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Clotho.Org and the Coming Cyberclysm 179

Posted by JonKatz
from the Saving-Ourselves-From-Luddites-and-Techno-Heads dept.
Part Two: How to stave off the Coming Cyberclysm, to find some rational choice besides the backwards-looking Luddites and the Gee-Whiz Techno-Heads who dominate discussions about technology? Only the Gods can help, and I might have found one who will (one of the Fates, as it happens), with the help of AI computing advances and intuitive software.

How to survive the coming Cyberclysm? To find a rational position between the alarmists and the utopians? Salvation may come from the menace itself.

Whatever mischief technology creates, technology can undo. The tools of our redemption - and the means of chasing off the ever-circling Luddites -- are right under our noses. Perhaps the great website of the 21st century - or even the last half of this year -- won't sell stocks or auction off goodies. It'll be an Intervention Program, something between a SuperSearch Engine and Information Foraging Site.

We need Websites that really understand us, protect us and go to bat for us. I'd call my personal version Clotho, after one of the lesser gods of Greek mythology.

The ancient Greeks are definitely the place to turn for protection against the Cyberclysm. Their poets and playwrights wrote all the time about humanity's tragic inclination to fiddle with the world and screw it up at the same time.

Clotho was one of the Fates, gods given the subtle but awesome power to decide a person's destiny. Clotho (the other two are Lachesis the measurer, and Atropos the shearer) is the spinner, who spins the threads of life.

Thunderbolt-throwers like Zeus are useless to invoke in this context, too blustery and ill-tempered. Only the Fates have the perspective required, the range of skills. They're used to sorting through complex choices. They assign men and women to lives of good and evil. They decide the length the length of human's lives.

The Fates are discreet, largely unknown, and it's never been precisely clear how far their power extends. What is known is that even the most powerful of the other Gods won't mess with them.

I imagine a Clotho program as an intermediary, standing between me, Gee Whiz Computing and technology, not so much to keep them away as to manage how much I have to deal with.

Intervention Software isn't a fantasy. It's a practical possibility with the advent of intuitive software technology and AI computing advances. Futurists from Freeman Dyson to Ray Kurzweill predict computers will be making rational, human-like decisions in a few years. We could put them to work for us.

The notion that a computing program could intervene in this way - come between us and the Cyberclysm -- and bring some sanity and coherence to an individual's experience of runaway technology and Ubiquitous Computing is hardly far-fetched.

I don't want Clotho.org to turn back the clock, just to regulate the pace of change, leave me the dignity of autonomy, and do me the courtesy of letting me check my own refrigerator for milk instead of letting a digitalized refrigerator do it.

In place of computer-equipped health-monitoring toilets, I'd just as soon retain the right to decide when and if I go to the doctor to have my bodily fluids chemically analyzed. I'd rather see technology deployed in some of the wondrous ways of the Net and Web in recent years --- the open sourcing of computing and the liberation of information, the use of supercomputing to take on social ills from cancer to Ozone, the growth of personal communications and community-building.

But we need help. This is, after all the, the job of the Fates -- to manage coherently.

Clotho.org could stand between us and Ubiquitous Computing, growling back the Microsofts, governments, media - hypemongers and arrogant hordes of programmers, gadgetmakers and marketers. Unlike information-sorting programs and sites - there are dozens - Clotho wouldn't present us with fewer choices, but making tough choices for us. She would function as our Big Sister when it comes to technology, keeping the predators away, occupying the space between humans and the new technologies scaring the hell out of them.

A vigilant Clotho would design her site along the sancrosanct principles spelled out in O'Reilly's landmark guide, "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web," a book Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. It should be the Web designer's Bible, if it isn't already, since it challenges us to put users, not makers, foremost when we think of the Web and the Net.

A Clotho site would use logic and search engine technology to brutally edit the Web, weeding out the excesses of the Cyberclysm. She'd ask hard questions. Do we need refrigerators with computer chips that will alert the local supermarket when we're out of milk? She would scare off, or at least curb, some of the worst Cyberclysm offenders, the microelectronics industry.

Is this really possible?

In his recent essay in Netfuture No. 94, [http://www.oreilly.com/people/staff/stevet/netfuture/1999/Sep1499_94.html#33], Winner suggests that humanity's needs for the coming century be rated on a 1 to 10 scale.

Do we need a Palm VII, or should we stop at the Palm IV? Do we need cellphones to access sports scores on the Web as we drive home from work, or can we wait a half-hour till we get home? Clotho would ask. If not, she'd vaporize the thing, or failing that rate it 1.5. She'd keep it away from us.

Perhaps she could draw from Slashdot's amazing and elaborate discussion moderating systems (where offensive speech isn't banned but smothered in cool software programs), and meta-moderate technology for us.

We might program her to screen out anything under a 4. We'd never get the chance to buy it, or maybe even know it was out there. The Cyberclysm would recede, at least for those of us in her care.

Clotho would definitely play God (which is okay, since she is one.) We'd be presented with a handful of news stories each morning - the most significant, the most useful, the most entertaining, based on her own vision and on recognition software that comes to understand our needs, tastes and wishes. She'd rate our need for information in general on the same scale. No story, scandal, press conference, announcement or debate under a 4.0 would get by. If she'd been around, most of us might blessedly never have learned the names of William Bennett, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr, or Linda Tripp.

As far as I'm concerned, Clotho could screen out virtually every debate on every Washington talk show and the country's civic life would be improved a thousand times overnight. This means I'd almost never heard anything from Washington, a technological boon to humanity if there ever was one.

Clotho.org would also fend off much of the techno-news streaming toward us from C/Net and Wired News, and sift for technology information that we actually wanted to know. She could store information we might need to know for a later time.

She'd take revenge on behalf of the tens of millions of people forced to buy things they don't want or things they can't use, made anxious by poor instructions and buggy programs, coerced into hours and days of stressful struggles to reach people who won't take any responsibility for the things they've made and sold, who won't help people figure out how stuff works.

Clotho could be the Goddess of Unintended Consequences, forcing us to consider the implications of the things we bring into the world. Maybe she'd turn the CEO's of the most arroganant companies over to Hades (flamers, beware) for some roasting and agonies.

Clotho would be tough minded, as befits a Spinner. She would ask questions about technology and information before stuff could get past her and reach innocents like me:


l. Is this information necessary? Do we need to know it? Does it advance knowledge, inform or entertain us? Or does it tell us something we already know, provide a service when we can easily do ourselves, replicate what already exists?

2. Do we need this new product? Does it have unintended consequences? Will it be almost instantly out-of-date?

4. Will the people who offer this product support it? Will help be available at all times?

5. Are we leaving human beings enough time, peace, and opportunity for at least some spiritual dimension in their lives? Or are we labor-saving and information-providing them to distraction?

Clotho could slow the pace of Ubiquitous or Gee -Whiz Computing, ruling that even in the Digital Age, perhaps we can simply turn our coffeemakers on when we wake up instead of programming them. She'd put a quick, merciful end to health-checking toilets.

She'd created the mythical middle ground, missing when it comes to technology, a place where we grow, learn, and move forward in a reasoned, noncoerable, way. Such a kingdom would be a radical departure from the insane Technoville in which we now increasingly dwell.

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Clotho.Org and the Coming Cyberclysm

Comments Filter:
  • by Awel (28821)
    Why do we have to have a computer program to tell us to turn off our computers?
  • An excellent article... I would be interested in something that sifted out the stuff that I'm not interested in...

    But it would have to learn what I wanted to know about. Sometimes I hear about things that are not immediately obviously interesting to me,... But yet they are of enough interest to me in a tangential way.

    I guess I'd want it to let the odd random article through so that I could find out about those things that I was not obviously interested in.

  • Didn't I hear a big buzz about something like this more than a year ago?

    In this heady age of rapid technological change, we all struggle to maintain our bearings. The developments that unfold each day in communications and computing can be thrilling and disorienting. One understandable reaction is to wonder: Are these changes good or bad? Should we welcome or fear them?
    That's from the Technorealism [technorealism.org] web site. Whatever happened to that whole "movement" anyway?

    - Seth Finkelstein

  • Hmm...I have to say that I think the article was sounding a little flakey :)

    However, I do have to question why we need AI software to filter web content and act like a buffer. This was mentioned a few times in response to part I: I can choose for myself what I do and don't want to read. I don't want to spend 8 hours a day surfing the web reading as many pages as possible, so I don't. There are a few pages I visit regularly and if I have to look something up, I fire up Google.

    I've read the forecasts about PDAs that will look up articles that match your interest and spoon feed them to you, but this sounds like just another way to get hooked on information/technology.

    The cure for any 'cyberclysm' is...an OFF BUTTON!

    Dana [hmm...feeling a little like ranting this morning :) ]
  • by Garpenlov (34711) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @05:24AM (#1653643) Homepage
    So, basically, Katz's heroic Clotho.org is an agent that will give people without self-control self-control by never exposing them to 'temptation.' They don't have to worry about losing control and impulse buying because they'll never be exposed to anything like that.

    Personally, I prefer the heroic legbreaker.org. By breaking my legs repeatedly, I never have to leave my house and thus am saved from having to experience the terrible evils of the modern world -- highways, big businesses, pollution, etc. Sure, I'm crippled, but it's a small price to pay for my mental safety!
  • Maybe Katz needs his intelligent agent, Clotho, to protect him from unwanted analysis of his fecal matter, but I think the rest of us have already found the solution. It's called choice.

    I switched from watching TV news to getting it of the web precisely because I wanted control over what I read. I visit my bookmark sites becuase those are what interest me, not surfing into the depths of the web where big brothers intelligent toilets are to be found (unless they're on /., of course). Given the evaulation of your typical portal.com, it seems that most everyone else is also betting that we'll chose self-regulated order over cyberclysmic chaos. I wonder if Katz has registered clotho.com?
  • by Kaa (21510) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @05:29AM (#1653646) Homepage
    That's a massive cop-out. Katz thinks that he himself cannot make hard choices about technology, life, and himself, so he wants some software to make the hard choices for him. I'm amazed.

    More, this software will function as a reality filter, letting only "approved" information through. I can write pages about the consequences of this, but other people, notably George Orwell, already did it much better than me. And who controls this Clotho?

    No, really, I never expected to see such a horrible idea to be put forward on Slashdot. Ugh.

    Kaa
  • (not)

    Maybe if Clotho existed, I wouldn't have found out about this inane article about Clotho and mistakenly read it.

    Or was I FORCED to read it? This person seems to think that the wave of cyber-culture is unstoppable or something. Maybe they need to stop reading so much Ray Bradbury.
  • You know, I've liked Katz's stuff in the past. Really. I've defended him against those who would seek to have him banished from the realm that is /. Now, I'm not so sure. Has Katz finally lost his mind?

    Okay, the Cybercylsm thing is a bit stupid. It sounds just like information overload taken to new, cool hardware. No big deal, but I don't know anyone with this problem, nor have I ever heard of anyone with it. As an uber-geek myself, I like having the latest toys (or at least playing with the latest toys), but damn few of these get used in an everyday life scenario. This is just reality.

    And what the hell was this article about? I read it twice, much slower the second time, and I still can't grasp it. Clotho seems to me to be a ridiculous idea. Admittedly it's only a concept, but it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Is it filtering your information input? Is it not letting you find out about new cool stuff? How does a web site stop word of mouth? (which is where almost everyone finds out about this type of stuff). What the hell are you getting at? Because a lot of use Katz readers are in the dark on this one, buddy.

    ---
  • Uggh, why am I thinking of animated paper clips when I read this.

    "Good morning, it looks like you want to wake up, do you want me to make coffee, yes, no help?"

    "Good morning, you hit the snooze bar, do you want to sleep for 10 more minutes, yes, no, help?"

    I agree that there's a fortune to be made in a web search engine that works well, but I think Katz is missing the boat on this Clotho deal.

    Rather than have an agent to query my refrigerator about it's inventory, I'll just stick with a dumb refrigerator and open the door.

    Rather than have an agent spoof my intelligent drug and chemical sniffing toilet, I'll just stick with an old fashioned mechanical one.

    Rather than having another GUI layer on my PC's, I'll do nicely with a telnet window.

    I think a great example of embedding complex software in everyday appliances is your car. Someone from 1930 could drive one of today's cars, all the software that controls the fuel injectors, oxygen mix and ABS brakes is invisible to the user.

    George
  • by Garpenlov (34711) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @05:32AM (#1653651) Homepage
    Agents, filters, whatever -- objects that filter out what we don't want and reshape information for us ARE useful. Little things like Junkbuster or ad-filtering proxies or custom-written programs that automatically retrieve news from web sites / mail from webmail sites are an example of this. But Katz is proposing that we need such agents, not to be able to shape our view of information (instead of having it shaped by those who provide it to us -- shaped with ads on top), but to protect ourselves from our own lack of control.

    If the only thing protecting you from rampant foolish consumerism is an 'agent,' what happens when the agent is subverted? You don't even have your own foolish mistakes of the past to learn from, because you never made them - you were sheltered from all of that. (And trust me, people will find ways to subvert agents just as surely as they subvert search engines to 'pornjack' you.)
  • Peole wont stand for things that make their lives complicated unless their gadgetry is for the sake of gadgetry. We're part of a group of people that really likes electronic toys and blinking lights and other asssorted gizmos and devices, but for the most part, most people dont care too much. Out of all the people I work with, most of them have cell phones, but very few have pagers. Only one has an electronic organizer.

    I worked in an office where everyone had all the gizmos and I found it was terribly unproductive. Each person basically rejected all but one of the forms of information, and then only accepted info from that medium, not the most ideal situation, but hardly a cyberclism.

    If you want to talk about a Cyberclism talk about the proliferation of bad information on the net. That's goofing up general society more than a few little gadgets that some geeks carry around.

    -Rich
  • by KilobyteKnight (91023) <bjm@@@midsouth...rr...com> on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @05:40AM (#1653654) Homepage
    I already have some filtering systems that work very well. It doesn't use AI, it uses the real stuff. One is called Slashdot. I come here, where lots of interesting stuff gets posted every day. I don't have to surf the whole web, I get nice, neat little summaries of stuff that is likely to interest me. If -I- choose (not some AI program) to read more, I click a link. It's simple, effective, and evidence that the whole basis for the topic of this article is completely wrong.
  • As everyone else seems dead set against this idea, let me just expound (and expand) on why I like the idea of Clothos...

    I don't have time to surf the web for 8 hours a day. However I do have time to at least skim a bunch of headings and read the ones that sound interesting (slashdot anyone?)

    I do know that a lot of stuff is going on that I would be interested in if I could find out more about it. Think about the things that Slashdot doesn't cover that you get sent by friends who thought that you might be interested in it.

    I would like something that could sit there and scan the web and newsgroups and flag up things that would interest me. This would make things easier for me. I don't want a web site to "protect me from evil." I don't want a web site that hides things from me, and I don't want to be spoonfed "interesting stories." What I would like is "an intelligent agent" that looks for information that I would find interesting.


  • I honestly don't think a clotho is necessary, sure it's a cool idea, but it's kind of self defeating. Why would you need an AI to decide this for you? This is just another AI (Other AI's we use today include Policy (Zero Tolerance) /Charters/Law) to remove the need to use logic and let preconceived databases of knowledge determine what is needed and what isn't.

    Ignoring the fact that such a 'God' Isn't really needed, the logistical concerns of updating such a collective personality, if we had such a machine built in 1970 and it was still around today, it would almost certainly be almost useless, due to culture shifts, scientific/medical knowledge, mass changes in opinion on moral and ethical issues (read: information on abortion, cancer survival. etc.), etc, a Clotho made by the programmer from 1970 just couldn't keep up, even if it was given the faculties we have for computing today.

    As for screening out the monica lewinsky scandal, it might have been under 4.0 until, even though we don't care, we hit the key phrase, 'President breaks law (purjury)' where clotho would have hit a huge rating on principle, unless we decided that we didn't care about the laws that affect our society and rights, and unfortunately this is the case for many people, they just don't care for whatever reason.

    I saw a good example today of why we might never need Clotho, Microsoft Released a mouse without a ball which moved by using a digital camera. Heh, it's already impressing absoloutely no one.

    Besides, Clotho can't solve the big problem, people forced by Laws or Corprate policy, or whatever similar situation.


    -[ World domination - rains.net ]-
  • by Enoch Root (57473) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @05:42AM (#1653657)
    Katz, if you somehow managed to put Clotho up, I would be the first to yell against it and denounce it as a stupid censorship of the Internet. Why should an AI (buzzword, btw) censor what I see and not see? Why should an AI (buzzword) play God (buzzword) when I can't?

    Simply put, you're saying something nonhuman should control the flow of the WWW to prevent users from being overwhelmed by technology. What you're doing is putting technology in charge of something individuals themselves should take care of. You're suggesting that since we cannot control technology, then the next logical step is for technology to control us.

    I say no way. It is not by dumbing down the crowd that we'll find salvation from your so-called cyberclism (buzzword). We'll find it by educating them, and showing them that standing up for their principles, to make choices free of constraints, is the way to overcome the buzz.

    Tyranny by computer is tyranny nonetheless. Big Sister indeed.

    A solution? The solution is already coming. It is called moderation and the gift culture. Even as companies approach, the word of mouth still manages to carry websites further than any ad banner ever can. Take a look at eBay: you don't have a rep there, you won't sell as much.

    As the Internet becomes overwhelming (and I still don't think it is), it will be humans acting out as a community, moderating each other, that will filter the sensory overload and let the cream float to the top. Not some frivolous AI (b... oh alright) attempting to think like a human but yet incapable of doing so.

