Tag Archives: algorithms

… using – or being used by algorithms …

The morose question of whether to be or not to be has moved on to whether to appear or not to appear. Appearances can deceive according to context. Or as my spiritual friend, Fazal Inayat Khan used to say, ‘Form is a relic of eternal potential.’ Things that have lost their former function have joined the archive of icons, metaphors.

Could the function of our individuality become no more than a statistical entity during our lifetime?

Today’s institutions and corporations share knowledge, advice, wisdom, stipulate laws, or instill fear via alerts. Ultimately, they accumulate information but are not necessarily held accountable for how this information is used. Priests used to claim this power in the name of God, as well as sorcerers and witches, who made it their business to converse with spirits. Many people project power onto an all-knowing agency, though today’s most consequential agency has moved on into the next clan of power holders – those who collect and control data … our data, our location, movements, activities, political leaning, looks, habits, likes and dislikes.

Our existence is being whittled down into digits that tumble about in a sea of algorithms, and wherever they perk up in statistics they could fix our fate, since temporal data can be adjusted to any setting a bureaucracy chooses as being predictive. This, mainly unchecked, development is running into problems, with the recent U.K exam result fiasco only being the latest example. Bless our young people for revolting.

Power of information equals control, for your own good, maybe, depending, of course, on who is in charge. Distorting and withholding knowledge, be it intentionally, through ignorance or through expediency, endangers democracy when used unchallenged as manipulation tools by governments. At worst, it enables profit seekers to accelerate the exploitation of earth’s resources, maintaining poverty around the globe.

Those involved in research, students, scientist, and writes, know the challenges of filing and stacking information. My own filing mirrors the ad hoc workings of my brain. To find stuff again is a matter of focus, luck and intuition. While occasionally frustrating, I trust my larger self and the collective unconscious. It is my oracular method, circumventing any too strict measurements promoted as our new saviour, algorithms. I value rationality, just not when it discounts spontaneous human creativity, heart felt compassion, and the inspiring moods of nature.

Belonging has never been easier – not belonging has never been more difficult. How does one evade the pressure of countless unfair impositions our systems prescribe via algorithms? In Walt Whitman style one could say … every ‘digit’ belonging to me as good belongs to you …  But wait, there is vast space in the One, space between atoms, between digits, between the many of us, where one can belong and be eccentric and separate at the same time.

Where do algorithms lead? How do they influence our values? Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus, describes ‘dataism’ as a new religion, a potential digital dictatorship that could shape our reality. Who would aspire to such a stagnant future?

I was fascinated and encouraged by a recent discussion between Yuval Noah Harari and Taiwan’s digital minister, Audrey Tang. (click here for the YouTube video coming up on a separate page)

They discuss code, including, at the start, the issue of non-polarized gender, going on to the negatives and positives of human hacking and the democratic fairness that can potentially happen when transparent data sharing and plural viewpoints are allowed.

Audrey Tang says,

‘Technology should be utilised to promote freedom, democracy & human rights.’

In Taiwan, this hugely influential young trans woman is making this happen.

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… ambiguity – living & writing the mystery …

‘The Magician,’ a painting by Silvia Pastore

Ambiguity is my name. I’m burdened or blessed with a self-reliant streak. Major decisions in my life were made intuitively, magically, spontaneously. I tend to escape the tedium of – must – have to – social coercion – small mindedness, and the like, via stretches of doubt, waiting for the sixth sense and moments of clarity to kick in.  You guess right, I dislike rigid structures, uniformity and over regulations that kill creativity. I juggle for authenticity. A glimpse into the psychology of this stance appears in this post from 2012 – the wild horse of the mind,  but possibly rebels are simply born with a disposition to serve social balance and individual autonomy.

Ambiguity moves (as in emotion) – is subtle – complex – questions facts – tolerates uncertainty – leaves doors open – is universal and timeless – playful and iconoclastic – tends to link dust motes to the cosmos and embraces multiple meanings.

