Reading03: The Old Master Painter

While Paul Graham and Steven Levy’s definitions of a hacker share some similarities, there are a few key differences. Graham focuses on the idea of making something beautiful, normally related to software. This focus is very reliant on the idea that not all people who code are hackers, but that hackers are trying to do interesting things with code. In these components Graham and Levy have very similar definitions, however, there is a key difference. Graham’s hackers are trying to make something beautiful while Levy’s tend to write code simply for the sake of making code. Graham describes computers as simply the medium with which hackers work, while Levy talks about loving and totally understanding a computer. Graham describes the hacker as more of a maker or an artist, while Levy’s almost seem like mad scientists. I personally like the way Graham describes a hacker. I am much more interested in creating something with code, then in simply writing code. To make beautiful code is to make beautiful things with code. To stretch Graham’s analogy to painters, not only do painters care very little about the paint chemistry, they aren’t trying to make brush strokes for the sake of brush strokes, they are making something in the end. Making is central to Graham’s description of a hacker, as he likens them more toward writers and painters than mathematicians. This is also much more appealing to me than simply being a hacker for hackers sake. My favorite part of programming is having something interesting and beautiful that I have made at the end. I am extremely interested in using programming to create games and graphics and sounds and more. I like the idea of being a maker much more than being a hacker as Levy describes it. Another difference is that Levy focuses on money not being a part of hacking, but Graham embraces money. While he says that people should write beautiful code in their own time he also says that they should have a day job, similar to musicians. This is a very big divergence from Levy’s hackers who would hack all day everyday to the detriment of most other things. I feel like Graham speaks to me more in my love of making things, such as animations or games, more than to my making of things like web servers or search engines. The relentlessness he describes makes me excited to work on projects in animation, to put in long hours on little things that most people wouldn’t even notice, but I would know was right. While Levy’s hackers didn’t really appeal to me, I feel like Graham’s hackers are much more approachable and admirable. He puts an emphasis on being like artists, but also having a day job. Just because you are relentless in your chosen art doesn’t mean that you have to let your life fall to ruin around you. I also love the idea of making programming cool. Like the last line says we are the people who can make things that will convince the world that hacking is cool, like Da Vinci convinced the world that painting was cool.

Reading02: The Game Has Changed

Even more than previous generations of hackers, the game hackers were focused on making money. As more people gained access to personal computers more and more companies began to emerge which built software for these new machines, especially games. There was some pushback from the original hackers who looked down on people who only used computers and software written and built by other people. They felt it was an attack and threat to the hacker ethic. While I understand the basis for these arguments, people who did not understand or appreciate computers in the same way as the original hackers were beginning to influence the word of computers, I disagree with their negativity. Game hackers allowed not only people to make money working with computers, they also were able to spread a love of computers and an appreciation, though a different type of appreciation, to vastly more people. The original hackers were a highly niche group that had a large amount of prestige. They were people who went to some of the greatest universities in the world and had access to computers that no average person would ever see let alone own. Game hackers not only focused on many people who were new to computers, they made it more enjoyable and exciting for the average person. Most people are not interested in starting with code and maybe getting an interesting outcome. Game hackers allowed people to begin to see what was possible with computers and also think about what may be possible. Most people would probably be happy simply playing the games, but many people who were introduced to computers through games would go on to become some of the visionaries of the future. Therefore I see the spread of computers and the degradation of the hacker ethic as a good thing.

 

The hacker ethic was not totally dead though. In places like Summer Camp, a lot of the same principles as the hacker ethic were being expressed while people were also making money. Though that to eventually became totally driven by money and business it never lost its innovation or its underlying culture. A lot of the same culture is seen alive in silicon valley today.

 

I also have a soft spot for the game hackers because they brought about some of my favorite aspects of the computer age. Because of people like the Williams or John Harris video games and computer graphics became wide spread and what they are today. The people who made the original Tron film were not following any preset plan, they were hackers and they created a whole new method of film and world inside the mainframe. These people have had more of an impact on our society then maybe anyone else in the last fifty years. I think the game hackers are the most inspirational group we have talked about yet.

