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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #129                                                  March 12, 2002
                     A Publication of The Nature Institute
               Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Can we take responsibility for technology, or must we sleepwalk
    in submission to its inevitabilities?  NetFuture is a voice for
    responsibility.  It depends on the generosity of those who support
    its goals.  To make a contribution, click here.
    Editor's Note
    Quotes and Provocations
       Nature's Defective Xerox Machine
       Non-intuitive Computers Make for a Vigorous Economy (Ralph Barhydt)
    Announcements and Resources
       Confident Children in Complex Times
       Valdemar Setzer's Papers: Correction
    About this newsletter
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    This, I believe, is the shortest issue of NetFuture ever published.
    Actually, it's the result of an issue that just got too long; the main
    part of that issue — the continuation of my dialog with Wired magazine
    founding editor, Kevin Kelly — will come out in a week or two.
    Goto table of contents
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    I was raised a traditionalist conservative, and one of the rock-solid
    virtues of that mindset was a vivid awareness that the line between good
    and evil runs through every individual heart.  This, of course, was why
    one distrusted all schemes for salvation-by-government and favored the
    notion of checks and balances.  No excess of power should be vested in any
    one place, because no group of people can claim fully to have healed their
    own hearts of that fundamental schism.
    When we begin to believe that we've fingered the true locus of evil "over
    there" rather than "in here" — when the battle between "us" and
    "them" is equated with the battle between good and evil — then we
    have placed ourselves above all evil.  This is to make gods of ourselves.
    Yes, we must resist evil in the world — resist it for all we are
    worth.  We must strive to represent the good against the evil.  This
    endless, internal striving — never wholly successful, never finished
    once for all — is, in fact, the decisive thing.  But when the evil
    turns out, after all, to be over there, the striving is no longer
    necessary.  It becomes nothing but a matter of dialing in the
    coordinates and calling down the bombs.
    This is how disastrous moral reversal occurs.  To focus on the evil over
    there is to forget its strategic alliance with the evil in oneself, and to
    forget the evil in oneself is to turn one's own good — now untethered
    from modesty and rendered tyrannical — into a magnified power for
    evil.  If we follow this path of arrogance, the destruction we call down
    upon the world may be unparalleled.
    One other note:  As I have often remarked, our hopes for good tend to be
    vested "out there" in the gadgets and technical machinery of our lives.
    This externalization of the good is the flip side of the externalization
    of evil.  Both are gestures of self-forgetfulness.  Both recast the
    struggle within ourselves as a purely external drama.
    The whole idea of technology, really, is this externalization of part of
    ourselves — our muscular activity, our speech, our logical
    constructions.  This is perfectly fine as long as we recognize these
    projections for what they are — mechanistic aspects of ourselves
    — and as long as we bear responsibility for them.  This, however, is
    exactly what we are not doing when we are looking for good and evil "out
    The soldier returning home from war — and now lacking the simple
    moral compass provided by an external enemy — sometimes faces a
    difficult adjustment as he tries to recover a place of shared and mutual
    responsibility among his fellows in "normal" society.  I suspect we will
    face a similar challenge if ever we return home from our various
    technological infatuations.  When we remember ourselves and look within,
    we never find quite the same, neatly specified virtues we have spent so
    much time admiring in our machines.  Everything is muddier, and opposites
    are often intertwined.  An intolerance for such subtleties seems to be one
    of the more sinister legacies of technology.
    Nature's Defective Xerox Machine
    The belief, long fostered by far too many geneticists, that if you record
    someone's genome on a CD-ROM you've captured their essence is about as
    sound, scientifically, as the old belief that if you take someone's
    photograph you've captured their soul.  Actually, the latter is more
    defensible.  In the qualitative, external visage — into which
    something of the individual's character has been smitten — you can
    likely read more about who this person really is than you will ever
    decipher from the genomic sequence.
    By the way, did you see the recent news report about the first cloned cat?
    The "original" was a black, orange, and white calico; the "copy" turned
    out to be a black and white tabby.  The report I saw (in Newsweek)
    duly notes the puzzlement of scientists, adding by way of partial
    explanation that
       coat-color patterns aren't controlled solely by DNA.  Neither is an
       animal's personality, meaning that an affectionate cat could give rise
       to an aloof feline.
    So much for cloning your pet.  If the author had gone on to try to tell us
    what traits are "controlled solely by DNA", he might have stumbled
    into a real public service.  But I guess that's still too much to ask.
    (This item is lifted, in part, from the main feature of the next issue.
    Consider it a teaser.)
