Whose Future Is It?

Compressorhead, the all-robot band that plays hits by AC/DC, Motorhead, and The Ramones, represents another step toward a technological future in which machines continue to perform tasks as well as (or better than?) humans.  Many a techno-utopian  envisions a world in which human labor, including creative and performing arts no longer represents economic or social value.  Naturally, the prospect of a robot that can unfailingly impersonate virtuoso musicians leads to the inevitable assumption that this technology will eventually converge with Artificial Intelligence and produce a robot that can compose as well as perform.  This then raises the philosophical question about the present and future role of the artist or performer in society.  After all, what is the experiential difference between listening to two identical-sounding guitar solos played either by man or machine?  Nothing except of course the entire purpose of art — and just maybe the entire purpose of living.

Much of the discussion about our technological future is predicated on the central theme as to how much autonomy we want to cede to our machines?  While it’s reasonable to accept that a doctor-supervised robot can perform a delicate surgical technique without the human fallibility that causes hands to shake, current research into the use of IBM’s Watson in the work of diagnosis and prognosis begs the question as to what the human doctors of the future might do.  Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch just launched a campaign against the use of autonomous weapons capable of making battlefield decisions to kill a human target. And as Google works with other technologists to develop the driverless car, I have my own doubts about the prospects of its reliability given the rate of failure of ordinary MP3 players. These and other stories, of course, imply a progression toward the technological singularity, and it’s hard to avoid the sense that we might cross that event horizon without making a conscious, collective choice to do so.

It’s true that we mortals are imperfect, born of imperfection itself by the miracle of chance, composed of detritus from exploded stars.  We are finite, fallible, and fragile; but through experiencing one form of expression or another, we seek exaltation, we connect to one another, and we continually redefine what it means to be human for as long as we’re here. I believe this is why it’s exciting to watch an Olympic athlete perform a feat impossible for most of us but still achievable by a being who is one of us.  If we could not sense the fragility of our own joints or know the blunt, unforgiving nature of gravity, the flight of the figure skater would be a mundane exercise in high-school physics. It may be true that the capacity to build a machine that might replicate the subtle and complex motions of a skater is a human triumph in itself, but the ultimate value of such an endeavor must be something other than the android athlete. Once the novelty of the shiny object wears off, we will be no more excited to watch this object do a quadruple Lutz than to watch a forklift load a truck.  So it is with art.

Art absent the human hand serves no particular purpose.  If this were not the case, the world wouldn’t need Rostropovich and Yo Yo Ma, let alone the range of compositions for cello that come from a diversity of human imperfections. While many popular works, particularly in film and music, are so formulaic, they could arguably be the products of an algorithm, even these works often contain within them component features of extraordinary human creativity (e.g. great design in an otherwise lame movie) and so remain safely on this side of the event horizon.  The future, however, in which the robot wakes to compose and then perform its own songs is a tipping point when art becomes the expression of the robot condition.  Thus do our machines become our masters as we see in so many sci-fi, cautionary tales.

I remember a radio interview with Pete Townsend at least 15 years ago, in which he described breaking his hand and said that he would likely never be able to play with the speed and agility he once had.  And I suppose, with a few keystrokes, the lead guitarist of Compresorhead, Fingers, can be programed to reproduce Townsend’s intro to “Pinball Wizard” just as Townsend played it as a young man.  Hell, Fingers could even be programmed to smash its guitar at the end of the song, creating a bit of android satire.  Of course, what Fingers doesn’t have is a grandmother who shouted at him as a teenager to stop playing that terrible rock-and-roll and so inspired the first smashing of his first guitar.  And in this act is a glimpse into the significance of the cultural revolution in the U.K., where a generation of fatherless kids grew up in the gray rubble left by WWII and burst forth in a profusion of color and sound, themes that reverberate throughout nearly all of the music of The Who.  It isn’t just about the data and the mechanics that produce the sounds.