Reading01: For the Love of Money

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am not a big supporter of the hacker ethic, I believe to be widely implemented it would need major overhaul. It would need to emphasize the people rather than the computers. That being said there are of course good components of the hacker ethic. The desire to strive for the best, to innovate, and to fail are all great components of the hacker ethic. Things that everyone can learn from and embrace to better themselves academically, professionally, and personally. For these reasons I feel that the hacker ethic should definitely be spread wider, but with an emphasis on improvement not on obsession. What the hardware hackers did well as they spread the hacker ethic to a wider audience was they provided an incentive. The hacker ethic was flawed in that it assumed everyone had the privilege of being able to program and hack all day every day with little consideration for the rest of their lives and for no compensation. What the hardware hackers did was show the world that you could adapt a version of the hacker ethic, a better version of the hacker ethic, and make a living doing it. While the “True Hackers” resented the hardware hackers, because they saw the hardware hackers as sellouts, this however to me is unfair. While some were disparaged for working for the department of defense or for simply making their own companies and trying to profit off of their understanding and knowledge, they were popularizing and improving computers and technology much faster than some people sitting in a room at MIT were able to do, no matter how highly they thought of themselves. With money earned by selling their computers or software or what have you, these hardware hackers and entrepreneurs were able to make money and using that money perform more better innovations than in the past. During Justin’s presentation on Thursday he talked about how there were many small boards available for cheap prices so that a person would be able to learn how to create hacks or discover things on their own. The use of these boards and their wide spread has given more people than ever access to the hardware necessary to learn and embrace parts of the hacker ethic. This was only possible because the company was able to make a profit off of these chips. They were able to research and develop cheap ways to make chips there by popularizing the ability to be “true hackers” even if it is merely a version of what it used to be.

 

As I said at the beginning, I have never been the biggest fan of the hacker ethic, because of its many failings in my opinion, but I still appreciate and am inspired by other parts of the ethic. It is these parts of the ethic, the hard work, innovation, and meritocracy that I think are more able to come through when hardware and software are monetized. They allow wider exposure and therefore more innovation. It also drops many of the less savory parts of the ethic. In other words, not only do I think it is worth it to compromise some of the ideals of the hacker ethic in order to spread, I think it is a good idea.

Reading 00: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

A “True Hacker” is someone who lives and breaths programming. They eat, sleep, and breath programming. At one point in the book a true hacker is described as someone who can ignore such minor conveniences as sleep. A true hacker is someone who does not have time for anything aside from programming, everything else is a distraction. To me this seems to be an extremely dangerous mindset. The idea that there should be thirty hour days, “days” (in quotations because it is more than an actual day) where a true programmer would code for the entire time and ignore everything else. To not get the proper amount of sleep has been shown to be very unhealthy both for the physical body as well as for a person’s mind. Personally I can not imagine there being anything that I would enjoy doing so much that I would ignore all other facets of my life in order to pursue. I believe in the idea of living a balanced life. This extends beyond just a good work life balance, though that is a part of it. I feel a well balanced life, while different for everyone, would include time spent socializing and time spend relaxing and time spent working. There should also be time to take care of yourself, whether that be eating or washing yourself or sleeping, we are not machines and we require rest. I believe that a person would get worn down extremely quickly if they spent no time taking care of themselves and relaxing. I also feel that to encourage this behavior through peer pressure, by calling everyone who was not a “true hacker” a loser, is also an extremely unhealthy environment.

As I said earlier I believe everyone’s balance is different. Some people need more time to themselves each day, while others are more social. In a similar way, some people can work for hours and hours while maintaining the same level of productiveness, while others are more like sprinters and have a periods of extreme productiveness with time when they are much less productive worked in. All of this depends on the individual, thus for someone to tell another, “if you aren’t spending all your waking time trying to program or make new things you’re a loser,” is both unfair and unhealthy. Everyone is different. Take Margaret Hamilton for example. She would never have been accepted by the “true hackers” for a number of reasons. She had a family that she cared for, she had a life outside of programming, etc. Yet her schedule and practice worked for her and she became the lead of the team that wrote the computer programs that put humans on the moon. No one could ever say that Margaret Hamilton was unsuccessful in her life, however, because she was not a “true hacker” the group at MIT would have looked down on her.

