Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence.

[Note to self. Geeks only]

Over the fold I muse on the nature of human intelligence, social intelligence, and the options for artificial intelligence to become ‘smarter than humans’ in the areas of social power and law-making. It is taken for granted that you accept that in hardware terms, computers already have greater computing power than human brains and that it is merely a matter of software that constrains their abilities. It is also taken for granted that there is no human organisation that can make much difference on the trajectory of AI, so the question is merely what will happen rather than what ‘we’ should do about it. With those pre-ambles, I muse on whether we should worry about AI takeover and things like super intelligence.

The short version is: I see nothing truly to worry about in the short run and we do not have a clear view at the moment of where any power or ethical dilemmas with AI are going to be, so there is not even all that much to speculate about. We should shelve any fears of robot takeover for at least 10 years and reevaluate then. Continue reading

Posted in bubble, Bullshit, Business, Ethics, Geeky Musings, Innovation, IT and Internet, Science | 4 Comments

Patricia Edgar: What are Children’s Television Programs and should we preserve them? Part 2

The birth of a Children’s Television industry

(Continued from Part One)

No Children’s production industry in Australia can exist without a viable, film and television industry which must be sustained to tell Australian stories. That is a given. But what sits under that for children must be driven by children’s needs.

When done well, film and television programs can stimulate a child’s imagination and open up the infinite opportunities that life presents. Like good books, good television programs can extend children’s understanding of their world. Stories are particularly effective in helping children develop emotionally. That is why Australian and local programming is important for children. In 1980 television was the medium best suited to delivering these experiences to children. The media most suited today are the new media.

Under the Children’s Television Standards that have been in existence for more than 33 years a children’s program is one which is made specifically for children or groups of children; is entertaining; is well produced using sufficient resources to ensure a high standard of the script, cast, direction, editing, shooting, sound and other production elements; enhances the child’s understanding and experience; and is appropriate for Australian children.

A number of very ordinary programs and programmes of dubious value for children have slipped through this quota net because of globalization and financial pressure on networks and producers. Animations made for a global audience have dominated the drama quota and much live action has been reduced to soaps. The need to have an international investor on board has compromised cultural integrity in some cases and allowed interference in the process. Such programming has become bland and conservative, or controlled creatively outside Australia. It cannot be claimed the regulations are now providing the rich experience intended when the CTS were designed and implemented.

The networks initially insisted they could police themselves with self regulatory codes and they resisted all attempts to persuade them to confirm to guidelines, taking their objections as far as the High Court before legislation was passed that ensured stations could lose their licence if they did not meet regulated quotas. But the evidence has shown networks will not produce programs that meet the spirit of the standards and they insist existing quotas are one more reason they cannot compete in the global marketplace against players such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix.

So government is in the position where it must decide how best to intervene in the market place and for what purpose. Standards relevant to today’s media environment must be based on principles that serve children’s needs or it is a waste of effort and resources.

The fundamental question is what are children’s programming needs today? Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Patricia Edgar: What are Children’s Television Programs and should we preserve them? Part One of Three

Turkey takes down Kurdish children's TV‘Tell me a story!’ What child has not expressed those words? Children find the fantasy world a story transports them into, comforting, entertaining and enlightening. As a prelude to sleep stories allow them to dream the impossible. They explain the strong emotions children experience as they grow up, teach them about their tribe, their culture and their place in the world and give them a shared sense of purpose. Throughout human history, stories have been the glue that has civilized and bound people together in a community as humane beings. Stories stimulate our imagination, opening up the infinite opportunities that life presents. Developing imagination, Albert Einstein believed, was more important than imparting knowledge, as wondering is the basis of invention, of all development and understanding. It would be a dystopian world without stories.

But stories have had different functions over the centuries and ‘children’ have been variously defined and regarded. Western notions of childhood have changed dramatically, especially in the past 300 years, as has the way stories have been presented and enjoyed. The idea of childhood as a special stage of life is a relatively new middle-class phenomenon. Before the 18th century children were seen as little adults, dressed as adults and expected to work like adults. They got no special consideration at law; until 1780 over two hundred offences were punishable by hanging for children as well as adults. The youngest convict on the First Fleet was John Hudson, a nine-year-old chimney sweep who had been convicted of stealing clothes and a pistol. The reality of life for young children has been an economic, social and cultural construction over centuries.

So, given the current Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review, which is to determine the future of regulation for children’s media content, it is important to ask some fundamental questions. Is childhood today a chronological stage or a system of constructed values? Has childhood changed since the Children’s Television Standards (CTS) were introduced in the early 1980’s? Do we still mean the same thing when we talk about a children’s program in 2017 as we did when quotas were implemented in 1984? And what special functions do such defined programs fill that warrant ongoing regulatory protection in a dramatically changing digital world?

