Monday, January 22, 2018

Scientific Snowflakes?

The Government is back in session. However The Scientist notes, or shall we say bemoans:

Nature spoke with crop researcher Chad Hayes at the US Department of Agriculture whose travel to Mexico today—timed to coincide with a brief window of sorghum pollination—could be disrupted, along with a year’s worth of work. According to Vox, half of the Department of Health and Human Services staff will not work during the shutdown. That means that, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will continue to monitor this year’s high flu activity, reports might take on a sluggish pace. “Under a shutdown, CDC’s capacity to track and respond to disease outbreaks will be impacted,” a CDC spokesperson tells Buzzfeed News. “Flu surveillance, for example, will continue to collect data being reported by states, hospitals, etc. However, our staff resources are limited, which means it will take longer to review, analyze, and report out information needed for public health action.”

You can't make this up! CDC closing? Hardly. It was at most a day off! Sorghum pollination? You miss a day of pollination and the world comes to an end! Guys, I spent all June, July, and August crossing plants. Have done it for three decades! Don't get paid! Is there some personal satisfaction in participating in sorghum pollination?

This is why we need some careful attention to our tax dollars and what they are spent for!

AI, the Industrial Revolution and What Else?

A Professor wrote a piece in Project Syndicate. First I find the name a bit humorous since from New York we always assume a Syndicate is some Mafia like organization. So much for names.

The Professor tries to relate the AI revolution, whatever that is, to the Industrial Revolution. He states:

The elimination of countless cognitive tasks has alarming implications for the future. Just as the Industrial Revolution made most humans physically weaker, the AI revolution will make us collectively duller. In addition to flabby waistlines, we will have flabby minds. It’s not the economy, stupid; it’s the stupid economy. Already, central banks are urgently exploring new ways to dumb down their statements for an increasingly unsophisticated public. Mass stupidity will be driven by technology. But, as with the cult of physical fitness that took hold during the Industrial Revolution, a new industry of intelligence training will likely emerge to counter mental deterioration. Listening to someone constructing a logically articulated argument will become an exclusive source of aesthetic pleasure and distinction. “Difficult” works of literature or visual arts will become an ever more attractive form of conspicuous consumption. And yet something about this seems deeply unpleasant. It is bad enough to listen to people boast about their physical fitness. But braggadocio about superior intellect will be far worse. The need to prove oneself as a lasting relic of the old human supremacy will threaten not just the common good, but also our common humanity.

He basically relates that the Industrial Revolution led to Obesity and that the AI revolution will result in stupidity. 

First, just what is this AI revolution. The Industrial Revolution was the replacement of machines for human work. Thus a engine driven plow replaced the horse drawn implement. Men could do more, eat more, and get fat. In contrast he argues I believe that the AI revolution is that men, women too, will have to think less and get stupid. Now I find that difficult logic to follow. Obesity is a class issue more than a labor issue. Before the Industrial Revolution the wealth were often obese as a showing of their wealth. Then after the Industrial Revolution the wealth class was thin showing their self control. Thus will the same happen here? But the working class is not that smart to begin with and one wonders how more stupid they will become. The wealthy are not that smart as well, thus what will be the change. Again it comes back to the issue of; what is AI?

AI is simply a way to replace some machine function, possibly facilitated by human intervention, to an algorithm that when combined with a machine completes the same function. Thus AI in a simple manner replaced the telephone operator. Not very well I may add. The speech recognition is awful, the logic behind it is infantile, and the replacement is globally despised! I hazard to guess that an Industrial Revolution Replacement was less despised.

Take AI as espoused by IBM, the Watson thing. First as best I can understand no one really understands this. Is it just a marketing hype by a dying company? Is is real, does it work? I dread it ever going into the medical field. There may be a great many corpses before it can act as a First Year Med student.

So again, what is AI? It is simply a set of computer code that may have the possibility to adapt and "learn" Learn how? By mistakes. That is the way these systems work.

So will the AI Revolution lead to stupidity, more stupidity than there already is? Ride the Broadway Local, no one is reading a book or newspaper anymore. The train has no trash. That is good, but people are staring and clicking away telling their life story to the world. But such voices will be lost in the ether. They are no longer conversations at the Agora, interactions in the market, but just snarls and come backs that lead no where. Is this more stupidity? Not likely.

So is this Professor correct. Hardly. The Industrial Revolution was not a singular event. It has been happening throughout history. Rome lost its slaves, the Medieval Kingdoms lost their serfs, England gained its machines, so are we losing our brains? Again hardly.

Mothers - The Other Kind

I was reading a NY Times piece, as usual, criticizing Trump[1]. It does get a bit long in the tooth but alas one must be patient with those of such limited resources. Then, add to this, the BBC has a discussion on le Carre's descriptives of MI6, the equivalent, if one stretches it, of the CIA[2]. The BBC notes the terms for Americans as:

Mothers – the typists and secretaries for senior MI6 officials.