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    Non-intuitive Computers Make for a Vigorous Economy
    Response to:  "Who says Computers Are Becoming More Intuitive?" (NF #128)
    From:  Ralph Barhydt (barhydt@xcaret.com)
    Hi Steve,
    I was really amused at your article on intuitiveness in computers.  As
    usual, my first reaction was "Aw come on.  Of course, the hardware and
    machine language will never become truly intuitive."
    "However, I thought, the software is getting more and more sophisticated
    and it presents sort of a pseudo intuitiveness."  (Are you aware of the
    program that one of the 70's software AI stars wrote for PARC that tried
    to interpret what people meant when they made a mistake in typing a unix
    Anyway, I was all fired up to read your article and disagree with you.  As
    I read it I kept shaking my head and saying, "Oh, too true.  Ooops.  This
    is exactly the case."  I have had so many problems lately that have taken
    hours to fix and would certify me easily as a sys admin or network admin.
    Getting support from the vendors is the biggest joke.  They have all these
    web things that are totally not helpful and waste my time as well —
    except for IBM.  (IBM support is excellent.)
    Your point is right on.
    Your words reminded me of something that I have maintained for a long
    time.  If it is all a lie about computers becoming easier, more
    productive, and less time-consuming, what is the practical result?  The
    result is more products, more people to support those products, more
    consultants to support end users.
    I am not kidding about this.  I have been CEO of a software company and
    have developed a lot of software.  One of some software company strategies
    was to NOT make the software too easy to use.  Make people believe that it
    is easy to use, but create a marketplace for consultants, contractors and
    programmers who sell services to support your software.  SAP grew like an
    out-of-control virus epidemic when its customers were paying contractors
    $400,000/year to install their software.  In fact, although the margins
    are less today, there are good-sized companies that make a lot of money
    supporting the so-called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications
    — SAP, JD Edwards, Bann, and others.  That is on the grand scale.
    On the smaller scale, I know some young people today who are building
    businesses on supporting Microsoft applications just like the ones you
    mentioned.  They sign support contracts with small- to medium-sized
    companies just for this purpose and the contracts are substantial.
    The point is that the lack of usability coupled with the promise of
    productivity creates an economic generator.  It is a fundamental component
    now of our economy.  Just think, I can use PowerPoint pretty well, but I
    used to make my own flipchart presentations.  IBM taught me how to take a
    magic-marker and create truly effective presentations.  If you were going
    to compete with me on a presentation, you would have been wise to hire a
    creative marketing firm.  All I needed was some flipchart paper, two or
    three colored markers, and a flipchart stand.  Sometimes I wound up
    standing the flip charts on a chair.
    Now, I need a laptop, a projector, MS office and a lot more time working
    with the software than I ever had to spend with the markers.  There are at
    least two orders of magnitude of money involved and relatively speaking,
    my presentations are no better at all.  Absolutely speaking, they seem
    better — a lot nicer looking, more pizzaz, etc.  Still, simplicity is
    powerful and when I was doing flipcharts they were much more impressive
    because, (1) people recognized and appreciated my creativity and effort,
    and (2) there was less competition in matters of style as opposed to
    To me, the bottom line is that I spend a lot more to accomplish a lot
    less, but Bill Gates makes a lot more money.
    Cheers and best wishes.
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                           ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESOURCES
    Confident Children in Complex Times
    The Waldorf School of Baltimore will host a conference for parents and
    teachers on the theme, "Confident Children in Complex Times", March 22-23,
    2002.  The conference will run from Friday evening through Saturday
    afternoon.  Sponsors include the Alliance for Childhood, the Network for
    Enlivening Academics, and the Nova Institute.
    For further information, call 410-367-6808, ext. 202.
    Valdemar Setzer's Papers: Correction
    In NF #128 I pointed to Professor Valdemar Setzer's paper on "The HIPO
    Computer: A Tool for Teaching Basic Computer Principles through Machine
    Language".  Unfortunately, I confused the machine described in that paper
    (intended primarily for use in high schools) with a rather more advanced
    one he has used in his university-level teaching.  As Setzer describes the
    simpler machine, it is
       a simulator of just a very simple hypothetical computer, with four
       decimal digits words, and the basic arithmetic, jump and I/O
       instructions.  The simulator is intended to illustrate the basic
       principles of how a computer works from the logical point of view, and
       is not enough to teach advanced features of computers at the machine
       language level.
    Sorry for the misinformation.  You will find Setzer's paper, along with
    many others of value, at http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer.
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                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
    Copyright 2002 by The Nature Institute.  You may redistribute this
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #129 :: March 12, 2002
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