#WeblogPoMo2024 - Thoughts on "I Like Your Blog If..."

I love this post by Lou Plummer, especially this part spoke to me:

I like smart and smart-ass but not people who think themselves smarter than everyone else There are a few bloggers who consistently write about how dumb people are and it’s a big old turn off. I like smart people. I like people smarter than me (not hard). I even like people with a smart ass sense of humor but I have worked for too long with stereotypical computer support people who think all end users are stupid and I’m so very weary of that attitude. I think it’s great to point out the misconceptions of others but it’s boorish if that’s the main thing someone writes about.

Maybe because I’m insanely self-conscious of what was my main output throughout the WeblogPoMo - mainly fatalistic and negative views on political change and some posts about an outburst of anger about a kind of naive take by my blog hoster on the whole OpenAI/Scarlett Johansson thing that I regret (my angry reply more than my more sober take later. I still think I have point, though), I also immediately thought: “for some people this could be me, maybe…”.

Anyways. A great post that is well worth your time.

#WeblogPomo - Intentions Are A Lag Measure


The big question when it comes to shifts of society like you describe with your examples for me is always: How much can you actually do? My reflex is to say: Not much. Intentions are a lag measure. That doesn't mean we shouldn't support what we think is important to create the world we want to live in - even if it's only for our own sakes - and support the people and actions the seem to us necessary to make these things more likely, but I do think this stuff is merely necessary but not sufficient to change the course of the world at large. So we'll have to live within the world in which we live, warts and all.

This implies to me that what follows from your observations is no ownership of cause and effect but recognition of our collective limitations. I don't think that we make actual choices in that way as you hope.

I said this - slightly edited here for brevity since not everything is relevant - in a reply to Jason Becker under one of his posts and wanted to shortly explain what I mean by that.

It seems relatively easy to fall victim to attribute to intent what is simply an expression of a system. Since we can’t observe society as a whole we may think that there are intentions involved in the sense that you make a conscious choice to behave in one way or another - in this case it was about having the feeling of not being able to give a complex take because an audience nowadays demands a simple take - and any members of the audience as well as the one talking to said audience has lots of freedom in how to behave here. Rational discourse then can decide the best course of action. Critiques like this suggest that it could be different if we would just choose to behave differently (and here some good reasons for doing it or alternatively some bad reasons to no do the old thing anymore).

Now, the text I replied to here is called Takes spread like wildfire. What I love most about this blog post - and I commented on it before actually - is the title, because it doesn’t assume that anybody is doing anything on purpose. It just happens. This I totally agree with.

I’m generally very interested in the make-do. As in: “I was made to do this”. As I don’t assume intentions I also don’t assume clear-cut flows of cause and effect. I believe in entanglement. Meaning: There are a million little things we are connected to - human as well as non-human actors - and all of these act as weights on our doing and being. In a sense we are these weights. Part of these weights are internal. I do think we have to assume consciousness. But internal or external weights: we are a result. And if we are results then so are our actions. Except that our actions are not the result of us because we are just a part of the chain (or better: net) through which something like a society expresses and reproduces itself.

As an individual that has the capability to learn and observe, we may never untangle any of the entanglements that surround us in real time. But: We may learn to readjust our internal weights, so to speak. And this in turn is observable by people who care. This will never be everyone. And even those who care may not be able to see. But there is a potential here, which lies in a convincing performance and not rational argument.

Which is why I would say that performing a certain way of being is probably more likely - and let’s be clear here: it is still far from a clear a->b thing and not highly probable in the slightest - to inspire others to act with this new way of being in mind. What they do with it individually and as a collective is absolutely not in your hands, though.

So if it is about subtle takes: Make them! Realize a person - make a person a reality - that makes interesting, subtle takes. They may spread. You may get critiqued. People may want simpler answers. If it is about politics they may sort you more to the right and less progressive than you’d think. If you can’t realize a person like that - because it might bring harm to people you care about - that is society protecting itself. Maybe make only some takes subtle that don’t endanger what is vulnerable if a person like this would exist?

#WeblogPoMo2024 - Thoughts on CoreInt 600

Listen to it here.

The whole episode was about the recent OpenAI/Scarlett Johansson thing that blew up in Manton’s face.

I, by chance, was at the computer when it was published and curious as my first take on why I was angry was muddled in said anger and so I listened to this immediately. I found it very interesting and very human (in a good way). A little protocol of mostly Manton’s views:

  • His initial take was: The sky voice was not intentionally ripping of Her.
  • The response felt like: Some People were angry with him because he was defending a disgraced company.
  • So to restate it: A plausible take was given.
  • A tweet: “her”. He didn’t even think when giving that take that the tweet could be about the voice per se.
  • An interesting thought experiment: What if we’re talking about a war criminal. What if they used a ridiculous weapon that doesn’t exist to do their war crimes? If somebody claimed that. Shouldn’t we able to say they did not use a ridiculous weapon that doesn’t exist?
  • And then: A news article seems to vindicate the plausible take.
  • But then: Does the news article actually do that?
  • And: There still might be a legal case. It seems very possible.
  • A plea by the cohost: Give it some rest. It’s not Manton you’re blindly angry with.
  • AI is here to stay: We have to engage with the technology.

I think we’re all still guessing and may never know. Depending on what we take into account, some things seem more plausible than others.

I stand by my slightly more sophisticated way of putting it after I fired my first shot. I will give it another try here: Not taking into account what else is going on with that industry and that company in particular - their track record so far - and not taking into account how important a Sam Altman seems to think he is - right up in there with Dorsey and Musk as the co-hosts seem to agree - makes Manton’s plausible take based on circumstantial evidence kind of less plausible (which also renders the thought experiment unsuitable). And I wouldn’t want to have the feeling that the person behind my blog hoster is not seeing this quite plausible connection. Isn’t there this saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”?

