Andrey (azangru) wrote,

Random thoughts...

1. This Sunday, I watched the Russian Channel 1 for about half an hour, maybe three quarters. Incredibly, instead of the weekly news they gave the prime time on a Sunday night to a show that talked — for all the time that I watched — about Ukraine. Why are we again so interested in Ukraine all of a sudden? Was it because they wanted to prepare the audience for the clerical quarrels that happened the day after, or do they have something more sinister in mind?

The show, at any rate, has a teaching aspect to it as well, because if one were to take the general rhetorical patterns from this show and substitute the villains against whom this rhetoric was directed, one might feasibly end up with a leftist show describing injustices done to some favorite group. This one, for example, pitied the ethnic Russians in the Eastern Ukraine who had to endure the assault of the oppressive Ukrainians. Amusingly, the point that the disputants were trying to make was that Russia should protect its people wherever they are by reaching out to the troubled territory (sounds like the fucking nineteenth century, with its Slavophile political fantasies, doesn’t it?), not by inviting the poor sods in, to fall into her motherly bosom. Switch the oppressed ethnic Russians for the suffering Syrians, or the oppressed blacks, or the slighted women, and you have your sympathetically indignant audience, full of righteous fury.

2. In an episode of "The Global Philosopher" Michael Sandel talked with his audience (60 people from around the world) about free speech and its limitations. There were two pieces that drew my attention. One was when he asked whether symbolic acts, such as burning of a flag, should be criminally punished. To my amazement, practically everyone said yes. No Tolstoy with his regard of flags as mere pieces of cloth on a stick among this bunch. Another interesting bit was when Sandel was asking a free speech proponent whether he would allow odious figures to speak on campus (he said yes), and if so, does he think that there should be someone present who would debate their position (he also said yes). It would be so much more consistent if he instead replied that since we do not require regular speakers to give a talk only if followed by a debate with their opponent, why should we make such a requirement of more unorthodox speakers.

3. In his Penguin talk, Yuval Harari said that computer engineers, more than anyone, should study ethics in order to avoid writing algorithms that are biased against certain populations (this may be something he said previously; he is generally very repetitive). I think this is bonkers, maybe due to him not knowing how software engineers work. I am sure that a) software engineers, especially those who design these offending algorithms, seldom work alone, and their technical work is supervised by those who are giving them tasks (and isn't it these supervisors and product owners who should struggle with ethical problems?), and b) they do not, wittingly, create biased algorithms; the biases are accumulated in an unpredictable fashion during machine learning; therefore, instruction in ethics is irrelevant for preventing problems one does not foresee.

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