Section 1: Living Data Chapter 5: Consequential Computing
April 20xx DellVille Arizona
Back in DellVille, Casey was recovering from her disastrous trip to her OMG Reunion in Rolling Hills OHIO. Her reunion weekend plans had changed to include enjoyable futuristic conversations with former colleague, Sally Rhodes, now living in the nation’s capitol. They’d shared reading, walking, and routines practiced by her feisty low vision friend. Finally, dispensing Threat Predictions at an unreceptive research panel went as well as she’d expected.
Still groggy from travel, Casey felt herself stumbling into unrecognized life choices. Her home environment felt different. Adjusting from humid to dry air revitalized her. On the horizon was a whitish band of moisture that foretold the monsoon weather flowing from the Sea of Cortez. Her emotions always deadened during the hot summer in June then revved up with the Monsoon Season in July and August. She loved the booms of thunderstorms, occasional hail, revived vegetation, and late summer hum of backyard weed whackers.
More travel beckoned. Sally had asked her to join her New Mexico family visit. Both retired computing professionals anticipated an interesting tour of the scientific lab museum and nuclear borderlands. Big changes loomed in her daily schedule if they attempted to analyze the ongoing Pink Page Rampage as unconventional Sherlock and Watson. Of course, she’ sign up for summer session peer learning classes. This year she had an additional worry about retirement funds after the Great Trickster’s trade policies tanked the economy.
Her Whisperer seemed exhausted and a bit soiled as it lay spread out charging on her kitchen table. That vibrant young Cassy at the 1620 console was oblivious to the coming human toll of algorithmic cruelty. CumuLinker was already prodding this elder Casey for feedback about the OMG Reunion. When would she get around to reviewing those five versions of her ‘Life Replayed’ prize for that ‘life patch’?
First, she needed to do a complete mind dump by dictation on her iPhone. Every leg of the trip taught her new lessons.
Travel report from OMG Reunion in Rolling Hills Ohio, re-acquaintance with colleague Sally Rhodes in D.C., and Threat-caster at NSF Research Panel
April xx, 20yy
by Casey Hawke,
dictated and transcribed,
- Lesson 1: CumuLinker wields life-altering technology.
Our OMG Reunion wasn’t the happy celebration of our lives as promised. CumuLinker suckered the organizers into that ‘Life Replayed’ extravaganza that brought shock and awe to my grieving friends. Technology wrecked the occasion.
Our technology world has changed so fast once we lost, and then regained, trust in the social media enterprise. Social entrepreneur CumuLinker has become more than the public custodian of the massive social graph developed over the past decades. The behemoth also acquired the vast Rebate Restitution funds released by the Silicon Valley billionaire beneficiaries of advertising-driven “free” services. These social media founding fathers had grown bored by search engine ranking algorithms and Congressional battles over fake news. They dreamed higher to save rain forests, explore asteroids, automate transportation, extend life, revamp schools, and operate their Singularity University. Bye, bye, innovators.
- Lesson 2: CumuLinker showed that our computing profession is too immature to diddle with people’s emotions and rituals.
Computations overwhelm us. The OMG fiasco wasn’t the first occurrence of “algorithmic cruelty”. In 2014, Facebook foisted what it called “Momentous Event!” child pictures onto a grief-torn parent who called them on the atrocity. Dumb cluck developers at CumuLinker didn’t get the message that you can’t cavalierly mix algorithms with emotions.
I’m also guilty. As a lowly adjunct at DellVille PolyTech, I taught counting and querying and visualization. I admired the elegance of those fundamentals of data analysis. But I never ever discussed ethics for handling living data. Students wanted jobs, not morality. Privacy wasn’t in their vocational mindset.
Our field lacked a warning system. Wealthy behemoths and subversive agents could, and did, weaponize our queries and postings. Not until that data scientist wrote the book on “Weapons of Math Destruction” did the press and my profession worry about humans as ‘living data’. And then, the Great Trickster rubbed our noses in our social media messes.
- Lesson 3: Nevertheless, Whisperers are cool social technology!
CumuLinker crafted profiles to help me reunite with Reunion classmates who would otherwise ignore this nerd. Knowing something interesting about a conversation partner conquered my shyness and over-rode my defensive trigger to be a little nasty. I firmly believe CumuLinker can change our social discourse for the better.
- Lesson 4: Packaging Whisperers in electronic textiles is sheer genius.
Thank you, CumuLinker, for unleashing my artistry! My very first Whisperer ‘Life Patch’ was a winner.
- Lesson 5: Whisperer life event data blows my mind!
Those Whisperer private ‘life narrative’ and public ‘Life Replayed’ apps are deep, and terrifying. I cannot yet appreciate how Whisperers carry one’s life memories, even more than one could remember. Pondering my variations of narratives has brought fear I’ve never felt before. Call that mortality.
- Lesson 6: Unlike most communicators, Whisperers respect disability, indeed benefit from the evolution of assistive technology.
Sally showed me how Whisperers overcome some annoyances of her social life with vision loss. She hears the name of a nearby conversational partner, as well as a description of their clothing and any disabilities she might not see. That’s amazing! She touted the ‘curb cut’ principle because people with reading disabilities had, over the decades, refined synthetic voices that now support everybody. And she made me feel comfortable and useful in “Sally World”.