Now Mothers in MI6 were a bit more than just that. You see, the Brits knew very well that operatives were often childlike, demanding, and ego driven, yet wanting for care and attention, and even more so control. Thus, one did not need an "office wife", as the NY Times so aptly asserts, but Mothers. The "hand that rocks the cradle" and all that stuff you know. One must have spent a bit of time in the land of the Queen to best understand just how this works. One does not need or want an "office wife", yet many of these folks need a "mother". A "mother" in this context has power, authority, respect, and can effect things that otherwise would just run amok. Mothers can over-rule, mothers can direct and govern, mothers are the Type A controls for a Type A personality. Furthermore, "mothers" are those points at which remediation of mess-ups can be attained. If there is a problem at a higher level, the lower level folks can go to "mother" to get things back aright again. You see, "mothers" are essential to the balancing act of complex organizations.

A few Presidents had "mothers". Just a few. Mothers are powerful figures, especially in an MI6 environment, dotted with Oxbridge boys, a very class based society, smart but with a bit of arrogance. Unlike our CIA which has become at times more akin the Department of Agriculture than a want to be MI6 as it was in the le Carre times.

Did the CIA ever have its mothers? Not really, too un-American as the old boys would say. I also fear that too many American Presidents had let us say relationships that were anything but "motherly". Let us then leave the Kennedy, Clinton and others not to be mentioned. Yet, I do recall how my Russian partners would spark up when we had a problem and I told them to speak with "mother". They not only understood, but smiled because they clearly knew that "mother" would solve it for them. I thus often wondered if in Le Carre's world the KGB had its own version of "mothers", for it appeared as if they did.

Thus, perhaps instead of a "House Wife", as the Times suggests, what is really needed is a "House Mother", that stable hand to rock the unstable cradle.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

1709 Failed

I have an older laptop that was upgraded to Windows 10 from W7. The last upgrade, 1709, failed. I paid not attention since it is a spare system and updates to the new releases usually mess up a few dozen things anyhow. That is Microsoft. But have a few spare moments I went to see if I could remedy the problem. Solution, just go to Google, NEVER and I mean NEVER go to Microsoft. There on Google I found thousands of people with the same problem.

Then, Microsoft has some "Engineer" telling folks how to remedy this. The best part of the response was:

Method 4:
  1. Open registry editor by running regedit.exe
  2. Back up the registry first before making changes to it
  3. Navigate to HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager
  4. Check if PendingFileRenameOperations exists under the Session Manager key
  5. If it exists, please remove it
  6. Restart computer and check if issue persists
If the issue persists,  please follow the steps below and send the CBS log to the e-mail address in private message.
  1. Rename the CBS.log(%systemroot%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log) to CBS.old
  2. Manually update the computer again and restart computer if needed
  3. Send the new generated CBS.log.
If anything is unclear, please feel free to let me know.

 Now for those of you who would dare to change a Registry, let me tell you, it is the holy of holies in Windows OS. It is where Microsoft places millions of landmines. Make one small change and not all others required and CRASH! Yep, down goes the machine and unrecoverable.

So my question is: where is the Class Action suit lawyers in this case. It has likely taken more productivity from our economy than anything Congress could screw up! 

If Microsoft were a real company in a competitive market they would not last a femto second. They would have to remedy this. But alas, we all know where this is going. No where. Pity!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Video on Demand, Home Shopping

The above was a brief clip of the Warner Cable TIES system of two way video on demand in 1982! Compare to Amazon.

Corporate Culture

The Wall Street Journal had a piece called Of Furies and Fascism at Google[1] In this piece they discuss a pending suit regarding termination of an employee who allegedly used the internal company communications system to express his opinion regarding certain employment practices. For that he was allegedly terminated. The article then notes:

Some predict Google will quickly settle to avoid discovery of more emails and postings, including from top management. What seems worse, from a public-relations perspective, is a culture inveterately hostile to the liberal principle “I may disagree with what you say but defend your right to say it.” This can’t be good in a business whose mission is to organize the world’s information. Messrs. Brin, Page and Pichai likely feel a tad helpless. The U.S. legal system imposes a need to be race-aware, gender-aware, etc.—to require quotas in all but name, since quotas are illegal. Google simultaneously faces lawsuits and regulatory investigations directed at its alleged shortchanging of women on pay and promotions. Its internal mood may also partly be a victim of self-esteem run amok. It’s a wonder many Googlers don’t worship Donald Trump —he also can’t tolerate to be disagreed with. A good, old-fashioned Presbyterian horror of self-righteousness, once a feature of American life, is nowhere to be seen. Part of growing up is learning to live with your emotions; today’s shortcut is to believe whatever your feelings are, they’re justified. Humanity never met a dictator or demagogue who said, “I’m a bad person. I want to do bad things.” The worst among us always feel justified.