So saying Manton makes me look bad “by association” is surely putting it way too strong. I will own that. But I will say that subsuming all the critical voices under the same umbrella seems inappropriate. I think - if we are fair to me and some others - that it seemed a little naive to not think about the smoke and coincidentally call everybody else just other, less rational, angry people (or at least strongly implying it) and not at least contemplating the possibility of a backlash.

Alright. That has been said. Uff.

I also want to say, candidly, I do love the idea of the audio narration feature that seems to have come out of reflecting on this. This is good. AI is indeed not going anywhere. And we may never fully reconcile our feelings about this issue. But that doesn’t mean we need to not have human connections or aren’t allowed to make the web feel better.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - Thoughts on "Takes spread like wildfire"

An interesting post by Jason related to my recent discussions of manifestos and the general trend towards simple moral purity based statements (check this post and its links at the top if you’re curios). Some excerpts from Jason’s post:

Communities converge on an understanding of how they are supposed to feel about something very rapidly on the internet. It seems to take no time at all for influential voices to emphatically determine what views are Good and Right and what views are Wrong.[…]

This is not all bad.[…]But it does mean that there are many things that are not safe to share. […] [You can’t] “try out” an argument [anymore] or even an identity to see how it feels. […] It also means that sometimes when your peers and people you respect have all decided what the “right” view is, it’s very hard to comfortably express a less strident, more lukewarm, more timid, and possibly more complex or nuanced take, especially if you’re not ready, willing, and able to present a dissertation about your view point.

The way I’ve chosen to operate in this environment is to listen to the intensity of others. This almost always means one of two things:

  1. I will end up agreeing with them, but for various reasons, I need to listen more and more carefully to be convinced. My own mind and emotions take a lot more evidence to get to the same conclusion my peers made it to right away.
  2. Folks are jumping on a bandwagon and squashing nuances and loudly proclaiming the easy thing. Anything I add to the conversation will drain me of all kinds of energy, likely ending in the person I’m talking with claiming they held the same belief that I do the whole time. In both of these cases, I don’t need to speak. I can just listen. And eventually, I can decide that if we’re not heading toward the first case, I can stop listening. I can just opt out. It’s not a conversation, it’s a signaling competition.

I like this, even though I have my gripes with some of this. Not all of my notes are direct responses to Jason, but general thoughts to an imagined reader that tries to understand the implications of a post like this.

  • Trying on arguments and personas can be a highly questionable practice. People may get hurt. So the web today doesn’t owe you this. Doing this is at least in some ways related to tricking people. But so is telling stories without disclosing you’re telling stories, of course. I think it’s possible to flag posts that do this as experimental thinking or whatever. See Maggie Appleton’s Epistemic Disclosure.
  • More complex, subtle takes are not a problem in and of themselves, I’d say. A richer description of a situation can be very interesting and enlightening. The problem is often not the complexity of a take, but the take. For example: I can write a complex text about my feelings around climate change in which I deny that there is trustable evidence that climate change is even a thing. The incendiary part of a take like this is its general thrust (for people who care about climate change). Also: Subtle takes don’t magically free you from being misinterpreted/misrepresented either. Your text may end up being a completely reframed tool in somebody else’s texts. You can’t do anything against this. And you never could! But that is not a new development.
  • Not knowing where you stand yet is generally fine and can be super interesting (because vulnerability is interesting), as long as some preconditions are met: You are not claiming to not know where you stand but actually just use it as a defense for a questionable position. Again, you can flag that stuff appropriately.
  • As nobody owes you being okay with just letting you try out an opinion you actually don’t hold on them, nobody owes you not being criticized for what you put out in the public. In the best case you’re part of a community that will protect you and enforces a certain code of conduct and hopefully has values you can agree with, but the greater web doesn’t work like that because it’s basically social wilderness. That means the further your reach the more it is likely that you will encounter pushback.
  • Everything’s questionable. Using “The facts™” is often an attempt to state something as objectively as possible without realizing that its factualness is the result of negotiations. See Latour’s Modalities for a great concept handle for this.

#WeblogPoMo2024 By Association

So Yesterday, shortly before bed, I got angry about what somebody else wrote on the internet.

[@manton](https://micro.blog/manton) This is such a bad take. Why do this? You make me as a mb user look bad by association. I get that you're trying to say that it was wrong and trying to say that people are emotional about this. But what you're also saying - inadvertently perhaps - is that Altman (et. al.) didn't do it on purpose, because he's obsessed with the movie Her and therefore people should have not freaked out or, if anything, freaked out earlier since that voice was already out there for a while?

And what does it even mean to say that their account is not a total lie? Does it need to be a total lie?

Why protect a company and a CEO like this? I myself am using AI here and there and I think it is an interesting technology and probably here to stay (for better or worse), but there is no need for "both-side-sing" it here.

This was a reply to a post by Manton - the person behind my blog hosting service Microblog:

When your company becomes the enemy, all that matters to people is what feels true. OpenAI’s Sky voice shipped months ago, not last week. We hear what we want to hear. OpenAI mishandled this, no question, but most likely Her is ingrained in Sam’s head vs. intentionally ripping off Scarlett.

I had innocently scrolled through my Mastodon feed and saw a couple of posts scroll by:

I am not above admitting that I got angry, in part, because other people got angry. Social media is a seductive medium. I was tired and it was easy to fire off a reply like the one I did. It felt righteous.

