All posts by nguyen.tri

Response to the NSA

The article reveals an interesting side of NSA and helps explain the start of what I would call a Spying Empire.

The only reason the NSA kept recycling is it is an effective tool to fight against terrorism, and the logic behind that is extremely fallacious. According to the article,  The logic that the NSA uses to advocate its action is “that if today’s surveillance programs existed before 9/11, it might have been able to stop those attacks.” which is unreasonable because as we have mentioned in the previous discussions, the biggest challenge for human in the past was not the data itself, but the technologies available back then to analyze them.

The technologies in 2009 could not timely analyzed the information the amount of information NSA has collected today, and thus, their system might get overload and malfunction or they would pass the needed information to prevent terrorism. Thus, data is not enough but it also requires technologies, and if NSA argues about bringing back today’s technologies to 2009, they might as well bring today’s weapons back to prevent world war II and save over 60 million lives of human, or vaccines back to prevent various plagues and save hundreds of million lives. Hence, arguing about what you could do in the history with today’s technologies is an invalid cliche. If the NSA want to the right to use our information, it better proves to the society, with explicit examples, the benefit we gain, not just a sole sentence about terrorism fighting.

Hence, if terrorism is not the NSA’s first concern, what else might it be? In my opinion, it goes back to our debates about the fight over power and money. The NSA might start this project due to good causes, to against terrorism is one of them. However, as the NSA grows, the amount of data it has collected also grow tremendously, and thus, money has to be spent for creating data storage, developing mechanism for analyzing data, and hire people, the experts, to help them analyze those data,etc. It costs a lot of money, and the government’s money(more accurately, US’ tax money, the people’ whom it is spying on money)  is fueling this Spying Empire. But government doesn’t want to give out money for free to NSA anymore, because once you have solved the problem, which is the terrorism or several other good causes cannot be named by the NSA, there is no longer any justification for it to grow/get the money. Hence, NSA has to create new goals, something they can do with the extra data they have. This part is arguably connected to how Google used their data in the past and now (with AdWords) where they purposely used the data collected for their own uses.

At this point, I can see no reasons to let NSA keeps spying on my information as well as other people’ data. However, it is a hard answer to other people because it is many lives that are put on the scale and even with a slightest chance that NSA can use our information to save those lives, it is  difficult for us to waive it.


Response to Norvig and Chomsky debate

This debate is, in my opinion, quite useless as we can see it’s the difference in the way this 2 men define the world of science. Chomsky believe that the study of Science means to give an insight of the world while Norvig support the ideas that we must using models, which portray the insight, and then deduce the insightful theory subsequently. However, in my opinion, it is a nobody win situation where their ideas can go on forever.

First of all, the dispute over the “insight” and “description” is meaningless because Chomsky himself also declared in the interview that “some of the modules may be computational, other may not be” and it is exactly the counter of his theory. Some part of the science can be “insight”, while other may not be and thus, scientists need some replacements, something can help them to observe as accurately as possible to come up with the final “insight” and the “description” is there. The other way round is easier as Norvig himself also claims the importance of “insight” in science and just want Chomsky to admit the importance of “description” in science.

Secondly, It’s quite clear that, despite learning language is an innate ability, learning language is a process of absorbing knowledge. Most studies in the world have shown that it is better to learn a language through listening and reading- that is, we do not learn a language by hard studying and applying it, or memorizing and producing it. Rather, we try to understand the knowledge we are taking in, through the comprehensible input collected through interacting with the world, and develop our vocabularies and grammars on those bases. That’s why, in my opinion, the difference between an adult and a child is not how their brains treat the language (as a puzzle or as a language, according to Chomsky), but their learning environments. One truth is that children are better at mimicking and not preoccupied by the learned languages like adults, but those reasons only help them better than adults at pronunciation, which is irrelevant to computers. Adults have averagely, more challenging environment than what most children have. A child, since it was born, has nothing to do but leaning a language while an adult would have other concerns, together with learning a language, take over his life. The devotion is much less while the expectation is more, adult’s standard of fluency is much higher than a child’ standard, and thus lead to the presumption of a child is better at learning a language. Computers, likewise, acts as an infant demanding the feeds of knowledge- the set of parameters- before being able to communicate.