Google apparently suffers from a common ailment; Corporate Culture. Companies get personalities and cultures as they mature. IBM had the IBM salesman, the man in the single color suit with white shirt, simple tie and a hat. You "trusted" this person to deliver your computer solution for which you paid an enormous price. The Watsons had THINK signs everywhere yet that oftentimes was the last thing an IBMer was expected to do. You were in my experience and in my opinion expected to sell the company line and the company products and services. Google started with "Don't be evil"[2]. They tried to position themselves as the good guys. Perhaps a result similar to IBM. In fact the Code as referred by the Washington Post states:

“Employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries and controlled affiliates (‘Alphabet’) should do the right thing — follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect,” Alphabet’s code of conduct reads. And: “We expect all of our employees and Board members to know and follow this Code of Conduct. Failure to do so can result in disciplinary action, including termination of employment. Any waivers of this Code for directors or executive officers must be approved by our Board.”

Corporate culture evolves but it builds on the DNA of the company from which it started. In the Google case they hired what they saw as the "best" of the "best". The hired from a pool of millennials who were already predispositioned to see themselves as "special" and going to Google then made them the "most special". They were paid handsomely but given where they lived the cost of existence made the compensation modest at best. The best was some big win in a startup, perhaps. Thus one gets a collection of company DNA from this select group of "specials" along with the group think of a political mindset that as "specials" everyone else was not just mundane but effectively illiterate.

Moreover there were no role models. It was not like a Lockheed Skunk Works where a new employee could look towards "Kelly" Johnson as a role model. There was no hierarchy. The employees saw themselves generating what they did as if they were the first and only people to have conceived of and implemented what they produced. They were Googlers, like any group of synchronized thinkers, they could see the world through their own prism. Lacking "adult leadership", adults who themselves had demonstrated creative competence as well as leadership, a culture evolved, a culture more reflective of millennial values than any other.

Corporate culture is a critical element in the long term success or failure of a company. That culture must support and nurture a corporate identity to the outside, it must enable a trust in the company and its offerings, it must embody the processes for a successful evolution of the company. Corporate culture also evolves to meet the challenges of a changing world and customer base. Failures of corporate cultures not so responding litter the landscape. Take GE, a company bred in the industrial 19th century, peaking in the mid to let 20th century and today appearing as a corporate dinosaur with no identity. Its culture mired in the past. IBM is a similar example, a company selling massively expensive almost one of a kind systems with obscenely expensive "support" then moving into a business based on consultancy and now attempting to market an erstwhile AI talking box.

For Google, Facebook and the Silicon Valley crowd of fast buck players, the time scales they may face are not a century long but more likely decades or even less. In a high tech environment change can occur suddenly. In the case of Google, their search engine is a valuable but fungible asset, supported by the advertising linked to the searches. In addition, the search engine provides massive marketing data which enhances the advertising revenue source. Thus a simple feedback. As long as the user trusts Google, then they, Google, will continue to have the "eyeballs" that can be monetized, unless the advertisers find that there is some form of disintermediation from a competing third party. Let me give an example. Half of what I use Google for, or even substantially more, is searching for technical papers. Semantic Scholar, one of Allen's entities, does a wonderful job. It is a tool, a focused and valuable tool, currently devoid of advertising. Thus in that past year my Google time has dropped dramatically. Take Facebook, I may have been a early adopter but I was also an early leaver. Why? Simple, too many people just saying stuff and linking me to it. I really did not want some friend's friend bemoaning their love life or lost cat. In contrast Research Gate is a vehicle to get my draft ideas out there, well more effective than just a web site. Thus there is highly focused disintermediation already in place.

How does corporate culture react to disintermediation? Let not use the in term, "disrupter", a termed most likely coined in the Valley. One does not disrupt, one gets in between, one can create and efficient "appliance". Instead of having an all in one kitchen appliance, one gets an attractive and highly effective "toaster" or "coffee maker".

Corporate cultures evolve as we noted. But the process whereby they are formed and then evolve is critical. The Google corporate culture is interesting in that the company went from a small entity in the late 1990s to a massive institution in the current time. But it did so in an environment for which there was no model to build on. Google type business did not exist, it was being invented on the fly. Compare this to Amazon. Amazon built a business where the difference was the introduction of an electronic marketing and distribution channel. But a channel that was displacing a physical one such as shopping malls. Thus it was well know what had to be done, albeit now electronically. Thus the corporate culture of an Amazon was delivering quality goods to the customer. Here we use quality as the amalgam of value, that is competitive prices, and trust, which means if you don't like it you can return it. That Amazon quality metric was what allowed it to work. It was aided also by the degradation of physical shopping. In even the best shopping malls the staff was rude, incompetent, low paid, and at best they were there to catch a shoplifter not service the customer. Amazon was helped by the degradation of customer service in what should have been their competition.