I climbed into the plum tree and ate the grapes I found there. The owner of the garden called to me, ‘Why are you eating my walnuts?’    …  Yunus Emre

My son ordering my stone collection …

There is beauty in order and certainty.

 There is beauty in chaos and uncertainty.    

Ivan Aivazkovsky – Between the Waves

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life serves up both, be it in slow motion or in rapid succession. 

From the tension between order and chaos springs creativity.

To strike a balance is becoming difficult. Scientists, today’s explorers, provide useful facts that endlessly improve our lives, bless them, but unlike individuals and small businesses, they can indulge in mistakes, because science funding continuous even when facts prove wrong and change, because it aids the economy. To use a quaint example, one moment coffee is said to kill us, next it is lauded as beneficial. The list of contradictions is endless, and amusing. Statistics, as expedient as they are, skip the varied metabolisms of individuals, the whim and wisdom of the body. Some bad stuff, in moderation, actually maintains the body/mind equilibrium. And there are the cosmic and psychic weather changes we have no control over that affect individual moods and attitudes. In short, the tyranny of algorithms that dictate what is good for us can be counterproductive.

Since having taken the risk of making time for writing, with less duties and roles to consider, I’m tolerant of disorder. My personal erratic filing, analogue or digital, starts out well, but as data builds up, valuable notes, articles and images sit unattended and unconnected, until I vaguely remember an item that might fit a present concern. It takes a day or two day fretting over, but if I open the question as to the whereabouts of particular information in the Noosphere  my brain eventually makes the connection and goes ‘ping.’

I prefer this disorderly memory system. It liberates and enables me to switch off  ‘overwhelmed,’ providing a descent amount of inner peace.

John Keats (in 1817) coined the term negative capability for his preference of intuition and uncertainty above reason and knowledge. His definition chimes, though for me, ‘living the mystery’ sums it up better.

Writing from intuition resulted in my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors, continued with a sequel venturing into SF, and a third book. There was no plan, only an initial image. From there on the characters created their world. My personal myth added spice and deepened the narrative, making it universally relevant.

I write for the pleasure of sharing the diverse experiences of my personal myth. My gut feeling tells me we need more living and writing through mystery.

another relevant post  the magic of remembrance

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… moans from an unruly writer …

Installation by Frederick Franck

Installation by Frederick Franck

While I write, wrestle with style, query words battling for attention and set out sequences to string ideas together, anyone watching me might assume I’m a nervous wreck. My body, perfectly able to string an arrow to a bow and hit a target, has a wild notion of focus when it comes to writing. It shifts and wriggles, gets up pretending I need a coffee, ends up cleaning the sink, checks the porch for post and so on, all the while allowing my word sculpting to continue until, bingo …. I rely on intuition, which slips into little silences, opens a crack in the surface of things and reveals a hidden layer, and, occasionally offers a glimpse into the infinity of now. A tiny glimpse is all it takes to relax, sharpen senses and spark a creative dialogue between my inner voices that often quarrel and fool around like the average family.

I respect moderate conflict, it stirs up mud but clears the air, and even when the inner crowd gets fed-up with listening – grace, solitude, or a good night’s sleep bring additional insights, bridge divides and re-establish a tolerable rhythm of chaos and peace.

Am I fooling myself? Is my knack for intuition just guesswork. Is it inborn? Does it evolve with experience, as a kind of deeper listening skill humanity moves towards? Can it be learned? Is it worth defending? Or is it the relic of a go-with-the-flow philosophy that avoids closer analysis of my thought processes and behaviour? I seem to struggle with two kinds of temperaments, one looking for the particle and the other for the wave, stretched between rational and irrational numbers. The two temperaments compete but need each other.

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Scientists and statisticians tend to approach the unknown rationally, and seem set to eradicate human incompetence and messiness. Some frenzied rational prophets go as far as knocking anything that can’t be quantified and evidenced. I value logic, what annoys me is the attitude that scoffs at people who hold hands with the fool.