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Might I suggest, Mr. Katz, that you do not include mythological references when you know squat about them? Calling the Fates "subtle" is completely absurd! Atropos cuts the thread of a human life and they die -- this is not subtle! When they choice to be involved, they are not discreet! (I suppose we should be glad you got the names right.)

    Further, your article decends to using Clotho as an athromorphortic projection of some kind of super web site/program that only exists in your head. Describing a dream with a myth is too far a foray into fantasy... you sound like your grasp on reality is slipping dangerously. [Some of us are starting to be concerned with your health (seriously).] Towards the end there it sounds like this future web site has become the god you name it after... so, is it a web site or a deity? Or is there any longer any difference between the two in your mind?

    I sincerely hope you wrote this while stoned on something or drunk out of your mind... otherwise, I don't see much hope for you.
  • I think that Katz is valid on some of his points. What I see it as is the "Not enough time to evaulate it myself. Just throw the `good stuff' at me." Why is this a problem? Because... If you took everyones opinions from everywhere... every little news tidbit (with exception of those about dan quale when he was running for office) means something good to someone. Katz wants just whats good... whats good from his perspective is much different than mine however.

    How do you filter for this kind of person then?

    The only technology I have seen is collabrative filtering. It's been around forawhile. Remember grouplens usenet trial? remember firefly? There's movielens.umn.edu that does it too...

    You have people rate items (news articles) as to a few different categories that would decide if I would like it or if Katz or someone else would like it better. (perhaps different questions depending on the topic/issue) People with similar ratings who really like some articles then can opt-in to only see those kinds of articles as the focus of a news page. Problem is, there might be some lag because you should have some user filtering first. :(

    Upside is.. It saves some people time who don't want to deal with information overload.

    Scott Dier
  • by evilpete (26941)

    After all his freedom of information and "buffy for all" speeches why is katz turning round and suggesting we need to implement some kind of self-censorship project?

    Censor yourself to stay sane!!!


    +++++
  • There are just too many points that are completely bogus in this essay and I didn't even read the whole thing! For example:

    Perhaps she could draw from Slashdot's amazing and elaborate discussion moderating systems (where offensive speech isn't banned but smothered in cool software programs), and meta-moderate technology for us.

    John, Slashdot moderation and meta-moderation is done by people, not software!!!

    Disappointed...

    ...richie

  • "Whatever mischief technology creates, technology can undo".

    This cannot be true. Can we make life?

    Also it has been calculated that the amount of energy needed to right Global warming, exceeds the remains fossil fuel resources. Ooops. Or at least I think, so anybody want to flame me on that one?
  • As soon as there would be any such thing as chlotho, it would be chlotho.gov, not .org. The government can control the TV because there are a few people/organizations that control nearly all of the television channels. The great thing about the web (thus far) is that the government has no place to put it's spin doctors and blur the truth. If there was such a think as chlotho.gov, the government would make sure that you don't see any view other than theirs. Sad but true.

    You can have your pre-chewed tasteless news if you want it, but i want the real stuff, the truth, and the uncut. If we let go of our ability to control what we see and give it up to someone else, we lose our freedom of speech. There is no happy balance. Only ignorance is bliss.

    Maybe i've lost it, maybe i've listened to mancow too much, or maybe watched the matrix too many times, but i for one don't want a filter that decides what i can and can't see. That's my own decision, thank you very much.

    "...and i'll get the duke, and a case of whiskey, and drive down to texas... "
  • So, because there is too much technology to handle, you propose a "filter" that will screen out the "bad" technology? I've heard this idea somewhere before...

    And who decides what is good, what is bad, and what is too trivial to trifle with? Sure, you won't catch me dead with a pager, cell-phone, or Palmpilot as long as I can get away with it. (After all, if I want to be found, I'll be near a phone or computer.)

    With this overabundance of information comes tools for organizing and using it - Slashdot, Freshmeat - they all provide a logical way to sift through information that interests a specific niche.

    Face it - the burden of sifting through this stuff is going to rest on our shoulders. You can adapt, and learn to use resources wisely and parse information quickly - weeding out uninteresting stuff and finding nifty stuff, or you can just complain about it and propose that we have a computer do it for us.

    IMHO, part of the fun of having a mind is using it.
  • Want information on a particular topic on the web? Use a search engine or webbot. Monitor changes to the search results, and bring new matches (with high confidences) to your attention as they're found. Or better yet, use a weblog such as Slashdot or Memepool, devoted to your specific interests and quirky character. As Slashdot style weblogs become more prolific, you'll be able to find a niche one for you.

    Ok, that's Clotho for the web. But his first part was all about the increasing complexity of devices and technology in general. Clotho, even as he's proposed it, doesn't do squat to make the controls on your car simpler as new features such as GPS, route finding systems, and night-vision enhanced windshields cause your car's dash to resemble an F-16's cockpit.

    He's set up a scary demonized general problem, come up with a glorified vision of a solution to a very specific aspect of the problem, which already exists but is not in common use, then he proceeds to make wild predictions. He should run for office. Standard political tactic.
  • by greyrat (80922)

    Yak yak yak. Blah blah blah! I can't believe this is posted here (or that I'm replying to it). Aside from the fact that Clotho is dumb -- and if it where implemented would soon be overrun or worked around in any number of ways, Mr Katz is not taking responsibility for himself!

    I hear people whining about being inundated with technology every day. If they get too desperate, or heaven forbid, ask me for advice I tell them one simple thing. GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN FOR AWHILE!!!

    I've worked in the technology arena for more that 20 years. I have no cell phone, no pager, no GPS system to find me. I get my work done, and play with the technology toys that _I_ choose to on _MY_ terms in _MY_ timeframe. I also get to play with my kids, race my car, jump out of airplanes, and cook great meals. IT'S MY CHOICE!!!

    GUESS WHAT! IT'S _YOUR_ CHOICE TOO!!


    C'mon kids. It's just like guns or drugs or pokemon cards (or the printing press, or the telephone, or radio, or television...). You are driving. Make good choices.

    And yes, this really is my standard signature below:
  • Clotho is a good idea as ideas go, unfortunately a lot of Katz articles would never see the light of day. Katz articles provide good foder for thought but a lot of the time they just really aren't all that important, to the majority of the populace.

    I put this in perspective, I rate this Katz artile a 6, where the average american would probably rate it a 1, but they rate the importance of owning a car about a 7 where I rate it a 1.

    What Jon misses is that everyone has a "Clotho". I have written band reviews in the past in oder to provide perspectives on what others could expect from them. I use /. to come up with information regarding technical issues and how they may apply to social issues, btw /. rates a 7 i.e. more important than a Guiness which I consider pretty indespensible.

    Clotho is asking the questions that we all should be asking ourselves, Do we really need that? The answer is mostly no. What we need is limited to water,food and shelter in that order. The average American makes about $35K, but probably only needs about $8K to live.
  • First of all, in an article [slashdot.org] just last week, wasn't Katz saying that if we're not careful we'll be enslaved by AI? Now he says we should let an AI program decide what we see?
    I don't want Clotho.org to turn back the clock, just to regulate the pace of change, leave me the dignity of autonomy, and do me the courtesy of letting me check my own refrigerator for milk instead of letting a digitalized refrigerator do it.
    He wants to check his refrigerator himself, but he wants a computer to tell him what to read?
    As far as I'm concerned, Clotho could screen out virtually every debate on every Washington talk show and the country's civic life would be improved a thousand times overnight. This means I'd almost never heard anything from Washington, a technological boon to humanity if there ever was one.
    So the country would be better off if voters were less informed about politics? How much less informed can they be?
    1. Is this information necessary? Do we need to know it? Does it advance knowledge, inform or entertain us? Or does it tell us something we already know, provide a service when we can easily do ourselves, replicate what already exists?
    If Clotho filters out things that provide services we can easily do ourself, won't she kill herself?

    Anyway, those are some of the things this article made me think about. Perhaps Katz should have thought about those things before he published it...


    human://billy.j.mabray/

  • by Octos (68453) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @06:01AM (#1653670) Homepage
    I'm sorry. I'm a bright person, but I don't think your point got across.

    Are you saying you want a machine to think for you? That's what it sounds like. If so, I'd like to
    recommend you read In the Beginning was the Command Line [cryptonomicon.com] again, or for the first time.

    My mind is sufficiently advanced to make decisions for me.

    Finally, I think the first thing Clotho should do for you is run a grammar check on your writing. I
    hate to flame like this, but I find it horribly unprofessional to be a columnist and have so many
    errors in your article.

  • Jon Katz has gone so far off the deep end there is no coming back. Was the whole point of this article telling us that someday there will be a computer to tell us when to turn our computers off? That people will be so overwhelmed with information and technology that they will need yet another piece to help them get through it all?

    Aside from the horrid prose and the stunted attempt to attract the Xena crowd, basically he is saying that people should rely on some program to filter out what it thinks is meaningless or unattractive information. What's the difference between getting every bit of your news from just one newspaper, or one news-site?

    Just my opinion, bad article and bad idea behind it. I'll prove him wrong...I am leaving this website right now, turning off the machine and fixing some lunch all without the help of HAL 9000.

    Jon, you're a mess.
  • > if we had such a machine built in 1970 and it was still around today, it would almost certainly be almost useless, due to culture shifts, scientific/medical knowledge, mass changes in opinion on moral and ethical issues

    Not necessarily -- if it actually worked it would still be extremely useful. Because society today would be just like it was in the 1970's.
  • by Zach Frey (17216) <zach@@@zfrey...com> on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @06:16AM (#1653674) Homepage

    I can't resist ... the one question Jon Katz simply can't bear to even ponder is what if the "Luddites" are right? But no, that might shake our faith in technology too much. After all, "Whatever mischief technology creates, technology can undo." So, onward to more and more elaborate techno-fixes!

    This is eerily reminiscent of the early nuclear power advocates, who dismissed concerns about nuclear waste with simple technological optimism. "Don't worry! Even if we don't know how to solve this problem now, we will in 20 years!"

    Jon's faith that AI will Real Soon Now progress to the point that Clotho.org is implementable is touching, but the delivery of the AI promise has been worse than Microsoft's stragetic vaporware announcements, and is approaching the level of Zeno's paradox.

    But let's grant that, in 2003 some genius will in fact create an AI system that can implement some sort of human-like, commonsense reasoning. Since Linux has achieved World Domination by then, let's even say they release Clotho.org under the GPL.

    Would Clotho.org pass Clotho.org through her own filter?

    l. Is this information necessary? Do we need to know it? Does it advance knowledge, inform or entertain us? Or does it tell us something we already know, provide a service when we can easily do ourselves, replicate what already exists?

    Define "need to know." Do most people "need to know" the latest in AI advancements? No. Do most people "need to know" which utilities are running on their computer? No.

    Clotho.org, being a filter, certainly fails to inform us. And it provides a service that we can readily replicate ourselves. So Clotho.org fails this first test.

    2. Do we need this new product? Does it have unintended consequences? Will it be almost instantly out-of-date?

    Detecting whether a product will have unintended consequences is more than human-level reasoning, this is a deus ex machina. Most humans have trouble with this level of reasoning. And have even more trouble reaching consensus conclusions about what the "right" answer is. If we didn't, you wouldn't want to have Clotho.org in the first place.

    But putting into place widespread "reality filters" ought to be almost a "gimme" for the likelihood of unindended consequences. Clotho.org fails this test.

    4. Will the people who offer this product support it? Will help be available at all times?

    A cynic might note that if a product needs 24x7 support, perhaps that's an argument against it? I haven't noticed support lines for shovels and hammers lately.

    Assume that help is available over the 'net, and that some company offers support. Probably even the one founded by the genius who wrote Clotho.org in the first place. So I'm certain that Clotho.org would pass herself on this test.

    5. Are we leaving human beings enough time, peace, and opportunity for at least some spiritual dimension in their lives? Or are we labor-saving and information-providing them to distraction?

    Again, this is (literally) a deus ex machina. Humans today have enough trouble telling their spiritual health. An AI that will be able to tell if I'm getting enough meditation and contemplation in my life? This will be quite the expert system.

    Consider that part of Clotho.org's specification is

    We'd be presented with a handful of news stories each morning - the most significant, the most useful, the most entertaining, based on her own vision and on recognition software that comes to understand our needs, tastes and wishes.
    So, imagine starting your day with the equivalent of a /. that has only the truly fascinating stories, with no 31337 ACs and no astroturfing trolls. Now, tell me that you'd really spend more time in contemplation of the higher realities.

    I think Clotho.org would have to fail herself here, as well.

    Since Clotho.org would clearly fail her own filter, why don't we just save everybody the trouble and simply not build her in the first place?


    But there is another strong objection which I, one of the laziest of all the children of Adam, have against the Leisure State. Those who think it could be done argue that a vast machinery using electricity, water-power, petrol, and so on, might reduce the work imposed on each of us to a minimum. It might, but it would also reduce our control to a minimum. We should ourselves become parts of a machine, even if the machine only used those parts once a week. The machine would be our master, for the machine would produce our food, and most of us could have no notion of how it was really being produced.
    -- G. K. Chesterton
  • by Eccles (932) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @06:17AM (#1653675) Journal
    I think we need a "Katz' Notes" summary for Katz's articles... :-)
  • You know, I've liked Katz's stuff in the past. Really. I've defended him against those who would seek to have him banished from the realm that is /. Now, I'm not so sure. Has Katz finally lost his mind?

    I have to agree with most of what you are saying. I have liked most of his articles and think he has gotten a lot of unfair criticism. I think (hope?) that Katz is trying a little sarcasm in this article. I cannot beleive that after all the free speech free thinking articles he has written that he would honestly propose such a thing as Clothos.

    Mr. Katz, if you really believe this, you have lost your mind.

  • Intelligent filtering simply adds another layer of complexity, Jon. Instead of improving signal-to-noise in our lives, it exacerbates the problem.

    What is clotho.org but another AI telling us how to live, what we can read, who we are, what we like... I for one don't need anyone or anything telling me these things.

    The ultimate agent will always be the self.
  • Wait, so Katz has a problem dealing with all the new software. All the new information. All the new gadgets. He just can't deal with all the new stuff. He wants a simpler life. He wants to avoid the complexity. His solution is...

    A new software gadget.

    (sigh)

    No, Jon, the solution is simply to turn off the feed. Just because they tell you that it is "must see TV" doesn't mean that you have to watch. Just because it says "Cool Site of the Day", doesn't mean you have to look at it. Just because it is the blockbuster movie of the decade doesn't mean that you have to plunk down $7.50. Just because it is the cool new electronic gadget doesn't mean you have to buy it.

    I don't want people bugging me on off hours, so I have a simple solution: I don't own a pager. If you don't want a toilet analyzing your piss, then don't buy one. It is not difficult. It is not a "cyberclasmic" decision to make.
  • Unlike information-sorting programs and sites - there are dozens - Clotho wouldn't present us with fewer choices, but making tough choices for us.

    There already is a Clotho to protect us from all the "scary" things offered by "Gee-Whiz Technology."

    It's called a power button.

    I know the point's been made several dozen times, but the idea that personal technology is overpowering, instead of empowering, is a weak one. That's the kind of thinking I would expect of people in older generations who have not become skilled users (and discerning customers) of new personal technology. Someone who writes for Slashdot should know better.

    I don't understand how anyone could cede so much control over their life that they think a computer program is needed to protect them from the new PalmPilot. Do you also blame your cel phone for making you carry on phone conversations in your car?

    There's no need for computer mediation to protect us from the rapid advances in computer technology that are offered in so many areas of our daily lives. The power button toggles both ways, and any personal device that makes your life more difficult will stay off if you want it to.

    Besides, any computer program that can do all the things expected of Clotho would be used to sell more stuff to us, giving Jon Katz more reasons to have a panic attack when he drives past a Best Buy. No investor would pay to develop a program that slows down the adoption of technology and makes us live a more balanced, less consumerist life.

  • In order to prevent technology taking over your
    life, you'd like to give a piece of techology
    control of your life?

    Idiot.

    K.
    -
  • Is this really the same Jon Katz who wrote an article condemning "ShutUp Software" [slashdot.org] less than six months ago? The same one who promised that he would never use filtering software, and discouraged others from doing so? Katz has really lost it this time.
  • This sounds like a high powered proactive Spaminator. You dial in your preferences and you get a boiled-down summary of what you want to know about. Heck override the profile, go off on your own and have the agent learn from your current behavior - aka heuristic learning. Or, if you prefer, this is a highly customized portal-for-one. Give it some basic rules, behaviors, limits and can do a whole set of things for you, write thank you cards & what not. If you want a news summary of one kind of another you don't have to wade through a lead article about what kind of chiken salad Madonna likes best. Extend this idea and you could many many agents negotiating with one another for higher or lower filter settings, new information, trial runs, test subscriptions, etc.. I mean negotiatio literally & not something purely cost-based like auctions but value based using a spectrum of soft variables, heuristics if you wish.
  • ....Katz would surely be filtered out.
  • It would appear that this article prescribes a meta form of intelligent agent to the ills of information overload. The concept of preventing the distribution of technologies that allow people to check sports scores while sitting at stoplights sounds a little Orwellian to me.

    I do have to admit that I would love to have the ability to mark events like the Star/Clinton trials and beanie babies for deletion from my conciousness map, just like spam filtering.

