have their search rankings boosted.

The most common way to create links is by leaving comments. I get about 30 spam comments a day, but I never look at them because WordPress has a very effective spam filter. Many comments don’t bother trying to trick you, they’re straight up ads. Other comments are generic “I loved reading this!” type stuff, with a profile link back to the target website.  Perhaps it’s no wonder that cranky old bloggers like me don’t appreciate generic praise.

[Read more…]

Three arguments on AI Art

Many artists are opposed to AI art, and there seem to be three central arguments. First, that these AI models were trained artists’ images without their permission. Second, that the use of AI technology endangers the livelihoods of artists. Third, that AI art is bad art. The first is a rights-based argument while the second is a consequentialist argument, and the third is an aesthetic argument.

1. Rights

Starting with the first argument, I think it’s an open question whether artists truly ought to have the right to be excluded from AI training. If an artist-in-training looked at images on Deviant Art to learn how to draw, we would not say that the artists of Deviant Art had the right to prevent them. If you look at art with an artist’s eye, you’re going to naturally learn from it, and it seems unreasonable to allow people to look at your art just as long as they don’t look too deeply, lest they learn something from it.

However, an AI model is substantially distinct from a human artist-in-training, in that it trains on vast number of images–and also it isn’t a person. You could argue that there’s no rule against humans because it’s simply impractical to delineate how they consume art, while it’s far more practical to restrain AI. AI also poses the risk of accidental plagiarism–which is not unlike human artists! But the risk of plagiarism might be significantly be higher in AI, which could affect our moral judgment.

[Read more…]

Bad Mensa puzzles

I have some questions about Mensa. It’s an organization founded in 1946 whose membership is restricted to people scoring in the 98 percentile of IQ. But IQ is a scientifically dubious concept associated with eugenics and racism, and many people who would qualify for membership probably have better things to do, so I wonder what their membership looks like. I also wonder to what extent it’s just a thing that people sign up for and forget about–maybe subscribe to a newsletter, buy a thing or two from their store.

But this story is more personal–and more petty. It’s the story of why I disliked Mensa from a fairly young age, even though I most certainly would have qualified for membership. See, I received a lot of puzzle-based gifts, and I always thought that those with Mensa branding were the crummiest of them all.

[Read more…]

Participation trophies

My husband, an older millenial, asked “Were participation trophies ever a real thing?” He never got any–at most he got some participation ribbons. But yes, participation trophies were absolutely literal physical objects. Myself, a mid-millenial, got a few of the things.

But in the public conversation, the metaphor of the participation trophy has overtaken their physical reality.

Yeah, I got a few of the participation trophies, back when I played soccer in grade school. I was awful at soccer. In retrospect, our whole team was bad, being composed of a bunch of kids who may or may not have been forced into it by their parents. But at the time I felt like I was particularly bad, like I dragged the whole team down, and I didn’t understand why I was there at all. I got a trophy for doing that, every year.
[Read more…]