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Computers and the Internet Letters and Forums

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Copyright concerns over digital doppelgangers are one thing, but who will people choose to sue when your electronic double issues something defamatory? You, or the company that enabled the creation of the avatar? Or will it be such a saintly avatar that it avoids this eventuality, and so will never quite manage to be convincingly human?


I have a suggestion for dealing with chatbots: include something really crazy in your chat with them, but phrased as if it were normal.

Maybe, "I was beheaded yesterday, but I'm feeling much better today", or "I've a friend in the US who lives at the Gettysburg Address". Or "there are too many cannibals in my neighbourhood". A human would notice the oddity but a chatbot would probably give a glib response.

The crooks behind the chatbots could programme in sensible answers to known test questions, so you would need to keep making up new ones.


Tiffany O'Callaghan's article on the apparent inscrutability of irony and sarcasm in printed matter (14 June, p 46) strikes a very loud chord of recognition.

Anyone who has experienced inter-office memos would no doubt hear the very same chord. Where I see this phenomenon shown in truly stark relief, however, is in social media.

Many times I have seen comments misinterpreted and remarked on with vitriol, provoking further anger in response.

What these emails, status updates and memos have in common is their brevity. The statements stand alone with no context except that added by the reader.

If literate, well-educated humans have trouble latching on to irony and sarcasm, what chance does computer software have?

Net Neutrality

There's another way to look at the subject of internet service providers charging companies more to supply their content at higher speeds (1 February, p 24), which has been described as an end to the principle of "net neutrality". Instead of seeing it as a case of big business gaining ever more control, we can see it as making those who hog the bandwidth pay for it. Why should people who download movies and whatnot slow down the internet for those who don't?

Non Racist

Douglas Heaven inadvertently exposes the real danger of this type of AI, anthropomorphising complex algorithms. Machine learning, having no moral component, cannot be racist, as was claimed when Google's search function ended up directing ads asking "have you ever been arrested?" towards black people.

What it did find was a correlation between having a black person's name and involvement with the criminal justice system.

There are no profound ethical dilemmas if we accept AI for what it is, an observer of statistical correlations. I suppose it is more comfortable to call a box of transistors racist than face up to our own prejudices.

Policing Abuse

When it comes to abuse online, it seems the problem is that the police have too few people to cover it, while internet companies have little desire to police their own customers (13 December 2014, p 20).

So why not call for volunteers? People already volunteer to be special constables in the UK; they might be able to do it. Maybe some name like Internet Guardians would be suitable?

Candidates would be vetted and protected against any "trolls" that might try to get at them, and their work as guardians would be recorded, so that they could not easily abuse their power.

I think many people might be willing to do this, including some who would not normally think of helping the police.

Pirate Bay and Torrents

(in response to Sweden seizing one of Pirate Bay's websites)

If you go to it will always redirect you to the currently active domain (currently If their domain is seized they normally have it redirected within a few minutes.

That is actually the point of all the battle with piracy. The IP holders pretty much know they'll never wipe out piracy. They just don't want everyone to be able to easily do it.

My dad isn't super technically inclined, but he's not tech ignorant either. He used TvTorrents for almost a decade, but when it shut down he doesn't know how to get another private tracker like that.

People on reddit will say, hail hydra, I'll just go on to the next site, but people who don't find this stuff interesting will go google a little bit, hit a bunch of scam sites and then give up and use amazon instant or netflix.

As long as 90% of the people pay, the entertain industries are fine. But if something like Napster comes along and lets my mom pirate easily, they are fucked. That is the battle.

And practically, if you are a pirate, that is exactly what you want. You want the masses to pay for the content so you can free ride. If everyone could pirate, nobody would make you content.

Same thing happens in China with the fake goods markets. Every now and then you see a government press release with a bunch of fake watches and such being steam rolled and destroyed for the sake of public exposure so they can claim they are "doing something". In reality they are not even scraping the tip of the iceberg. They are just trying to make certain vocal parties stop complaining for a while.

Pretty funny how the government spends hours of a prosecutor's and judge's salary to take away domains and it only take mere 90 minutes for it to be replaced.

"The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty." -Eugene McCarthy

I don't think they believe it's effective. I think they are just cowing to political pressure from copyright holders and are just doing this to make it look like they are doing something.

This is exactly it. The guys doing the work certainly know that it's not accomplishing anything. It's not their call. The politicians push it because the entertainment industry demands it. It's easier for them to give in and do something stupid than it is to put up a fight over something they don't really care about.