    This article does, however, summon forth a vision of a world where news reporters purposely slant their stories so that they can fit them into the range of categories that are filtered by the fewest readers. Since all authors will be, in effect, globally syndicated, the competition for attention will be fierce.
  • Ideas such as this were discussed in a book I read this summer, called "the control revolution" by Andrew Shapiro. It wasn't particularly insighful, but it wasn't bad. Basically he said that these "filters" we can impliment will narrow our scope to a very limited range of topics, thus we'll have less and less in common with everyone else, feel more isolated, etc. At the bottom end of this I suppose you could say this would lead to more violence, wars, etc.

    On the other hand, these could be really useful. I don't have 8 hours a day to surf the web. But I'd much rather find my news online than watch my local/national news on TV. As far as I'm concerned TV itself limits your scope, much more than these filters ever would. The fact that most of the media in the world is owned by a handful of coroprations is enough evidence of this for me.

    Yes, the Orwellian implications do scare me, though. It all boils down to how it is implemented and by who. What are their intentions: to make life easier for the common man? to make money? to control the common man? I wish we'd see a lot more of the first possibility.
  • I'm not sure it's necessary to prioritize and (over?) control any aspect of technology the way it's proposed here. I'm not sure it's possible to do that, minor Greek gods (or Emerson, Lake and Palmer) notwithstanding.

    Humans tend to do what they can do, whether it's right or wrong. As the tools get better as a species we tend to do more.

    PCs may still be solutions without problems, but that's mostly because we still don't know how to use these tools very well. The Ludite in me just wants to slow down just enough do that. But no more.
  • Most of the Technology that ends up coming out fills a nich, a want, a never ending quest for new stuff. We, as a species, are astounded by 'new stuff'.

    Do you need the newest Palm? Hell no. But, do you WANT it.. Want ends up filling need. I WANT a site that can find data FOR me. Do I NEED it? No, I can pretty much 'get by' with what we have now. But once I have it, it enables me to do more.. Oh, wait, more wants.. I wish I could have a robot scoure the smart search site for things I like. OOhh.. the wants keep coming. The wants turn to needs once you rely on them..

    How many people on the net can say they can find a file via archie? Or Veronica? They filled a want. They eventually became a need. When they filled the need, we had more wants, and hence, they are obsolete.
  • by Capt Dan (70955) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @06:36AM (#1653692) Homepage
    Yes yes. Subversion would be quite simple too. Remember the /. post about the india/pakistani cyberwar? What about the porn-jacking of sites that's been all over the news lately?

    Say a regualar user wakes up one mroning and boots up their agent website. Suddenly Tide has a rating of a 9. Holy Shnikies! I better go buy some Tide! Oh-my-josh! Being in a Sucide Cult is now a 10!!! Where's my razor?

    Something like this would definitely give rise to the cracker-for-hire industry.

  • While I share your view that taking peoples chices away from them is always a bad thing, I don't see that as what Katz is advocating. What he is advocating is a self imposed, benificial filter. He has made the assumption that at some future time, continous technological saturation and advancement will drive us insane, and is simply proposing a mechanism to slow the progress to a human-managable pace!

    And he's not saying you need to be forced to let some machine play God for you. Katz is saying 'hey! lets invent an AI tool that lets US play our own god without ever having the associated cerebral workload!'

    And why should we? I know I'd be better off if I never had to hear about the New/Whiz 2.0 digital spatial Quisenart, or her companion appliances, the Hygromatic ToastMaster 4.2 or the New/Shazam electromagnetic back-hair shaver. Not only wouldn't I even think of purchasing them in real life, I really don't need some snazzy jingle cluttering my brain. I'd rather have seen/heard the advertisment for VA, or no advertisment at all.
  • by Evangelion (2145) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @06:38AM (#1653694) Homepage
    Didn't Katz just say a few months ago that he doesn't like filtering software? [slashdot.org].

    Other than that obvious contradiction, I still can't figure out what's being said here. This sounds like a massive cop out on the part of Katz. He doesn't want to enforce blinds on his own activity (as evidenced by his previous article), he probably doesn't want the goverenment or a company to control what he can see, but he'll let a computer program do so? That makes no sense, so I don't think that's what he would be saying.... then what?

    l. Is this information necessary? Do we need to know it? Does it advance knowledge, inform or entertain us? Or does it tell us something we already know, provide a service when we can easily do ourselves, replicate what already exists?

    You can't know that. Aside from the fact that there is no way to prove conclusively that, once and for all time a piece of information is Useful and Good or Useless and Bad (i.e. to be shown to you or not), it will limit you the mode of thought that the AI has. Think about it - if those who wrote this software considered health issues to be very important to know, then you would constantly be given health updates - which might cause certain people to become hypochondriacs. Or, if they considered product recalls past a certain level of urgency (i.e. child care equipment, cars), etc. -- seeing that information all the time might make one into a consumer advocate.

    Your mind is the sum of the information that you have experienced in your lifetime, give or take a bit of magic. Turning the continued evolution of your mind over to an AI coded by other people would make your mind into a reflection of the programmers who wrote that AI.

    Wouldn't it?

    2. Do we need this new product? Does it have unintended consequences? Will it be almost instantly out-of-date?

    Sexual reproduction has unintended concequences - copying errors produce genetic mutations. These 'unintended concequences' allow evolution.

    5. Are we leaving human beings enough time, peace, and opportunity for at least some spiritual dimension in their lives? Or are we labor-saving and information-providing them to distraction? through?

    Human beings (of the class that you're talking about here - you only seem concerned about the fate of middleclass technocrats) can easily get the time and peace for a spirtual dimension in thier lives - if they care enough to have one. If they don't, well, then no amount of peace and quiet will give them one. It will just make them bored.

    You can't make people happy if they don't want to be happy.

  • Part 1: Cyberclysm

    Katz makes the mistake of reading and responding to his own article on /., and gets caught up in a confusing technology induced downward spiral of Katzian techno-babble overload. Becoming paranoid, Katz fears that Big Brother is hiding in his toilet.

    Part 2: Clotho

    Afraid of technology taking over his life, Kats proposes an AI agent, Clotho, to take over his life. He hopes that Clotho will provide him with a low tech toilet.

  • by jflynn (61543) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @06:39AM (#1653696)
    The problem isn't that too much information is available, it's that too much is being shoved in our faces, and that the purpose of this information is not to inform but deceive.

    One effect of our ad-driven society is the disconnect between quality/price and number of sales. You see this in the number of shoddy products that have somehow emerged as leader in their field. Ads are breaking capitalism's feedback mechanism in the service of profiteering. It is no longer possible to pretend that the best product wins. It's the best marketed product that is functionally adequate.

    Another is the ill-feeling towards progress pointed out by Katz. The ads show beautiful people in beautiful places doing quite wonderful things. This does sell product, else billions wouldn't be spent on it. But as much as they buy, people still don't get this wonderful life. Of course people conciously know that buying the product won't improve their quality of life significantly, but I believe there is subconcious resentment and dissatisfaction that expresses itself as general cynicism and anger towards our commercial society.

    Many have bemoaned the fall of journalism, and indeed this is a scary sign in a democracy or republic. But what happened to it? News was repurposed to package advertising. This role reversal, ads being the message and news the carrier, is why quality journalism and investigative reporting are so rare. You don't need a quality news product, just something eye catching and entertaining... and cheap.
  • Any time you introduce an intermediary into a process, it is impossible for it to remain objective. An overload of working condition crises at the turn of the century bore the almighty Union, obstensibly to protect the common laborer from Big Business. But instead the Union became the new boss -- to the point that the Average Joe no longer has any say and practically needs a union (a meta-union perhaps?) to protect his rights against the Union. (Thank goodness geeks are generally not unionized!)

    Major news outlets will not (and cannot) serve the same vertical markets that /. speaks to (and for). Conversely, /. cannot provide a news digest readily accessible to the common mass audience. If I only read /., then I would not be able to keep up with theater or movies other than SF. One needs a collection of trusted news and analysis sources on various topics of interest. IDIC, as Spock would say.

    But Katz has really missed the boat on this one. Intelligent agents are a good thing, but they cannot be all-powerful (top-down editorializing) or exclusive ("I get everything I need to read on allthenews.com!").

    The greatest thing we have going for us is community.

    Ebay is as successful as it is, not because of technical prowess :), but rather, because of the Web of Trust (tm). You may not know dave123, but 120 other folks say he's alright to deal with. Similarly, I've noticed /. comments that I really jive with, consistantly from the same authors. Maybe I'd be interested in dave123's (here as a /. ID) bookmark list. Maybe I'd like to know which articles dave123 thought were worthy of "Reading More" on. But that, of course, is far too granular a view -- I want an agent that allows me to add dave123 to my Buddy Web with a given weight and compute dave123's habits together with tom456, dick78 and harry9.

    Before all you privacy nuts whip out your flame-throwers, let me add that dave123 has volunteered to share his clicks with the world. Or alternatively, by logging in on /., dave123 has given Rob the right to log his access and share his profile with other /.ers. This would have to be an opt-in selection. Happy now?

    I am also aware that this has been tried in a more general sense, most notably by Alexa (which then got incorporated into Netscape). The difference is that Alexa didn't let you choose your community. There was/is one whole Net community. When you work with something so amorphous, you can't help it if you get tapioca.

    Specialized interests demand specialized communities. I, for one, am willing to share my habits to create greater mindshare for my interests. Are you?

    - Richie

  • I think a great example of embedding complex software in everyday appliances is your car. Someone from 1930 could drive one of today's cars, all the software that controls the fuel injectors, oxygen mix and ABS brakes is invisible to the user.

    the reason for this is that the interface has changed only slightly since the first car.
    the car has been around long enough for people to "intuitively" understand the interface.
    how long has that taken, and how long until computers are in the same situation?
  • Why should an AI (buzzword, btw) censor what I see and not see? Why should an AI (buzzword) play God (buzzword) when I can't?
    It's too late. Millions of people are doing this already, and you probably are too. Or don't you realize that every time you use a search engine, you are employing an AI to select (call it "censor" if you like) what you see (based on your own search criteria), and it certainly "plays God" (weeds through vastly more material than you could yourself).

    The future is here, get used to it.

  • Thing is, you don't want to have heard these adverts precisely because you did hear them and exercised conscious choice that you would rather have not heard them.

    So what you do, in the event that we have sensible user-defined filters is, you block further stuff similar to this.

    But what if some outside authority, AI or not, decides to censor it before you even have a chance to see it? Saying that it knows what is best for you, and that you don't need to ever see it in your whole life?

    I say, hold on. That may be right, but the decision is mine to make, dammit.

    As for that Clotho idea playing God: I'm not making it up, Katz said it, to quote:

    Clotho would definitely play God (which is okay, since she is one.)

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • Paint me green, but isn't there work into creating virtual agents like Clothos? These agents would go out on the Internet, and search for things you are interested in. Then, by keeping track of what pages you actually read, they can re-define their search parameters, go back out on the Net...and so on and so on. For the first while, the pages would be high on quantity, but low on quality; but as the Virtual Agent adapts to what you like, the signal to noise ratio goes up.

    You wouldn't even need a high tech AI to do something like this. The virtual agent could just do simple web-address and text-content tracking. For example, it could bring me every AMD/motherboard story from my favorite tech sites, but ban every Katz story from /. It could keep a word database that would determine what secondary words and phrases are most commonly found in the pages you do choose that it brings you. It doesn't have to be rocket science.
    The two problems that suffice *here* are:

    1) This could bypass ad-littered crap pages, causing a drop in advertising, forcing either the commercialism that fuels internet growth away, or force said commericialism to invade high content pages which would be ruined if they became advertising-whores (like /.).

    2) When (none of this *if* crap) someone figures out what search criteria the virtual search for, or what algorithm it uses, idiots, hit-mongers, and other scum will just create pages that will have the bare minimum needed to fool your agent to retrieving the page. How many people have seen this happen already?

  • Katz, you've gone mad. It sounds like you want a more advanced version of Net-Nanny to me. Not content to simply not buy some crazy chemical toilet you don't even want to know they exist. You seem to be praising the values of ignorance.
    We need Websites that really understand us, protect us and go to bat for us.

    And then sell that data to the marketdroids no doubt. The company I work for has a similar policy, they want to make it easier to surf the net by getting these software agents to get to know you. I'm constantly on the look out for abuses, and have staved a couple off already, much to the distaste of the marketting dept. I don't even win all the time.
    I'd call my personal version Clotho,

    Cloth-eared more like. Sorry, that was pointless. You want to block it out so it's like I never said it? You want to block out the replies to that, and the whole tree of information that could develop below it? What if Chemical analysing toilets notice a trend in those who do buy them which indicates, when combined with data from that magic fridge, that eating beef that's too fresh gives you migranes or whatever. You want that blocked too? You'd have to learn about the toilets to understand it Katz.
    [The Greeks]Their poets and playwrights wrote all the time about humanity's tragic inclination to fiddle with the world and screw it up at the same time.

    AND THAT CAME TRUE! We're ALL DEAD NOW! Jesus. It was four thousand years ago for god's sake, surely it says more about the constant of human paranoia than any factual destructive drive?
    computers will be making rational, human-like decisions in a few years. We could put them to work for us.

    Obvious nit picking here but since when have human-like decisions been rational? Humans are the ones who keep trying to ban good stuff like INFORMATION and even BEER. I imagine these computers, which will one day be built I fear, will be very good at keeping people isolated, far away from the terror of desenting opinion. As long as they want it I guess I have no problem with people trying to drag their childhood out to last their whole life but putting your cloth-eared program in place of their parents. People like cotton-wool. I'm not sure I'd call it wise or rational to stay wrapped up in it though.
    I just want Clotho to leave me the dignity of autonomy,

    Do you really not see the inconsistancy here? You want an autonomous agent to take care of decisions for you so you can take care of them for yourself?

    When I read part one I wondered if your TV had an off switch or not, I wondered if you were contractually obliged not to throw it out of the window. Apparently you are. I can only assume you signed up to six years worth of adverts so you could get a free WebTV or something.
    I'd just as soon retain the right to decide when and if I go to the doctor to have my bodily fluids chemically analyzed.

    And your method to do this is to buy an analytical toilet anyway, presumably because you don't know how to not respond to an advert, then let ClothEared turn it off for you to save you some embarasement? Don't buy one Katz
    But we need help.

    Well, you sure seem to. Sorry. That was pointless and childish. Still, Clotho can always filter it for you.
    Clotho.org could stand between us and Ubiquitous Computing, growling back the Microsofts, governments, media - hypemongers and arrogant hordes of programmers, gadgetmakers and marketers.

    You know what I use to stand between me and "Ubiquitious Computing"? I walk away from the machine every lunchtime and go read a book in the pub for an hour. Then of an evening I don't watch TV (Threw the thing out a few months ago. It's just rubbish these days, I can tell that for myself see, I don't need ClothEars to do it for me.) I play around with lego or read some more or TALK TO MY FRIENDS or whatever. You remind me of people who say things like "I wouldn't like being on the dole coz I'd be bored" which just makes me stare at them blankly. You need a Boss to tell you what to do to stop being bored? There's a whole world out there to explore. Just the local library would take a lifetime.
    Clotho wouldn't present us with fewer choices, but making
    (sic) tough choices for us.

    How does some machine making some choices for you manage NOT to reduce the choices you have? Oh, I see, it might take away the choice between, say, Mac and Windows, but it adds a choice of which colour to get the Windows box in?
    occupying the space between humans and the new technologies scaring the hell out of them.

    Erm, I'm begining to think Katz is just trolling us you know. Is there going to be a part three saying "See, I've described the nighmare dystopia that censorship could bring, isn't that more scary than technology?" - it scares me a lot more.
    We might program her to screen out anything under a 4. We'd never get the chance to buy it, or maybe even know it was out there.

    I still don't see how denying yourself even the information that a product exists helps you unless you're too stupid to realise for yourself that you don't need one.
    If she'd been around, most of us might blessedly never have learned the names of William Bennett, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr, or Linda Tripp.

    Leaving only those who care about these things to discuss them? Where's the agrument going to come from? If the only people who learned about these pointless things were the moralists, wouldn't the moralists be more likely to have gotten their way? If I never learn of a threat to my safety am I really safer? If I'm told not to be scared of technology by ClothDoll should I just relax knowing she's right?
    As far as I'm concerned, Clotho could screen out virtually every debate on every Washington talk show and the country's civic life would be improved a thousand times overnight.

    I doubt it would do political debate much good, I doubt it would improve the way you're governed. It wouldn't actually make you safer, it would make you less safe because you'd be comfortable in your own ignorance.
    Clotho.org would also fend off much of the techno-news streaming toward us from C/Net and Wired News, and sift for technology information that we actually wanted to know.

    You saw it here first folks! Turkeys actually arguing in favour of Xmas.
    tens of millions of people forced to buy things they don't want or things they can't use

    Where the hell are all these people? Name a product you've been forced to buy which you can't use or didn't want? Tell us exactly how "they" forced you. Yeah, I've failed to properly research stuff and bought, for instance, the wrong digital camera. How restricting the information available to me would have make that better I can't imagine.
    perhaps we can simply turn our coffeemakers on when we wake up instead of programming them.

    You can't do that already? I thought the flashing 12:00 problem pretty much forced most people into that anyway. Never had a coffee maker so I dunno.
    She'd put a quick, merciful end to health-checking toilets.

    You're obsessed with these things. I bet you buy one. Really. I bet you end up with two in your house. You clearly can't stop thinking about them.

