Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

September 30, 2010

Dispatches from the Robot Apocalypse – Part VII

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:09 pm

How fun! Robots that can teach themselves archery!

The cute, childlike robot, named iCub, was designed by researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology. Armed with a bow, an arrow, a cute Native American headdress and a complicated computer algorithm, the robot learns from his missed shots iteratively, until he makes the bull’s-eye.

Of course, you might say, Pete, you fool, it’s only a bow and arrow, we have guns! To which I’ll say – archery is quite a hard skill, whereas shooting guns is easy. Of course, the most terrifying worst thing isn’t that they’ve fitted the machine with a targetting algorithm, it’s that having seen the Terminator franchise, they’ve learned the key lesson – if you make all the robots cutesy and ridiculous, they won’t seem so menacing. That’s why reality’s version of Skynet is called Google.

Seriously! When the killbots come, they won’t look like this:

They’ll look like this:

Tom Scocca has more

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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September 29, 2010

Curb Your Edthusiasm

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 8:17 pm

Nick having led the way with new Labour leadership posts, it seems incumbent on me to follow suit. Devotees will recall that I wasn’t particularly enamoured by the line-up, or even what they had to offer. I’m no Ed Miliband fan, but that’s mostly because I find his perpetual attempts to concern troll the Liberal Democrats (for whom I voted for reasons that are too tedious to rehearse here but suffice it to say that I found their entry into the Coalition a satisfying turn of events) both patronising and indicative of the reason why a rainbow or even Lib-Lab coalition was little more than a deranged fever dream. 

Anyway, I agree with Nick that the elder Miliband’s departure was a smart move, both personally and for the party as a whole. Their interests would have been ill-served by a shadow cabinet seen through the prism of perceived fratricidal conflict that would have sent Fleet Street’s finest into what passes for an orgasm among the chronically subhuman. The stories write themselves and would have been so utterly tedious I feel a little sick just thinking about it. 

So, is Ed Miliband as leader a good move? For Labour activists, Union members and the party’s poll numbers, yes.

I could say that I’m not remotely impressed by him, thought his speech was just… awful and that have zero faith that he will be responsible for reclaiming a single lost Labour voter. I didn’t see it, but it certainly didn’t read well to me (though I’ll admit to coming up on the speeches of Lincoln and Roosevelt, so probably a higher than fair standard). Indeed, one of my leftmost friends described it as “sixth form”. That’s about right.

But then I’m not his intended audience. People like Polly Toynbee are. And for them it’s kind of a shot in the arm – he’s apologised for the aspects of the party that most offended the rump of the base, and he took enough swipes at the Coalition to make it seem like he’ll be the combative fella they all hoped and dreamed of. Fine. I won’t go into a blow-by-blow, though the portion where he repudiated Labour’s record on civil liberties while defending the CCTV and DNA regimes in place kind of jarred me.

No matter. The question is, can he lead the party back to victory at the next election, whenever that may be? My gut says he won’t. Yes, the Guardian were trumpeting the polls that had Labour at 40% and the Tories at 39% (with Lib Dems at 15%). These are meaningless for two reasons. Number one, the circumstances that might lead to an election being held tomorrow or next week or next month, would be so cataclysmic to the political landscape it would in no way resemble the circumstances under which the poll was taken. I cannot even imagine them, and I watch too much TV. Number two – Ed Miliband’s personal numbers aren’t great if you look at the underlying figures, which leads me to suspect that this is merely a reaction to the changing of the guard and the fresh blood therein. I also don’t think what whatever support is there for Ed has actually coalesced into anything solid. He hasn’t really had much time to be defined beyond the juvenile “Red Ed” label that he was trying to shake yesterday.

For example, Google’s predictive results when typing “Ed Miliband” in earlier? First came “speech” then came “wife”. Ed Miliband is not married to his partner (though kudos to the twisted denizens of the internets who clearly wanted to see how good looking she was). No one really knows who he is. And why would they? He spent the better part his career as an official in the Treasury and then entered Parliament at the last election.