- Lesson 7: I love my Whisperer, but don’t yet trust CumuLinker.
There’s something suspicious about Whisperer applications. My lifetime of programming in over a dozen languages tweaks my curiosity. How was the device developed? Which language, which paradigm?
I hate being told it’s “AI”, as if I hadn’t heard this story for nearly fifty years. Whisperers are too flexible for object-orientation, too powerful for query languages, too fluid for so-called neural algorithms, and sometimes miss their goal entirely. Could there be a ParaLog engine on board?
I’ve missed ParaLog since it disappeared when the ambitious Japanese Fifth Generation project tanked in 1990. Buried in its religion was a mental process resembling critical thinking. We called it ‘Consequential Reasoning’ because it forced us to model a world then logically explore its meaning.
Hmmmm! Is ParaLog really dead?
- Lesson 8: Technology is fueling yet another fractious phase of recovery from The Great Trickster era.
I’m not sure what to make of the on-going Pink Page Rampage. I buy Sally’s explanation that complex style sheets over-write simpler marked up text. I remember when we could use browsers to ‘View Source’, before well-meaning designers piled on features like web typography, interactive form frames, auto-run video, advertisements, social media ‘like’ buttons, eyeball tracking, privacy reports, search engine candy, and gratuitous ambiguous hyperlinks. What a mess!
Who are those Pink Page social deviants? I’m not sure I approve. Sally applauds them because she’s still able to read vandalized pages. She thinks those intermittent interruptions of service through tiny disruptions of the visual crud will eventually lead to simpler, more readable web pages that honor the original goals of hypertext to interlink human thinkers.
Those hacktavists are angry about sexism, ageism, disablism, racism, left-right-ism, and slights they’ve forgotten. Are Pink Pages the perfect revenge through temporary annoyance. ? Are style sheets the weapons du jour? Do we all have ships on our shoulders?
- Lesson 9: It’s not easy to be a Threat Caster.
I learned that researchers really dislike questions about their ethics and their awareness of the hazards of computing. They’d never heard of the curmudgeon computer scientist who fought the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative. He warned,
“It’s impossible to build those defensive missiles to work the first time they’re needed. We computer scientists are being socially responsible. You physicists have equations but worried about your first atomic tests dissolving the atmosphere. Later you admitted that creating nuclear bombs meant you now ‘knew sin’. Please curb your expectations for our infant computing field.”
Most researchers at the meeting were graduate students after the dawn of Web Time during which the industry was all about innovation and community and then AI and autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things. They don’t want any pause in their so-called progress.
My lifetime of software quality consulting tells me bugs are everywhere. We keep building systems too complex to operate without wise oversight. But respect for orderly process, expertise, regulation, and critical thinking went down the golden toilet of the Thing Who Crawled Out of Mythology.
- Lesson 11: I don’t know where I’m headed, but I’m changing rapidly.
I must replenish my retirement savings. My intuition tells me that Whisperers have computational powers I can exploit, that maybe I alone can understand. I want to help society resolve the anguish behind the Pink Page Rampage, but I also suffer myself. Should I allow Comrade Sally to enticed me into joining the Diaspora of veteran web thinkers to rebuilt the now scruffy World Wide Web?
I’m very worried. Could my Enchantress powers mislead me? I only have a few years left before decrepitude of some kind takes me down. Where do I go from here?
Casey’s iPhone startled her out of this deep reverie. Her ‘little syster’ Brittany needed to talk through some problems with her project to simulate a simple computation on a loom-like device to explain how computational thinking had evolved from mathematics and Victorian-era industrial processes. Casey welcome their afternoon outing to star bucks to review the project progress.
Pressing the ‘end call’ button, Casey caught herself. Was she falling into the trap of guiding a young woman into computing just because the field needed more women? Was she obligated to warn the young woman about the reality of ‘Me Too’ and the far ahead temptations facing the next generation of social media and autonomous vehicle and builders of god-awful things? How should an elder explain ethical dilemmas to a youngster?
Anxiety hit. She sent her dictated MP3 off for translation, doubting any entity but CumuLinker would read these ramblings or understand her concerns.
Suddenly, the Whisperer clanked out a John Paul Souza tune she remembered from her high school marching band days. Casey wondered how personal data on her Whisperer could progress into a memoir or a dramatic ‘Life Replayed’. Why not try it out!
At her command, the Whisperer spoke in a solemn male voice the synopsis of her main life events. The voice inserted pauses for images to form in her mind. She’d muse later about the marching band. Then the Whisperer repeated the narrative with a background of folk music using a softer maternal voice. Casey choked up realizing her deceased parents never knew the successes of her career, that they’d been spared her loneliness, and they never knew the gratitude she now felt for them.
The Whisperer’s power overcame her. Its ‘life story’ convinced her that she’d failed to live up to her professional potential and soul yearnings, but she had time yet to find her place in the Renovation of her beloved Internet and lost language of Consequential Computing. Maybe the Whisperer could bring human companionship and offer therapy to avoid those awful outbursts that disrupted her relationships and sucked away her professional recognition.
Her daily walk would relieve these disturbing thoughts and confusion. She heard her quails calling on their way to a stand of trees a quarter mile away. Puffing briskly uphill, she realized their message to her: “find a flock to guide through the coming season”.