This week Senator Goodlatte announced the start of the months long process to overhaul the copyright laws of the United States, and in his statement, he refers to the ongoing need to update and revise copyright to adapt to changing technologies.  But nowhere does the senator even imply that the basis for intellectual property rights has lost a fraction of value.  It’s safe to say that technology will continue to evolve according to the acceleration predicted by Moore’s Law, but this does not mean that we must inevitably relinquish control to our machines.  Preserving the basis for copyright and intellectual property law is about keeping the human in the human condition.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • “Johnny 5 is alive!”
    Maybe our collective destiny is to become ‘batteries’ to power the machines, while “real” people live deep underground where the Earth is still warm; and humans no longer live lives, but ‘live’ in a computer-generated dream world to keep our minds occupied so we don’t resist being consumed in this way.
    I don’t think that is our destiny. I refuse that narrative. Though there are some that see this as ‘cool’. Sure, it was entertaining to watch in the movie “The Matrix”, but that was from a human mind, a human hand.
    Art is, by definition, made by humans… predicate on human emotions and imagination.
    Machines, no matter how ‘real’ someone designs them to look, are still reliant on humans to design and program.
    Even the novelty video shown above relies on the mechanisms playing songs created from the human mind. The video would lose a lot of its draw, if it played some computer gibberish song made by a computer. The novelty is lost if not playing a song that most would recognize. And at the end of the day, that is all this is: a novelty.

    • James_J wrote:
      “Maybe our collective destiny is to become ‘batteries’ to power the machines, while “real” people live deep underground where the Earth is still warm; and humans no longer live lives, but ‘live’ in a computer-generated dream world to keep our minds occupied so we don’t resist being consumed in this way.”

      I don’t want to stray off-topic (what the hell? It’s the internet.), but that is waaay beyond the realm of possibility. Humans would make terrible batteries. Our “efficiency” output is only about 40% of what goes into us. The machines would be better off making old-fashioned Energizer batteries.

      Another “fun to think about” aspect of what you’ve stated relates to “virtual worlds.” *IF*–and that’s a big if–if you believe that the human mind (not brain, but consciousness) can be uploaded into a virtual digital world, an interesting series of “revelations” become apparent upon extrapolation. If a world can be created within a computer, then eventually people would create millions of computer worlds, and then in *those* computer-simulated worlds the digital people would eventually invent their own virtual worlds, and so on… it’s “turtles all the way down,” or “up” as the case may be here, depending on how you visualize the scenario. This leads us to consider the odds that you or I are in either the “real” world, of which there is only one, or in one of a vast, nearly-infinite number of virtual worlds.

      Odds are that we already live in a virtual world. (IF you accept this flimsy premise).

      But, as Jaron Lanier points out, “So what?” *Experience* is not diminished by being ‘virtual,’ because frankly, how the hell would a fake sensation be defined? One either feels something or not. There can be no illusion in the realm of pure sensory experience.

      “Physical reality” may not always align with our sensations, see for example phantom limbs, but our experienced sensations are nevertheless very real.

      James_J wrote:
      “Art is, by definition, made by humans… “

      And the problem with so-called “artificial intelligence” is that it lacks both artifice and intelligence.

  • Compressorhead is an interesting gimmick, nothing more. Watson is, in essence, a very complex data analysis machine which is what computers have been used as for years. And, if Watson can be shown to save lives overall, I can’t really bring myself to speak against it. How far are we prepared to go on this? Would you categorically refuse treatment if robots were involved? Besides, Watson will always need humans to program the data in the first place.

    We’re nowhere near to crossing the event horizon on this, despite the claims at the loony end of the techno-utopians. While robots can learn from experience in a very specific manner, they neither have the innovation nor the flexibility to create, which I’d argue is the heart of creativity. Without that, artificial intelligence is a misnomer. We’re nowhere near it either- there’s still no robot that can pass muster in the controlled environment of the Turing Test, let alone in a wider context.