The rise of childhood can be traced back to the Reformation. The Puritans of the 17th Century were the first to stress the child’s moral autonomy. They believed children had to be taught to think for themselves; to internalise moral values and to make choices for which they were personally responsible so they supported the need for education.

During The Age of Enlightenment, in 1762, Rousseau published his treatise on education, Emile, arguing his theory of the innocence of childhood. Liberal and permissive attitudes to children began to take root, but the ideals of the time didn’t match social practice. Rousseau left his five illegitimate children in foundling homes. ‘Woman is especially made for man’s delight’, he wrote, and ‘for that reason there is no need even to teach girls to write’.

By 1830, despite calls for education, half Britain’s workforce in the cotton mills was child labor. The English Factory Act of 1833 limited child labor to 8 hours a day, but because adults argued for the same terms, the limit remained at 10 hours. Child exploitation only came to an end with the passing of The Education Act of 1870, which required children up to the age of 10 to attend school. It was a start toward the protection of the youngest in society, but it was also because factory owners needed more literate workers who could read instructions for using machinery safely and efficiently. Many needy parents protested and absenteeism from school was common.

The poor continued to be exploited while the children of the affluent middle-class were shipped off to boarding schools, separated from adults and sheltered from the real world. But by the late 19th century, following the industrial revolution, in Australia as well as Britain, growing economic demand for an educated and relatively healthy workforce had produced education for all, and altered the nature of childhood.

In the pre-industrial age stories were told by bards orally and the experience was shared by all ages. The stories, although often cautionary tales, were told uncensored. Fairy tales were not about beautiful princesses in gauzy dresses but ‘about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast in the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns’. 1 Continue reading

  1.  Hilary Mantel, ‘The princess myth: Mantel on Diana’, The Guardian, 26 August, 2017
Posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Films and TV, History, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

APRA’s new psychology team takes regulation to the next level

My latest column for The CEO Magazine looks at the bank regulator’s latest enthusiasm: changing banks’ cultures.

APRA is now doing what the Dutch have done for several years now: bring in a team of organisational psychologists to work out what drives behaviours within a bank, and then fix the risky behaviours.

On the one hand … wow. This is a pretty big step in business regulation. Prudential regulation has always been a bit more in-your-face than most regulation, but this takes it to the next level. And quite a few regulatory experts doubt this ambitious project will work. The literature on cultural transformation doesn’t give much cause for confidence either.

One the other hand, you can see why APRA is going there: many bank supervisory problems start with behaviour, and you can’t change that with just rules and regulations.

And I am reluctant to criticise this project, on standard Troppodillian grounds: it’s an interesting experiment that aims to help solve a very tough problem, and we should let APRA have a go at it. We should know the outcome by, well … 2035 or so.

Whatever the outcome, it certainly does suggest APRA is taking its job – and particularly the recent CBA strife – seriously.

This and other CEO Magazine columns are here; follow me on Twitter @shorewalker1.

Posted in regulation | Leave a comment

Is Catholicism in rude health? 2017 edition

Looking at the newspapers you’d think Catholicism is having a hard time with philandering priests and cover-ups of their doings being found out on a weekly basis. In Australia, the royal commission has uncovered a lot of systematically covered-up child abuse in the Catholic Church. Dutch and German newspapers kept track for a while in 2012 of the regional frequencies of new cases of sexual misconduct allegations. You might think Catholicism is getting its long-awaited come-uppance. Nothing is further from the truth however: Catholicism is in rude health and those aspects that seem its weakness (secrecy, cover-up, anti-gay message) are actually among its strongest assets.

According to the Catholic Church itself (which measures things partially on the basis of baptisms), its followers numbered 1.3 billion adherents by 2014 making Catholicism the largest religion on the planet and the largest branch on the tree of Christianity that holds about 2.2 billion adherents. Its strongholds in Latin America and Southern Africa are looking rock-solid, and conversion rates in the new centers of Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.) are looking very healthy indeed. Catholicism is by far the biggest and probably fastest growing of the Christian faiths.

What is interesting about Catholicism is that it seems to have lost its footing in its traditional stronghold, Southern and Western Europe. The area where (most of) the popes before the current one came from, where many old cathedrals are, where many of the alternative branches of Christianity originated, is now more secular than ever. Europe now has to import monks from Latin America and Africa to fill up its most prestigious and old monasteries (such as the one in Poblet, Spain). Things are so bad for Catholicism in Europe that in April 2009, the Archbishop of Vienna proclaimed that “The time of Christianity in Europe is coming to an end”. The same is true in Australia.