Now, I had written very recently about my interest to not play this “moral purity”-based game anymore (not that I ever really played it, but that is besides the point), in which we proclaim a certain world view or stance as morally superior, avant-garde or whatever and start to judge what’s happening in the world. My point with this was and is that we ought to construct and view - or at least make possible to trace - the complex network that makes up the state of any (local) reality in our moment in time. I want less reductionist views (although I freely admit that heuristics and simplifications and abstractions are important actors in a text and are not to be ignored either) and more connective tissue between manifesto-like expressions and details and steps on how to actually scale that for the planet or even manifest it just for my local reality, here and now. I am a skeptical person and am always a little suspicious, if people proclaim stuff like “Just don’t use AI!”, “Just don’t fly!”, etc. because all this doesn’t make sense if for example - I speak for myself - AI is helping me paper over gaps in my programming knowledge. I am dependent on the job I have so I better have some understanding of how to use this technology. When my boss says “your estimate is too high, ask ChatGPT how to do this and you’ll be quicker…” I of course have a thousand counter arguments in my mind but in the end I am not studying philosophy, management theory, or whatever. I am employed as a programmer and am expected to do my work in a way that is (seemingly) most efficient. And I have to admit that AI is actually helping me, too. I think. It’s in any case an interesting technology that I should know how to use if I am to engage in meaningful discourse about it. So much so, that I am using these tools also in my free time here and there. I also happen to have family in Germany and am living in Finland. Therefore I will fly more often than others (at least twice a year, probably) to see my family members.

So I think I am allowed to say that I get it. I get the need and the want to express something more complex than “Good is defined as X, you’re not X therefore you’re not good.”

However, taking on more complexity when doing a take, does still not excuse you from also recognizing power structures. Many people are outraged over OpenAI’s handling of a voice very similar to one that sounds like Scarlett Johansson’s. I am not very hopeful that an investigation would ever conclusively show that OpenAI just cloned her voice or didn’t employ a voice actor that sounds similar to her because that person had a voice similar to Johansson’s. But it seems questionable to not assume some form recklessness or even ill-intent here.

People who have the bandwidth for it are worried and annoyed by tech bros and Big Tech. And often for good reasons. It’s not like there is no evidence. They feel violated by them being invasive and exploitative. This is where most manifestos in this space come from, I bet. So a case like this - which to most people who can stomach engaging with this part of the AI hype is just another in a growing list - is to be taken seriously as a prime example of what people despise about companies behind AI.

I am angry about posts like the one I replied to, because it gives more complex, maybe more subtle view points a bad reputation. I do not believe that more complex takes are created equal. But it can look that way sometimes, which is why complexity has become a watch word and moral purity so attractive. “Both-side-sing” is a terrible excuse for a careful, nuanced take, though.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - The Fatalistic Turn

According to this survey there is little hope, that individual actions can do anything apart from maybe raising awareness. The Guardian asked “every contactable lead author and review editor of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 2018, with 380 of 843 responding”. Here is what you can do according to the opinions of the world’s climate scientists:

  • “Most experts (76%) backed voting for politicians who pledge strong climate measures”
  • “The second choice for most effective individual action, according to the experts, was reducing flying and fossil-fuel powered transport in favour of electric and public transport. This was backed by 56%[…].”
  • “Almost 30% of the experts said eating less meat was the most effective climate action”
  • “a similar proportion [30%] backed cutting emissions from heating or cooling homes, by installing heat pumps, for example”
  • “Having fewer children was backed by 12% of the experts”

Ugh. And there are these statements:

It can only go so far. Deep, rapid cuts in carbon emissions from oil and gas, as well as other sectors such as transport, are needed, which are outside the control of the average individual […] Individual action can only amount to a drop in the bucket – only systemic changes will be sufficient

Many foresee catastrophic levels of global heating and are shifting their focus away from the physics of the climate system towards action that slows global heating and work that protects people against the climate impacts they now see as unstoppable.

Another post I read recently was A Tour of the Jevons Paradox How Energy Efficiency Backfires:

In short, boosting efficiency seems like a straightforward way to reduce your use of natural resources. And for you personally, efficiency gains may do exactly that. But collectively, efficiency seems to have the opposite effect As technology gets more efficient, we tend to consume more resources. This backfire effect is known as the ‘Jevons paradox’, and it occurs for a simple reason. At a social level, efficiency is not a tool for conservation; it’s a catalyst for technological sprawl.1

Here’s how it works. As technology gets more efficient, it cheapens the service that it provides. And when services get cheaper, we tend to use more of them. Hence, efficiency ends up catalyzing greater consumption.

Take the evolution of computers as an example. The first computers were room-sized machines that gulped power while doing snail-paced calculations. In contrast, modern computers deliver about a trillion times more computation for the same energy input. Now, in principle, we could have taken this trillion-fold efficiency improvement and reduced our computational energy budget by the same amount. But we didn’t.

It gets harder and harder to not talk about the planetary trajectory as set in stone. I guess it’s good to have posts like this in your timeline?

The bald eagle could have easily gone extinct. But we did all sorts of “woke” things protecting it legally, ran conservation and study programs, banned DDT (that was good for other reasons too) and in 2007 they were removed from the endangered species list.

Likewise pine forests could be dead from acid rain.

The ozone could have a huge hole.

We CAN take care of nature when we want to. And the successes have been worth it.

I feel like we forget this, you know?

Is it? What will it do? Hope is cheap. Change is impossible to envision. Especially if imagined as collective change on a planetary scale. Things will have to become much worse before we can meaningfully engage with what happens. Maybe this is not you, but it is us. You can warn and write all the manifestos you want, have a negative footprint or whatever: Just as with AI we’ll have to come to terms with the fact that climate change is just us. We’re the planet. And as the planet is the result and the cause of what’s going on, the individual will have to recognize and come to terms with not being able to do a lot.