There are more reliable methods than the vagaries of intuition, shown in a New York Times piece by Gary Wolf ‘The Data Driven Life’ from April 2010,  a long but brilliant article that received many pages of diverse comments. Not everyone is keen on the Quantified Self.

I resist being monitored and quantified by data, fixed as particle, ticked off for my risk-taking folly, my random cross-referencing. The geeks and outliers the article describes have fun recording their every move. And I grant that someone suffering from high blood pressure or apnoea benefits from being nudged by a gadget to take a deep breath. I remember being excited and applauding the first biofeedback devices that affirmed how thoughts affect our physiology and vice versa. When it comes to data dependency, I have a hunch it will starve emotional intelligence, which I strongly believe develops through mastery of language.

Working a few years for Social Services, we used to write narrative assessments until a computer programme with tick boxes was introduced. We hated it. Conveying observations in writing was shoved aside as time-consuming, subjective and vague, while quantitative recording was hailed as reliable, though its data hinges no less on interpretation and application.

Recently I skimmed an article suggesting future novels will be written by computers. My cynic leapt from its slumber and argued that a machine hasn’t got 100 Billion neurons and can’t be intimate with nature, is immune to changing metabolisms and moods – hour by hour, night and day. Immune to what comes on the breath, with wind, dust, rain and radio waves that travel through the cosmos, nor is a machine influenced by dreams, synchronicities, diets, layers of revolving memories, kind gestures, general anxieties, rejection, loss of control, loss of a loved one, global news … the unpredictable influx of thoughts and emotions that our mind continuously sifts, evaluates and re-interprets.

Irrational humans can’t be quantified and controlled, which may be why since ancient times there has been an ambition to create artificial beings.  Here a bit of fun from Turing and his colleague Strachey – a reasoned-out love letter, achieved through programming a 1951 computer to make sentences via algorithms, having been fed on love synonyms from a Thesaurus:

Honey Dear – My sympathetic affection beautifully attracts your affectionate enthusiasm. You are my loving adoration: my breathless adoration. My fellow feeling breathlessly hopes for your dear eagerness. My lovesick adoration cherishes your avid ardour.

Yours wistfully, M.U.C. (Manchester University Computer)

…. M. U. C. is eager, if a little verbose and breathless 🙂

Since then, artificial intelligence is even more breathless with numbers, but operates highly sophisticated technology that improved the quality of our lives. I admit I’m fascinated by the concept of cyborgs, but don’t want to get plucked into the human network protocol .

Our privacy is at stake. And our relationship with nature? … its record of life and the human experience, the treasure house of the collective unconscious, translated and re-membered through DNA, invisible spheres and the very light we breathe. Anything alive changes from moment to moment. And our experiences, insights and expectations have a vital part in the changing.

Nature is the book I grew up with, it taught me stuff:                                                                                                       About growing … put a seed into earth, tend to its needs and its story flowers.                                                        About resilience … a seedling lost in a dark corner will grow towards any spot of light, no matter how it must bend and curl its stalk around obstacles.                                                                                                                                       About connections … the dynamic geometry of the tiniest plants and vast galaxies are reflected in each other.

Enough samples to show the obvious – nature teaches through metaphors. My theme is resilience. I take risks and accept that struggling makes me inventive, expands my consciousness, polishes my heart and challenges me to think for myself.

My moan extends to the growing practice of enticing people to emulate machines in service of progress and economic efficiency, in jobs that dull the senses and dull the mind.

Meanwhile I cheer the unruly folk, including fools, dreamers, innovators, artists, poets and writers with an ear towards the hidden – who translate past and future newly into the present – the open-minded, who can tolerate conflict, value intuitive signals that chime in the heart, and who can occasionally endure being suspended like a leaf on a gossamer thread.

What do you, my reader, think?

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