    I feel as though I've responded to a troll. I really do. I can't believe anyone here would agree with a word you've said. I feel like I've just responded to a "ABORTION IS MURDER" post in a pro-choice usenet group. The only people who might need any of this ClothMinded crap are people so suggestable and dumb they'd feel lonely using JunkBuster coz they'd miss that monkey fellow. I'm not sure people that easily convinced to buy rubbish wouldn't actually set that Bagpuss or Old Cloth Cat or whatever to fetch more ads for them anyway. Just because the crap is technocrap doesn't make it harder to refuse, doesn't make it harder to throw away and makes it a hell of a lot easier to let the batteries run out or turn it off.
    Pre......
  • John is right about the Technological rate of change. The real danger is the underlying damage that it does to society. Have you looked at your world lately? When was the last time you went out and tasted the rain. Ray Bradbury has already explored our future with Fahrenheit 451, and unfortunately, it's become all to real. Take for example these passages from book, as the Firechief Beatty talks with Montag.
    "Speed up the film, Montag, quick.
    Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a head-line! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unneccessary, time-wasting thought!"
    "School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?"
    This next quote is from the same soliloquy, with Beatty talking about the reasons for books being banned..
    "Now let's take up with the minorities in our civilication, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Uinitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germains, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people fro Oregon or Mexico. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and miniority preassue carried the trick, thank God."
    Look where that society ended up, and ask yourself, are we heading down the right track? What can we do to solve the problem, if one exists? Now... for a critique of Jon Katz. These two part series always start good. The first article is thought-provoking and well written as it exposes a problem in society. Yet, in the second article, you expous your views on how it should be solved. Usually those solutions appear to be given only a glancing thought about the feasablity of their implementation. Put some thought into all possible solutions, ask people how they would solve it, but please don't try to solve it for them. There are some people that have thought that we would be much better off if we hadn't come down from the trees in the first palce
  • There is a difference between providing a list of compatible links as dictated by my own wishes, and having a computer program determine for me what I should consider funny or not, useful or not.

    The ethical implications go further: how do you determine what is "good" for everyone? You end up in a very grey area, here. If you begin to negatively rate a site because it seems useless/in poor taste, you're alienating the target audience of this site, which may well disagree. You're also cutting off the freedom of expression which is one of the beauties of the WWW, even if it means it produces heaps of trash.

    Consider this: what Katz is suggesting is more or less the director of programmation on a television station. He determines what people consider useful or entertaining. How? By checking ratings. So, in the end, quality is not the factor, but popularity, and in the long run, you end up just lowering your standards, because suddenly, you no longer dictate the popularity of shows: you buy what the director of programmation wants you to recognise as popular.

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • Trying to make machines do tasks that only humans can do properly is the biggest mistake we (everybody, but technophiles particularly) make with technology.
  • Interesting idea. It sure would be nice to filter out some of that crap. But, hey i got slashdot, which does a great job of that for me. Clotho is like self-censorship, imposed by some AI. Which if it is self-imposed, is it as bad as government imposed? What if someone wanted to listen to those debates in DC? I dont now, so if i see one on the tube, i just change the channel, or hit the off button. No AI required.

    Maybe im a little out-of it this morning, but all i have to say, has anyone seen the Matrix? ;)) Im not-anti AI, but watch a program that is told to filter info out for us, will start to filter out info for its own good. OK, i admit thats far fetched. But it could happen. Put a program in charge of our most important commodity, information, it could happen, if the AI is real good. However i dont see AI getting that good for a while yet.

    Despite it... I still think it would be cool to see us develop such a high level of AI.

    "The Matrix Has You"
  • Well, the two articles do seem to paint a rosy picture of the future. Wheather you have a computer tell you what to buy, or your next cell phone will be able to wipe that bit of spicy brown mustard from your chin, we're apparently all going to Hell.

    But what about the possibility of self-correction within the system? Hmmm? It's possible. Happens all the time in other systems.

    Do I need to have sports scores on my phone? Nope. not big on sports. Does my roomate who loves Notre Dame football? Yes. Would I like slashdot headlines sent to my pager? Sure. And I think you would too ;)


    Eventually people will learn that the newest fastest thing is not necessarilly the best thing, and will start to control their spending.

    Also keep in mind that the people that buy all these new fangeled cellphone ans such are a Minority of the population. Most people really don't care. They want a tv, vcr, cable, and a phone. So the Palm has sold a couple of million units. That's nothing compared to the 250+ million people in the USA

    We are a part of that Minority, so our views on the matter are biased. We see and hear about every new thing that comes down the pipe. By the time one item makes or breaks it, most of the time we're focusing on the next thing that is almost ready, and forget about the last one.

    Did this whole issue arise becuase we are blinded by our own interests? Or is it real?

  • is it possible to configure this absolutely USELESS piece of technology that probably no one will ever get around to making anyways to only filter out the BAD porno sites?

    that way, if we don't want to get pagejacked, we can just avoid it altogether by not going to the "click here for free XXX pix!"

    man i fall for that all the time..

    usually my mom just filters the stuff out for me..you know, the usual "there's not enough pink in that, don't look at it"

    anyhow..if something like this was actually created, the internet e-conomy or whatever would probably collapse - if it wasn't for impulse buying, would anyone buy anything with their credit cards at all?

    i wish clotho.org had kept me from eating that shrimp last night, i'm having the runs..oh i know what will solve that - sinking thousands of more hours into technology that will only screw us in the end (i'll be under a matress in the bathtub on 12/31..)
  • John is right about the Technological rate of change. The real danger is the underlying damage that it does to society. Have you looked at your world lately? When was the last time you went out and tasted the rain?
    Ray Bradbury has already explored a future with Fahrenheit 451, and unfortunately, it's become all to real. Take for example these passages from book, as the Firechief Beatty talks with Montag.
    "Speed up the film, Montag, quick.
    Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a head-line! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unneccessary, time-wasting thought!"
    "School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?"
    This next quote is from the same speech, with Beatty talking about why the books have been banned..
    "Now let's take up with the minorities in our civilication, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Uinitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germains, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people fro Oregon or Mexico. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and miniority preassue carried the trick, thank God."
    Look where that society ended up, and ask yourself, are we heading down the right track? What can we do to solve the problem, if one exists?

    These two part series always start good. The first article is thought-provoking and well written as it exposes a problem in society. Yet, in the second article, you expous your views on how it should be solved. Usually those solutions appear to be given only a modicum of thought about the feasablity of their implementation. Put some thought into all possible solutions, ask people how they would solve it, but please don't try to solve it for them.
    There are some people who think that we would be much better off if we hadn't come down from the trees in the first palce
  • I agree that preemptive, noninteractive content filtering is pure evil, and has no place in a free society. However, I imagine 'Clotho' as an adaptive AI/user intelligence agent, and not as a pre-set, I-know-better-than-you 'God'. A tool to help me wade through the seas of information saturation, and nothing more. When I haven't shown any interest in Bolivian sugar-beets, or Hillary Clinton's campaign, I could care less if my filter cuts them out.
  • It collapsed under the weight of its own pretensions. The pack leader, Andrew Shapiro, wrote a book in which he basically argued 'freedom is bad because people might make choices I disagree with' and managed to demonstrate a stunning lack of comprehension about what the Internet is. (One example he used was of an online store practicing racial discrimination. Uhm...Andrew...on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.) He also advocates *mandating* RSACI-type filters in Explorer/Netscape/et al, and even advocates shipping only 'kid friendly' browsers until an 'adult' browser can be activated via some sort of key. This surprised me;I always assumed liberals were anti-ratings, at least. (Page 173-174, if you want to check it out.)
  • I was thinking the same thing-- walking the middle ground between gee-wiz and luddism? Technorealism!

    We don' need no steenkeeng filter, just get our heads on right-- technology will not make life perfect, and it won't enslave us... technology is merely a TOOL, and it depends on how we use it... or whether we use it or allow it to use us.
  • I want the 10 minutes of my life wasted on these articles back. Possibly with Interest.

    Just a few questions

    1. How do you expect an intelligent agent to create a filtering system for an idiot who is incapable of filtering.
    The "Cyberclysm", as Katz want's to call it, seems to me to be more of an Information-based Natural Selection. If you're incapable of filtering the crap for yourself, if your attention span is so low that you can't stop and think "Wait is this product useful or just absolute shit", then I guess Darwinism has proven you to be unfit to survive in a Informational Society.

    2. How is thinking less supposed to make someone smarter.
    While this may be a great way to create a new breed of lazy underdeveloped minds, I can't see how Clotho's spinner is going to do anything beyond creating more knots.

  • I'm not sure that Technology can be classified so easily (as a "want"). I think that you'd have to agree that Technology has an economic aspect. For example, if you completely ignored Technology, you would have a tougher time finding a "good" job. I think that this economic aspect of Technology causes a great deal of the frustration that most people experience. Nobody wants to fall behind the technology curve because they could lose control of their economic future.
  • I want the 10 minutes of my life wasted on these articles back. Possibly with Interest.

    Just a few questions

    1. How do you expect an intelligent agent to create a filtering system for an idiot who is incapable of filtering?
    The "Cyberclysm", as Katz want's to call it, seems to me to be more of an Information-based Natural Selection. If you're incapable of filtering the crap for yourself, if your attention span is so low that you can't stop and think "Wait is this product useful or just absolute shit", then I guess Darwinism has proven you to be unfit to survive in a Informational Society.

    2. How is thinking less supposed to make someone smarter?
    While this may be a great way to create a new breed of lazy underdeveloped minds, I can't see how Clotho's spinner is going to do anything beyond creating more knots.

  • Um, how is being dictated reality by an artificial intelligence better than being overwhelmed with information and choices? Really what this seems to be suggesting, in a scary Matrix-like tone, is that we need to build some technology which is the intermediary between us and reality (reality being even more technology). I can stand intelligent agents, and expert systems, digesting, refining and suggesting things for me, but I don't want to be purposefully deluded.
  • So I know JonKatz bashing is the style and the rage, and I'm being a hopeless /. peon by doing it. But damn it, there are some issues that need to be addressed:

    A vigilant Clotho would design her site along the sancrosanct principles spelled out in O'Reilly's landmark guide, "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web," a book Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. It should be the Web designer's Bible, if it isn't already, since it challenges us to put users, not makers, foremost when we think of the Web and the Net.
    This paragraph demonstrates both the lack of concern for grammar that JonKatz regularly maintains (this is a mistake that Grammatik would probably catch, and possibly even something in MS Word) that demonstrates that either a) he doesn't really care about his /. articles, or b) he's just too lazy to concern himself with correct language use anywhere. This has been beaten to death many times over, however, so I'm just mentioning it because it showed up again.

    More annoying is the presence of the paragraph in question at all in this article. It's a barely relevant product plug, although I would bet money he didn't receive money to do it.

    Other people have, of course, already mentioned that Clotho.org would be Orwellian, and I think it also bears mentioning that the people who did not have access to it (i.e., poor people, people in other poorer nations, etc.) would probably develop far greater resistance to future shock (to use Toffler's term) and end up superior people.

    I am further concerned with some of the criteria JonKatz says would be good (like ``product support'' and ``out-of-dateness''). Suffice to say good products are less concerned with support than things being correct to begin with (and if you think there's an overload on quality, well...), and good products are timeless (I've got computers from the 80's and early 90's that I still do a lot of work on). While this is trivial, I think it once again shows how sadly out of touch JonKatz is with real facts. sigh
  • ...
    what Katz is suggesting is more or less the director of programmation on a television station. He determines what people consider useful or entertaining.
    Got a quote to back up that statement? Because I don't see anything in Katz's article to suggest that he expected Clotho to rate everything the same for everyone (a la TV where everyone sees the same program if they select the channel).

    I cut off the freedom of expression of the WWW all the time. I don't take time to browse more than a very few sites every day, and most of those come to my attention through pointers on /. or from friends. If Clotho-agent software helps me rank stuff before I spend eyeball time on it, and updates its data about what I find interesting or useful as it goes, it'll be useful and will get used. If it's unhelpful, it'll fall by the wayside. That's the way these things work.

  • I agree with the idea that we need something to "filter" out the onslaught of information and technology, but in my mind, handing this power over to someone else is distasteful, at least without extensive customizability and privacy. Which is hard balance to reach, but necessary, since you'll probably want to keep adverts, which are generally useless, out. Otherwise this could be a a marketers' dream come true.

    What might be better is something on your personal computer, something with the AI necessary to interpret and sift out all the gems from the sand. I've already got something that does some of the rudiments of this already: a proxy filter, dutifully disabling animated ads, and fixing annoying mistakes in HTML. This sort of thing could grow into something that actively pulls the information you need for you, finding things that you might miss, and screening stuff you don't want, and refining its searches by learning your preferences. The idea isn't new; people have been looking at making a true Personal Digital Assistant for a while now.

    The problem that I see is that if this were to be set up improperly, it could easily become similar to the "labeling" stuff that has been seen on YRO. The catch is to make it so that it does not actually restrict the free flow of information, just that individuals will be able to get the stuff that they need, and not be bothered by the stuff that they don't.

  • John, I usually enjoy reading your articles, but this time I really have to ask: Are you on smack?

    What you are proposing is a system by which a third party rates, and cuts down your choices for you. This is mass censorship. Nothing less. Now I know that you'll argue that "ya, well you can choose to lower the level at which you take in the information, and get more noise", but you wind up with a largly influential body dictating the mainstream, instead of what's good. Microsoft? Car companies? VHS?

    Slashdot works because even if a couple people aren't working for the better good, it's ok. Most people will read at a real low level. If we all went with what was good, then we run the risk of missing smaller, possibly useful counter-points, and other less-popular, or even just less well written ideas.

    And an AI? Great. We're already having problems with just the I. A person is intelligent, people are stupid (with appologies to who ever originally wrote that).

    I think I'l just stick with consumer reports, for now.

  • Let me get this off my chest right now: Slashdot is my favorite page in all WWW land, and the moderation system is fantastic.

    But I think it could do more.

    There already exists in the User Preferences section the ability to filter out articles by topic. I'd like to see Slashdot GREATLY expand the topic choices to include things not generally associated with "nerds." By default, topics like mountainbiking and canoeing and libertarian politics and metro Detroit local news/weather/traffic could be turned off, but I'd love to turn them on and get them here.
  • 'Want' can come in different flavors, including the green kind. You 'want' a better job. You get a better job. Wait, next year, you 'want' yet another better job. Life would continue just fine with Joe as a Janitor, but he 'wants' more then he has.. Hence, he goes to college, learns, goes on the web, and finds a new job. But this is becouse of greed. A basic 'wanting'. That's what drives us. Someone will always be 'the janitor', and rarely will he simply want to be that.
  • That's odd, I normally agree with what Katz says, but this is way off. I find his to fall precisely in line with the Luddite's view. If I use a machine to weed out what I don't need to read or use, or what its perception of what I want, then how would I ever be exposed to anything new? I don't use every new technology that comes out, but some of it is useful. I am not personally into sports, but if that were the most important thing to me, how could I depend her to bring me my news when I want it. It may not be a question of if I need to see the scores a half hour earlier, but rather a question of if I want to see them earlier. We can't sacrifice our freedom of choice and speech for the momentary convenience of not having to filter through information ourselves.

    Worse, how do I know that Clotho.org isn't out to serve her own pupose? On the radical end, she could filter out the news of the revolution, or any other views that don't coincide with the general populous, but at the very least, she probably isn't going to tell me when her competitor, Atropos.org, go online.

    Realistically, I don't want a machine analyzing my fecal matter (particularly when it is likely to send the results not only to my physician, but also to telemarketers and the government), but this isn't the answer. You can't use a computer program to shield yourself from tough philosophical issues such as this, unfortunately, you have to use your mind.
  • And in addition I was so enraged by Katz' article that I was over taken by Double vision and hit both the Submit and Preview buttons.
  • ok..i just wanna reply to this..


    Yes, the Orwellian implications do scare me, though. It all boils down to how it is implemented and by who. What are their intentions: to make life easier for the common man? to make money? to control the common man? I wish we'd see a lot more of the first possibility.

    that first concept you mentioned, about making life easier for the common man, seems to have totally consumed north america (at least, technology wise)..

    life is not about having an "easy" time of things..life sucks and then you die, there's not much more to it than that, in the end we're all the same..(if you keep up with your skull&bones)

    if keeping up to date with what's happening in the world is important to you, great, but there are far more things to worry about than how fast and how efficiently you can find out about what some crazy people are doing with large missles on remote islands, or what kind of linux is being released in 3 years..but there are far more things going on in the world than what you'll ever see on any number of websites..

    if i were to never be able to read /. again, it would not affect my daily life at all. i gain nothing from it, it's just something to launch from when i surf. usually i get distracted by pr0n after a few minutes..maybe i might have some more free time..


    i'd just like to finish up this fairly off-topic ramble..

    imho, technology has made many common tasks simple, but many simple tasks difficult..doing homework over the internet sounds great, but not when it's due at 6pm on a saturday. i can't wait to see what people have on their tombstones in 50 years.."here lies rob, he was a great webmaster."

    go outside and do stuff goddamnit.
  • I want the 10 minutes of my life wasted on these articles back...If you're incapable of filtering the crap for yourself,...

    I just wanted to juxtapose those two sentiments. They're more entertaining that way.

  • These first two points may possibly be construed as nitpicky.

    1.) I always thought the Fates were female. At the beginning of your article, you refer to them in the masculine, then abruptly switch gender referents near the end. Are you confused, did you not proofread, or am I missing something more significant?

    2.) There is no Palm IV. There is III, IIIx, V, and VII.

    These two simply make you look silly, Mr. Katz. The following is a more serious consideration:

    3.) You use the word "Luddite" in a way that broadly categorizes Luddites in a negative manner. I thought Slashdot was supposed to be a place of tolerance? Actual Luddites may find your offhand dismissal and casual use of their sect name offensive. (I'm not usually the PC police, but I think this deserves serious consideration.) You are a writer, Mr. Katz. Words are your weapons. Don't toss them about so carelessly -- when you do, you're not doing your job.