There is hope in disruption. But strategically “weaponized” disruption (like calculated, non-violent protest) can only do so much and it seems that big economic players like Big Tech™ to name an example are not even playing within the margins of democracy any more. Take this quote from a recent Cory Doctrow article on the EU’s attempt to regulate tech giants via the DMA:

Apple appears to be playing a high-stakes game of chicken with EU regulators, effectively saying, “Yes, you have 500 million citizens, but we have three trillion dollars, so why should we listen to you?” […] Just like Apple, Meta is behaving as though the DMA permits it to carry on its worst behavior, with minor cosmetic tweaks around the margins. Just like Apple, Meta is daring the EU to enforce its democratically enacted laws, implicitly promising to pit its billions against Europe’s institutions to preserve its right to spy on us. […] Tech has found new ways to compromise our privacy rights, our labor rights, and our consumer rights - at scale. […] After decades of regulatory indifference to tech monopolization, competition authorities all over the world are taking on Big Tech. The DMA is by far the most muscular and ambitious salvo we’ve seen. […] Seen in that light, it’s no surprise that Big Tech is refusing to comply with the rules. If the EU successfully forces tech to play fair, it will serve as a starting gun for a global race to the top, in which tech’s ill-gotten gains - of data, power and money - will be returned to the users and workers from whom that treasure came.

Even if the DMA will be enforced completely and the EU won’t let big companies weasel out of actually complying, I have very little hope that this game of resisting compliance and enacting policies is not continuing for the foreseeable future. Non compliance is surely not a phenomenon exclusive to Big Tech. Far from it. Which means that even if we get the right people to put policies into place to reign in companies this cat and mouse game is just going to make sure that climate change is even more of a sure thing.

And what about all of the non-democratic societies? And what about all those non-environmental governments who do nothing? Can you solve a planetary problem while parts of the world are at war with each other? Or at least are ideologically opposed? What about China?

I read an article by Noah Smith about the wider implications of the tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles the US have enacted. A couple of things form this:

Joe Biden is about to slap 100% tariffs on Chinese-made electric vehicles. A 100% tariff is an absolutely huge tariff. It means that Chinese EV makers would have to sell their EVs in the U.S. at half the price of EVs manufactured elsewhere in order to be competitive. That just isn’t going to happen. A 100% tariff will probably be enough to keep essentially all made-in-China EVs out of the U.S.

And further, himself quoting David Fickling:

A lot of people are worried that tariffs like these will slow down the transition to a low-carbon future powered by solar power and batteries. For example, David Fickling writes:

China’s widening lead in clean technology, coupled with its vast trade surplus…are combining with faltering efforts on decarbonization in developed countries to produce a toxic mix…If green technology such as electric vehicles…gets badged as foreign and threatening and finds itself excluded via…tariff policies, then drastically falling costs aren’t going to be enough to get it into the hands of consumers…An acceleration in trade wars will only slow our path to zero [carbon].

He’s right to worry. Transportation is responsible for almost 30% of U.S. carbon emissions, or about 4% of the global total. If the U.S. failed to switch to EVs, it could hamper decarbonization efforts by a small but noticeable amount.

And a last one from this:

The most important thing about these tariffs is probably the message they send. Protectionism is now the consensus economic policy of both major political parties in the United States. Biden has extended the Trump tariffs on China and levied the new EV tariffs; Trump is trying to one-up Biden by promising to raise the 100% tariffs to 200%, extend them to Mexico, and slap an additional 60% tariff on all Chinese-made goods. There is currently no major party or presidential candidate that you can vote for in America that is even remotely interested in free trade.

What I take from this is that the biggest economies are at a trade war with each other and it’s about to get very ideological on planet earth again(?) - but not in an environmentally friendly ideological way we might hope for. Meaning that systematic improvements of the climate situation are completely unlikely. Because a climate neutral Europe won’t be enough and itself utterly unlikely. I do not have hope for the rest of the planet.

All this is to say that: We will have to live with it. We will have to accept climate change. We won’t be able to stop the catastrophe. All the displaced people. All the pain and suffering. All the biodiversity loss.

What is interesting though, is that fossil fuels won’t last forever and the world’s overindulgence in a surplus of energy that is not bound to the solar energy system (as opposed to the fossil energy system that spurred much of industrialization) is inevitable. We will not live to see this, but we also won’t stop the shit show until then. The planet will go through this. I don’t see how it wouldn’t.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - A Rational Case For Protest

Having agreed to write more this month has produced a handful of posts that make me uncomfortable.

These are all posts that make me uncomfortable because these are fluent thoughts that get more concrete the more I write. Today I wanted to add another point about (non-violent) protest.

If you’ve spent enough time in the social humanities, you will end up with a viewpoint that could be condensed down to “humans are gonna human”, meaning that intentional action very seldomly can be used as a starting point for analysis because either it is not visible to the observer, or intentions are getting displaced as soon as other actors are entangled. If that is true and it still seems possible to give good descriptions, maybe even explanations of change over time, of “why the things are the way they are” by completely excluding intentionality from the analysis, then it seems right to be very skeptical towards explanations that rely on private intentions being present to make sense of the world. You don’t need to know the why of individuals to understand the why (or at least give a convincing description of the state of things at a given time) in a larger sense.

Armed with this viewpoint it seems heartbreakingly obvious that protest can’t work, because bigger more distributed powers shape society, if you like it or not.

But. There is a case to be made for protest, if we don’t assume protesting is meant to inform and convince the wider public to change their ways and join the protesters until the social pressure becomes so high that other people would be elected to the parliament that in turn would enact new policies.