The question,then, is to find out the human learning process that we can mimic for computer.From my experience, most of my friends who live in English speaking countries will score better than the foreign students at grammatical multiple choice questions, but seem less likely to be able to explicitly explain the reasons behind their choices.The answer mostly received would be “because they/it sound(s) familiar”. Where does that “familiar” come from? Studying language naturally when you are growing up is a progress of hearing-data inputting- and recalling when heard again- internally processing of data. Thus, it is not wrong for Chomsky to criticize the ineffectiveness of old Markov’s chain, because it fails to recognize the familiar trends which help us differentiate the grammatical versus ungrammatical. However, as Norvig said, it is a 50-years-old mechanism that I believe, in this fast changing world, will soon replaced by better probabilistic and statistic mechanism. On the other hand, Norvig has also shown that even with the old Markov’s chain, probabilistic models are still better than Chomsky’s theory at the degree of sensibility of a sentence than while Chomsky’s is better at differentiating the grammatical/ungrammatical. The irony here is, the algorithmic system (probabilistic  model) is used to judge a intricate set of words for its meaning while the unsystematic algorithm (Chomsky’s theory) is used to judge how well a sentence has followed a set of rules made by a language.






Response to Information

There are several interesting idea discussed in these chapters. As Jose has mentioned about the “inclusionist” and “deletionist” I think it’s better if I touch on the fear of the overload of information mentioned in the next chapter. “New news everyday” bases on its previous chapter, which talks about the birth of wikipedia, to give us an idea of an age with the accumulation of information.

It all started with e-mail, a simple and convenient tool that in much favor of everyone. The sender and receiver are not bounded by time and space anymore. However, they soon began to find out the threat of information overload, too much control was given to the senders while little to none to the receivers: “People get too many messages, which they do not have time to read. This also means that the really important messages are really difficult to find in a large flow of less important messages”. In fact, with the available of internet and ebook (Kindle),  People found the problem more severe, but the nature of studying, the process of of learning about the world of human, since they were born, was to receive and proceed them. As according to the text, yesterday ‘s newspaper would take up space that needed by today’s work, and we will have to empty our memory for the newer news, “forgetting used to be a failing, a wasted, a sign of senility. Now it takes effort. It may be as important as remembering”.

I mention about these problems the society has faced in the past because it shows a link to the question we discussed last class, the necessity of the “app using OS” like iphone compare to the “multi-layer folder OS” like Windows.  The “multi-layer folder OS” came better due to filter and search-the solution for information overload.  It seems clear for us these days the importance of these 2 engines, filter gives us the authority to bypass unconcerned information and concentrate on the wanted. When information, which was once precious, becomes cheap, our attention gets more expensive. We become selective in receiving, not just news, but almost anything we intake. The other engine, search, shows the contrast between Windows and Iphone lay out.  If a file is a book and a our laptop/iphone is a library, we can imagine that the book, if it is stored in the laptop, will be put under multiple-layers of folder, categorized by its author, language, genres, etc. and the reader have to remember that path in order to find out the book for the next time he wants it; while if it is stored in the iphone,  it will ,literally, just stay there, right in the screen. Now imagine, if we have thousands, millions of books, what will happen with the 2 OS?

In my opinion, the way we store our information is like how we used Windows to store the files. We set layers and layers of description and used search engine to find them base on those identities. However, once the information is stored, we will not see it again, until the next time we need to see the information. And if someday, people, the only ones who know about that piece of information, forget about them, will we consider that information exist? The answer is no. Many unknown books are stored in the library, and it will still stay there, until the next time people request to find/borrow them. But if there is nobody know about those books, how can they borrow them? This problem, then, is directed back to the fight between the worthiness of being remembered/treasured of information between the “inclusionist” and “deletionist”. It is the conundrum that is not easy to solve, at least until we come up with other algorithm to solve the conundrum of information overload.