For the record, these aren’t critiques, just points about how he has no real national presence, and I’m not saying he even needs any, but once he attains some, the shine will inevitably come off and in the meanwhile his voting record as an MP and participation as a minister in Labour’s less than successful third term will be the starting point. 

You see, at the minute it’s really fashionable in Labour circles to hate on Blair, and it almost seems like that’s what he was doing, but if you read carefully he actually defends the first two Blair ministries. And somehow he’s pulled the sleight of hand to indicate that he’s not a product of Brownism or Blairism, when in fact he’s very much a product of both. I don’t think this by any particular rhetorical or political skill, but merely by the fact that of the three candidates that had a shot at this thing, he was such a relative blank slate, that commentators of all stripes have been able to project on him what they believe he thinks, courtesy of a largely inoffensive record, and a pretty well orchestrated (if PR and poll driven) campaign.

Anyways. Mazeltov young Miliband – this is about as generous as I’m likely to get in your direction, especially if you keep saying meaningless tripe like this:

“We may be of a similar age, but in my values and ideals I am of a different and new generation.”

Yeah. I have no earthly clue what that means either.

Though on the plus side “We are the Optimists”, apart from sounding like a Beijing tourism official translated it from “Yes we can”, makes a pretty good pub quiz team name. 

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

September 24, 2010

Serious Question! (Labour Leadership Edition)

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 12:24 am

When did it become utterly acceptable that the leadership of the supposed party of meritocracy and the people came down to two members of the same family? To the point that no one even really brings it up…

Also, why are their constituencies geographically hundreds of miles apart not only from each other but even further from where they were born and raised?

Also, when did it become OK that their most serious contender had the name “Balls”?

I guess I just don’t understand politics any more. 

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

September 22, 2010

BREAKING: Civilian governments often disagree with the military and amongst themselves about contentious wars

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 11:02 am

Shocking revelations abound in a shocking book that shockingly details the shocking level of disagreement between the US President and his closest advisors (military and civilian) over the shocking strategy to be pursued in a shocking war that divided the nation. In the words of Connery’s James Bond in Goldfinger – “Shocking”*.

That’s right, in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, she details the frequent disagreements between Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet colleagues and ranking generals over the strategy to be pursued in the American Civil War.

Oh wait. You want something a little more current?

In a new book, Bob Woodward The Ghost of Journalism Past, outlines the fact that the President and his advisors had differing opinions on the strategy to be pursued in a costly and seemingly futile war and that the President himself was somewhat frustrated at “the enduring clusterfuck [he] inherited from those worse than useless shitheels in the [Bush] administration” (Author’s Note: I may be paraphrasing slightly). Or, if you’re a sub-editor for the Daily Telegraph “‘Obama’s White House is in Turmoil‘”.

You know, maybe it’s just me, but this faux-shock that military and civilian advisors prosecuting a war that isn’t going particularly well might sometimes disagree is a bit rich, coming as it does from the 101st Chairborne of the Telegraph pages. In fact, this “turmoil” is basic operating feature of democratic governments. (Perhaps it’s because I’m reading Team of Rivals which I highly recommend for fans of political biography). One might argue that carefully considering whether or not to send thousands of troops to the armpit of the world is actually a sensible approach and that intense debate in this sphere is a good thing. Or you could just jump right in based on an gut belief that what you’re doing is totally correct and completely overestimate your ability to manage the consequences.

Or put another way, I can barely find two friends willing to express an opinion on the Afghanistan war who come close to expressing a unified agreement on strategy, including with myself. I’m sure Nick and I disagree on the matter. Does that mean our friendship is “in turmoil”? Was that a rhetorical question? Was that?

Another example – let’s say a couple are planning a wedding and have disgreements over how many guests to invite, or which Def Leppard tribute band to engage for the reception (“Deaf Record”, or “Jeff’s Leopards” is a tougher choice than you might think). Is their relationship “in turmoil?”. No, their ideas for the wedding are different, and compromise is going to have to occur, but if you were to suggest to their friends that on that basis that their future happiness was “almost torn apart” by the decision making process, they might (rightly) call you a shit-stirring prick. The Best Man might take it upon himself to deliver a sucker-punch to your gut, y’know if he’s taking his duties seriously. Look, I’m just saying man, a wedding is a stressful event, and without a considered planning, may very well turn into an intractable foreign policy quagmire that haunts an administration for years to come a disappointment.