I don't know if they think it's effective or not, but they do it because the only other way anybody has come up with curbing piracy was suing end users, and people got so angry they had to stop because it became very clear that they couldn't reliably link IP addresses to people.

People tend to go with the easiest option, not the cheapest. For a while, pirating was easier, but not anymore. The reason Steam is so successful is because people find it easier to spend money purchasing a game that just works. Contrast that with torrenting, making sure it's in the right language, making sure it doesn't contain malware, and then spending an hour reading the comments because you can't figure out how to make the damn thing run.

The forfeiture is a clear and positive sign that society does not accept these types of activities,” Lindback says. So who was using this site, other than "society"?

People who work for anti-piracy organisations are generally detached from the reality of the internet; don't try to question their logic, its like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how much you tell them that their strategy is futile, they'll end up knocking over the pieces, shitting on the board and strutting around like they won.

They should shut down too. I just made a search there for "torrent mad max" and got 4.31M hits....

A more efficient search query would be: "mad max filetype:torrent" if you are looking for *.torrent files.

Google and Trustworthiness

There is an obvious problem with Google's plan to rank websites according to their trustworthiness (28 February, p 24).

Doing so by cross-referencing facts may be appropriate for current events, but perhaps not when applied to scientific facts. It is well known that scientific facts have a half-life, as existing research is superseded by the latest results (22 September 2012, p 36). If Google does not consider this, its search results will not display the most up-to-date but as yet unestablished scientific ideas.

Hal Hodson reports that Google's software for ranking pages on their trustworthiness will make its judgement by drawing on a store of facts gathered from the internet. Isn't this circular logic?

How would the Google system handle a statement such as "glass is a liquid"? On the internet, the notion that glass is a slow-moving liquid, resulting in medieval windows that are thicker at the bottom, seems far more prevalent than the truth – that glass is a solid and medieval glaziers placed the thicker end of blown glass sheets at the bottom.

Since nothing on the internet is unanimously agreed, Google's software would have to take the majority consensus. If this happened, there is a good chance that any site dispelling a popular misconception would appear far down the list of search results, making it harder, not easier, for people to learn the truth.

Popular fiction would dominate because the software would add it to the Knowledge Vault and use that reference point to downgrade the truth. Intelligent people can make clever software, but no one makes intelligent software.

What has the Internet Replaced?

Library card catalogs. People don't realize how much work they were to maintain. And each book had to have several cards typed so you could look up by title, author, subject, etc. And for multi-branch libraries you might need a set for each location.

Calling a recorded line to hear the weather forecast.

Encyclopaedias. I remember when Microsoft Encarta was mind blowing. It had like 1,000 entries, but it seemed like the knowledge it contained was endless. And there was that game inside it that would test your knowledge and send you down paths to find things out. Oh I loved that as a child.

Using your imagination for masturbation..

How-To books. Yea, we have HowToBasic now. Best instructional videos out there! Alantutorial is still and forever will be the superior tutorial channel.

Long Term Memory. Now reserved only for Jeopardy contestants. Most of us have long term memory. It's memory recall that's the hard part.

High school reunions. Sort of. Like, my ten year is next year, and I might go, I might not, but I feel like back in the day, you went to high school reunions out of curiosity and nostalgia, to reconnect and find out what everyone's been doing with their lives - but I've got facebook, so I already know what everyone's doing with their lives, even those people I haven't talked to outside of facebook since graduate. So-and-so has a kid, he's got a cool job, she's working at Target. If anything, it'll just insure that I'll reconnect with the people I'd rather not reconnect with... freaking Glenn.... I'd rather just see if I can convince all my friends to meet up at a place and time, to cut out that official alumni-association-run bullshit.

My friend's 10 year had a big schism that played out over Facebook. There was the "Let's get wasted" contingent against the "You better not have any alcohol at the event at all, because I've got kids and I can't handle anyone doing something that I don't like to do" contingent. There was a lot of delicious drama over it, which eventually resulted in the drinkers deciding to have their own reunion with blackjack and hooker.

Going to church to find desperate sex partners.


How did I live without GPS on my smartphone? I seriously have no idea.

Using landline phones to make long distance calls.

Doing research papers a lot quicker. You can basically look up a topic on Google and everything is there.

Dating. Who needs it when there are horny singles in my area just waiting to fuck me?

I'm 26 and I've never wrote a check.