If we take as read that any protest would need enough active participants and sympathizers, why would you want to protest if not for convincing people? I found this great encapsulation in a Hacker News thread about the 3,5% rule:

Protests aren’t intended to gain allies. It’s to put pressure on those in charge. Pissing people off and interrupting commerce is literally the point.

Disruption is the point! It means that people will complain about the protestors. It means that the politicians in charge will be asked - sooner or later - to deal with the protestors and in its absolute form this can really only go three ways: 1.) The wish of the protestors is granted in some way or 2.) the state uses violence to end the protests. Either way the non-violent protestors keep the moral high ground. 3.) The third option is that the protest peters out, in which case the protest was not strong enough to begin with and not worth a potential conflict with the law. You really have to believe in what you believe (or at least make other people believe that you believe in what they believe) to spearhead a protest.

So there you have it: A rational case for protest is about disruption not about convincing fellow citizens. You need allies to make enough of a fuss, but changing society has a lot less to do with convincing people and a lot more to do with strategically annoy them.

What has this to do with not taking intentionalities into account? We can see that the mechanism of protest works even if people do not act strategically on purpose. All you need is the right strong convictions and the wish to disrupt people for disrespecting your values. If you as an individual realize that protest works like this or not is not important for it to work this way.

So what about the other posts? I wonder if some problems in wanting to change the web through protest and activism can be attributed to there not being a need to understand the mechanism. You can disrupt parts of the web, but the web is not a society which means that platforms won’t react in the same way - or at least they don’t need to - because shutting down protests is so much easier: like what recently happened on stack overflow:

Stack Overflow announced that they are partnering with OpenAI, so I tried to delete my highest-rated answers.

Stack Overflow does not let you delete questions that have accepted answers and many upvotes because it would remove knowledge from the community.

So instead I changed my highest-rated answers to a protest message.

Within an hour mods had changed the questions back and suspended my account for 7 days.

The web is not a democratic society so disrupting a platform will have a different result than disrupting society: Either nothing happens, the platform dies or you get banned. Note that these things seem similar to what I wrote above, but they are different. One way in which these are different is that a platform is not owned by its users. Another way they are different is that people in charge are not elected by its users. So the dynamic of pissing of fellow citizens, them complaining to politicians to end the disruption and the politicians having to decide to either answer with ethically questionable violence or by granting the wish to the protesters is not working in the same way. Users engage on platforms. Platforms have owners. And these owners may have share holders to answer to but share holders are not congruent with the users of said platforms. To make protest work you would need a meaningful amount of users be part owners of a platform. Or you need to protest in the context of your society, which would be my point to make here.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - Is There A 3,5% Rule For The Web?

Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change.

So claims an article from the BBC from 2019. It refers to the research of Erica Chenoweth which in turn inspired the Extinction Rebellion group.

I think there is hope in such research that seems to show that nonviolent activism that reached a relatively low threshold actually led to change. I say this, because I at least have a hard time believing protests do anything positive at all. Which is a sad and cynical take, I know. So reading this kind of stuff makes me skeptical, yes, but also hopeful, that there is something to it.

In light of what I recently wrote about AI: That I don’t think that LLMs are going anywhere, even if they are not going to fulfill their promise. And that we won’t prevent their development by individual consumer choice. Which therefore means we should instead explore them carefully and with an eye for making them a part of our shared experience (by hopefully making them more sustainable (et. al.) and enacting policies towards this) instead of trying to look away and excluding them from intelligent and more complex discourse that tries to think a whole world - that, like it or not, includes AI and VCs and Techbros - no matter what our individual values might be.

So in light of that I wonder what a “3,5% rule” for web discourse could look like. The truth is: I can’t think of one. The Web and its visitors are not really a society or a nation state (or a union of such things) and therefore do not govern themselves. We are citizens of the web only in a very metaphorical way. The policies are enacted by governmental bodies like the EU. This makes me think that in order to change the web you need to change the society you’re living in. Which means that a “3,5% rule” - if it exists - for the web would just be the “3,5% rule” for non digital societies.

So activism of the web would necessarily need to interface with the physical world and non-violently protest its rampant development to become not much more than a collection of hellish and exploitative platforms owned by rich people that actively threaten any and all live on this planet by exploiting resources, exploiting people and undoing democratic progress everywhere.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - Vulnerable Thoughts Around LLMS and generative AI

It makes me extremely uncomfortable to think in terms of ethics when it comes to generative AI. I would like to say that I am agreeing with Baldur Bjarnason on the matter and that there is actually nothing to discuss, but only to state that AI is unethical, unsustainable, un-researched and actively harmful to the planet and its inhabitants. It’s also a bubble and can’t deliver on its promise:

Found via a Reddit post about a WSJ article quoting a Sequioa presentation

In a presentation earlier this month, the venture-capital firm Sequoia estimated that the AI industry spent $50 billion on the Nvidia chips used to train advanced AI models last year, but brought in only $3 billion in revenue. This 17x number is just for chips – Nvidia chips alone, I think – so the actual cost-to-revenue multiplier is much higher in reality. So the hardware it’s installed in and the actual CPUs are extra. Research is extra. The army of freelancers used for RLHF training are extra. Electricity cost is extra. And chips depreciate in value pretty rapidly. Especially since every chip vendor on the planet has more specialised ML chips in the pipeline that are more effective at the task. This investment will be worthless pretty quickly.

But then … I am using it at work - where my employers pay for a pro version for us to use - and even in my free time I use it as my access to a more advanced version makes it more interesting to use and I’m - as I am so often - caught up in a kind of fatalist argument, it seems: I do not see LLMs going away. Do I feel better for not using them? Only theoretically. I feel like I am learning things while I use them because there are actually wast swaths of what I am theoretically supposed to to be able to do at work that I can’t do without a nudge here and there. Same is true in recreational programming.