    Obviously, if that changed (which is still the realms of science-fiction currently), then we’re in an entirely new situation. My main worry there isn’t so much the old fear of robots becoming our masters. It’s the concept of having a full sentient being with absolutely no rights. If robots were genuinely capable of thought and emotion, I think it’s obvious that we could be talking about quite a serious ethical problem there.

    Currently though, my concern is the far more mundane one of more and more jobs being automated. With Watson, I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt, because the improved detection rate is worth it in terms of societal benefits. That’s not generally the case with this issue though. And, in the current economic system, the “unlimited leisure time” claims of the utopians really aren’t what’s going to be happening there. Poverty and subsistence existence are far more likely results.

    Perhaps it’s time for us to revisit the much-maligned Luddites. Like you, they weren’t against technological progress, despite popular conception. They were specifically against the destruction of jobs in the name of technological advances.

    • To put a finer point on it, Sam, the Luddites were opposed to being treated as machines themselves. Thanks for commenting.

    • “While robots can learn from experience in a very specific manner, they neither have the innovation nor the flexibility to create, which I’d argue is the heart of creativity. ”

      Actually mundane jobs tend to be generally harder and complicated to automate. I would be far more concerned about automation if I was a financial analyst versus lets say a burger chef. See Moravec’s paradox for why this is.

      “Poverty and subsistence existence are far more likely results.”

      No, because any society where poverty is rampant also ends up being incredibly unstable. Political change is in our era is far slower then technological change but it will start to catch up.

      “They were specifically against the destruction of jobs in the name of technological advances.”

      The general purpose of technological progress is to solve problems more efficiently, thus reducing the amount of work that needs to be done (also known as “jobs”) for the same net economic output. Hence, they were against technological progress. The Luddites didn’t last because their ideology was fundamentally broken, based on the broken window fallacy of economics.

      The labor movement also resulted from the same technological changes but instead focused on improving living and working conditions for the new industrial workers, instead of trying to reverse technological progress. They were a lot more successful.

      The information age is new enough that there is a lot more Luddities running around who want to try to reverse technological progress, much like the early industrial age. But this will change, as more people accept the reality of the information age they will look into ways of working within the context of the information age. I think this is true already for the more mainstream content industry for instance, who in maybe the last few years really embraced radical business models.

      • It’s straight-up naive, revisionist history to refer to all technological advancement as universally progressive. The more disruptive a technology, the more it tends to be a double-edged sword. A 30-round magazine is a technological advancement, and we are grappling its consequences as we speak. The point is always balance and human choice, which is why I contrast robot doing delicate surgery with robot making art.

      • I didn’t say all technology is progressive. I just said that technological progress makes processes more efficient.

        Modern guns also are far better at their general purpose (killing things). “Killing things” is generally a bad thing on a moral level, except when that that thing is trying to kill you. In such a case I think Luddite or not you’ll want to have the technological advantage.

      • The Luddites were really about not wanting to be turned into machines themselves, but that’s another story. Yes, technology will make processes more efficient, and efficiency is not always desirable in human endeavor, as in the case of this post about the arts. As with guns, you put your finger on the relevant point, which is context. Those of us in favor of gun control have no particular problem with sophisticated weapons for professionals like soldiers, only with their availability to the general public. The next step, however, toward an autonomous weapon, I and others find morally objectionable on several levels. So, let the scientists do their research, but not without public scrutiny and debate.

  • These is a lot of successful research involving computers composing music. See the field of algorithmic composition for more examples.

    I would say though definitely though composing music is far easier to automate then composing a movie. There is a lot more activity in the area of algorithmic music because there is very practical and straight forward ways to integrate machine learning techniques into music creation. It’s a bit harder to get a computer to compose an entire movie from scratch and I think it is because it’s bit harder to formalize what a movie is suppose to accomplish at lets say, the mathematical level.

  • Also a lot of research in CS circles lately into deep learning. This is something that’s really like an entire field of research that is maybe a few years old. It involves modifications to backpropagation algorithms in neural networks which enable them to hold more structure even in very large multi-layer neural networks with lots of neurons.

