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What Happens To Society When Robots Replace Workers?

west Re:Old (588 comments)

With each technological iteration, we have fewer and fewer who can find productive use of their talents in society. Both physical, and now mental talents are being superseded by machine. Take a look at the total workforce participation, and yes, you will find with each passing year, more and more people are driven out of the workforce because they possess neither physical or mental skills that cannot be reproduced by a machine.

Here's a graph from the Federal Reserve of male (to avoid discrimination effects in early years) from 1950 to present:. Drops from 87% to 69% from 1950 to present.

And with each passing year, the number jobs that machines cannot do goes down.

One well-known economist, Tyler Cowen, talks about the 15% whose productivity will soar because machines become a productivity multiplier, while for remaining 85%... well, tough luck for them...

The robot revolution will be a slow moving one, taking decades as every day a few more jobs are eliminated. But like a glacier during an ice age, even if you can't see it moving, it *will* crush everything in its path.

2 days ago
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NetHack: Still One of the Greatest Games Ever Written

west Re:Don't foget (186 comments)

Well, I think most of us can guess which took more time and effort.

about two weeks ago
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The Sony Pictures Hack Was Even Worse Than Everyone Thought

west Re:What's the bigger picture? (528 comments)

No matter what you think of Sony, this will not be good for the productivity of the corporate working world.

You are absolutely correct. However, perhaps it's time to acknowledge that much of the productivity increases that the Internet brought to the workplace are only possible because systems could be built that didn't assume that the company was under constant assault - a condition that is very likely no longer true.

My guess, however, is that real security won't happen until there's significant loss of life when real infrastructure gets borked by hackers (likely freelancers hired by a government vastly less efficient (and thus much more robust) than our own).

"Wow, every traffic light in Los Angeles has just gone green."

about two weeks ago
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The Sony Pictures Hack Was Even Worse Than Everyone Thought

west Re:Good God! (528 comments)

> If you are talking about strategically stored data and not user home folders, the signal/noise ratio is significantly better.

Not in any business I've worked at. Anything that is slightly valuable goes to the central data store so it will be backed up, and then never gets deleted because who knows when you just might happen to need it.

Sort of like what happens on my home system too.

about two weeks ago
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Electric Shock Study Suggests We'd Rather Hurt Ourselves Than Others

west Re:Needs larger sample set. (123 comments)

Agreed, but it takes a hell of a lot money for most people to give up their self-respect. There's lots of cases of people dying for it.

Choosing to shock someone else for a few bucks, is, as the article suggests, so detrimental to one's self-respect, that it is relatively rare.

about a month ago
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Electric Shock Study Suggests We'd Rather Hurt Ourselves Than Others

west Re:Needs larger sample set. (123 comments)

No, I've worked for all sorts of organizations, from large to small.

It's not that people are all saints, but I've found that overwhelmingly, people want to do good, especially if it isn't going to cost them deeply.

I have seen (didn't work at, but visited) companies that squished that tendency by making it quite costly to help one's fellow employee, and they were miserable places for the workers, but even there people tended to hate the company for making being helpful costly, rather than their coworkers for not helping (although I'll admit it did leak a little bit. Very sad place.)

In any place I've worked at, I've gone out of my way to be helpful to others, and every one else has gone out of their way to be helpful to me.

Perhaps I've just been very fortunate. Maybe I tend to see the best in people. But I will say that my observations on people's basic helpfulness have been borne out time and time again over the last 40+ years. I still take delight in the random acts of kindness and helpfulness that I see time and time again at work, the community and on buses and subways.

I'm still in awe of observing how it took perhaps a total of 30 seconds for a random women to notice on the subway when a young girl got separated from her grandmother and panicked when the doors closed too quickly, call for volunteers, and then organize four of them to go to the previous station, authorities, etc. (turning away 2 or 3 others including myself) before the subway reached the next stop.

Another example: My older teen-age son got into a verbal altercation on a bus because a young man started loudly swearing at my younger son when the my youngest accidentally hit the fellow with the backpack he was wearing. The older son verbally stepped in to redirect the ire onto himself to prevent his brother from being alarmed by the man's behaviour.

A month later, my son, waiting for a bus in the same neighborhood (which is a bit downscale) was approached by the same young man. The young man came up and apologized. He'd had a bad day when my youngest backpack bounced against him. He then praised my oldest for intervening to protect his younger brother.