In theory I feel that keeping myself morally untouchable and staying “pure” is interesting, but just as I tried to express when I was talking about manifestos and their harsh delineation between good and bad according to a standard they define without outlining the practical steps to make this a reality, I find myself reaching for the same here: Purity is theoretically interesting, but practically life happens elsewhere and so it is more a question of degree, if anything.

I can’t and won’t deny the fact that I find these AI tools helpful and interesting, sometimes. I won’t not agree either that they are also not unproblematic. However, I will say that excluding these things from your life - by individual consumer choice - doesn’t do anything to make them do less harm, make them more sustainable or actually changing the practicalities of life. We have become very good at defining things in such an “either/or” way that it has become useless to apply these standards to any real life situation, where you may be forced, coerced or seduced into - for example - using these things. What now? Time to stop living? Time to apologize for the rest of your life? I think that we may have to relearn how to examine the world. Not in terms of purity of our actions, but in terms of the realization of the world we inhabit.

This means manny big and small things. One small thing it means is to understand the relative limit any one’s actions have on the whole. We are an expression of the whole, so not being able to change the whole is not THAT surprising, I’d say. This also means that better understanding the whole - for example by examining the insane amounts of money and resources that are put into training, developing and serving these models to customers (like in the quote above) and how insanely powerless we as individuals are to change this - helps understanding us and our place int this world. Look, even in Europe - which I would only call a beacon of democracy by comparison to the alternatives out there - I do not foresee a sufficiently strict policy that would make LLMs impossible to deploy even though they are, in their current state, unethical in so many ways.

But if this is the case … I think you ought to be able to examine what you’re dealing with. I think people found always interesting what is problematic in one way or another. As far as I can tell LLMs and the whole field of commercial AI are no different. Does this give you card blanche to not care about any and all concerns around this? No. Does this mean you can’t use those tools? I don’t know, I tend to think the answer is no here, too.

There are things that are tabus in society that you definitely, positively cannot find good and explore in the way I try to argue for here. You can’t try on “slavery” or “naziism” for size, for example. But LLMs are not a tabu. They are problematic, sure, but they are not the same thing as those societal tabus. They may become one, we’ll see. It follows that you may be interested in them as long as you stay mindful and open to what they may become. I would even say that it is important to stay engaged, because this also makes it possible to recognize what may be worth developing further.

I guess what I’m trying to argue for is: 1. LLMs are going to stick around. They may not fulfill their promise of becoming super intelligent conscious agents - which is pretty unlikely and in any case prohibitively expensive and ruinous to our planet - but they are here to stay in some form or fashion. 2. Being interested in and using LLMs - even in your day to day life - won’t change this, however it well give you a better idea of what LLMs are and what they can and can’t do in an experiential sort of way that will absolutely change your perception of them. It’s not wrong to be curious as long as you’re cautious and recognize that you can’t generalize your experience: You’re not doing publishable research, you’re finding out for yourself. 3. I find it MUCH more valuable to live in the uncomfortable truth that you as an “unpure” individual can only do so much, apart from being interested in what is going on and actually recognize and examine what makes existence so uncomfortable if you can’t change what’s happening, which is kind of contradictoriy. I want people to express this ambivalence and live in it, because most of us are simply unable to live purely for purity’s sake.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - Thoughts on "Manifesto for a Humane Web"

The developer Michelle Barker has published a very cool Manifesto for A Humane Web and I wanted to comment on it a little. I mostly wanted to point to some lines from Bruno Latour and his 2010 paper An Attempt at a “Compositionist” Manifesto and comment on their implication for the Humane Web Manifesto, as far as I am interested in it here:

I know full well that, just like the time of avant-gardes or that of the Great Frontier, the time of manifestos has long passed. Actually, it is the time of time that has passed: this strange idea of a vast army moving forward, preceded by the most daring innovators and thinkers, followed by a mass of slower and heavier crowds, while the rearguard of the most archaic, the most primitive, the most reactionary people trails behind[…]. During this recently defunct time of time, manifestos were like so many war cries intended to speed up the movement, ridicule the Philistines, castigate the reactionaries. This huge warlike narrative was predicated on the idea that the flow of time had one—and only one—inevitable and irreversible direction. The war waged by the avant-gardes would be won, no matter how many defeats they suffered. What this series of manifestos pointed to was the inevitable march of progress. So much so that these manifestos could be used like so many signposts to decide who was more “progressive” and who was more “reactionary.”

And even though I love this text for it is a pretty good one, I will stop quoting after one more passage:

And yet a manifesto might not be so useless at this point, making explicit (that is, manifest) a subtle but radical transformation in the definition of what it means to progress, that is, to process forward and meet new prospects. Not as a war cry for an avant-garde to move even further and faster ahead, but rather as a warning, a call to attention, so as to stop going further in the same way as before toward the future.

I think that this understanding of what a manifesto could be in our modern world fits nicely to the way the web is going and how to proceed: Carefully and facing the future. With taking precautions and slowly. With an eye for a more “ecologist” web, that is with an eye for dependencies and conditions that make up diversity. I think this is a great framing for the humane web, because the categories used to frame this manifesto make clear what is needed for society of the web to make it in the wilderness that is the internet: “accessible”, “inclusive”, “safe”, “secure”, “sustainable”, “reliable”, “resilient”, “transparent”, “independent”, “human-centred”.

I have some quibbles with some of the categories and especially coming from a Latourian actor-network perspective I find that using the term “society” (as in “Like a functioning society, we take what we need, and we contribute what we can. We are citizens of the web…") would need to be qualified a little to make sure that we understand ourselves as makers being made by the web - which just means that tools have agency, too and that we have to lengthen our gaze a little past what we would traditionally call society. There is more involved.