*”Positively Shocking”

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

September 15, 2010

The Significance of the Pope’s Visit to the UK

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 10:21 pm

Fuck all

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

The Significance of the Pope’s Visit to the UK

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 10:18 pm
Cross-posted at Something Quotable

September 13, 2010

Dispatches from the Robot Apocalypse – Part V

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 10:27 pm

File this under the department of good ideas:

A robot deceives an enemy soldier by creating a false trail and hiding so that it will not be caught.

While this sounds like a scene from Terminator, it’s actually the scenario of an experiment conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology researchers as part of what is believed to be the first detailed examination of robot deception.

Actually it does sound like a scene from Terminator, now you mention it. There’s nothing to worry about though:

Most social robots will probably rarely use deception, but it’s still an important tool in the robot’s interactive arsenal because robots that recognise the need for deception have advantages in terms of outcome compared to robots that do not recognise the need for deception, said study co-author Alan Wagner, the research engineer at the Georgia Tech.

Yeah, that “probably” really inspires confidence. And frankly I care less about what the “social” robots do than, in the words of Tom Scocca “What about the killbots?”

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

September 7, 2010

Gerrymandering isn’t just a character in Seinfeld…

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 11:05 pm

Well, this is an old topic for this blog, but I feel I ought to visit it again, as it’s gaining purchase in the mainstream once more. Democracy Specialist, Jack Straw, is at it again vis-a-vis electoral reform, in which the headline informs me – “Labour hints at alliance with Tories to delay voting reform“. It’s nice that Labour can agree with the Tories on something. Prison reform? No. Scrapping ID cards? No. But they can get down with Tory backbenchers who want to delay voting reform. That’s cool.

Up to 60 Tories have said they will oppose the 11 May date for the referendum on the proposed electoral changes, arguing it should not be held at the same time as the Scottish parliamentary elections, or the local elections. Labour has said it will oppose the bill at tomorrow’s second reading, claiming it supports the principle of referendum but not the alleged gerrymandering of constituency boundaries that has been included in the bill.

For future readers, those 60 Tories, if they follow through, are what we can call the Hefferite wing of the party. Or just the screaming arsehole wing (which frankly I thought was a larger portion, but there you go). At least the Guardian had the good graces to call it “alleged” gerrymandering.

And there’s this from Jack Straw:

The shadow justice secretary, Jack Straw, challenged the timing of the plebiscite, claiming the chances of a yes vote would be diminished by the “deep unpopularity” of the government by May.

He condemned the changes to the number and size of parliamentary constituencies as the “worst kind of political skulduggery”. 

I’m glad of that principled stance. They’d support the reform of an electoral system that may erode their seating in Parliament, but are against obviously unfair constituency boundaries. Because they have never benefited from such a thing. Ever. 

By the way, I tripped over some statistics on my way in. 

Did you know…

that in 2005 and 2010, both winning parties secured roughly the same proportion of popular vote, but only in 2005 did this command an overall majority of seats

that 35.2% in 2005 equated to 355 seats for Labour

that 36.1% in 2010 equated to 306 seats for the the Conservative party

that 29.0% in 2010 equated to 258 seats for Labour

that 23.0% in 2010 equated to 57  seats for Lib Dems

So, the Conservatives this year, won almost one percent more than Labour in the popular vote did in 2005, but netted nearly fewer than 50 seats for the effort.

The main reason for this discrepancy is unequal apportionment of constituency sizes, which are historically recognised as antithetical the democratic distribution. 

The main reason for the lack of fortune for the Lib Dems is the uneven electoral system, which favours the fundamental institutional strengths of the two front-running parties in what used to be a two-party system.

Now both of these are manifestly unfair, yet I do not mention them to complain – I mean to point out that Jack Straw and, indeed, any member of the Labour party weighing on this topic, is on especially thing ground when they refer to unfair electoral boundaries.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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