    I hope that "Luddite" does not become another easy buzzword pigeonhole that appears in 90% of your articles, along with:
    Geek
    AI
    God/Religion
    Cyber*
    ... etc.

    Please think more carefully about your choice of words in the future. Also, I would suggest having other people proofread your work before you post it. It would save you embarrassment. Surely you don't let the editors at Brill's Content [brillscontent.com] do all your revision for you?



  • We can hook Clotho into one of Jon's sex-bots! Then, we will have that most wonderful of creations, that most mysterious of beings, that most gracious of graces. The only thing that keeps most of us from wasting the rest of our lives in an orgy of debauchery and techological gimmicks. The only thing that tells me that no, I really DON'T need a computer controlled table saw to maintain my testosterone levels:

    A wife.


    geesh. The ideas that come up around here.

  • by yule (42265) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @07:37AM (#1653733) Journal
    It sounds like the system that Mr. Katz has decided to call Clotho (Cool name, BTW.) is designed to perform two seperate functions. It's a technology filter, searching the hard and soft to decide what new gadgets and tools you actually need; at the same time Clotho can act as an information filter, determining what new ideas you are exposed to. Conspiracy theories aside, there are some interesting things that Clotho could do, but I think Katz is overlooking systems that we have right now that perform much of the functionality of Clotho.


    Got Bits?

    Let's take the second feature of Clotho first - the agent as an information filter. All of us on /. know that there is so much new information available each day that it is not possible for any one person to scan all of it. You might think that this is due to the internet, but you would be wrong. Back in the bad old days we used to get our information through newspapers, and I would bet that not a single person has ever sat down and read every page of the Sunday edition of a major newspaper.

    The problem with a system like Clotho is that it would have to be tuned to my personal information tastes, which would be very difficult. What I would rather have is a system that does not make decisions for me, but one which let's me associate with a group of other people who have similar tastes in information as me. In this idealized system we would each scan a managable subset of the total news feeds and send interesting stories to each other as we come across them. Rather than forcing the technology into a role for which it is not suited, parsing news, in this system we would use people to find interesting news and use technology for something it _is_ good for, transmitting that information among people.

    The system described above is more or less the same as Slashdot. I don't personally read the EETimes, but I don't need to becasue there is a group of people out there who do, and they send interesting tidbits to the /. editors, who put it in a place where I can find it. Likewise, most readers here probably don't listen to NPR in the morning, but I do, and if there are any stories that would be interesting to the /. crowd I'll send them off to the editors. Slashdot functions like an anthill, where each ant scurries off to there own little corner of the kitchen to search for tasty bits of food which they bring back home.


    Next - Clotho as a technology filter.

    Unlike the idea of an information filter, which is, in my biased opinion, a Good Thing (tm), the idea of having an agent stand between me a new technology is silly. Katz make it seem like we are all literaly drowning in a flood of new tech, frantically gasping for air as we sink into a quicksand pit of mobile phones, PDA's, and web-enabled running shoes. This is just not true.

    Sure, I think that we all find the net-ready fridge is silly, but we have market forces that will take care of these things. If nobody buys it, it will smoothly fade into the background of failed gadgets and dissapear from our lives. And even if there are enough consumers out there who really do want a WebFridge (/. readers, no doubt.) that does not mean that _you_ have to buy one. Every person retains the magical ability to say "This is a piece of shit and I'm not buying one." Ta da! Problem solved.

    If you want to be highly wired, then do it. Go on, proudly stuff that wireless, stereo, color LCD, Java enabled, PalmSuppository up your bum each morning and be secure in the knowledge that you can have stock quotes transmitted directly to your rectum wherever you are. But if you don't want to, then don't, and don't feel bad about it.


    Recap.

    Distributed human news filtering == good.
    Machine processed news filtering == bad.
    Technology filtering == silly.
    Making your own choices in life == priceless.
    Some things are priceless. For everything else, use your own goddammed judgment.

    -shane glynn
  • by Millennium (2451) on Tuesday September 28, 1999 @07:45AM (#1653734) Homepage
    In the past, I've enjoyed JonKatz' work. He's presented quite a few very interesting, and sometimes powerful, articles and resulting discussions (see the Hellmouth series for an example of that).

    But this... this is absolutely disgusting.

    A "reality filter"? Sure, one heck of a nice concept. But who do you think would be pulling the strings? Not the individual, I can tell you that right now. This is exactly the sort of thing governments would leap at and latch onto. Katz' comparison of Clotho to a "Big Sister" is horrifyingly accurate, in more ways than one.

    I seriously hope Katz was merely playing Devil's Advocate with this article. If not, I think it can be safely concluded that he's lost his mind. To advocate the denial of free will and rationality to the human mind... it goes against everything the geek community stands for, not to mention everything Katz himself has written about on Slashdot in the past.

    Only one thing can determine what is fit and proper for a person to see: that person (or, in the case of a young child, that child's parents). Not a computer program, not a governmental authority, and certainly not anyone else. A person who considers himself incapable of doing this for himself desperately needs psychatric treatment. Reality is not a game. It cannot be filtered out via a program. It has to be taken and dealt with as it comes; nothing is ever going to change that fact.
  • by xmedar (55856)
    We all know that there is a huge amount on the Net and its increasing exponentially, only ~20% is currently even indexed, and not even up todate indexing either, the idea of having something to help us through it all is a good idea, and yet somehow we need to be able to keep the wonderful serendipity that the Net can provide. I dont think Katz and his clotho really has much thought in it, what we need are people who can actually specify how a person is going to get what they want, not just saying AI will do it, we need real strategies, ones that can be implemented, ones that are scalable with the increasing size of the Net. What about audio and video? No one has any ways of accurately catagorising them yet so they can be searched, these are all real solid issues that need to be addressed, not thinking up some obscure name for the THINGY. I'm disappointed, we could be brainstorming how to do current things better before moving on to the next thing, but Katz is acting like MS, the next idea is THE RIGHT THING, until the marketing push for the next RIGHT THING.
  • Well put.

    I think a lot of people feel that this is "the way the world works". In fact, this is often seen as a mature belief. Apathy works wonders for the marketers. The best liar wins.

    "The fall of journalism" doesn't scare me. The common person is now coming into power (in a way), to tell everyone what they think. So instead of hearing 1 biased opinion from a corporate CEO on the evening news, I get to hear 100 biased opinions, and apply them, debate them, and compare them to my own biases. To me, thats true democracy. 1 opinion simply isn't engough, because frankly there is no such thing as objectivity.

    The only technology I see that has any chance of EVER making my life better (maybe even happier) is the internet, for precisely this reason.
  • There is no suggestion in Katz's article about Clotho being tailored to your wishes. He speaks of an AI which will do the filtering for us.

    I worry not so much about the users who get Clotho's filtering; they probably couldn't care less about what they don't see. But the rest of the sites will suddenly have to struggle to get on the AI's good list. Clotho suddenly becomes an editor, whatever customisation is done on it.

    There's been a lot of talk about the relative merits of unedited (or, as in the case of Slashdot, peer-edited) media and editored media. Television is edited, as someone other than the originator of the material decides what makes the final cut or not. The wonder of the WWW is that suddenly, sites showing dubious taste (think "Mr. T Ate My Balls") show up, and it is peer-reviews and word of mouth that decides if it goes down in the annals of the Internet, or gets forgotten.

    We don't need one single entity, AI or human, to do this. Not for the whole of the Internet. I prefer to do my searches on Google or Metacrawler, where what I get is a raw output based on the criteria I impose myself, than, say, Yahoo, where what you get is a filtered output in the first place.

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • I just realized where this article is coming from:

    In the late 1800s, many people bemoaned the rise of the industrial "society". It would destroy the family, dehumanize people, and we would all die terrible deaths; crushed by the unstoppable juggernaught of the evil "machine". And look what happened (i.e. nothing of the sort).

    Well golly folks, its the late 1900s and it's being done to us again...and many of us are buying it, and getting sucked into arguments just like this one. That's OK, it's human nature. Just remember to check in with reality when you catch yourself buying into it again.
  • I went through a phase in high school where a friend of mine and I would constantly come up with ways to take over the world (didn't we all?). One of the ideas that we came up with was a little computer that calculated relative entertainment. The thought was this: when you're doing something stupid, and something marginally entertaining happens, you are far more entertained than had it happened when you were doing something already enthralling. We even had an equation. Anyway, we thought (bear in mind, this IS high school thinking) that we could create a portable computer to calculate this (at the time inspired by Sharp's Wizard organizer), and rate on a scale of 0 to 1 how much the average person would enjoy the activity. People would think it's funny at first (gizmos are neat), and eventually, they'd come to depend on them, as kids eventually became dependent on thier tamagochis. Then we could subtley manipulate opinion. We'd moderate (through a Hitchhiker's Guide-esq network) ourselves and our activities up, so eventually everyone would love us and everything we do, controlling popular opinion and thus the world. Of course it's silly, but the idea was there.

    Enter the idea of Clotho (and I won't nitpick, but the Fates were not gods . . . they were more than that and FAR from minor players). It filters out what you don't need to know. It would have to be customizable (new linux kernels are much more important to me than Kansas crop reports), but you're still filtering out information. For the right amount of money, anything is compromised. Say McDonalds bribes the maintainers of Clotho.org into moderating more stories about their products as compared to Taco Bell. And it would happen. Joe Average doesn't get the newest Taco Bell news, and maybe he really DOES like the Bell more, but he gets exposed to more adverts from McDonalds. Advertising works; it's designed to work psychologically, and it hits on levels we aren't aware of. So McDonalds takes over the fast food market more than before.

    That's just one scenario. Regulating importance of issues is only a half step away from regulating opinions. And once you start doing that, that's where all the apocalyptic future stories come from. Particularly if you're letting a machine do it.

    Take music. I listen to (and write) experimental music. But if it's not already selling 10 billion copies per CD (when was the last time you saw Aube on the billboard charts?), then it's not important news when a new album is released. But the next Spice Girls album is, so that's the music news you'll hear. The problem with noise as it stands is that many people who MAY like it don't get exposed to it and never find out. If this is regulated, moreover if people are DEPENDING on this regulation, then even less people will find it.

    So what then? This model suggests filtering the information, but the goal of computers and the digital age is to expand information. I want to be able to read about more, not less. I don't want anything, including Slashdot (hint hint, guys. Moderate comments, but don't start moderating stories) telling me what's important or relevant to me, even if I can control those filters. I want to see news that ISN'T relevant, because I may learn something there. I want to keep expanding my horizons, not limiting them. And that's why Slashdot works. I'm exposed to headlines of stories that I might not find on my own. I can skim them, read the little synopsis, and learn more about my world. Yeah, the stories are filtered, but this isn't my only information source. There can NEVER be only one ;-)
  • I should have used the word "better" instead of "easier". To me, anytime I'm exposed to ideas that make me think, or that I haven't heard before, or find interesting, that is making my life better. Helping me to make more informed choices, whatever.

    "Go outside and do stuff"

    Well, duh. I'm not suggesting that we all sit here all day and look for pr0n, as is your case, apparently...
  • This is not intended as an inflammatory comment, but I agree and I feel there were some extreme lapses of logic in this article... I think it missed the point entirely and didn't really suggest a solution.

    Clotho wouldn't present us with fewer choices, but making tough choices for us.
    She would function as our Big Sister...

    Becasue, of course, that is sooooo much better than a Big Brother!

    A Clotho site would use logic and search engine technology to brutally edit the Web...

    Haven't we been fighting against this sort of censorship? Again, who writes the program, who decides what gets edited, who decides how to rate it?

    Do we need cellphones to access sports scores on the Web as we drive home from work,
    or can we wait a half-hour till we get home? Clotho would ask.

    NO, of course not, do you really need a program, website or other entity to tell you that?

    She'd take revenge on behalf of the tens of millions of people forced to buy things
    they don't want or things they can't use

    FORCED? C'mon, these people have just bought into marketing...they don't need a Software Goddess(tm) to take revenge, they need to wake up and think about what the PR are departments are spoon-feeding them, and then choke on it, and spit it out!

    Clotho could be the Goddess of Unintended Consequences, forcing us to consider the
    implications of the things we bring into the world. Maybe she'd turn the CEO's of the
    most arroganant companies over to Hades (flamers, beware) for some roasting and agonies.

    Does this really SAY anything or contribute any useful ideas? This among other points, doesn't seem to refer to anything except a descent into metaphor.

    perhaps we can simply turn our coffeemakers on when we wake up instead of programming
    them. She'd put a quick, merciful end to health-checking toilets.

    Again, why do we need this Software Goddess(tm) to make these decisions? If you have the common sense to see how ludicrous a health-checking-toilet is, don't you have enough to decide that you don't want to BUY one?! And if you want that extra ten minutes sleep then you can program your coffee maker...or if you don't, you can buy a non-programmable coffee maker!

    And here begins my rant...
    What good would this serve us? If we can't make these decisions to filter on our own, we have more troubles than a programmed goddess can solve! Humans need to become more self sufficient with information, not less.

    Many people are already fooled into believing that a 30 second story on the news can give them all the information they need! We need to control the Fate of our information ourselves.

    Programs can never have the same judgement, compassion or empathy as a human, and we need to exercise our humanity in this technology saturated future, not subdue it under the dominion of regulatory technology.
    ---

  • because it would probably be a lot of fun to figure out ways to subvert Clotho and force the zombie sheep to face the very things they have programmed it to avoid.



  • Jon is saying that the way to avoid over-dependence on the complexity of technology, is to subjugate ourselves to a technology that would make rational decisions for us?

    Isn't that like smashing your thumb with a sledge-hammer to avoid the risk of injury while driving in nails?

    Tsk-tsk Jon. Whatever you're on, send some my way.
  • by CDanek (34285)
    Katz does it again. Explain it to me as if I'm a two year old - What difference does Clotho have with a premodernistic amorphous censorship? Strip away the sugar coated features, and oops! Clotho is just making premanufactured 'perfect' people! People who like the same thing. People who aren't "distracted" by those silly little news stories Clotho doesn't see fit for us to spend time on. Heaven forbid! I bought an clotho-illegal gadget today! *gasp*

    See life not for the generic 'right' way of doing things, but instead for the potential to do whatever you want. Maybe I'll make a few mistakes, but at least they'll be my own. When given the choice of choice, I choose choice.
  • Tain't much, but that's what it does. I wrote it because I needed it. It's a Mac program as that's what I wake up to :) hey, that means Jon could run it! Here it is:
    http://www.airwindows.com/s hareware/staccato/index.html [airwindows.com]
    It's going to be relocating fairly soon for various reasons- first, I'm doing a major site overhaul to free up some space and re-organize, and second, I'm putting it at root level because it's essentially free software, and it's kind of ludicrous to suggest voluntary shareware payment. Nobody's ever given me a dime for any of my GPLed stuff (though I have to blame lack of publicity first), and even the words 'shareware' and 'GPL' don't really go together. So Staccato is no longer going to be contained in a directory called 'Shareware'.
    Anyway- I use this daily. It's the equivalent of keeping a long list with date-equivalences, and then showing a MOTD every day with only those entries significant to that day, sorted by priority. I think the significance of this is in the parsing- you can do many things, but the main rule is this- date to the left of a parenthetical number, entry to the right. Like(2)this. I think that would be parsed as 'no valid date, show every day' at priority level 2, and would say 'this.'.
    It's a 'Clotho', but a totally unjudgemental one. It's my tool for offloading some of the stuff I need to keep track of- _it_ will keep track of that, and I can trust it to be predictable and reliable. Jon seems to want a robot to be judgemental for him. He can't have that (in any reasonable form), but he can run this anytime he wants- it's GPL but he won't even need a port as it originated on the Mac. (Actually it'd be a port to Windows (which I'm not going to do), for Linux it would be a slightly elaborate shell script, nothing more- wouldn't even require a _program_. The only suggestion I'd make is this- keep the parsing functionality the way it is, it's like that for a reason. You should only have to remember one rule, the 'date(priority)entry' rule, with no other restrictions on syntax.
    If anybody wants to go implement this on Linux before I get around to doing it, go get 'em- I'll probably use your conversion :)
  • "Humans are the ones who keep trying to ban good stuff like INFORMATION and even BEER."
    Heh- seemingly unlike you, for _me_ beer is harmful because of the alcohol content. You might say I'm allergic to the latter, simply don't tolerate it well (you know the drill- better me than you, right? OK then.)
    Guess what? I don't consume it. End of problem.
    Is there an implication that because beer is harmful to me I need to be _protected_ from knowledge that it exists? *feh* that's what this Clothoniousness is about. I find it Clothodious :)
  • Uh- 'Farenheit 451' IS fiction. It doesn't really exist. You can look at the ideas of it, but you can't look where that society ended up because there was no society to look at- there's just the book.
    Distinguish more rigorously between reality and fiction....

  • I have just such a thing. I call it the combination of my taste, my common sense, and my discrimination.

    I don't want a computer or a website (or whatever Jon Katz meant -- it's not clear) to make the tough choices for me. That would be giving in to technology and allowing it to master me, instead of the other way around.

    "But there is so much information out there! It has to be filtered somehow!" (imaginary response)

    True... but there's already more information than any one person can handle. We passed that point with the Library at Alexandria. I suppose we'll just have to deal with it.

    Once someone demonstrates a working Autonomous Intelligent Agent with fuzzier logic than strict SQL, maybe it'll be time to re-evaluate my position. Until then, I'll make my own decisions, thank you very much.