    Deep learning increases the ability of computers to learn about abstract concepts and structures without explicitly being told to look for them. Like you can throw a bunch of unlabelled data to a deep learning algorithm and it will start to derive abstract knowledge from it, without any help from the trainer. It’s really a revolutionary thing in the field of machine learning, but the algorithms involved are incredibly computationally expensive (think requiring 10,000+ nodes for weeks to run a single experiment). So it’s not something you can just run on a desktop computer. Yet.

    Google is very involved and perhaps the leader in deep learning research these days so here is a few videos from them:
    Explanation / Example

  • That you would even want to “automate”
    music or movies says a lot more than actually achieving anything
    there. To do so misses the point. Actually, “M”, i now have a
    greater understanding of where you’re coming from. Thanks

  • I find it somewhat illuminating how such “developments”, shall we say (I am referring to Compressorhead here), highlight the difference of how technological progress is perceived these days.

    The “hive mind” – by which I mean the countless, more-or-less anonymous techno-enthusiasts that are so vocal online – seems to be seeing technology as some kind of post-communist utopian ideal of freedom, equality and human fulfillment.

    The corporations, on the other hand – and here I mean everyone who is trying to turn techno-enthusiasm into a business, or at least an excuse for running business in a certain way – are approaching it from a purely capitalist perspective: one where the owner of the capital (yes, Compressorhead are capital by any definition of the term) reigns supreme. Every human you can replace with a machine is another pesky employee – with rights and opinions and their own self-interest – less.

    At the same time, I think that as far as art goes, such efforts are self-defeating. Compressorhead may be an interesting novelty, but I don’t see them as a real threat to human musicians, for a simple reason: we care about humans. Machines, not so much.

    What makes art interesting is the human perspective and how other humans can relate to it. The moment art becomes a purely academic, formal exercise (which has happened in pretty much every sphere by now – with the possible exception of movies, to a greater extent) – people lose interest. In short: art needs to have semantic, as well as syntactic, content. This semantic content may be as much about the creator and why they’ve made certain choices as about the work itself (consider Cage’s 4’33”).

    It is already possible to have a machine “compose” – in the sense of stringing together musical notes in a coherent way. I happen to have one such program that I sometimes use for generating practice accompaniament. Such programs typically assume some human input as a taking off point, but it isn’t terribly difficult to just tell the machine to create – and let the random number generator run its course. We could even go the whole hog and let the very act of creation be determined randomly at some future point. A similar algorithm could be written to come up with lyrics – if it hasn’t already. Hell, I mucked around with some interesting “simulated speech” programs on the MSX way back in the Eighties.

    What’s that tell us about the future of creation? Absolutely nothing.

    A program might be able to create something that sounds like music or that looks like music when written down, but it won’t have any semantic content. We won’t have a human to connect with over that music. It will be a purely formal exercise. The song may be pleasing enough, but your kid sister won’t want the robot musician’s poster on her bedroom wall.

    The problem with geeks who don’t have much in the way of outside interests is that they often fail to realise just how irrelevant their “solutions” really are.

    Post-scriptum aside: I’d make a very strong claim that it is nigh impossible to “[listen] to two identical-sounding guitar solos played either by man or machine”, for the simple reason that no human will play an identical guitar solo twice. The notes may be the same, but the nuances of articulation can – and typically do – make a huge difference between performances. Some of it is random – a lot is due to the performer’s physical and emotional state at the moment of performance. There is simply no way to replicate that in a machine, for the simple reason that it isn’t a human.

    Unless we at some point manage to create robots that are functionally human-equivalent, which is a different and altogether nastier can of worms. Robot rights, anyone?

    • Always good to hear from you, Faza, and you’re right about the Heraclitian principle regarding playing the same solo twice. It had crossed my mind, and I ought to have stipulated that I refer to two things that are perceived to be identical by the semi-casual listener. This, of course, opens up another layer of complexity that includes technical reproduction of sound as well as the purpose and experience of the music. I admit to leaving out that shade in order to compare apples to apples for this particular post. I was also reminded of a story I heard that conductors in the West importing Asian-trained string players were finding these hyper-trained musicians needed to be taught how to put themselves into the music. Otherwise each one sounded the same — perfect but soulless. Don’t know if this rings a bell for you.