Gif or Jif?

I have a hard time believing Anonymous would be in Jif camp.
You mean Juy Fawkes?
This was jlorious.
The real jregs of society...
George the giant German giraffe enjoys generating gel in the gypsy's gymnasium.
Great, Gary and the guys gotta get going now if they're gonna grab some grogs up at the gorge before the gays gouge their eyes out.
It's gif. I joogled it.
GIF. Graphics Interchange Format. Not Jraphics Interchange Format
GIF! As in giraffe!
GIF as in gift.
gif as in you're a git.
If I have a son, I'm going to name him Gif. He will know right away who his enemies are.
I am a faithful follower of Gif, not Jif; no amount of evidence will prove otherwise.
The Oxford and Webster Dictionaries say both are correct. The only one that is wrong is the person who says the other one is wrong.
I read a post that said the creators say "image-er" idk how to make phonetic symbols
to myself, I say 'Imm-Gurr" but when actually saying it out loud to people who don't know what the website is, I call it "image-er"
Why is this even an issue? Like why don't we argue that colonel is pronounced like kernel but yet, there's no Fuckin R in it? Que pasa?

Ashley Madison Hack

Based on current information, Impact Team are purely self-interested criminals, plain and simple, and when caught they should be tried and, upon conviction, imprisoned. What they stole doesn't change any of those facts.

Lots of people on Ashley Madison have had their trust violated. It's just not right.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once sent the message "we have been found out, flee" to his friends and one of them vanished. I should get a bitcoin account and do some email spoofing to send random people "we have your Ashley Madison details" and demand a bitcoin lest I reveal their malfeasance. On a law of large numbers I'd get a few suckers.

And here I thought the guy running the website was collecting massive amounts of data for blackmailing purposes. Nice to see I was only half wrong.

The generation growing up with Snapshat, finding romance online, messaging the snarky private views of their work colleagues may be the first to lose that gap between our outer and inner selves.

Nice typo - Snapshat is actually an apt name for it.

FTFA: This hack threatens the peace and stability of their families.

No, the people cheating on their spouses (and by extension, their children) threaten the peace and stability of their families. The hackers just sped up the process whereby their inevitable discovery comes out.

We should also take a moment to reflect on the morality of somebody who says "hey, I have a great business model: let's help people cheat on their spouses! And as a sideline, lets pimp out young women to rich older men!".

And then finally we have the hackers, who certainly did something illegal and probably not for good motives.

There are no good guys here. But in terms of reprehensibility, the hackers are a very distant third to the people who cheated on their spouses and the people who profited from it.

I'm sure there are a few cheaters on Fark. Would you care to share *why* you did it? I think it is an interesting topic.

Let me summarize in an infographic of a dog licking its balls:

I'm sure there are a few cheaters on Fark. Would you care to share *why* you did it? I think it is an interesting topic.

Alright, I'll fess up. Things had been dragging for awhile. It was getting boring, and eventually my girlfriend stopped paying attention. I'll admit I took the opportunity to swipe $100 from her and was able to use that to afford to build a hotel on Boardwalk and that proved to be enough to let me wrap up the game.

I'm not proud of it, but it was just taking sooo long.


Well, the thing about Prison Architect is that you have the choice between deadly and non deadly tactics. After your first fire which will undoubtedly destroy walls, floors, sinks, and a bunch of other valuable shit, you start getting angrier and angrier at the prisoners.

Hell, after the 10th fatality in 3 ingame days, I was about fed up, so I got dogs, 9 armed guards set to KoS and let them go. Killed 26 prisoners the first day and didn't give a shit. So happy for some peace and quiet. Then they broke through the damn wall and 5 escaped so I started building a giant fence around the property and went bankrupt. That's the last time I played, but I probably will play more soon.'s so difficult in later states of the game. I get so mad, but it's so much fun. Eventually the murderers and rebel rousers get on your nerves. I made a maximum security wing for the repeat offenders and eventually just did a cleanse. They kept hiding shit and plotting riots constantly.

Then they set the cafeteria on fire. I had to basically rebuild the whole cafeteria, call in the emergency teams to put out the fires and control the riot. Just purged the god damn maximum security wing.

If you think Prison architect gets difficult you need to try Dwarf fortress. You can build a perfect self-sustaining fortress and watch everything go to hell because a child threw a tantrum, the sherrif responded with a bit too much force, the mother sinks into a deep depression before murdering her husband to make a chair out of his bones triggering a spiral of unhappiness and violence when his drinking buddies can't find him.