    --
    QDMerge [rmci.net] 0.21!
  • Sure, I think that we all find the net-ready fridge is silly, but we have market forces that will take care of these things. If nobody buys it, it will smoothly fade into the background of failed gadgets and dissapear from our lives. And even if there are enough consumers out there who really do want a WebFridge (/. readers, no doubt.) that does not mean that _you_ have to buy one. Every person retains the magical ability to say "This is a piece of shit and I'm not buying one." Ta da! Problem solved.

    What if the only refrigerators available on the markert were WebFridges? At that point, your "choice" is to (a) get a WebFridge or (b) learn why they used to be called "iceboxes."

    I run into this all the time with children's toys. I would like to be able to buy simple, classic, durable toys for my kids that aren't

    • cartoon ads
    • V-Tech "speech enhanced"
    • beschpreckled mit der blinkenlights und der bleepinklangen
    • cheap plastic sh** that breaks in two days
    The problem is that "the market" has decided to stock the shelves otherwise, and I'm not a skilled enough woodworker to create them myself. We have been able to find toys that we like for the kids, but it has involved much searching and extra expen$e.

    The Amish experience this on a much more profound scale. There are a few places like Lehman's [lehmans.com] which stock items which the Amish consider "appropriate technology," but in a number of ways, the Amish struggle to determine their own technology destiny against the overwhelming tide of the "English".

    Jon Katz wrote about Clotho.org being a "non-coercive" way to restrain technology. I can only assume that he considers any attempt to say "let's decide not to pursue technology X" to be "coercive" to the technophiles who want to be Wired To The Max. What he fails to consider is the coercive nature of a society hell-bent on implementing all that is possible and profitable for those who wish to walk a different path. But I guess such "Luddites" aren't worthy of consideration.

    "Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks."
    -- G. K. Chesterton
  • In response to both parts of the "Cyberclysm" series: (the > symbol denotes Katz's comments, and the * symbol denotes my comments) >Even now, nobody can really keep up, and only a few can even fake it. Everyone is frantic, stressed, tethered, broke or worn out trying to manage. We are bombarded by inventions and advances we might not need or understand, that move more quickly and do more things than we want, that we can barely grasp, let alone service or repair. *While I would wholeheartedly agree with the fact that the average American's life's complexities have most decidedly multiplied exponentially since the time of the subsistance farmer, it is foolhardy to assume that "keeping up" would be ANYONE's goal. With the advent of efficient communications, humans have adapted and developed an ability that would have been of little use in previous civilizations. This ability is known in modern vernacular as "tuning out." If we are not interested in something, or we think it is superfluous, we ignore it. I doubt that humans feel much more intimidated by the abundance and prevalence of technology than they would feel in the face of any other mountain of information with which they have little experience, be it philosophy, math, or any other discipline. >Author James Gleick in "Faster" complains that technology is forcing everything to move too quickly. In his new collection of essays, Arthur C. Clarke writes "I have seen the future and it doesn't work." *Unfortunately, I've not read either work, so I can't comment. >The typical twenty-first-century person's day, he predicts, will include: "Skimming five hundred channel program listings, two hours; viewing television programs selected, four hours; catching up on recorded programs, six hours; exploring the hyperweb, six hours; and adventuring in artificial reality, four hours." He didn't even mention checking e-mail, answering fax-spewing and stock-listing cellphones, or responding to pagers and beepers. >This is, of course, satire; and, as satire, it is completely, utterly absurd. Most of what is mentioned deals with communication. It might be important to remember that it is only through these "complicated" means of communication which were undoubtedly considered to be "advances we might not need or understand" that KATZ's opportunity to write to us exists. >Neo-Luddite Kirkpatrick Sale goes further, warning in his books that technology is destroying the world. He wants us to smash our computers to save the planet. *A) This radical action is not very different than burning books, if treated a certain way. If one were to really examine the purpose of computers, one would begin to see that their purpose centers around the facilitation of sharing and storing of information, in one form or another. From playing games to email, from desktop publishing to networking, from accounting and database programs to web surfing, etc. these are all related in one way or another to the proliferation of information. That information may not be useful or important to everyone, but it must be important to somebody or IT WOULDN'T EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE. B)"Saving the planet" sounds grand and many people spout that phrase as their intention, but it is meaningless. I can bet that Sale doesn't really care about the planet, not in abstract he doesn't. He only wants to see planet and, more to the point, civilization conform to the model HE deems best. How noble. >In his apocalyptic new dirge "Staring Into Chaos," author Bruce Brander proclaims that western civilization itself is coming to an end. *I would hope so. The time for a WORLD civilization is nye. The establishment of worldwide communications help to make that finally possible. >The term Ubiquitous Computing is technological historian Langdon Winner's, who in Netfuture... warns that society is drowning in a wave of absurd and unnecessary appliances and electronics, continuously and wastefully cranked out by some of the best minds alive. *Of course these items are unnecessary. So is your car. So is the furnace in your house. We could survive without these just as many people survived without them before they were invented, and just as many people still do today. Absurd? Well, that depends on what you define as absurd technology. Many people (often of older generations) would argue that they got along perfectly well with their businesses before computers, and they do not understand why we "need" them now. It is all about efficiency. Are computers more efficient? I say yes, although like any tool, it takes time to learn how to use them, they can break down, and not all computers are equal. The same applies to other "appliances and electronics." Not all these tools are as useful as one would like, but hey, were the first cars all that useful? That is what innovation is all about: you might not get it perfect the first time, you might not have even come up with a useful invention, and maybe no one will want it. If it is absurd, then it won't sell (not much anyway). Finally, "wastefully?" We live in a society where you can buy silly string, edible underwear, pez dispensors, and beanie babies; and he is just NOW complaining about wastefulness? >Winner, a critic of the Wired-era hype about the Internet and networked computing, exults in what he perceives as a growing realization that Ubiquitous Computing isn't making life simpler or better, but harder, more expensive and chaotic: *One might say that about all technology. Cars are a prime example. What American hasn't complained about car troubles? If he wants to live in a cave and walk everywhere (because horses would be just as pesky, if not more) then that is his choice. It might not be a rational choice, but it is his freedom nonetheless (Ted Kazinsky anybody?). >"Simplify. Save time. Reduce effort. Liberate yourself from toil. This has been the continuing siren song of consumer technology through the twentieth century. Unfortunately, in its own terms, the dream is always self-defeating. As people add more and more time-saving, labor-saving equipment to their homes, their lives do not become simpler and easier. Instead their days become even more complicated, demanding and rushed." *Why are our lives more demanding, rushed? Could it be that we have the opportunity to do more with our lives than ever before. I can guarantee that the subsistance farmer was not rushed like the average businessman. As we do more, we begin to want to do more than that. We realize that the possibilities endless, and we want to have those stock quotes a button away, because information has become key. The gradual migration of the focus of our lives away from the muscular to the cerebral is to be considered an evolutionary step forward, not a fatal mistake. As for our lives being more demanding I have to points. A) We make that choice. As our education increases, the demands we place on ourselves increase too. There are real reasons why time saving devices sell. B) Are our lives more demanding than the subsistence farmer? Or maybe just different. I don't have to go plow a field all day and pray that the weather is right so i can feed my family. This is made possible by people who decided there had to be a better way to do something, and so they invented an "unnecessary" device. >A disclaimer here : I don't share Winner's summary view of computing. For me, appliances, hardware and software are the least interesting aspects of technology. For me, the siren song would be: Speak and Think Freely. Connect. Learn, and Share What You Learn. Then learn and share more. Grow. For me, this promise has been fulfilled, a thousand times over. *If Katz don't agree with Winner's view, why is Katz using it using it in this article? If it does not illustrate what katz is trying to say, then why include it at all? >But Winner, one of the sharpest thinkers about technology in American society, does have a point. We are making a lot more things than we demonstrably need. We give far more thought to making and marketing them than we do to whether they are truly useful. TV's and sound systems, watches that monitor global time zones, multi-function phones - keep adding features daily, many of them of doubtful necessity to most of the people who buy them. One ad blanketing commercial TV touts new wireless phone technology that will allow people to get their e-mail, weather and sports scores instantly from anywhere. Does anybody really need to be that wired? *I refer to my argument on "necessary." Also, Katz is really complaining about the whole theory of capitalism with the advent of advertising. This is not specific to technology. Breakfast cereals, anyone? >Even the most ardent geeks complain that they can never be out of touch, never have time to think, never completely catch up. As the world is able to reach us more easily, it expects us to be always available and more or less instantly responsive. This rushes us and our responses. It makes us edgy, grumpy, impulsive. Technology becomes a means of harassing and pressuring us instead of improving our lives. The genuine blessings of technology - information, opportunity, community, the portability of work - get overlooked in all the gadgetry. *Again, every one of the technologies Katz attribute to providing "informatino, opportunity," etc., were considered "gadgetry" when they were first introduced. As for the never having time to think, etc., this is why we can "tune out." Our environment has changed, and we are adapting, just like any other organism. As we and the world get more in touch, it reaffirms that we are ceasing to be completely solitary individuals, but instead members of a functioning civilization. Finally, in the words of George Carlin, "Did ya know there are two knobs on a radio, minister? One of them turns it off...AND THE OTHER ONE CHANGES THE STATION!!!" >All labor-saving devices don't necessarily improve the quality of life. Autonomous human beings can - and maybe should - take responsibility for the smaller details of life. After all, these labor saving devices require considerable labor: they need installation, adjustment, repairs and replacement - often at considerable time, cost and annoyance. There are enormous ecological consequences as well, to making so much plastic and metal, so many wires and chips. *Again, innovation is not always perfect. Almost never, in fact. It is a judgement we are required to make; is the effort it takes to use this device more than the effort required to do the task myself without the device. As for the ecological consequences, why is plastic so hateful? We are not creating anything, really. We are simply shuffling around different configurations of atoms, and it is only a matter of time before we learn how to unshuffle them effectively. Recycling aluminum cans is only the tip of the iceburg concerning what we will be able to do in the future. >Newsweek enthused last week, in a gee-whiz cover story about how the Internet is changing our lives, that tomorrow's automatic coffee maker will have access to our online schedule so it can automatically withhold the brew if we're out of town. This is by -now - instantly-recognizable media language of Technohype, computing and technology wrongly presented as a barrage of gizmos with chips that do things we can just as (or more) easily do for ourselves. *An internet-ready coffee maker is probably just as absurd as it sounds. Consequently, it probably won't catch on. That is how innovation works. Practical technology is just that: gizmos, chips, etc.. If we find that doing it ourselves works better, then that determines the success of the technology. And practical technology is what we are concerned with. If a theoretical technology (a.k.a. a concept with technological applications) never makes it into practice, then it is useless for anything other than brain aerobics. >But if the laws governing technology are unpredictable, those governing capitalism are unwavering: What is made must be sold and, therefore, hyped. *I agree. Capitalism is anything BUT rational. Advertising is all about creating need, or at least the semblance of it. But that is a deeper evil that what we are discussing here. >Such overheated predictions don't evoke the future so much as the past. Remember Walt Disney's Tomorrowland with its notions of intergalactic travel, hover cars, people movers and other things that still don't exist? We may be closer to genetically engineering perfect humans, or even curing cancer, but we still can't cure the cold or come up with a practical battery-powered car, or make computers that don't drive the people using them nuts. *Well, without these outlandish ideas, these theoretical technologies, then we would never have had practical technologies like the satellite (which, interestingly enough, Arthur C. Clark invented in the 1940's). Also, as for the curing the common cold and battery cars, Katz is hitting on a major flaw in capitalism. There is absolutely NO money in cures. Not comparatively. The multi-billion dollar industries of cold medicine and gasoline would collapse if we no longer needed their products. Consequently, a good investment for a gasoline company would be to buy off those well-meaning alternative energy source innovators. Sad. >Alas -- according to almost every business or marketing projection, R&D labs will usher in the Millenium by making the creation and sales of info-gadgets and appliances an even greater preoccupation of the next century. *Probably true, only I don't shudder at the prospect. I have owned for 8 years one model or another of a casio watch that stores my phone numbers. I love it. Some might consider that superfluous. I have DECIDED that it is extremely useful and would rather have it than not. It is not NECESSARY, but it is so useful that i love it. >On the East Coast (where I live), in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, one little-noticed consequence of the storm was that power interruption rendered cordless telephones useless even if the phone lines were functioning. Moreover, the flooding of an AT&T installation in New Jersey knocked out hundreds of thousands of cellphones. For a few days, the only phones that worked were the Lo-tech sort, the non-electronic, non-digital kind that plugged into the wall jack, receivers attached to the base with curly cords. That's as apt a metaphor for the coming Cyberclysm as any. Perhaps the survivors will be the people with the simplest, not the most sophisticated, machines. *This is true of all technology. If suddenly there was no gasoline and no gasoline alternative, then those who only ride bikes (if that is not to hi-tech for them) and ride horses would be the only ones who could effectively ambulated larger distances. Does this make them superior? >Whose responsibility is all this? Nobody's, of course. Technology has a mind, life and direction all of its own. It's inherently uncontrollable, even if anybody was up to trying. *The same could be said of amassed human knowledge. People have tried. They burn books and prohibit the theory evolution from being taught in schools. >But some of the fault lies in the way our institutions - education, politics, media - deal with technology. We're trapped between two useless states - alarm and euphoria. Either we are railing about pornography, disconnection, and addiction or we are banging the drums for Gee-Whiz Computing that exists much more for its own sake than for our benefit. Like cell phones that receive faxes in taxicabs or 21st century toilets that will monitor the family's health through chemical sampling of fecal matter, or mirrors over bathroom sinks that flash the day's headlines, so nobody in the family has to wait until they get downstairs to get the news, if their wireless phone hasn't already alerted them. *Humans fear change and at the same time embrace it. All progress brings with it negative consequences. It is how we deal with those negative consequences (assuming that they are negative and not just so unfamiliar that they invoke fear) that determines the success of a civilization. >Perhaps the idea that there are people who keep up with all this stuff is in itself a technological myth. *Could anyone say that they know everything there is to know about mathematics? Philosophy? Technology is no different. >Clarke warns that we're headed for a Cyberclysm (he and others have used the word), a catastrophic collision between computers, technology and humanity. We won't be consumed by evil aliens or runaway AI machines, as sci-fi futurists have long predicted. Instead, we'll conquer ourselves with too much information about too many things and too many appliances performing too many services. *Interesting prediction. We will see. For my part, I think that it will be a self righting system. When we get too much information, we "tune out." When the gadgets aren't worth it, we don't buy them. >Clarke has written often of the pitfalls of the Dream Machine, the seductive idea that gadgets will run the world and monitor the most intimate details of our lives while we are free to enjoy ourselves. *Well, that would be an end of progress, now wouldn't it? If all we did was pursue what fills our appetites for pleasure, we would then cease to find them pleasurable. For an activity to be truely worthwhile, it must be an end in and of itself. If the activity is merely a means to some other end, then it won't be truly pleasurable. If one's job is simply a method of getting money so that one can enjoy something else, then the job won't be pleasurable, will it? If pleasure for someone consists only of entertainment, sex, food, drink, etc., then the dream machine society would work for that person. I postulate that the dream machine society could never come into being simply because humans would not be content to do nothing. The american dream of making money so one can enjoy oneself is false. This has been proven over and over again by rich, unhappy people. Devoting oneself to seeking pleasure does NOT make one happy, so we humans would never REALLY want the "dream machine." Ask Aristotle. >"There have been many science fiction stories," writes Clarke, "about frantic human attempts to unplug disobedient computers. The real future might involve exactly the opposite scenario. The computers may unplug us." And, he adds: "it would serve us right." *Read Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot." The model for his robots is more likely how it would come to be. >That leaves most of us holding the bag, confronted with two noxious choices: to fall back with the hare-brained Luddites who want to return to the sylvan forests, or to follow the Techno-Utopians on their runaway CyberBinge. *I argue that the Cyberbinge is not so heinous as Katz makes it out to be. Of course there has to be moderation, but I propose that that will come about naturally, and that it is not something to be all that alarmed about. I also find it hard to believe that digital wristwatches and cordless phones with added features will be the downfall of this civilization. There are MANY more likely candidates. If a Cyberclysm is a candidate at all, it is definitely a fair distance down the list, right along side the earth spontaneously exploding. >End Part One. >Part Two: How to stave off the Coming Cyberclysm, to find some rational choice besides the backwards-looking Luddites and the Gee-Whiz Techno-Heads who dominate discussions about technology? Only the Gods can help, and I might have found one who will (one of the Fates, as it happens), with the help of AI computing advances and intuitive software. How to survive the coming Cyberclysm? To find a rational position between the alarmists and the utopians? Salvation may come from the menace itself. *Okay, assuming that a "Cyberclysm" is a viable possibility... >Whatever mischief technology creates, technology can undo. The tools of our redemption - and the means of chasing off the ever-circling Luddites -- are right under our noses. Perhaps the great website of the 21st century - or even the last half of this year -- won't sell stocks or auction off goodies. It'll be an Intervention Program, something between a SuperSearch Engine and Information Foraging Site. *Hmm, like slashdot? >We need Websites that really understand us, protect us and go to bat for us. I'd call my personal version Clotho, after one of the lesser gods of Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks are definitely the place to turn for protection against the Cyberclysm. Their poets and playwrights wrote all the time about humanity's tragic inclination to fiddle with the world and screw it up at the same time. Clotho was one of the Fates, gods given the subtle but awesome power to decide a person's destiny. Clotho (the other two are Lachesis the measurer, and Atropos the shearer) is the spinner, who spins the threads of life. Thunderbolt-throwers like Zeus are useless to invoke in this context, too blustery and ill-tempered. Only the Fates have the perspective required, the range of skills. They're used to sorting through complex choices. They assign men and women to lives of good and evil. They decide the length the length of human's lives. The Fates are discreet, largely unknown, and it's never been precisely clear how far their power extends. What is known is that even the most powerful of the other Gods won't mess with them. I imagine a Clotho program as an intermediary, standing between me, Gee Whiz Computing and technology, not so much to keep them away as to manage how much I have to deal with. *KATZ IS POSTING ON ONE!!! They exist all over the net, and they do not just deal with technology. Name a division of knowledge, and you can find an "intermediary" specific to it. >Intervention Software isn't a fantasy. It's a practical possibility with the advent of intuitive software technology and AI computing advances. Futurists from Freeman Dyson to Ray Kurzweill predict computers will be making rational, human-like decisions in a few years. We could put them to work for us. *Isn't that exactly what Katz is scared of? Isn't a machine that makes our decisions for us FAR more heinous than just producing gadgets we can CHOOSE or not CHOOSE to buy? >The notion that a computing program could intervene in this way - come between us and the Cyberclysm -- and bring some sanity and coherence to an individual's experience of runaway technology and Ubiquitous Computing is hardly far-fetched. *If this machine is "making rational, human-like decisions" for us, isn't that just one step closer to this "dream machine" of which Arthur C. Clarke warned us? Sounds like a voluntary step toward this "Cyberclysm." >I don't want Clotho.org to turn back the clock, just to regulate the pace of change, leave me the dignity of autonomy, and do me the courtesy of letting me check my own refrigerator for milk instead of letting a digitalized refrigerator do it. *How autonomous is an individual if he or she is not making their own decisions? In order for an individual to be autonomous, the individual must act on his her own choices, not someone (or something) else's choices. We are more autonomous now, having the ability to choose to buy that over-featured refridgerator than we would be if we had something choose for us whether or not it that refridgerator is worth buying. >In place of computer-equipped health-monitoring toilets, I'd just as soon retain the right to decide when and if I go to the doctor to have my bodily fluids chemically analyzed. I'd rather see technology deployed in some of the wondrous ways of the Net and Web in recent years --- the open sourcing of computing and the liberation of information, the use of supercomputing to take on social ills from cancer to Ozone, the growth of personal communications and community-building. *That is our choice now, and it probably always will be, no matter how many gadgets are on the market. One doesn't need a new web page making those decisions for you to preserve autonomy; that would be diametrically opposed to whole concept of autonomy. >But we need help. This is, after all the, the job of the Fates -- to manage coherently. *Cute, but wrong. >Clotho.org could stand between us and Ubiquitous Computing, growling back the Microsofts, governments, media - hypemongers and arrogant hordes of programmers, gadgetmakers and marketers. Unlike information-sorting programs and sites - there are dozens - Clotho wouldn't present us with fewer choices, but making tough choices for us. She would function as our Big Sister when it comes to technology, keeping the predators away, occupying the space between humans and the new technologies scaring the hell out of them. *Katz's reference to Orson Wells' novel, 1984, is more fitting than he may realize. I don't know if Katz has read it or not, but 1984 hypothesizes about an entity that limits our choices, no, makes our choices for us. In the face of denial of choice, we are stripped of the ability to apply that which is uniquely human, namely rational thought. By denying us the choice of buying that stock-quoting cell phone, that all-encompassing web page assumes that we don't have the capability to make a decision one way or another using reason, i.e. this gadget would not help me so I won't buy it, or this gadget might be worth the price, so i WILL buy it. Oh, and one more thing. Technologies don't have to "scare the hell" out of people. That is simply fear of the "new and different." Outmoded concepts like racism and sexism have sprung from that source, and we fight those. Why not fight technophobia as well? >A vigilant Clotho would design her site along the sancrosanct principles spelled out in O'Reilly's landmark guide, "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web," a book Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. It should be the Web designer's Bible, if it isn't already, since it challenges us to put users, not makers, foremost when we think of the Web and the Net. A Clotho site would use logic and search engine technology to brutally edit the Web, weeding out the excesses of the Cyberclysm. She'd ask hard questions. Do we need refrigerators with computer chips that will alert the local supermarket when we're out of milk? She would scare off, or at least curb, some of the worst Cyberclysm offenders, the microelectronics industry. *The reason I attack this article is that it proposes an entity of exactly this magnitude. An entity that could curb innovation to that extent is, in my opinion, exactly the "Big Sister" we should actively fight against. In response to the proposed METHOD of sifting, this completely contradicts Katz's earlier arguments. Couldn't humans do the sifting? Why all the "unnecessary" gadgetry and programming? Why not have a panel of humans decide what we can and cannot choose from? Because then it would be no different than having the government control our technology, our market, and, more importantly, our non-ethical choices (meaning those choices not directly related to law and ethics). >Is this really possible? In his recent essay in Netfuture No. 94...Winner suggests that humanity's needs for the coming century be rated on a 1 to 10 scale. Do we need a Palm VII, or should we stop at the Palm IV? Do we need cellphones to access sports scores on the Web as we drive home from work, or can we wait a half-hour till we get home? Clotho would ask. If not, she'd vaporize the thing, or failing that rate it 1.5. She'd keep it away from us. Perhaps she could draw from Slashdot's amazing and elaborate discussion moderating systems (where offensive speech isn't banned but smothered in cool software programs), and meta-moderate technology for us. *Now he's talking. But do we really need to create this cyber-entity when we already have many, many, many pages out in cyberspace that do these things for us and still leave us with choice? Maybe funding more and better review services would be more effective, meaning that one could go online and find multiple of reviews for almost any product. Or do we know have that now? It could be argued that we do, but I would always advocate more, better consumer resources. >We might program her to screen out anything under a 4. We'd never get the chance to buy it, or maybe even know it was out there. The Cyberclysm would recede, at least for those of us in her care. *Sigh. Chosen ignorance. Sad. >Clotho would definitely play God (which is okay, since she is one.) We'd be presented with a handful of news stories each morning - the most significant, the most useful, the most entertaining, based on her own vision and on recognition software that comes to understand our needs, tastes and wishes. She'd rate our need for information in general on the same scale. No story, scandal, press conference, announcement or debate under a 4.0 would get by. If she'd been around, most of us might blessedly never have learned the names of William Bennett, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr, or Linda Tripp. As far as I'm concerned, Clotho could screen out virtually every debate on every Washington talk show and the country's civic life would be improved a thousand times overnight. This means I'd almost never heard anything from Washington, a technological boon to humanity if there ever was one. Clotho.org would also fend off much of the techno-news streaming toward us from C/Net and Wired News, and sift for technology information that we actually wanted to know. She could store information we might need to know for a later time. *It sounds like Katz already does his own sifting. It sounds like he "tunes out." By his logic, Clotho would be another one of those "unnecessary" appliances. Would it really save time? Or would it be so complicated that it could be considered one of those "advances we might not need or understand." I am actually in favor of a webpage that could tailor our news and information to our PERSONAL needs and desires. That would be a worthy "gadget." >She'd take revenge on behalf of the tens of millions of people forced to buy things they don't want or things they can't use, made anxious by poor instructions and buggy programs, coerced into hours and days of stressful struggles to reach people who won't take any responsibility for the things they've made and sold, who won't help people figure out how stuff works. *A) No one is forced to buy these things. You can get a coffee maker that works simply by turning it on at Walmart for $10 dollars (i own one--i can't afford the "better" ones). You can also get a combination espresso-capaccino-ice cream maker that speaks out loud in 5 languages. That is your CHOICE. B)Hopefully, poorly made and poorly supported products (ahem, microsoft) will be crushed under the pressure of natural market influence. For the most part, this does happen. It remains to be seen what will happen in the case of some specific software companies and chip manufacturers. >Clotho could be the Goddess of Unintended Consequences, forcing us to consider the implications of the things we bring into the world. Maybe she'd turn the CEO's of the most arroganant companies over to Hades (flamers, beware) for some roasting and agonies. *Hmm, kind of like slashdot and other pages like it? >Clotho would be tough minded, as befits a Spinner. She would ask questions about technology and information before stuff could get past her and reach innocents like me: l. Is this information necessary? Do we need to know it? Does it advance knowledge, inform or entertain us? Or does it tell us something we already know, provide a service when we can easily do ourselves, replicate what already exists? 2. Do we need this new product? Does it have unintended consequences? Will it be almost instantly out-of-date? 4. Will the people who offer this product support it? Will help be available at all times? 5. Are we leaving human beings enough time, peace, and opportunity for at least some spiritual dimension in their lives? Or are we labor-saving and information-providing them to distraction? *Sounds again like pages we already have, but by all means, go create it. >Clotho could slow the pace of Ubiquitous or Gee -Whiz Computing, ruling that even in the Digital Age, perhaps we can simply turn our coffeemakers on when we wake up instead of programming them. *We can all do that now. She'd put a quick, merciful end to health-checking toilets. She'd created the mythical middle ground, missing when it comes to technology, a place where we grow, learn, and move forward in a reasoned, noncoerable, way. Such a kingdom would be a radical departure from the insane Technoville in which we now increasingly dwell. *And it would be truly a trip down the road to stagnation, where ideas are moderated and choices are made for us. I object to clotho only because of its proposed magnitude. Everyone has the right to choose not to think, but they only have that right because they are given the option of choosing.
  • In response to both parts of the "Cyberclysm" series: (the > symbol denotes Katz's comments, and the * symbol denotes my comments)