      • I do know that Asian players tend to have crazy skills – whatever the instrument. I also suspect – from what little an interested foreigner can glean of Asian culture – that it must have been a bit of a culture shock for those players. Our ideas about individuality and self-expression are a bit alien to Asian culture, it seems to me – the emphasis there is more on being as you’re supposed to be, in social interactions at least, as opposed to being who you happen to be. It is likely that such musicians were doing their best to play music “as it should be played” – only to find that those crazy Occidentals want them to play music as they feel it should be played.

      • Like I say, it’s a vague memory of a story someone else read. I’ll see if I can find anything other than that. Thanks.

    • You act like art is some of magical abstract thing outside of the realm of science, math or technology. Art very much intersects technology (see SXSW). The art in the case of Compressorhead are the robots themselves. Ditto for any algorithm that composes music. In fact, I would say far more interesting, profound, innovative art comes from people who are more technologists then the self-proclaimed artists that are constantly glorified here.

      And you know I’ve yet to see any song or painting or film or anything like that which is able to even remotely match the artistic beauty and profoundness of Euler’s identity. With remarkable simplicity it defines the nature of fundamental constructs in a way that transcends anything any human can simply fabricate entirely in the feeble stochastic function of the mind. Understanding and replicating the nature of the mind is a mere stepping stone in the cognizant understanding of the Universe and at all it’s unique complexity hiding a remarkable simplicity.

      • We get it: you don’t like art.

      • M, how gloriously you miss the point…

        Whatever intersection art and technology may have, the fundamental breakage in common direction comes when the human condition becomes involved.

        Like it or not, humans are wired to relate and care about other humans (although I sometimes wonder in your case, there’s a psychological term for that). The basis for this is completely scientific – that is, science can be used to test both its existence and possible reasons for its existence.

        This isn’t to say we cannot marvel at constructs of nature – or fabrications of our own that we perceive as “natural” (most mathematics fits that category: a human artifice, but close enough to external reality for us to sometimes mistake one for the other). However, whatever aesthetic pleasure it may give us, it shall not connect with us on a human level. Only humans can do that.

        Art isn’t supposed to be about understanding the Universe, but about understanding ourselves and thus helping us become better – which is why Socrates had a point about “grass and rocks not wanting to teach him anything”. Thirst for cosmological knowledge is something I can understand and relate to, but pursued exclusively makes you a horrible human being. Yes, that means you.

      • Faza, you play[ed] emo metal and write borderline
        psychopathic lyrics and apparently want to do that for a living.
        You know the same general genre of music that are often blamed for
        school shootings. Yeah I kinda like science more then indie emo
        metal. I’ll have to admit that. But I don’t really feel that need
        to be all like “if you don’t like my taste in art you are a
        horrible human being and something is wrong with you” in just about
        every conversation with anyone who disagrees with me. Because that
        would make a giant douchebag.

      • Hypothetically speaking, if I was a better human being much
        like yourself I’d probably blog from the perspective of a cronic
        cynic (there is a psychological term for that) and former musician
        all day wishing that the world changed for me. You know, instead of
        actually changing the world and making a decent living doing it.
        That doesn’t feel like a better situation to me. Although I’m
        certain I’d probably still feel a little awkward being lectured on
        how I should act by Eastern European man who unironically wears
        cowboy hats indoors. I can not imagine a world where I can ever be
        a good enough human being to get used to that. 🙂 Nice talking with
        you as always, Faza.

      • To quote/paraphrase Terry Pratchett: evil begins when you lose the distinction between things and people, with the endgame being that you begin treating people like things. That – not your taste in art – is what makes you a horrible human being.