I realize how hypocritical it may sound that I begin this post by saying that I think the lifestyle of a “true hacker” is extremely unhealthy, then proceed to say that everyone should find their own limits and not try to tell others theirs. My point is that I believe for me and for most people the life of a “true hacker” is not only a poor goal, it is also an unhealthy lifestyle choice. The lifestyle may work for some but even then, I feel that these people may be missing important parts of life by trying to achieve some unreachable and really unnecessary pedestal of the “true hacker.”

Reading14:School’s Out

I do not feel that coding is the new literacy, but that does not mean that computer science education is at a proper level in the United States. I feel what should be emphasized, especially in younger years, is not learning a programing language itself, as one of the articles says, they change extremely quickly and just learning how to use a programing language would not be overly helpful. What is more important is learning the computational thinking described in the Mother Jones article. Learning how to think in a computational manner will allow those who are interested in the subject a better foundation on which to build when they actually begin to learn programing languages. For the other students, computational thinking will allow them to learn to better use the tools at their disposal. Take a business major at Notre Dame, do they really need to know how to program the actual application of excel. However if they are able to learn computational thinking, they will be able to use excel to its maximum. This is the same for the future. Most people will not have to actually code the programs that they will be using, someone else will have built an interface and the user can simply maximize their use by better understanding how to ask the computer to complete a task. This idea also works for when people want to work in a team and are trying to develop an app, if they are able to frame the problem in a way that actual programers and better relate into code, the process will run much more smoothly. Therefore, even though everyone shouldn’t be forced to learn a programming language like its reading and writing, they should learn to understand how a computer thinks so that they are able to better take advantage of the tools they have. People that argue that programming should be taught to all focus on the pervasiveness of computers in business and the economy today and assume that the average person will have to interact with them. While this is true, the average person will not have to interact with computers at a code level, instead they will be able to work through a GUI that has been designed to best use the program by programmers.

If CS4ALL continues to push forward as it is right now, schools will face the problem of finding enough qualified teachers to meet the amount of programming that people are trying to have taught. Many of these teachers go into industry after they gain enough experience coding, but even if every school in the country had a qualified computer science teacher, by no means a given especially due to the lack of proper resources to train these teachers, that would still not be enough to have every child have a computer science teacher in every year. Ideally to me computer science would be a required elective taken in addition to core subject areas, and it would focus on computational thinking. Even if programming ability will not be even by the end of a class, I believe that has more to do with interest than any genetic advantage. Some people are just more interested in the types of problems that are involved in computer science. SO while everyone theoretically could earn to code not everyone should learn to code, as I described above, it will not be needed that everyone can code, instead what will be needed is that everyone understand how computers work and think.

Reading13:Another Brick in the Wall

A patent is a way to own intellectual property, in other words it is a proof of ownership of an idea, concept, piece of art, or similar such work. Patents are a method of owning an idea with the goal being the inventor or creator of that piece of intellectual property is able to benefit from it, thereby incentivizing the person to sharing this intellectual property for the betterment of society. Imagine if someone were to invent a better method of plowing roads, but because they fear their inability to profit from this invention, they do not sell in to anyone and instead the old method is still used, this could lead to traffic jams and car crashes that could have been avoidable if the inventor were incentivized to share their intellectual property. That is the point of patents. A patent says that the person who invented the new way to clear roads of snow, if they get a patent on the invention, will then be able to be the sole owner of this invention for a number of years, this will also stop people from trying to steal others ideas for their own profit. For this reason I feel the theory of patents are a good idea. They incentivize innovation, punish idea theft, reward sharing intellectual property, and contribute to the public good generally. I feel like patents really do help society. If there were no patents, companies would simply steal inventions from one another and so they would then be less likely to share those inventions in the first place, especially smaller companies. If a smaller company came up with an invention and no patents existed, a bigger company could simply steal the inventions make it cheaper and then drive the smaller company out of business. While this could still happen in other ways, patents provide at least a little protection for inventors and creators. Patents on software makes sense to me. Software can be invented, revolutionized, improved, and marketed just like physical inventions and hardware. So for the same reasons patents are theoretically good for physical ideas, they are also good for software intellectual property. The existence of patent trolls show that the system is working but flawed. This flaw also does not have an easy solution. Patent trolls are taking advantage of necessary parts of the patent system. These patent trolls are focussing on the buying and selling of patents. While at first it may not make sense to be able to buy or sell patents, it is actually a great way for companies to continue to innovate. If a company comes up with a patent to actually enforce the patent they have to be constantly monitoring all similar uses and devices, trying to see if anyone is stealing the patent. That requires a large number of employees and a lot of time. If this hypothetical company is able to sell their patent to a company who specializes in the protection of patents, they are able to make money from the patent and the patent is able to be protected. However, patent trolls are not trying to protect patents of other people and still allow innovation, they are simply attempting to maximize how much money they are able to make off of each patent. I am not sure what the solution to patent trolls is, but I hope it is not the elimination of patents, because I feel patents can be great in supporting innovation.

