[Humanist] 29.634 subtle influences at home

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jan 19 07:07:50 CET 2016


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 634.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>                    (69)
        Subject: Re:  29.618 subtle influences at home?

  [2]   From:    "Patricia O'Neill" <poneill at hamilton.edu>                 (23)
        Subject: Re:  29.632 subtle influences at home


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 18 Jan 2016 09:19:24 +0100
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  29.618 subtle influences at home?
        In-Reply-To: <20160113072444.B4CE37D3B at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

Talking of Cybernetics, homeostasis, and Nest, I found this 
news item illuminating.

 Nest thermostat bug leaves owners without heating
 <https://thestack.com/iot/2016/01/14/nest-thermostat-bug-leaves-owners-without-heating/>

Despite "domesticating machine learning" it seems these Nest
thermostats don't have good homeostatic properties.  How
could they?  The Internet of Things (IoT) and all things
internet connected don't form good closed systems that can
have the means of sustaining sufficient internal stasis to
remain viable against external and internal perturbations and
fluctuations. 

In this case an external perturbation has proved too much.
The cause of the perturbation?  Humans!  Unintentionally, I'm
sure, on this occasion, but not necessarily on other future
occasions.

What Cybernetics didn't demonstrate is how to build a machine
with homeostatic properties and connected to a vast network of
other machines also trying to be homeostatic.  One machine's
homeostatic action can result in a perturbation too far for
another machine's homeostatic capacity.

No amount of learning (machine or otherwise) can get you out
of this mess.  It needs, probably, something more like
Maturana and Varela autopoiesis--a theory of living systems.

Best regards,

Tim

> On 13 Jan 2016, at 08:24, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 618.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> 
> 
> 
>        Date: Wed, 13 Jan 2016 07:17:22 +0000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: subtle influences at home
> 
> Those who know about the history of cybernetics will be familiar with 
> the idea of homeostasis (self-regulation), with origins in both 
> physiology and mechanical systems. Many of us, but not all, were shaped 
> in subtle ways by the implementation of this idea in the ordinary 
> thermostat. For what they might be worth, my musings this morning begin 
> on the one hand with some people I know, not far away from here, who 
> remain basically unaffected by homeostasis -- they turn the heat on and 
> off, end of story -- and on the other by the latest round of 
> thermostats, such as the Nest (https://nest.com), which domesticate 
> machine-learning.
> 
> There are stages in between, for example timers and somewhat more 
> sophisticated programmable thermostats. But the Nest et al simply learn 
> from one's temperature-setting behaviour. I wonder, has anyone studied 
> the influence of technology on such a low-key domestic level? The Nest 
> is said to light up when you approach it -- a friendly hello, as it were 
> -- but is otherwise apparently quite demure, quietly forgettable, unlike 
> the smartphone not drawing one's attention to it but receding into the 
> background, therefore, I would think, powerfully influential.
> 
> Comments?
> 
> Yours,
> WM
> -- 
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
> Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
> Group, Western Sydney University
> 
> 



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 18 Jan 2016 13:45:34 -0500
        From: "Patricia O'Neill" <poneill at hamilton.edu>
        Subject: Re:  29.632 subtle influences at home
        In-Reply-To: <20160118061347.868667DA2 at digitalhumanities.org>


Dear Willard,

Sometimes design problems cannot be explained away by reference to cultural
biases or functionality.  I am thinking about the initial problems with the
Millennium Bridge in London. Structural engineers had not taken into
account how people actually walk: This is from Wikipedia [my favorite
digital age invention]: "Vibration was attributed to an under-researched
phenomenon whereby pedestrians crossing a bridge that has a lateral sway
have an unconscious tendency to match their footsteps to the sway,
exacerbating it. The tendency of a suspension bridge to sway when troops
march over it in step was well known, which is why troops are required to
break step when crossing such a bridge.[4]
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Bridge,_London#cite_note-4>

Maybe crowd-sourcing has a similar tendency--opinion adapts to the sway of
the crowd sourced. So it is not the ability to build bridges or collect big
data that is the problem but a lack of understanding of the "loop," as
Willard called it, the gap between what can be encoded and what is felt on
the pulse which amplifies, distorts and eventually requires redesign if it
is going to be useful as well as statistically significant.

Cheers

Pat O'Neill

Hamilton College

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Bridge,_London#cite_note-5>






More information about the Humanist mailing list