Response to Lau’s Kitchen and Social History of Database Populism

The Lau’s piece mention about technologies that has been successfully developed , if not much better, by many electronics companies nowadays. However, again, like Bush’s, if we consider about the time this article was written,1975, it is amazing how the author foreseen on some innovative ways of utilizing the technology at that time. However, the fact that we only have recently achieved such success, after almost 30 years since the distribution of the idea, shows how hard it is to turn even a well-planned invention into reality.

About the social history piece, I think it is a bit exaggerated when talking about the importance of “data literate… or their lives will be destroyed by those who are”. However, I don’t deny that with this rate, data literate and algorithm will become more and more crucial in our lives. Since the start of the computer age, when the first computer was invented, they said there will only about 3 computers needed in each country. Yet less than a century later, everything turns out to be nothing like what have been predicted. People learn how to work with computer,its software;and more and more people now how to code, assemble and design their own computer with separate . Computer skills like knowing how to use Excel or PowerPoint become a must for most of the jobs’ requirement. Therefore, it just a matter of time when people become familiar with the data literate and its algorithm and that time will not be too long.  Just like the article mentions about the similarity between computer and car, I am sure not knowing how to fix your car won’t get your life screwed up by the car engineer; and really, we don’t need to or partially need to know how the car engine works in order to drive a car or even, become a racer.

One more example is, because the technologies keep changing, it is not feasible in timely manner to let people get to learn about the data literate and algorithm. In the last century, it has been a back and forth fight between (SQL and the relational model) vs. (mass-scale information processing/NoSQL), just like the fight between a electric car vs. gas-engine car, which will confuse even the professionals and thus lead to a mass chaos in the computer using community. In order to get the data literate as the author wanted, I think firstly what we have to do is to reach the stable phase where we can be sure that our knowledge has reach its maximum potential, or at least will stay that way in a sufficient time, enough for the society to catch up and be familiar with the literate and algorithm itself.


Response to Computer Girl

The articles started with statistics about wages, which misdirects the readers to the assumption this articles is about the money aspect of its subject, woman’s job. As we follow the path, we will see some really negative ideas coming out from the text. This paper actually encourages the idea of sexism where female was treated unfairly compare to male.  What funny is the misconception the articles trying to create where the difficult jobs such as “telling the miracle machines what to do and how to do it” are too hard for women that “it doesn’t sound like woman’s work”. Why would you have an idea that being a computer scientist is not an appropriate job for woman? It is certainly not that exhausting compare to being a factory worker or even bank clerk or nurses or teachers, which women were usually associated with. It, however, requires some systematic thinking and that may be what the society thought woman is lacking.

The articles, though not clearly shown the encouragement, tells us about the extreme sexism happened during that age.  There is an association where boys are reprimanded if their arithmetic grade is bad while girls are not. It is emphasized that “as long as she can figure out the bank balance and tote up the grocery bill, she’ll be all right” which is a disdain to women because by saying so, the society has already tied women to being a housewife, only knowing how to take care of the family’s money and buying grocery for meal. Another similar story is most of the sexists would address the unfairness where boys can’t wear dresses while girls can wear trousers. This association and its impact on our behaviors indicate the direction of power. The minoritized group can emulate the dominant group because in doing so they are emulating the higher status group and thus gain status; but the dominant group does not emulate the minoritized group because they are emulating the lower status group and thus lose status. This is why women wear pants as well as dresses but men do not wear dresses as well as pants (there has been a small resurgence of kilts for men in alternative subculture, but these kilt are acceptable because they are masculinized by their association with ancestry and battle). Men who order cosmopolitans or other “fruity” drinks risk ridicule (because fruit is gendered female). This is an illustration of how powerful gender roles, unequal power, and marketing are in shaping our everyday “choices”, from the clothes you wear to the job you do.