Reading12: Don’t Fear the Reaper

The first time I ever considered the ethical concerns of self driving cars was as a direct result of the British television show, Top Gear. In this particular episode one of the presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, brings up an issue. “What should a self driving car do if it physically can’t stop, run into the back of the car in front of it, killing the passengers in the car, or swerve into a crowd of people on the sidewalk.” Clarkson’s question is in essence asking about one of the main ethical concerns of the implementation of self driving cars, the Trolley Problem. The problem goes, there is a trolley out of control rushing down the path and if it is allowed to continue as is, a group of people will be killed; however, if you switch the tracks the trolley will instead only hit a single person who is on the other track. The question is one that has been considered heavily and, despite questions about the applicability to self driving cars by people such as Ian Bogost, will continue to be discussed. This question and others like it will continue to be asked as self driving cars are further developed and tested, especially on public roads. The reasons behind developing self driving automobile technology is understandable even with these concerns. Thousands of people die as a result of automobile accidents every year and of these accidents, ninety percent are as a result of human mistakes. Therefore, theoretically if human error was eliminated the number of automobile related deaths would drop drastically. This would have a particularly large impact on the shipping industry. There are thousands of truck drivers currently on the road, transportation is one of the biggest industries in the United States, however it is also extremely dangerous. Many of these drivers are promised bonuses if they get their loads to their destinations faster so they tend to speed, not sleep as much as they should, and drive in dangerous conditions. For example there was a big snow storm on the east coast last week Pennsylvania and Ohio were also hit pretty badly. This weekend while driving to New York, I counted at least seven tractor trailers crashed on the side of the road, most of them overturned and all of them at least jackhammered. If these trucks were self driving cars instead of real drivers they would have pulled over immediately when the snow started and even if they had crashed no one would have been hurt. While the drivers would be safer that ignores the fact they would lose their jobs as a result of the self driving trucks. Self driving cars could very seriously and very quickly decimate the transportation industry. That would cause a lot of people who had steady employment for years to now be without employment, at first these self driving cars and trucks may still require safety drivers, so instead of driving they are acting as safety drivers, but it won’t be long until they will be out of a job altogether. Hopefully, jobs are made as a result of the creation of self driving cars, but at the present moment, I don’t see a solution only problems. These problems are also moral, aside from the ethics of a car’s system is the testing of these cars. Many people report that to get truly effective self driving cars they need to be tested on real world road with other drivers around and real world conditions. There needs to be more oversight though. A the present time, the government doesn’t regulate self driving cars enough and people have died. However not all the blame lies with the government. Specifically in the case of the pedestrian being struck and killed in Arizona, a large part of the blame rests with Uber who turned off their emergency braking system, which at the very least sounds like something that should never be turned off, in order to create a more smooth ride.  

 

In the end self driving cars will be implemented in the future, I just think its a matter of how much. Personally I feel the ideal conditions are if self driving automobiles are used for longer distance driving such as with trucking, this would limit the fatigue of long distance driving, while also limiting the pedestrian interaction with autonomous cars. In more residential cities, I feel the systems should act more as advisory and last resort systems rather than total control. Think as though it were more of just improved versions of the guidance systems we have today with lane assist and other features. But more I feel public transportation would be ideal especially in the most urban areas.