        To make it clearer, in context: art teaches you about what and how other human beings feel and think. This allows you to relate to them better. Consider the alternative: a thirst for purely scientific knowledge as to how a biological organism known as homo sapiens functions. You can examine cadavers, for example, or do clinical research – but each of these has its limits. What if you got a steady supply of live humans to experiment on, in whatever way you saw fit? Think of all the knowledge you could gain!

        (If you have any knowledge of modern history, you’ll be perfectly aware that this has been done and who did it. I think that’s steering close enough to Godwin.)

        See where I’m going with this? To make a passable human being, you need to teach them how to get along with other human beings. Humans are social animals, we can scarcely exist without the at the same time incredibly robust and extremely fragile edifice we call civilisation. Pondering about the nature of the cosmos or the meanders of higher mathematics is a luxury one can afford if countless others are labouring at growing food and doing the laundry.

        In countless conversations we’ve had you’ve shown a deplorable disregard for humans, whenever the matter of confronting the needs of humans and the “needs of technology” came up. This clearly shows that you’re forgetting where your roots lie. At the end of the day you are a fragile meatbag, who seems to forget the blessings bestowed upon him that allow us to be even having this conversation. At the end of the day, I’m fighting for you – as a fellow meatbag – as much as I am fighting for myself. Unless you secretly happen to be Eric Schmidt (which I doubt), you stand to get equally screwed over at the end of the day as the rest of us.

        The reason I’ve outgrown my techno-fascination phase is simple: I’ve learned that technology is only useful when it benefits people. What I’m thinking here is: Compressorhead are cool, but they don’t actually solve any problems. Hell, if they played music composed by a machine, as opposed to well-known tracks written by humans, few people outside of hard-core tech publications would even give a damn. I think that the technology in place here might go a way towards better prosthetics, for example – and that’s something I’d get genuinely excited about. Otherwise, this is a gimmick – much like IBM’s “Smallest film” – cool, but largely irrelevant to anything.

        Final aside: if you think I play[ed] emo metal, you really should get out more.

      • The world without technology is a literal hell. You do realize that the only thing keeping you from getting brutally mauled and eaten alive by a lion is technology. Darwinism is the law of the land, disease and suffering is the norm rather then the exception, and everything about how the animal kingdom and physics works is horrible and ugly by modern ethical standards. But the only reason we have even have modern ethical standards is because technology permits it. Otherwise, the laws of nature and the animal kingdom apply.

        You know the concept of heaven. That’s possible with technology. Technology sufficiently advanced can make a human life forever, be virtually omniscient and emotionally perfectly happy. And don’t act like nobody wants that, billions of people worldwide live a life of utter bullshit prescribed by religious authorities who promise them the same thing with no scientific or logical basis.

      • What arrogance, hypocrisy and juvenile stubbornness all rolled into one.
        You think you can treat people like shit today, because what? someone (creative, btw) somewhere is going to invent some device or machine that you can ‘upload’ yourself to?

        A) you make fun of people of Faith… and yet, your leap is enormous. You ‘have faith’ that someone will make these things you speak of possible. You have faith that this will indeed happen during the course of your own lifetime (look both ways when crossing the road & don’t run with scissors…). You have faith that in addition to all that– that YOU will be the one to share in the tech utopia (not likely when you’ve been treating other humans like shit all your life) and that it doesn’t turn out to be a technological nightmare. You have faith that your ‘Copyright’ of ‘you’ will NOT enter into public domain after 10 years (ironic, since you would have spent the previous years weakening your Rights), and we all won’t relegate you to an eternity of virtual virus testing… endlessly ‘remixing’ you until you are no longer recognizable, in an endless loop of the worst memory you had synthesized. Why not? You won’t have any rights as you won’t be ‘a real boy’. You have faith that ‘someone’ will continue to fund your existence; the politics, the maintenance costs, upkeep, and power requirements of some random Joe. You have faith that the power won’t get shut off, that the drive space won’t be wiped to make room for someone ‘important’. You have faith that ‘consciousness’ itself is nothing more than patterns of neurons firing, and that you would actually ‘wake up’ on the other side of the glass. You have faith that the Universe itself won’t eventually go cold, as the last of the stars burn out, and that if/when the human race ever needs to find another home world, that they will find you worthy of taking along for the ride. You have faith that overpopulation of the planet won’t eventually cause our demise, or that the ever scarcer resources will be dedicated to your memory instead of powering the living people of the future… you have faith that you will actually wake up tomorrow, healthy and of sound mind.