It is of course precisely this retreat of the power of the Catholic church that allows all the skeletons to emerge from the cupboard, not the other way around. Those skeletons remained nicely buried the previous centuries and it is striking how few scandals come to the surface in places like Brazil and Nigeria compared to the almost massive ‘coming out’ that we have seen in Australia and Europe. Continue reading

Posted in Art and Architecture, Bullshit, Cultural Critique, Dance, Death and taxes, Ethics, Geeky Musings, History, Humour, Libertarian Musings, Miscellaneous, Politics - international, Religion, Society, WOW! - Amazing | 9 Comments

Xenophon’s news scholarship madness: Hey, let’s expand the supply of junior journalists!

Senator Nick Xenophon, a man of great integrity, has reportedly struck a deal with the government over media reform. One aspect of it, as reported by The West Australian, is that the the government will subsidise 200 journalism scholarships of up to $40,000 a year. (I have no idea how this will work, but neither does anyone else that I can see.)

It should be obvious that the scholarships aspect of this deal is madness.

The madness is this: You don’t fix a shortage of demand and an excess of supply by adding to supply.

Yet Xenophon says explicitly that this is what he thinks will happen: “This is the best package to ensure that we can actually get more journalists being employed not fewer.”

For anyone who understands the basics of supply and demand, it will seem a negligently stupid scheme to lure a bunch of kids into a media industry that can’t support the journalists it already has.

The scholarships plan will:

  • Pump young, cheap journalists onto the market.
  • Tempt regional news outlets to replace older, more expensive journalists with younger, cheaper ones.
  • Make regional news outlets temporarily more profitable.

Here’s how all that works …

Continue reading

Posted in Employment, Journalism, Media | 10 Comments

The Italian Film Festival: coming to a Palace Cinema near you

And sing out below if you’re planning to go to a film – perhaps we could encourage some visits to the cinema by the TLA (Troppo Latte Auxiliary).

Top Picks

Trailer Icon 03 Let Yourself Go! (Opening Night)
Dr. Elia Venezia is a psychoanalyst who is separated from his wife, but still lives in the same apartment block as her. Venezia lives a comfortable and rather self-centred existence, until a spell of illness forces him to the doctor. Instructed to lose some weight, he befriends a vivacious Spanish personal trainer Claudia, a single mother with an unhinged criminal ex-boyfriend. As Claudia drags Elia around Rome, a series of mishaps ensue, breathing new energy into his tired and predictable life.
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Trailer Icon 03 Indivisible (Centrepiece)
Connected at the hip, 18-year-olds Daisy and Viola are gifted with beautiful voices and often sing at local weddings, family functions, and communions. Their father, a seedy small-time businessman, has turned them into an entertainment act in order to support the family and, ultimately, fill his own pockets. A chance meeting with a doctor reveals that the twins can be safely separated. The ensuing drama is twofold. The twins each have somewhat different views on what this radical step could mean. Their father, meanwhile, is apoplectic when confronted with the possibility of no longer being able to cash in on his daughters. The tender authenticity of the sisters’ bond sits in stark contrast to the extremes of arrogance, greed and lust that surround them; aided by the terrific, break-out performances from real-life twin sisters Angela and Marianna Fontana.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB
☆☆☆☆☆ Slant Magazine

Trailer Icon 03 Fortunata (Special Presentation)
Fortunata (“Lucky”) has had a difficult life, a daughter of eight and a failed marriage behind her. Travelling daily from her working class suburb to attend the homes of rich women, where she works as a hairdresser, her dream is to get lucky by winning the lottery and open her own salon. She has best friend Chicano, and her daughter at her side, and the gumption to make it stick; what’s still standing in her way is her security guard ex-husband Franco, who’s contesting for custody of their child. When a court order places her child in therapy, which is the last thing Fortunata needs, fate intervenes when she encounters the deeply compassionate Dr. Patrizio.
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB
☆☆☆☆☆ The Upcoming

Trailer Icon 03 Dalida (Special Event)
Dalida was one of Europe’s most famous singers from the late 1950s to the 1980s and a legend in the disco boom. A strong and independent performer, Dalida struggled in her love life. Her truest love was for her first husband Lucien Morisse, who discovered and nurtured her. However, he was but the first of several lovers, including the young Italian singer, Luigi Tenco, an Italian student and a French high society member. The only man in her life who was almost constantly present was her brother Orlando, who cared for her and became her producer. This lavish French/Italian co-production follows Dalida’s tragic life as well as her singing career that saw her sell 170 million records worldwide.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

It’s the wartime in 1940s, New York City. Kind and goofy Italian waiter Arturo annoys New Yorkers with his comic mangling of the word “water”. Arturo pines for Flora, but she’s betrothed to the son of a New York mafia boss. Arturo’s only option is to ask Flora’s father for her hand; however, he still lives in Sicily. Penniless but determined, Arturo takes a “free” passage to Italy by enlisting in the U.S. military at the start of the Allied invasion.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Continue reading

Posted in Films and TV | Leave a comment