Reading 11:Master of Puppets

Artificial Intelligence is advanced Computer Processes that are often used to mimic or surpass normal human capabilities. To me artificial intelligence is anything that is supposed to stand in for a normal human. This means machines, such as Watson, which is meant to largely do the job of Doctor, such as researching medical data, cross searching information, or examining x-rays, would be considered Artificial Intelligence. While Artificial Intelligence may be able to surpass normal human capabilities in some situations, such as telling the difference between a bee and a three in large sets of data, they often are not very diverse in their abilities. At the current time, it is different form normal human intelligence because it lacks the breadth of understanding. In the example above, an Artificial Intelligence may be able to go through thousands of images much faster than a human determining with a similar failure percentage which is a bee and which is a three, it will not be able to understand what a four is. This is the advantage humans have at the present moment, the ability to have a more diverse understanding base. The projects Deep Blue, Watson, etc. all show that artificial intelligence is viable, but not in the way most would think of Artificial Intelligence. In the Economist article, current Artificial Intelligence is described as Cognitive Enhancements and I feel this is the best way to understand them. While Artificial Intelligence is able to improve throught by a certain amount, it is more a tool than a substitute. They will be able to help greatly, Watson will help doctors keep up to date on medical research and limit the chances of misdiagnosis, however, it will not be able to do this on its own at the current time. So, while not viable as independent intelligences, they are able to enhance current abilities and understanding and so are not gimmicks.

While the Turing test is a good first step of testing for Artificial Intelligence, as the Chinese Room points out, it is easily subverted. I think that while, it shows advancement in technology, it does not show true Artificial Intelligence, or strong AI as described in the Chinese Room. The idea that Intentionality is necessary makes sense from a logical point of view, however as more and more the amount of Artificial Intelligence programs written are created by Deep Learning programs, we will get closer and closer to true Artificial Intelligence. A lot of why the intentionality argument works, is that when data is taken in by the mind, the mind processes it in such a way that only it understands, this is the intentionality, it understand data as it intends to, not as a programmer told it to. For this reason, while I feel the Turing test is insufficient, I do believe that true Artificial Intelligence will be possible eventually.

As explained before I view current Artificial Intelligence as Cognitive Enhancement, similar to Computers even from the last century. For this reason I am not supremely concerned with the threat of Artificial Intelligence. I feel like if technology continues as it is, Artificial Intelligence will benefit us as a society much more than it will hurt us as a society.

I think it is very possible that a computing system could be considered a mind, the biological mind itself is, in my opinion, biological computers. Similar to how computers have circuits, brains have neurons, while the Brain is much more complex than modern computers, I feel at some point a computing system could have mindedness. Ethically I think this means that if a computer has mindedness it must be subject to the same restrictions as other conscious beings, such as it should not be allowed to hurt people. I feel like so long as mechanical computers are treated like biological computers there shouldn’t be any problems.

Reading10: New Kid in Town

Trolls are those who attempt to sow chaos throughout the internet. They are not in the majority of internet users but they are extremely vocal. Trolls are similar to hecklers. In both cases an individual or small group of people are able to hide within a larger group providing them with a sense of anonymity. These people then will put out often hurtful messages in an attempt to cause other problems. The anonymity is the big issues in both cases, but it is often heightened on the internet. On sites such as reddit, twitter and similar sites, users are provided a level of anonymity. The user is able to choose their own name and then simply change accounts at will with any connection between the two very small. This anonymity allows people to have a seperation from those they are causing chaos for. It is much easier to be hurtful when there is something in between the person doing the hurting and those being hurt. This relates to cyber bullying. Where compared to traditional bullying, cyber bullying can be totally anonymous and always has physical distance between the bully and the victim. The screen makes the messages being sent or the pictures being shared separate from the person being attacked. There is also no immediate visible effect with cyber bullying. While many people may be put off from bullying face to face, because then they have to witness the victims distress, when a screen is between the two parties, that same emotional connection is lacking. The position of companies in these situations is often difficult to understand. While they should try and create as open and safe a space online as possible, it is difficult to monitor all aspects at once, and even then there are privacy concerns. I think companies should attempt to stop all cyber bullying that could cause people, however that is simply not possible, because to do so is to attempt to limit the freedom that the internet represents and even if it was totally safe, people would likely not use it because it would lack this freedom of expression. The best companies can do is to flag any extremely bombastic statements and if a user has a history of this hand out bans on a case by case basis.