About those categories I will only note one more thing before trying to express what I would’ve like to see more of. This point is that instead of “independent” I would have chosen the word interdependent. And instead of “human-centred” I would have chosen “un-centered” or “distributed”. But let’s not get lost in the weeds.

I know that this manifesto is very much of its time and reacts to platformism, late capitalism and the threat of “Big AI”. But I think it is important to realize that the society of the web needs to be assembled slowly, carefully, facing the complexities ahead by remaking - I would say - what here & now means, by taking more time examining what lies before us.

Sounds nebolous? But questions like the following arise from this stance:

  • “How exactly are we going to think of a web society?”
  • “How can an individual take meaningful steps?”
  • “What does it mean to not filter out by categories, those who are “un-progressive” or “progressive with an asterisk” but to describe a prospective future?”
  • “What series of steps can be taken as an assembly of actors (a team, a company, a neighborhood)?”
  • “What is implied by the difference of being un/humane? Are those who are humane able to sustain themselves in any way? How? Can we separate them from the un-humane ones? How? Is this a stable difference? Who differentiates?”

I think the most understandable way I can put this - because I get annoyed by the way I have to express this as well, a little: If this manifesto and others like it that it links to point at something, is this something served by the playbook of exclusion/inclusion, sorting and filtering out? I imagine that whatever the humane web could be, it would express itself less in terms of framing out what it is not by underlining what it is, but by exploring what would make it possible to exist at all. What are the technologies, processes, organizational forms, ways of observing, tending to, maintaining, caring for and negotiating that could make a different web? This also implies what can stay - I assume the underwater cables, the http protocol can stay, CSS can stay, but what else? Do we know the web that is?

I’m all for binding those “How?“s I would have liked to hear more about to a higher order thinking, but I am not so interested to be sorted into good or bad by adhering to either all of the categories or none, without being told what is needed to even make one of these categories a real thing on a planetary scale (is that the goal?) and what is done to make it worth it to try for that.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - 100 Days To Offload Next?

I need more reasons to blog regularly. Can we have a WeblogPoMo every month? I have not been as engaged with my own blog in at least three months. It may not look like much, but I think that having an excuse to publish and work on the blog is awesome because the slight social pressure helps me build some momentum and get back to posting regularly. And then I noticed this sentence under “Inspiration” of the WeblogPoMo page:

I am also (selfishly) prepping myself to get back into a daily blogging habit so I can complete Kev Quirk’s 100 Days To Offload within the next year.

So what is 100 Day To Offload?

The whole point of #100DaysToOffload is to challenge you to publish 100 posts on your personal blog in a year.

I guess I know what I’m doing next.

#WeblogPoMo2024 Apple Music's Create Station Is Actually Pretty Good

I do not have great needs when it comes to my music streaming service:

  • I want (most) of the music that I know and love available to me
  • I want to be able to manage owned music and want it to integrate with the streaming offering
  • I want to be able to find new music that I actually like

I struggled especially with the last part until a few days ago, but I can now say, that picking a song I like at the moment and use the create station command is pretty good! It might be just my imagination, but I think that this generates better, more relevant song lists than using Autoplay when running out of music in a playlist, listening to the radio, or listening to their curated playlists (personalized or not). All of the other stuff doesn’t really work for me. But this does. So it may be worth a try.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - Overview

  • Last updated: 2024-05-14 - 21:32

More for me than anyone else: Here are my posts for the WeblogPoMo2024.

Total: 16 Posts

#WeblogPoMo2024 Feeling At Home In The Abstract (From Theory To Programming)

Why am I such bad photographer? Why do I not care about such things? Why am I so bad ad drawing? Why do I not have the patience for that? Why do I not try to create things that are trying to be optically pleasing? Why do I not create sculpture? Or handcrafts? Why am I not?

There are obvious answers. Talent would be one. Laziness an other. From the obvious ones, I like to think that I employ my creativity more and better in the abstract. Earlier in my life, I would have said that historical epistemology, sociological systems theory and actor-network theory would have been my playing fields. Nowadays it’s software architecture and software development. And I guess essayistic journaling. Ruminating on things, how they could fit. Thinking about thinking and writing about writing. It’s thinking and writing. But it’s not beautiful writing. If it’s that, it’s kind of accidental on purpose, maybe. But not in English. It’s mostly functional, because my voice won’t come out as easily in English as it does in German. Which is not even always a bad thing.

I sometimes long for being able to write about mundane things like how does it feel to live in a different country (notice, that I didn’t say Finland; I immediately went abstract abain…), for example? Or being in an international relationship, or whatever? I force myself to write about this stuff sometimes, because I want to preserve a kind of public record of the years I went through, but I ordinarily would write about more abstract things.

I do notice that a lot of my abstract thinking has either become private and found a place in my notes app, instead of my blog, or has become purely thinking because my life is so full of stuff and non-abstract life that I can’t indulge in this kind of stuff too much. But what am I even saying. Even if I don’t get to spend all of my time thinking about the act of writing-thinking in the abstract, my life is still full of the abstract: Because I’m a programmer and the act of programming is at its root a work of abstracting. This way of abstracting just feels much more concrete to me nowadays. It also doesn’t feel as explorative, because in the end I am supposed to abstract for money, meaning I am supposed to create, to produce really, business value with my work.