On the plus side, it was a really nice chair.

My most interesting death spiral was when the sheriff's father recently died and still had to be buried. Just as he was being brought to the crypt, a necromancer came into my fortress. A necromancer's presence will automatically make anything dead (including severed body parts) and not buried become zombified. The sheriff ended up having to kill her zombified father. After about a week of moping about it and despite my best efforts to make her happy, she went on a depressed rampage and murdered a few people. Being that she was the sheriff, and therefore had top tier equipment, she was a really efficient murderer. Pretty soon the whole fortress rioted and everyone got dead pretty quick.

Robot guards. We'll finally have a use for our ED-209 prototypes! - G4S

Robot prisoners. The rich will just hire robots to serve their time. Then, they'll need robot crocodiles, of course... This is the kind of shit that makes people want to do drugs.

People will do drugs for a lot less than that.

I think clones would be a much more likely substitute for your prison time. Have a big plant that churns out clones of yourself to serve time or do whatever else you wouldn't want to do yourself.

I would NEVER trust my clone. That guy's a dick.

Gotta do the drugs to think up those things.


ELI5:Why is Wikipedia considered unreliable yet there's a tonne of reliable sources in the foot notes?

Wikipedia is not an appropriate source to cite because it's not an authoritative source. All the information on Wikipedia is (supposed to be) taken from other sources, which are provided to you. If you cite Wikipedia, you're essentially saying " said that a history text said Charlemagne conquered the Vandals in 1892". Just cite the history text directly! There's also a residual fear that anybody could type whatever they wanted and you'd just accept it as fact. Wikipedia is perfectly fine for:

Getting an overview of a subject
Finding real sources
Winning internet arguments

If all else fails, tell them you slept with their mom. Instant win
My mom is dead
Doesn't matter had sex
and you didn't have to buy flowers, they were already there. It's like killing two birds with one stone.
That's so insensitive. So is she, actually.
Yes. I fucked your mother. Not because she was easy, but because I was hard!

I often find that the sources listed on Wikipedia either don't exist...
This right here is why Wikipedia is considered an unreliable source. While those who monitor changes to Wikipedia try to eliminate such things there is no real effort to prevent an article writer quoting from a made up source in the first place. Even when real and legitimate sources are quoted, not all of those sources are vetted to see that they are actually using the quoted words exactly, in the way that academics expect them to be used.

And that's a good time to hit up Google Books and/or Google Scholar, find a few better sources, and cite them in the article.

The fact so few question knowledge being hidden behind paywalls is a problem. Public liberties can't afford to have a sub to all the different paywalls, so knowledge just stays locked up.

The only requirement to unlock it is money, and not a great deal of that if its need for your own career. If there were other hurdles then I would be right there with you, but there aren't so I won't as I do not look good in tin foil hats. Most of the material lock up is of very low interest to the majority of the world, this means that each publications costs can't be offset by a large number of sales. Additionally the typesetting and graphics of the document require more exact and thus expensive methods.

I do find it amusing though that the specific purpose the World Wide Web was created for, sharing professional scientific papers, research and knowledge, is possible the only area it has failed in.

Why is science behind a paywall?

You're not supposed to cite any encyclopedia, Wikipedia just gets more flack. At least on scientific/medical articles, Wikipedia has similar rates of error as the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

This is hugely important, and one of the reasons I think Wiki catches more flack than it should, when compared to physical encyclopedic volumes. At least with Wiki, you can explore sources. With a print encyclopedia, you really don't have any clue what the support for each claim or snippet of information might be.

Wow ... Such jaw-dropping logic, but then again, you can google what he said about Encycopledia Brittanica, and learn that on scientific/medical articles Wikipedia is just as good as about anything out there. And before you come up with conspiracy theories, this was established in a double-blind peer review as revealed by the journal Nature (who conducted the study) since Britannica complained and claimed it just cannot be true.

But pseudo-internet intellectuals like to claim Wikipedia is just to win internet arguments because they heard somewhere that Wikipedia is edited by "strangers".