    >Even now, nobody can really keep up, and only a few can even fake it. Everyone is frantic, stressed, tethered, broke or worn out trying to manage. We are bombarded by inventions and advances we might not need or understand, that move more quickly and do more things than we want, that we can barely grasp, let alone service or repair.

    *While I would wholeheartedly agree with the fact that the average American's life's complexities have most decidedly multiplied exponentially since the time of the subsistance farmer, it is foolhardy to assume that "keeping up" would be ANYONE's goal. With the advent of efficient communications, humans have adapted and developed an ability that would have been of little use in previous civilizations. This ability is known in modern vernacular as "tuning out." If we are not interested in something, or we think it is superfluous, we ignore it. I doubt that humans feel much more intimidated by the abundance and prevalence of technology than they would feel in the face of any other mountain of information with which they have little experience, be it philosophy, math, or any other discipline.

    >Author James Gleick in "Faster" complains that technology is forcing everything to move too quickly. In his new collection of essays, Arthur C. Clarke writes "I have seen the future and it doesn't work."

    *Unfortunately, I've not read either work, so I can't comment.

    >The typical twenty-first-century person's day, he predicts, will include: "Skimming five hundred channel program listings, two hours; viewing television programs selected, four hours; catching up on recorded programs, six hours; exploring the hyperweb, six hours; and adventuring in artificial reality, four hours." He didn't even mention checking e-mail, answering fax-spewing and stock-listing cellphones, or responding to pagers and beepers.

    >This is, of course, satire; and, as satire, it is completely, utterly absurd. Most of what is mentioned deals with communication. It might be important to remember that it is only through these "complicated" means of communication which were undoubtedly considered to be "advances we might not need or understand" that KATZ's opportunity to write to us exists.

    >Neo-Luddite Kirkpatrick Sale goes further, warning in his books that technology is destroying the world. He wants us to smash our computers to save the planet.

    *A) This radical action is not very different than burning books, if treated a certain way. If one were to really examine the purpose of computers, one would begin to see that their purpose centers around the facilitation of sharing and storing of information, in one form or another. From playing games to email, from desktop publishing to networking, from accounting and database programs to web surfing, etc. these are all related in one way or another to the proliferation of information. That information may not be useful or important to everyone, but it must be important to somebody or IT WOULDN'T EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE.
    B)"Saving the planet" sounds grand and many people spout that phrase as their intention, but it is meaningless. I can bet that Sale doesn't really care about the planet, not in abstract he doesn't. He only wants to see planet and, more to the point, civilization conform to the model HE deems best. How noble.

    >In his apocalyptic new dirge "Staring Into Chaos," author Bruce Brander proclaims that western civilization itself is coming to an end.

    *I would hope so. The time for a WORLD civilization is nye. The establishment of worldwide communications help to make that finally possible.

    >The term Ubiquitous Computing is technological historian Langdon Winner's, who in Netfuture... warns that society is drowning in a wave of absurd and unnecessary appliances and electronics, continuously and wastefully cranked out by some of the best minds alive.

    *Of course these items are unnecessary. So is your car. So is the furnace in your house. We could survive without these just as many people survived without them before they were invented, and just as many people still do today. Absurd? Well, that depends on what you define as absurd technology. Many people (often of older generations) would argue that they got along perfectly well with their businesses before computers, and they do not understand why we "need" them now. It is all about efficiency. Are computers more efficient? I say yes, although like any tool, it takes time to learn how to use them, they can break down, and not all computers are equal. The same applies to other "appliances and electronics." Not all these tools are as useful as one would like, but hey, were the first cars all that useful? That is what innovation is all about: you might not get it perfect the first time, you might not have even come up with a useful invention, and maybe no one will want it. If it is absurd, then it won't sell (not much anyway). Finally, "wastefully?" We live in a society where you can buy silly string, edible underwear, pez dispensors, and beanie babies; and he is just NOW complaining about wastefulness?

    >Winner, a critic of the Wired-era hype about the Internet and networked computing, exults in what he perceives as a growing realization that Ubiquitous Computing isn't making life simpler or better, but harder, more expensive and chaotic:

    *One might say that about all technology. Cars are a prime example. What American hasn't complained about car troubles? If he wants to live in a cave and walk everywhere (because horses would be just as pesky, if not more) then that is his choice. It might not be a rational choice, but it is his freedom nonetheless (Ted Kazinsky anybody?).

    >"Simplify. Save time. Reduce effort. Liberate yourself from toil. This has been the continuing siren song of consumer technology through the twentieth century. Unfortunately, in its own terms, the dream is always self-defeating. As people add more and more time-saving, labor-saving equipment to their homes, their lives do not become simpler and easier. Instead their days become even more complicated, demanding and rushed."

    *Why are our lives more demanding, rushed? Could it be that we have the opportunity to do more with our lives than ever before. I can guarantee that the subsistance farmer was not rushed like the average businessman. As we do more, we begin to want to do more than that. We realize that the possibilities endless, and we want to have those stock quotes a button away, because information has become key. The gradual migration of the focus of our lives away from the muscular to the cerebral is to be considered an evolutionary step forward, not a fatal mistake. As for our lives being more demanding I have to points. A) We make that choice. As our education increases, the demands we place on ourselves increase too. There are real reasons why time saving devices sell. B) Are our lives more demanding than the subsistence farmer? Or maybe just different. I don't have to go plow a field all day and pray that the weather is right so i can feed my family. This is made possible by people who decided there had to be a better way to do something, and so they invented an "unnecessary" device.

    >A disclaimer here : I don't share Winner's summary view of computing. For me, appliances, hardware and software are the least interesting aspects of technology. For me, the siren song would be: Speak and Think Freely. Connect. Learn, and Share What You Learn. Then learn and share more. Grow. For me, this promise has been fulfilled, a thousand times over.

    *If Katz don't agree with Winner's view, why is Katz using it using it in this article? If it does not illustrate what katz is trying to say, then why include it at all?

    >But Winner, one of the sharpest thinkers about technology in American society, does have a point. We are making a lot more things than we demonstrably need. We give far more thought to making and marketing them than we do to whether they are truly useful. TV's and sound systems, watches that monitor global time zones, multi-function phones - keep adding features daily, many of them of doubtful necessity to most of the people who buy them. One ad blanketing commercial TV touts new wireless phone technology that will allow people to get their e-mail, weather and sports scores instantly from anywhere. Does anybody really need to be that wired?

    *I refer to my argument on "necessary." Also, Katz is really complaining about the whole theory of capitalism with the advent of advertising. This is not specific to technology. Breakfast cereals, anyone?

    >Even the most ardent geeks complain that they can never be out of touch, never have time to think, never completely catch up. As the world is able to reach us more easily, it expects us to be always available and more or less instantly responsive. This rushes us and our responses. It makes us edgy, grumpy, impulsive. Technology becomes a means of harassing and pressuring us instead of improving our lives. The genuine blessings of technology - information, opportunity, community, the portability of work - get overlooked in all the gadgetry.

    *Again, every one of the technologies Katz attribute to providing "informatino, opportunity," etc., were considered "gadgetry" when they were first introduced. As for the never having time to think, etc., this is why we can "tune out." Our environment has changed, and we are adapting, just like any other organism. As we and the world get more in touch, it reaffirms that we are ceasing to be completely solitary individuals, but instead members of a functioning civilization. Finally, in the words of George Carlin, "Did ya know there are two knobs on a radio, minister? One of them turns it off...AND THE OTHER ONE CHANGES THE STATION!!!"

    >All labor-saving devices don't necessarily improve the quality of life. Autonomous human beings can - and maybe should - take responsibility for the smaller details of life. After all, these labor saving devices require considerable labor: they need installation, adjustment, repairs and replacement - often at considerable time, cost and annoyance. There are enormous ecological consequences as well, to making so much plastic and metal, so many wires and chips.

    *Again, innovation is not always perfect. Almost never, in fact. It is a judgement we are required to make; is the effort it takes to use this device more than the effort required to do the task myself without the device. As for the ecological consequences, why is plastic so hateful? We are not creating anything, really. We are simply shuffling around different configurations of atoms, and it is only a matter of time before we learn how to unshuffle them effectively. Recycling aluminum cans is only the tip of the iceburg concerning what we will be able to do in the future.