I recently learned an interesting thing about my inclination for abstraction: It wants to be explorative. I think I’m doing my best creative work, when I can look at a legacy body of work - this could be an abstract published text, or a legacy code base - and am allowed to take my time with said body of work. The notion of refactoring comes to mind: In programming this is defined as a behavior preserving code change. This enables the restructuring and renewing of legacy code bases. Something similar could maybe be claimed for often times unwieldy abstract texts, too. I am able to dissect them and reassemble them. So that I can explain them, use parts of them, recombine them, take parts of them and combine them with other parts from other texts and be innovative with them. At least for me I can do that pretty well. The opportunity to do anything with that “in the open” has kind of passed though. I do not envision myself publishing many papers about new aspects of actor-network theory, for example. I do envision myself using this muscle to become pretty good at thinking about the craft of programming, though. I am happy to say that I get payed for spending about 8 hours a day writing and thinking about code. Most of this is relatively mundane web development in a more or less proprietary legacy framework, but even then it lets me imagine and sometimes even actually do some applied creative abstract thinking.

And that’s awesome and interesting to me. And I want to become better at it, I want to do more of it and I want to be able to take on more responsibility so that I may contribute wider reaching solutions to this code base of ours, so that others can use and appreciate them. I feel in this way I am not, nor was I ever, that different from creatives that work within a less abstract medium.

A New Cross-Posting Workflow, Part 1: Requirements And Thoughts On Implementation

(2024-05-20 - EDIT: I have decided, that I do not have enough time to devote to this project at this time, however I would really like it and it was good to think this through for when I am able to pick it up)

You know what I don’t like about my blog? The way it crossposts to other services. Micro.blog’s understanding of cross-posting is as follows:

Micro.blog cross-posting copies your posts from this feed to external services automatically when you post to your blog.

Which is not what I want. I would like it to work more in this way:

  • Blog posts (with our without title) should be shared automatically on my Mastodon account with a proper link, maybe an applicable hashtag. But it should be clear that I’m sharing a blog post, which is not the same as writing a toot and that difference shouldn’t therefore be invisible by just tooting the same content 1:1 as I posted on my blog
  • An exception are the DailyDogos and other posts like it (not that there are any at the moment…). These should be shared with the image attached. Maybe there is not even a need for the link, but it would be fine if it would be there
  • When I’m writing a toot, I’d like my blog to archive a copy of that toot. The archived version should include images, links and whathaveyou.

So basically there are two workflows with a couple of conditionals I would like to implement:

  • Cross-Post all blog posts from my micro.blog to my mastodon (excluding posts that are archival copies of mastodon posts; denoted by being part of the category “archivalCopyOfToot”)
    • if the post has a title, use the title to create a link to the post and add any applicable hashtags by converting the assigned categories of said blog post to the toot
    • if the post has no title
      • if the post has category of “tootAsIs”
        • add any images to the toot and post the contents of the blog post as is to mastodon (maybe add a link to the original on my blog)
      • if the post has no category of “tootAsIs”
        • add a short (80 Chars and up to the next full word maybe?) excerpt and otherwise behave like a titled post

I happen to have an Echofeed account, which is part of the solution. I can point it at an RSS/JSON/Atom-Feed and it will post in a format I can specify to any of its supported services, which includes Mastodon and Micro.blog. It doesn’t have any conditional logic, though, so I will have to provide it with feeds that only include posts that I want it to cross post.

On the micro.blog side, this is maybe not trivial, but at least is possible, since micro.blog uses Hugo and you can - if you know how - customize it quite a bit. I’ll need three feeds:

  • A feed with only title posts, excluding any posts with the category “archivalCopyOfToot”
  • A feed with only non-title posts, including only those of “tootAsIs” (and excluding any from the category “archivalCopyOfToot”)
  • A feed with only non-title, excluding any of “tootAsIs” AND “archivalCopyOfToot”

I would then set up three echos that cross post to mastodon in the right way.

Mastodon on the other hand has a feed of my posts too, but it’s much more limited and creating new custom feeds that filter posts based on e.g. a hashtag are not possible, I believe. This means that we can’t filter for cross-posted blog posts and will necessarily import those items to our blog, too. I would really like to avoid having to run my own script - locally or on a server - talking to their api or whatever, so I think I’ll will have to live with the fact these duplicated posts will be crossposted back to my blog…

What I can do is filter these posts out on the micro.blog side. Meaning posts that include a certain Hashtag like “crossPostByEchoFeed” (this could even be added inside Echofeed for the workflow that posts from Mastodon to MB and could be invisible to Mastodon followers) need to be excluded from the homepage, archive and any feeds of my blog (hashtags can be converted to categories using filters on micro.blog, so if I figure out how to filter by one or more categories in Hugo’s template syntax, I should be fine implementing this). In that way they will be part of the blog, but they will not pollute the reading experience.

So yes. I have to set up some feeds and some logic to make undesired toots invisible but then I should be able to get what I want without the need to setup any scripts run by me.

#WeblogPoMo2024 - Starting late doesn't mean not doing the thing

So I guess I’m doing the #WeblogPoMo2024 after all. It’s a monthlong blogging challenge with the idea of posting every day for the month of May. From @anniegreens, the initiator of the idea:

Probably obvious from the name: this is a one-month blogging challenge! It will start May 1, 2024, and end May 31, 2024. You will post as much as you can, ideally daily, but we all have lives, so go easy on yourself. This is meant to be fun!

If you’re curious, There is a participators list for the people who joined, like grown-ups on or before the first. I personally got inspired to participate because @robb posts cool things on his blog, and I want to post “cool, very much me” things, too.

I plan to publish 31 real posts (with a title and everything!) this month, and we’ll see if this works or not. They don’t need to be long, but they shouldn’t be just a mastodon toot. I also plan on revamping my cross-posting flow and using mastodon and micro.blog a little bit more reader-friendly (meaning: less cross-posting of content without clear differentiation of where to follow and why, but I’ll leave that for another post…)