 

Gamergate is an example of the minority being extremely loud. In this case the small group should probably have been more closely monitored so that they could not gather to propagate the hate as much. Gamergate also is an example of the problems with anonymity. Gamergate is a closed bottle ecosystem like mentioned in the article by Kyle Wagner. With the combination of anonymity and the ability to connect to people with similarly extreme views from far away while not having to talk to others, the problem just got worse. Cyberbullying is a problem, but one that doesn’t have an easy solution. The internet is a great place but if we are to properly protect children from harassment we would have to severely restrict their access to the internet and strictly monitor it, while this is probably a good idea for children of a certain age, the question is when should this restriction be released. Trolls are a systemic problem that will never be able to be completely eliminated like hecklers, the best method of dealing with trolls is to simply ignore them, or report them if the message is to extreme. I think real name services make sense, but are will be very hard to implement, while it would create more of responsibility among people, it would not be able to be enforced, most people would want to be able to customize their profile to better represent themselves, and by remaining anonymous and choosing a name we are more able to do this. I personally do not use any real name web sites. I don’t use them simply because I don’t feel the need to. Online discussion is great because it allows people to create more real discussion amongst themselves and others from around the world.

Reading09: The Sky is a Neighborhood

Net Neutrality is a very broad term that essential has three components. First is the idea of blocking, that Internet Service Providers, ISP, cannot discriminate against lawful content by blocking websites or apps. This is essentially saying that the ISPs is restricted from creating a service similar to cable tv, where channels have to pay the cable provider in order to carry the channels and as such the providers essentially control what channels are able to be shown to the public. This makes sure that so long as the website is legal, the ISP cannot stop a consumer from getting to a website simply because the website is not paying the ISP. Second is the idea of throttling, ISPs cannot slow the transmission of data because of the nature of the content so long as that content is lawful. Essentially the ISPs cannot favor certain content over another, they cannot let’s say slow data transmission for video streaming data, while allowing text data to be loaded at full speed. Finally is the idea of paid prioritization, the idea that an “internet fast lane” could be created by ISPs that allow certain websites that pay for it to have faster data transmission simply because they paid for it. In other words, if facebook and google pay for faster data streaming but netflix does not, theoretically facebook and google would load faster than netflix. There are many arguments for and against Net Neutrality. Those that argue that Net Neutrality is a positive focus on the internet being free for all websites and apps an for this reason allowing these websites and apps to innovate more. They argue that if bigger companies had to pay for an “internet fast lane” they would then have less money to spend on innovation. Supporters also argue that with net neutrality repealed start ups would have a more difficult time competing with larger companies because where larger companies could probably afford to pay for faster internet access while startups could not. Those that argue for Net Neutrality argue that if ISPs were able to charge for “internet fast lanes,” they would then be able to improve their networks and also then improve competition within the industry. Currently there is a limited amount of competition within the ISPs most simply have relatively low data transfer rates and no competition in geographic areas. Without Net Neutrality, there would be more options for competition in the market. For this reason I am against Net Neutrality. While the idea of a free and open internet sounds like a wonderful idea, the internet is at the current moment still only accessible through private businesses. The United States has relatively low internet speeds, largely due to a lack of competition in the ISP industry. Without Net Neutrality there would be more competition and more reason for innovation within the ISP industry. Also, the argument that the average consumer would experience a difference because of a lack of Net Neutrality. Most of the websites most people use every day are owned by large businesses and as such would be able to pay for the faster internet lane. Also the idea that startups would be limited by increased prices is possible, it could also just be seen as another expense for the start up, just like how a nice building could be another expense if the startup were a brick and mortar store. That said the idea of totally blocking websites and creating an a le carte internet is frightening. For this reason I think the FCC should to a large degree not have net neutrality, but also not allow ISPs to create an internet like cable channels. That is to a large degree the beauty of the internet, that even if it takes forever to load we are able to access the entirety of the internet. Thus while not necessarily creating a totally even playing field, the government should ensure people the ability to access the entire internet.