    >Newsweek enthused last week, in a gee-whiz cover story about how the Internet is changing our lives, that tomorrow's automatic coffee maker will have access to our online schedule so it can automatically withhold the brew if we're out of town. This is by -now - instantly-recognizable media language of Technohype, computing and technology wrongly presented as a barrage of gizmos with chips that do things we can just as (or more) easily do for ourselves.

    *An internet-ready coffee maker is probably just as absurd as it sounds. Consequently, it probably won't catch on. That is how innovation works. Practical technology is just that: gizmos, chips, etc.. If we find that doing it ourselves works better, then that determines the success of the technology. And practical technology is what we are concerned with. If a theoretical technology (a.k.a. a concept with technological applications) never makes it into practice, then it is useless for anything other than brain aerobics.

    >But if the laws governing technology are unpredictable, those governing capitalism are unwavering: What is made must be sold and, therefore, hyped.

    *I agree. Capitalism is anything BUT rational. Advertising is all about creating need, or at least the semblance of it. But that is a deeper evil that what we are discussing here.

    >Such overheated predictions don't evoke the future so much as the past. Remember Walt Disney's Tomorrowland with its notions of intergalactic travel, hover cars, people movers and other things that still don't exist? We may be closer to genetically engineering perfect humans, or even curing cancer, but we still can't cure the cold or come up with a practical battery-powered car, or make computers that don't drive the people using them nuts.

    *Well, without these outlandish ideas, these theoretical technologies, then we would never have had practical technologies like the satellite (which, interestingly enough, Arthur C. Clark invented in the 1940's). Also, as for the curing the common cold and battery cars, Katz is hitting on a major flaw in capitalism. There is absolutely NO money in cures. Not comparatively. The multi-billion dollar industries of cold medicine and gasoline would collapse if we no longer needed their products. Consequently, a good investment for a gasoline company would be to buy off those well-meaning alternative energy source innovators. Sad.

    >Alas -- according to almost every business or marketing projection, R&D labs will usher in the Millenium by making the creation and sales of info-gadgets and appliances an even greater preoccupation of the next century.

    *Probably true, only I don't shudder at the prospect. I have owned for 8 years one model or another of a casio watch that stores my phone numbers. I love it. Some might consider that superfluous. I have DECIDED that it is extremely useful and would rather have it than not. It is not NECESSARY, but it is so useful that i love it.

    >On the East Coast (where I live), in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, one little-noticed consequence of the storm was that power interruption rendered cordless telephones useless even if the phone lines were functioning. Moreover, the flooding of an AT&T installation in New Jersey knocked out hundreds of thousands of cellphones. For a few days, the only phones that worked were the Lo-tech sort, the non-electronic, non-digital kind that plugged into the wall jack, receivers attached to the base with curly cords. That's as apt a metaphor for the coming Cyberclysm as any. Perhaps the survivors will be the people with the simplest, not the most sophisticated, machines.

    *This is true of all technology. If suddenly there was no gasoline and no gasoline alternative, then those who only ride bikes (if that is not to hi-tech for them) and ride horses would be the only ones who could effectively ambulated larger distances. Does this make them superior?

    >Whose responsibility is all this? Nobody's, of course. Technology has a mind, life and direction all of its own. It's inherently uncontrollable, even if anybody was up to trying.

    *The same could be said of amassed human knowledge. People have tried. They burn books and prohibit the theory evolution from being taught in schools.

    >But some of the fault lies in the way our institutions - education, politics, media - deal with technology. We're trapped between two useless states - alarm and euphoria. Either we are railing about pornography, disconnection, and addiction or we are banging the drums for Gee-Whiz Computing that exists much more for its own sake than for our benefit. Like cell phones that receive faxes in taxicabs or 21st century toilets that will monitor the family's health through chemical sampling of fecal matter, or mirrors over bathroom sinks that flash the day's headlines, so nobody in the family has to wait until they get downstairs to get the news, if their wireless phone hasn't already alerted them.

    *Humans fear change and at the same time embrace it. All progress brings with it negative consequences. It is how we deal with those negative consequences (assuming that they are negative and not just so unfamiliar that they invoke fear) that determines the success of a civilization.

    >Perhaps the idea that there are people who keep up with all this stuff is in itself a technological myth.

    *Could anyone say that they know everything there is to know about mathematics? Philosophy? Technology is no different.

    >Clarke warns that we're headed for a Cyberclysm (he and others have used the word), a catastrophic collision between computers, technology and humanity. We won't be consumed by evil aliens or runaway AI machines, as sci-fi futurists have long predicted. Instead, we'll conquer ourselves with too much information about too many things and too many appliances performing too many services.

    *Interesting prediction. We will see. For my part, I think that it will be a self righting system. When we get too much information, we "tune out." When the gadgets aren't worth it, we don't buy them.

    >Clarke has written often of the pitfalls of the Dream Machine, the seductive idea that gadgets will run the world and monitor the most intimate details of our lives while we are free to enjoy ourselves.

    *Well, that would be an end of progress, now wouldn't it? If all we did was pursue what fills our appetites for pleasure, we would then cease to find them pleasurable. For an activity to be truely worthwhile, it must be an end in and of itself. If the activity is merely a means to some other end, then it won't be truly pleasurable. If one's job is simply a method of getting money so that one can enjoy something else, then the job won't be pleasurable, will it? If pleasure for someone consists only of entertainment, sex, food, drink, etc., then the dream machine society would work for that person. I postulate that the dream machine society could never come into being simply because humans would not be content to do nothing. The american dream of making money so one can enjoy oneself is false. This has been proven over and over again by rich, unhappy people. Devoting oneself to seeking pleasure does NOT make one happy, so we humans would never REALLY want the "dream machine." Ask Aristotle.

    >"There have been many science fiction stories," writes Clarke, "about frantic human attempts to unplug disobedient computers. The real future might involve exactly the opposite scenario. The computers may unplug us." And, he adds: "it would serve us right."

    *Read Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot." The model for his robots is more likely how it would come to be.

    >That leaves most of us holding the bag, confronted with two noxious choices: to fall back with the hare-brained Luddites who want to return to the sylvan forests, or to follow the Techno-Utopians on their runaway CyberBinge.

    *I argue that the Cyberbinge is not so heinous as Katz makes it out to be. Of course there has to be moderation, but I propose that that will come about naturally, and that it is not something to be all that alarmed about. I also find it hard to believe that digital wristwatches and cordless phones with added features will be the downfall of this civilization. There are MANY more likely candidates. If a Cyberclysm is a candidate at all, it is definitely a fair distance down the list, right along side the earth spontaneously exploding.

    >End Part One.
    >Part Two: How to stave off the Coming Cyberclysm, to find some rational choice besides the backwards-looking Luddites and the Gee-Whiz Techno-Heads who dominate discussions about technology? Only the Gods can help, and I might have found one who will (one of the Fates, as it happens), with the help of AI computing advances and intuitive software.
    How to survive the coming Cyberclysm? To find a rational position between the alarmists and the utopians? Salvation may come from the menace itself.

    *Okay, assuming that a "Cyberclysm" is a viable possibility...

    >Whatever mischief technology creates, technology can undo. The tools of our redemption - and the means of chasing off the ever-circling Luddites -- are right under our noses. Perhaps the great website of the 21st century - or even the last half of this year -- won't sell stocks or auction off goodies. It'll be an Intervention Program, something between a SuperSearch Engine and Information Foraging Site.

    *Hmm, like slashdot?

    >We need Websites that really understand us, protect us and go to bat for us. I'd call my personal version Clotho, after one of the lesser gods of Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks are definitely the place to turn for protection against the Cyberclysm. Their poets and playwrights wrote all the time about humanity's tragic inclination to fiddle with the world and screw it up at the same time. Clotho was one of the Fates, gods given the subtle but awesome power to decide a person's destiny. Clotho (the other two are Lachesis the measurer, and Atropos the shearer) is the spinner, who spins the threads of life. Thunderbolt-throwers like Zeus are useless to invoke in this context, too blustery and ill-tempered. Only the Fates have the perspective required, the range of skills. They're used to sorting through complex choices. They assign men and women to lives of good and evil. They decide the length the length of human's lives. The Fates are discreet, largely unknown, and it's never been precisely clear how far their power extends. What is known is that even the most powerful of the other Gods won't mess with them. I imagine a Clotho program as an intermediary, standing between me, Gee Whiz Computing and technology, not so much to keep them away as to manage how much I have to deal with.

    *KATZ IS POSTING ON ONE!!! They exist all over the net, and they do not just deal with technology. Name a division of knowledge, and you can find an "intermediary" specific to it.

    >Intervention Software isn't a fantasy. It's a practical possibility with the advent of intuitive software technology and AI computing advances. Futurists from Freeman Dyson to Ray Kurzweill predict computers will be making rational, human-like decisions in a few years. We could put them to work for us.

    *Isn't that exactly what Katz is scared of? Isn't a machine that makes our decisions for us FAR more heinous than just producing gadgets we can CHOOSE or not CHOOSE to buy?

    >The notion that a computing program could intervene in this way - come between us and the Cyberclysm -- and bring some sanity and coherence to an individual's experience of runaway technology and Ubiquitous Computing is hardly far-fetched.

    *If this machine is "making rational, human-like decisions" for us, isn't that just one step closer to this "dream machine" of which Arthur C. Clarke warned us? Sounds like a voluntary step toward this "Cyberclysm."

    >I don't want Clotho.org to turn back the clock, just to regulate the pace of change, leave me the dignity of autonomy, and do me the courtesy of letting me check my own refrigerator for milk instead of letting a digitalized refrigerator do it.

    *How autonomous is an individual if he or she is not making their own decisions? In order for an individual to be autonomous, the individual must act on his her own choices, not someone (or something) else's choices. We are more autonomous now, having the ability to choose to buy that over-featured refridgerator than we would be if we had something choose for us whether or not it that refridgerator is worth buying.

    >In place of computer-equipped health-monitoring toilets, I'd just as soon retain the right to decide when and if I go to the doctor to have my bodily fluids chemically analyzed. I'd rather see technology deployed in some of the wondrous ways of the Net and Web in recent years --- the open sourcing of computing and the liberation of information, the use of supercomputing to take on social ills from cancer to Ozone, the growth of personal communications and community-building.

    *That is our choice now, and it probably always will be, no matter how many gadgets are on the market. One doesn't need a new web page making those decisions for you to preserve autonomy; that would be diametrically opposed to whole concept of autonomy.

    >But we need help. This is, after all the, the job of the Fates -- to manage coherently.

    *Cute, but wrong.

    >Clotho.org could stand between us and Ubiquitous Computing, growling back the Microsofts, governments, media - hypemongers and arrogant hordes of programmers, gadgetmakers and marketers. Unlike information-sorting programs and sites - there are dozens - Clotho wouldn't present us with fewer choices, but making tough choices for us. She would function as our Big Sister when it comes to technology, keeping the predators away, occupying the space between humans and the new technologies scaring the hell out of them.

    *Katz's reference to Orson Wells' novel, 1984, is more fitting than he may realize. I don't know if Katz has read it or not, but 1984 hypothesizes about an entity that limits our choices, no, makes our choices for us. In the face of denial of choice, we are stripped of the ability to apply that which is uniquely human, namely rational thought. By denying us the choice of buying that stock-quoting cell phone, that all-encompassing web page assumes that we don't have the capability to make a decision one way or another using reason, i.e. this gadget would not help me so I won't buy it, or this gadget might be worth the price, so i WILL buy it. Oh, and one more thing. Technologies don't have to "scare the hell" out of people. That is simply fear of the "new and different." Outmoded concepts like racism and sexism have sprung from that source, and we fight those. Why not fight technophobia as well?

    >A vigilant Clotho would design her site along the sancrosanct principles spelled out in O'Reilly's landmark guide, "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web," a book Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. It should be the Web designer's Bible, if it isn't already, since it challenges us to put users, not makers, foremost when we think of the Web and the Net. A Clotho site would use logic and search engine technology to brutally edit the Web, weeding out the excesses of the Cyberclysm. She'd ask hard questions. Do we need refrigerators with computer chips that will alert the local supermarket when we're out of milk? She would scare off, or at least curb, some of the worst Cyberclysm offenders, the microelectronics industry.

    *The reason I attack this article is that it proposes an entity of exactly this magnitude. An entity that could curb innovation to that extent is, in my opinion, exactly the "Big Sister" we should actively fight against. In response to the proposed METHOD of sifting, this completely contradicts Katz's earlier arguments. Couldn't humans do the sifting? Why all the "unnecessary" gadgetry and programming? Why not have a panel of humans decide what we can and cannot choose from? Because then it would be no different than having the government control our technology, our market, and, more importantly, our non-ethical choices (meaning those choices not directly related to law and ethics).

    >Is this really possible? In his recent essay in Netfuture No. 94...Winner suggests that humanity's needs for the coming century be rated on a 1 to 10 scale. Do we need a Palm VII, or should we stop at the Palm IV? Do we need cellphones to access sports scores on the Web as we drive home from work, or can we wait a half-hour till we get home? Clotho would ask. If not, she'd vaporize the thing, or failing that rate it 1.5. She'd keep it away from us. Perhaps she could draw from Slashdot's amazing and elaborate discussion moderating systems (where offensive speech isn't banned but smothered in cool software programs), and meta-moderate technology for us.

    *Now he's talking. But do we really need to create this cyber-entity when we already have many, many, many pages out in cyberspace that do these things for us and still leave us with choice? Maybe funding more and better review services would be more effective, meaning that one could go online and find multiple of reviews for almost any product. Or do we know have that now? It could be argued that we do, but I would always advocate more, better consumer resources.

    >We might program her to screen out anything under a 4. We'd never get the chance to buy it, or maybe even know it was out there. The Cyberclysm would recede, at least for those of us in her care.

    *Sigh. Chosen ignorance. Sad.

    >Clotho would definitely play God (which is okay, since she is one.) We'd be presented with a handful of news stories each morning - the most significant, the most useful, the most entertaining, based on her own vision and on recognition software that comes to understand our needs, tastes and wishes. She'd rate our need for information in general on the same scale. No story, scandal, press conference, announcement or debate under a 4.0 would get by. If she'd been around, most of us might blessedly never have learned the names of William Bennett, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr, or Linda Tripp. As far as I'm concerned, Clotho could screen out virtually every debate on every Washington talk show and the country's civic life would be improved a thousand times overnight. This means I'd almost never heard anything from Washington, a technological boon to humanity if there ever was one. Clotho.org would also fend off much of the techno-news streaming toward us from C/Net and Wired News, and sift for technology information that we actually wanted to know. She could store information we might need to know for a later time.

    *It sounds like Katz already does his own sifting. It sounds like he "tunes out." By his logic, Clotho would be another one of those "unnecessary" appliances. Would it really save time? Or would it be so complicated that it could be considered one of those "advances we might not need or understand." I am actually in favor of a webpage that could tailor our news and information to our PERSONAL needs and desires. That would be a worthy "gadget."

    >She'd take revenge on behalf of the tens of millions of people forced to buy things they don't want or things they can't use, made anxious by poor instructions and buggy programs, coerced into hours and days of stressful struggles to reach people who won't take any responsibility for the things they've made and sold, who won't help people figure out how stuff works.

    *A) No one is forced to buy these things. You can get a coffee maker that works simply by turning it on at Walmart for $10 dollars (i own one--i can't afford the "better" ones). You can also get a combination espresso-capaccino-ice cream maker that speaks out loud in 5 languages. That is your CHOICE. B)Hopefully, poorly made and poorly supported products (ahem, microsoft) will be crushed under the pressure of natural market influence. For the most part, this does happen. It remains to be seen what will happen in the case of some specific software companies and chip manufacturers.

    >Clotho could be the Goddess of Unintended Consequences, forcing us to consider the implications of the things we bring into the world. Maybe she'd turn the CEO's of the most arroganant companies over to Hades (flamers, beware) for some roasting and agonies.

    *Hmm, kind of like slashdot and other pages like it?

    >Clotho would be tough minded, as befits a Spinner. She would ask questions about technology and information before stuff could get past her and reach innocents like me:
    l. Is this information necessary? Do we need to know it? Does it advance knowledge, inform or entertain us? Or does it tell us something we already know, provide a service when we can easily do ourselves, replicate what already exists?
    2. Do we need this new product? Does it have unintended consequences? Will it be almost instantly out-of-date?
    4. Will the people who offer this product support it? Will help be available at all times?
    5. Are we leaving human beings enough time, peace, and opportunity for at least some spiritual dimension in their lives? Or are we labor-saving and information-providing them to distraction?

    *Sounds again like pages we already have, but by all means, go create it.

    >Clotho could slow the pace of Ubiquitous or Gee -Whiz Computing, ruling that even in the Digital Age, perhaps we can simply turn our coffeemakers on when we wake up instead of programming them.
    *We can all do that now.

    She'd put a quick, merciful end to health-checking toilets. She'd created the mythical middle ground, missing when it comes to technology, a place where we grow, learn, and move forward in a reasoned, noncoerable, way. Such a kingdom would be a radical departure from the insane Technoville in which we now increasingly dwell.

    *And it would be truly a trip down the road to stagnation, where ideas are moderated and choices are made for us. I object to clotho only because of its proposed magnitude. Everyone has the right to choose not to think, but they only have that right because they are given the option of choosing.


"Card readers? We don't need no stinking card readers." -- Peter da Silva (at the National Academy of Sciencies, 1965, in a particularly vivid fantasy)

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