        … i can do this all night, shall i go on?
        i haven’t even gotten to “B” and “C” yet…

        Yeah, the thought of dying sucks. Most of us have lost a nights sleep or two over the thought. But you know what? It is inevitable. What goes up must come down; what has a beginning has an end. The sooner you start living in the now, and enjoying the time afforded, and not worrying about things that we have no power over, the sooner we can all get on doing the same, and hopefully start responding to a NEW blog post by David (and hopefully Faza decides to grace us with another write-up eventually too [hint-hint])… and the merry-go-round goes on and on.

        I really don’t enjoy being a cynical bastard all the time (you bring the best out of me, ‘M’), so i’ll leave you with this nugget:
        If you ‘have faith’ that the physics theory ‘Conservation of Energy’ is true; that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed”, and that, when it comes down to it, what is ‘consciousness’? we are all basically ‘energy’; that none of us ever truly die… we will all simply change form.
        Good night. Sleep well.

  • Faza wrote: …“The problem with geeks who don’t have much in the way of outside interests is that they often fail to realise just how irrelevant their “solutions” really are.”…
    I can relate to that. There needs to be an actual ‘Need’ before one offers up ‘Solutions’.

    As an amateur/hobbyist inventor, i usually make things that i personally have a need/want for… but there is no broader market to speak of. I, though, am (usually) under no delusion that i’m going to get rich off of any/all of my tinkerings, unless i happen across something with broad market appeal.
    Techies, seem to lack that self ‘filter’– for want of a better descriptor.

    • This is something I’m dealing with professionally at the moment, given how my nine-to-five involves jumping between accounting and programming duties. It so happens that my boss and me were discussing what is to be done next – in terms of the IT side of my work – and the subject of selling our solutions out came up.

      I’m of a mind that it’s generally not a good idea to try developing an IT solution for sale unless we’re sure there’s a definite problem to be addressed (and that we have a good solution). On the other hand, a solution developed to solve in-house problems may well be applicable to others in the same line of business. CD Baby comes to mind here.

      Having said that I can understand the geeks, ‘coz they’re ultimately coming from the same place that artists do: they feel the need to create something and show off their skills. In some ways, the situation is now reminiscent of late-Eighties guitar playing: you had lots of guys with monstrous chops, but the actual songwriting wasn’t all it could be. In a similar vein, we now tend to glorify technology for its own sake, with little consideration to whether it is actually of net benefit. This makes a lot of geeks feel good about themselves (and God knows they hadn’t been getting a lot of respect before), but makes them lose sight of the fact that this is a historical “blip”. We’re already getting past the initial “Wow!” factor of the internet (and computers in general) and people are beginning to ask uncomfortable questions.

  • Certainly things can be developed ‘in house’ or for oneself that can be useful outside of that sphere. Heck most great inventions come from someone trying to solve their own problem and seeing the greater potential. and i understand wanting to ‘show off’ and all that.

    That said, if i were a maker of ‘better landmines’, i don’t know if putting them on the playground to show off to children is the best thing to do. There’s a lot of “landmines” being put in “playgrounds” these days…
    Nobody seems to have any sense or conscience on what they are laying down. There is a lot of “i made it/doing it because i can/wanted to see if i could” type rationalization… even after the major negatives are shown, there’s no accountability.
    Childrens’ body parts litter the playground, and yet they keep laying mines, blind to the carnage around them…

  • “a life of utter bullshit prescribed by religious authorities who promise them the same thing with no scientific or logical basis.”

    Leave Kurzweil out of this.

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