I'm a huge supporter of Wikipedia and have been an on and off editor there since nearly it's inception, but you only need to have been an editor there for a while to know that some pages are constant battles of different politically or otherwise motivated edits between different groups or straight up nonsense created by an individual or group who has a loose association with reality. You can usually see them for what they are very quickly if you have a familiarity with the topic at hand, but the concern is that if you're unfamiliar with the topic and it's relatively low traffic you can end up with badly sourced information or straight up bullshit without knowing it.
This is often very obvious if you look at the edit history or the talk page for an article, but if you don't you can go blissfully unaware.
Unfortunately this is nothing like a peer review, in that there is no assurance that anybody with expert knowledge has ever even read an article, let alone edited it. In fact, this is one of Wikipedia's earliest controversies: whether or not to give extra weight or even final editorial control to people who are acknowledged subject matter experts. Instead the most you can hope for on Wikipedia consistently is that a number of good intentioned people will monitor articles for obvious vandalism. And if you're really lucky the article in question will end up being reviewed at some point by somebody who has a proper education or a high level of lay knowledge on the topic.
So the issue with Wikipedia isn't so much that it's inaccurate as that it is not especially transparent who has reviewed an article and thus the quality can be wildly inconsistent without any easy way of identifying it. Crowdsourcing doesn't ensure better quality articles on an individual basis, but it probably does result in a better average quality of article than a traditional dead tree format encyclopaedia. And in principle errors can be addressed much more easily and quickly. The problem with this is that you don't read the average of articles, or even edits, about say the history of the Battle of Midway. Thus without actually checking the sources it's very hard to identify the biases and errors that may have been introduced or worse still copied from well known, but widely accepted to be inaccurate sources by modern historians. Because Wikipedia is so widely dispersed and referenced now, it can inadvertently become an echo chamber for these incorrect ideas.
So Wikipedia is one of the most amazing sources in history for: getting an overview of a subject, finding real sources, and winning Internet arguments; but it is no substitute for a proper academic reference. That said, something people often don't understand is that in a real higher academic setting an old fashioned encyclopaedia isn't either, for many of the same reasons.

There are a lot of misunderstandings based on Wikipedia that seem to stem from human reasoning; the most facile example being that because anyone can edit, people will ruin the information or what have you. Wikipedia has been around long enough, and watched carefully enough, for us to see that this is a minority trend. Time and time again Wikipedia is shown to be factually correct. Though it is true that the majority of Wikipedia articles are not peer reviewed, the scientific community is in general agreement (based on studies done of the site) that Wikipedia is factually accurate and usually difficult to read (i.e. poorly written). Basically my point is that a Wikipedia article, in general, is going to be just as reliable and almost as well vetted as a peer reviewed article. Using your brain just a tad and doing your own research to confirm information using provided sources is going to further increase an articles reliability. I'm rambling now, but Wikipedia is really an astounding source of information and I think that both the scientific process and Wikipedia should be compared and should work together, and that neither will be done an injustice this way.

Unfiltered Info

Witch-hunting and was more or less exactly why the medieval Church did not want to let the idiot peasants interpret the Bible for themselves. Self-taught protestant zealots immediately elevated folk superstitions to religious terrors, and with the old hierarchies discredited, the emotion of the mob was all that was left to define truth. Hence we got pamphlets and tracts and woodcuttings and songsheets and zealots and reformers and witch-burners and Roundheads and Dissenters and Pilgrims and Puritans and Wars of Religion bathing Europe in God's Fire.

There's some pretty good comparisons to be made, I think, between the impact the printing press had on 16th/17th-century politics and the impact Twitter and the truth-detached blooper are having on modern politics. In both situations the old information gatekeepers were discredited, and in both the democratization of information flow stimulated debate while enabling closed information loops that allow absurdities to go unchallenged and permit atrocities to become normalized.

The Uncanny Valley

Laura Spinney describes the “uncanny valley” occupied by disturbingly not-quite-human images (29 October, p 28). I have long thought this effect was caused by sexual selection. Subtle departures from the norm in an animal’s appearance or movement can often be caused by genetic mutations or illness – which would render their bearers less than ideal mates. I suspect only some experience the effect. Perhaps in the past those who discerned the uncanny valley helped the Neanderthals towards extinction for being human, but not human enough. Others may have helped bring Neanderthal genes into the Homo Sapiens genome.

Spinney notes that “incongruous eyes were particularly responsible for conjuring up eeriness” in the uncanny valley effect. People do seem to have a finely tuned sense of where others are looking; not just the direction, but at what distance the other is focusing. If an android is otherwise almost indistinguishable from a person but the eyes don’t look like they are focusing when pointing at you, the impression could be that there’s nothing inside: rather as a zombie would be.