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Monday, October 19, 2015

Bob Dylan, IBM, Watson and the lies surrounding massive text processing

Bob Dylan must be in trouble. He has made a commercial for IBM. Actually I kind of like IBM. They were a leader in my world for a long time and did many good things. But, now they are hawking Watson. Fortune had this to say:

Bob Dylan gets tangled up in Big Blue

The folk rock icon stars in an IBM  IBM 0.20%  commercial that premiered this week in which he talks with the Watson supercomputer about music, love, and, of course, its knack for coming up with smart answers. IBM is trying to push Watson as a key technology service that could help put an end the company’s declining revenues.

(You can see the ad in the Fortune article.)

The problem is that Watson is a big lie. Yes, it can process text and discover that Dylan says the word "love" a great deal. But processing massive amounts of text and discovering statistical patterns is not the same as understanding the text and Watson is certainly not learning anything more than what words show up together. IBM concocted one of those "conversations" between Dylan and Watson which sounds like someone might understand what the other is saying. It is all an attempt to find a use for Watson to help in processing massive amounts of text. But, as I said in an earlier column, people don't really learn by reading and computers certainly don't. Watson is not an AI machine no matter how often IBM says it is.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Stop school shootings. Get rid of school.

When people discuss school shootings, they discuss gun control and mental health issues. Curiously they leave out what I consider to be the primary problem: school.

Not everyone hates school. Not everyone is angry at schools that rejected them, told them they were losers, bored them and so on. Those are not reasons to shoot anyone. Well, maybe they are for some people.  Let’s assume that you are a person with issues, not the happiest, best looking, most loved, most admired, smartest, or most together kid in the school. What happens to such people?

they are made fun of
they are ostracized
they are made to feel stupid
they are ridiculed
they are told they can’t do thing something they wanted to do
they don't make the team
they don't get into a club
they don’t get into the next school they may have wanted to attend.

All of school is a contest. It is a contest for who gets to go to Harvard, who is on student council, who is the teacher’s pet, who is the best looking, who has the most friends, and so on. There are losers of these contests. In fact, most people who go to school feel like losers a lot of the time. There are prizes they didn't get, special trips they couldn't go on, bad grades that make them feel dumb, kids who won’t be friends with them, guys who got the girl they wanted. Kids everywhere want to fit in, and there are usually other kids who want to keep them out. Teachers have kids they like better than other kids. It is only natural. So, there are kids who feel that their teacher doesn't like them. There are kids who have nice clothing and those that ridicule them because they aren’t wearing the latest fashion, Kids are ridiculed because they don't agree with the majority on whatever is being discussed. Kids are ridiculed because they are different or weird, too smart, or too dumb.

In fact, school can be a nightmare for some kids — a torture chamber.

And we are surprised that there are so many school shootings. I am surprised there aren’t more.

You don’t have to attend a school to think that a school would be good to shoot up if you have mental problems, are lonely,  and have lots of anger. It is the obvious place to choose. It is where you were miserable. It is where your problems started. It doesn’t even have to be the school you attended.

But we insist on attributing school shootings to gun control and mental heath issues. Of course, these are big issues, but I would just like one newscaster or commentator to point out that school is an awful place for many of the students there and it makes them angry.

The solution? Shut school down. (Keep providing the daycare possibilities. With two parents working, kids staying at home isn’t all that likely any more.) 

How do we do this? It wouldn’t be that difficult. We live in the age of the internet. A kid could learn anything he or she wanted to learn easily enough. We would just need to build some interesting things for them to learn and do in virtual worlds that they find fascinating. They can work in virtual groups of other kids with online mentors. Then, if they were unhappy they could stop what they are doing and do something else. We need to stop having mandatory courses that everyone must take and let kids do what they want.

Who is at fault for school shootings? A government that hasn't a clue about school, boring courses, mean kids, competition, and the awful effect of it all on children.

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