Search This Blog

Friday, June 20, 2014

I Discover My Indian Name

As a person who is a bit more than one quarter Cherokee if you add up all my ancestors, I consider myself part Native American. My Indian ancestry comes from two sides of my family and I am married to a Scots-Irish-Ouachita woman (which is a whole other blog by itself). As a result, I've always kind of felt like I should have an Indian name. Trouble was, I could never figured out what it should be. Traditionally, in many of the tribes your name is given to you by the tribe.

I was thinking about this today and I suddenly realized that I had already been given my Indian name and by people I still remember fondly as my "tribe".

It was back in the 80s, when I was working at Odyssey Harbor. I ran the equestrian program and was in the saddle all day long, leading strings of troubled kids with mental and physical disabilities out onto the trails on horseback every day. We were like hunting parties or something - me and my string of mounted Wahoos!

One day one of the kids told me that the boys had a nickname for me. I asked what it was. His answer made me laugh.

Buffalo Butt".

 I suppose, riding along behind me for all those hours, the name had sort of jumped out at them. We Kings are, admittedly, a bit haunchy. We're built with long torsos and short thick legs and well established gluteals. We're like Weebles. We may wobble, but with our low centers of gravity, we don't fall down. I kind of grinned. My middle son, who was also amply haunched, they called Little Buffalo. 

For a long time I used to stamp my letters with a rubber stamp of a buffalo. I think I may resume the practice. I kind of like the name they gave me. Oddly enough, it was an expression of respect and affection I think. I loved those boys and I think they understood that.

© 2014 by Tom King

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bony Fingers and the Suppression of Happiness

Iranian "Happy" dancers arrested and forced to apologize publicly.
Six Iranian young people were arrested and forced to humiliate themselves on Iranian TV for the seditious act of creating a video of Pharrel Williams' breakout hit "Happy" and posting it on Youtube. The video "Happy in Tehran" went viral on Youtube almost immediately and within hours the culprits were identified and arrested. Of course, world opinion went promptly against the Tehran cops - particularly the police chief - and Twitter broke out in a rash of calls for the kids' release.

A lot of folks on the left expressed dismay that any government agency could be so anti-happiness and decided that Republicans must be responsible somehow.~

It is to laugh.

Except, of course, in Tehran.

Look. None of this surprises me. There are always going to be people out there, who can't stand to see others happy. I think it's because they are so busy clawing their way to the top they don't have time to be happy themselves. Lets face it, in order to achieve a state where you have so much money and power that you are financially, socially and politically secure takes a lot of work. Happiness suppressors work so hard to climb their way up into the privileged classes, because they think this will provide them with great security and that this high level of security will, somehow, make them happy.

When it does not, it makes them grouchy old curmudgeons (look it up). So when these would-be rich and powerful people see, to their horror, people with little money, no power and no social standing cavorting about being "Happy", it offends their sense of rightness. This is not how they thought the world should be. Their world works on a simple formula:

  • Rich and powerful = Happy
  • Poor and powerless = Sad

Any other formula deprives these guys of their joy at having achieved superiority to other mere mortals. So, of course the would believe that people cavorting around being happy without having had to suffer, compromise, lie, cheat and steal their way to their own elevated status must be doing something evil. This evil is by definition, a threat to their own exalted status,therefore it must be stopped.

It's hard for people who depend on external things to make them happy to tolerate happiness in people who lack money, power and influence. It throws their whole worldview out of kilter.

We used to get that a lot with the bony-fingered old people in church who though our kid songs were just way too bouncy to be religious. Tehran doesn't have a monopoly on people with the strong desire to rain on someone else's parade, particularly if their own parade going badly. There's always one in every crowd who appoints him or herself the official party pooper.

Such people should be arrested and thrown into a bouncy castle with a box of Oreos. Perhaps it would do them some good.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King © 2014

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Will Our Children Be Able to Pass the Turing Test?

Back in 1950, computing pioneer Alan Turing said that a computer could be understood to be thinking if it was able to dupe 30 per cent of human interrogators in five-minute text conversations. In his 1950 paper, 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence' he posed the idea that imitating a real human being successfully was the real test of sentience - at least sentience at the level of human beings.

For the first time, a Russian computer program has successfully convinced 33% of the members of a panel of judges at the Royal Society in London that it was, in fact, a 13 year-old Ukrainian boy named  Eugene Goostman. The event is hailed as a groundbreaking milestone in the development of artificial intelligence.

I think not!

All it really proves is that the programmers were able to program a computer specifically to past the Turing test. The program did, in fact, bamboozle at least a third of a panel of self-important old fuddy duddies and convince them that there was a human kid on the other end who wasn't smart enough to be a real computer. The programmers admit they shorted the program's knowledge base in order to simulate the gaps in knowledge that a typical 13 year-old might have. So the success of the test was more about how the programmers anticipated the panelists than it was about the sentience of their computer program. Actually, it's not surprising that they chose a 13 year old boy for their persona. Everybody knows 13 year-old boys run primarily on their hormones rather than their intelligence. The abject servitude of pubescent males to 13 year-old females looks a great deal like the abject servitude of a machine to its human masters.

The successful attempt to design a computer to imitate a person is, to me, frighteningly like a mirror image to the way our own public school system's diligent efforts to teach (to program really) our kids to pass minimum skills tests like Texas' controversial STAAR* exams which every student must pass in order to graduate from high school. Like the Russian code-makers, we may be reverse engineering our kids, not toward sentience, but away from it. Instead of teaching our kids to think, we're increasingly teaching them to remember the "right" answers to test questions selected for them by a self-appointed group of people who consider themselves qualified to know what kids ought to think.

If our school system keeps this up long enough, we may find that our children soon won't be able to pass a Turing Test themselves. At least they won't be able to pass the test for a generation or so - not until they, themselves, programmed to be intellectual machines in their youth, start administering the Turing Test themselves. At that point, sounding like a machine will sound "human" to the judges, who themselves were programmed to think that way as kids.

I met a Chinese exchange student, recently, who fled China to finish high school in America because she feared what this type of teaching was doing to her. She told me she left China as a high school freshman, when she realized all they were doing was teaching students to parrot back rote answers. The system, she said, discourages independent thought at any level.

One frightening thing occurs to me as our education system continues to re-invent itself in service to computers and databases. If we train up our children to think and act like computers now, then, when they are old, will our world be run by people who think like machines?  If that happens, are we headed toward the Orwellian world portrayed in the famous 1984 Apple Macintosh Superbowl commercial - the world of service to the machines that the Mac was supposed to save us from?

Don't get me wrong. I love computers. They are lovely tools - like a library in your pocket. I just don't want to be one.

Just one man's opinion.

© 2014 by Tom King

*The original TAAS test, the predecessor of the TAKS test and the current STAAR test, by the way, was the brain child of Texas computer data tycoon, H. Ross Perot, a man who made his fortune stuffing things into computer managed databases. Which could explain a lot of things.