There are several questions worth examining:

1. How does one identify corporate culture? What are its characteristics? What types of corporate culture are there?

All of these are characterization questions. It is almost Aristotelian in nature to characterize or categorize culture in this manner[3]. The identification of a corporate culture is one thing and its categorization is another. One may ask if a culture of Type A is of that type because of a set of characteristics. What then are these characteristics.

2. What exogeneous factors form a corporate culture? Is it the time, the place, the people, the business, the competition? Perhaps all of these elements. Is there a west coast culture, versus say an east coast culture?

It seems clear that Silicon Valley has its own culture. However fifty years ago when it was all defense related the culture was dramatically different. It was the same place but different work, workers, and of course time. Is time the dominant factor or the change from Defense to software. Even twenty five years ago it was more hard core technology. With both hard core technology one had to have different corporate characteristics. Technical people needed experience, competence, and coordination. RF engineering for example was not easily learned and even less easily transformed to embodiments. Customers were few, many Government entities so building relationships was key. In a Google one could say they have no real nexus with their customers, there are so many and each contributes a miniscule amount.

3. Who is the formative agent for a corporate culture? Is the founder(s) the prime mover for culture? If not then is it from within or from without?

In a company like Tesla one can see Musk as an influencer on culture. In Apple it was Jobs, and unlikely Cook took his place. In Google? Good question. It may briefly have been the founders, but they were very technical and the investors brought in the "resident" adult as Chairman but he was less a manager than a "front" for the marketing of the company to investors. Currently Google has a CEO whose background reflects a rather interesting mix, just what would require a detailed study. But in Google as the WSJ article notes, the culture may be formed in a different way, namely like that in Golding's book, Lord of the Flies. Let us examine that for a moment.

In Lord of the Flies a group of young English school boys are being evacuated during the war, not specified, and their escape aircraft crashes and they end up on a island, with no other inhabitants. They are all young, all somewhat privileged, and all lacking in any skills in terms of dealing with groups. They are after all English school boys, public school boys. Two f them, Ralph and Piggy find a conch, and then the tale takes off. It details how groups and culture are formed, in this case a culture built on the Lord of the Flies, a pseudonym for the Devil. Several of the young students are murdered at the hands of the others, they do not fit within the "culture". The end of the tale is the arrival of the adults, a Naval vessel to rescue the children. The savages, as their culture has turned them into, somehow under an adult revert to the school boys again. The Captain of the ship, now in control, looks at his battered ship in a recognition that the adult culture has similar savage behavior. New culture subsumed into old culture.

Now let us look at Golding and Lord of the Flies as a possible paradigm for the Silicon Valley cultures. In a sense it is a paradigm worth examining regarding corporate culture where the group is homogeneous, lacking maturity, somewhat isolated, and totally unhinged from any underlying ethical framework. Like Silicon Valley with tons of VC cash, lots of millennial youngsters all told how smart they are. Success is not curing cancer, solving poverty, or the like, success is achieving the most return in the shortest period of time with the minimal amount of know how. Coders are the typists of the 21st century. They do what they are told by the system architects, albeit cleverly and efficiently, hopefully.

Where the true problem will arise, however, is in the development of AI, where opinions which define the culture are made as part of the IF, THEN, ELSE statements in the new AI culture. If one sees Lord of the Flies in the Valley human culture, what then does one expect to see in this AI culture. It must be remembered that humans both age and die off. Thus the millennials are not here forever. Yet the AI bots and their off-spring may readily carry forth this culture in those elements of the AI choices that are made. We have people placing their judgements and values into AI statements. Do we stop for the little puppy, or just run it over and crush it like Piggy! Those value statements can become an integral part of the AI world. If we have any concern about the people and their human culture and its values perhaps then we should feel terrified about the AI culture they may leave behind!

Thus the question on the table is simple: is there a role for Government in regards to these dominant players? Is Antitrust law applicable? Some thirty years ago I studied in details the implications of antitrust on the information industry at the time. I argued that information, defined broadly, had the value in the food chain and little value was relegated to actual transport no matter how it evolved. Earlier I had developed an electronic marketing and distribution channel over CATV. Our model was more Ali Baba than Amazon, or at least as Amazon was. Yet we integrated information with transactions. It was a Google plus Amazon, thus its name; TIES or Transaction, Information, Entertainment Services. Great idea just twenty to thirty years too early! This teaches one that nothing is really new, just better timed.

[3] Aristotle's Categories are: Substance, Quality, Quantity, Relation, Time, Place, Position, Having, Action, And Passion. We could however take an Ockhamist view and minimize these to two.