Response for The Averaged American

Igo’s thesis is that modern surveying methods have caused an American society to create such ideas as “mainstream culture,” “public opinion,” and “normal sexuality.” She followed her thesis by examining three important surveys of the 20th century: Lynd’s study of Muncie, which meant to represent “typical” American; George Gallup and Elmo Roper’s public opinion polls, which were understood to represent the thoughts of an “average” American, and Alfred Kinsey, whose surveys purposed to uncover “normal” sexuality.

In the Lynd’s example, Igo shows us factors, no matter they are intentional or unconscious, can led to the simplification of a messy reality. The influence of the new social scientific studies, Igo suggests, became manifest when they sought to represent the abstract notion of “the American people” in their samples. The authors of these studies envisioned an America that was—like themselves—white, Anglo Saxon, and Protestant. They drew up their samples accordingly. In my opinion, Middletown was rather a community they (the surveyors) wished for than real. Muncie had an appreciable African-American community, but this society was not included in the analysis. Lynd’s excluded African Americans and immigrants in his survey, so his “typical American community” in fact represented only a white, native-born community.

Response to Foucault’s piece

The discourse of madness and the paradox of madness

First of all, I want to point out the opposition between reasoning and insanity, where the discourses of madman were often oblivious but observed to possess underlying truths. The irony is that it was also through listened discourses that madmen were recognized; and, at the same time, his discourses were also immediately discarded as there were no psychological doctors that would pay any sufficient amount of attention to or infer any important matter from the words of mad people, at least not until the end of XVIII century.

Therefore, the importance and reason behind the madman’s discourses were only appreciated through the literature (Don Quixote), used as a sign, through something I would want to call as masked methods for an implying way of telling the truth.

Until now, even that the words of a madman is listened, however, the act of listening is not because from the needs of being listened of the patient but from the established law that force the doctor to listen to the patients.  The doctors, while listening to the patients, are also not listening to them.Why? This was due to the fact that language were something determined by our mind even before we know of its existence. The act of listening is a part of our censorship to the world, that is, we have already synthesized the meaning of the discourses imbued with nonsense and insanity even before we make the act of listening.

The opposition between right and wrong

Truth and knowledge are the cores of human’s society. However, opposing to the nowadays definition about what is truth and knowledge. In VII B.C., truth was something originated from the rightful person during a certain ceremony, which was, the meetings that philosophers such as Socrates and Plato would gather and speak out of their minds what they think were the truth of the universe. Or a more detailed example mentioned earlier in this piece (The order of things) is the Chinese’s encyclopedia where we would think about the validity and possibility of such classification. Without much different from Socrates’s age, it all came down to the decision of a man or group of men that controlled the truth without much solid evidence but discourses.

However, after sometimes, the definition of the truth was dramatically changed as it didn’t have anything to do with what it was about or where it came from but what it said, that is, the contain rather than the presentation and the origination. Thus, there was a new separation between the right discourse and the wrong one. The right discourse wasn’t the most honored and desired one, because it was not the discourse that attached to the power as mentioned above. Instead, the truth, was then base on “From now on, every resemblance must be subjected  to proof by comparison, that is, it will not be accepted until its identity and the series of its differences have been discovered by means of measurement with a common unit, or, more radically, by its position in an order.” (The order of things,p.55)

P/s:I acknowledge that some points made maybe inaccurate and prolix. Thank you for reading my response. :)

It is also interesting to note the development of our knowledge system:

-From unattached classification without any scientific linkages (the Chinese’s encyclopedia) to the similitude (Linnaeus’ system) to the resemblance (p.51) to the 2 forms of comparison: measurement and order (p.53) to the definition of nowadays truth mentioned above (p.55)