That sort of good-heartedness is all around. Yeah, there are a few jerks. But there are a lot of people, who despite the occasional bad behaviour, are generally good. (I've always been grateful for the gentleman in the above example who apologized. It taught may son that people who are behaving badly aren't "bad to the bone", but are probably just having a bad day, same as the rest of us. A *critical* truth for bringing out the best in people.)

Yeah, I've lost a few bucks to a fraudulent "help me", but such incidents have been outweighed by orders of magnitude (literally) by the fact that almost no-one wants to be a jerk, and given the opportunity, most people are decent.

Again, you have my sympathies for living in a section of the world where that isn't true.

And sorry for the length of the post, but your vision of humanity was so horrifying that I felt I needed to point out the sentiment is far from universal.

about a month ago
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Electric Shock Study Suggests We'd Rather Hurt Ourselves Than Others

west Re:Needs larger sample set. (123 comments)

Test any of the several thousand people I've worked for, with, or very near over the past 20 years and I would guess that most of them wouldn't hesitate to shock the other person as much as was allowed, especially if they could be relatively certain the other person could not shock them back as a direct response.

You have my true sympathies. I can't think of anything worse than to have to work among people that you could not trust to be honest and generally benevolent. I consider myself fortunate that among the hundreds I've worked with over the last 30 years, I can think of only 1 or 2 who *might* do so, and I may well be failing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

about a month ago
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Ars Dissects Android's Problems With Big Screens -- Including In Lollipop

west Re:Zero without it (103 comments)

> How does the math change if the utility for those 3 people is 100 with the feature or 0 (because they'd switch to something else) without it?

Exactly the same. It does make it more attractive to implement (+100 utility for a fair number of people), but a lot of the make-or-break features tend to be ones with substantially greater costs to the non-using public. For example, flash card slots. Absolutely essential for a some segment, but actually somewhat intrusive for those who don't. (I'd guess that 30% of iOS users don't even know what a flash card is. Any dialog that even mentions that slot is going to instantly panic that 30%. Utility of unused feature is -5, not just -1.)

Nonetheless, the math can change over time. Multi-button mice are now common enough that a multi-button mouse is probably only -10 for a small part of the Macintosh user base rather than a substantial portion (I've seen a number of users who cannot distinguish between right/left button - a multibutton mouse would upset them for months). At that point, maybe Apple introduces a multi-touch mouse as standard for all their Macs.

Of course, the math is also somewhat more meta than that. High-end users tend to have a higher percentage of trend-setters, so there's some bias towards more features, even if the over-all user base is worse off for it.

about a month ago
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Ars Dissects Android's Problems With Big Screens -- Including In Lollipop

west Re:How does "too bad" benefit people? (103 comments)

Simple enough. Assume 100 people are using the software, and they get utility '100' out of it. We consider adding a feature that makes the software 20% more useful for 3 people out of that 100.

Unfortunately, the existence of that feature means that there's a new menu item that 99 people have to ignore or a widget that can confuse them when they accidentally touch it or more hardware that can break (even if you don't use it) and more places for security problems to hide, etc.

All in all, the new feature makes the software just a little less friendly to use. So instead of '100', the utility for non-users is now '99'.

So total utility for your users is: 97 x 99 + 3 * 120 = 9603 + 360 = 9,903 vs. 10,000 originally.

In other words, the over-all user experience has gone down because you spent a lot of money to implement a feature for some users.

Now the calculus and the relative assumptions about the cost of a new feature to non-users and the benefit to users makes this an art as well as a science, but at it's base, that's how adding features can hurt the community of users.

It's also why I've seen countless customers hurt themselves by buying "more than they need" on the assumption that extra features that they don't use can't hurt. Then they wonder why the guy next door who spent half as much seems twice as happy with his product.

about a month ago
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Ars Dissects Android's Problems With Big Screens -- Including In Lollipop

west Re:Is anyone surprised? (103 comments)

Actually, this is where we geeks tend to get it wrong. For the large majority, less *is* more.

Every feature that's added to the interface adds cognitive load to *every* user, not just the one's using the feature.

Ignoring UI elements that you don't use is not free!

It's why most general-purpose commercially successful design teams have a "every potentially new feature starts at -100 points and only gets added if it gets *significantly* above 0" philosophy.

The kitchen sink approach suits us well, but unless you're building a product for our particular 2% of the market, you want to eliminate features that are used only by a small segment of your market and bury features that are rarely used. It's no coincidence that Apple has done well.

What we really need is to stop expecting Android to be the Linux of the phone/tablet world. If it's going to be widely successful, it *can't* be designed for our needs.

about a month ago
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Intel Claims Chip Suppliers Will Flock To Its Mobile Tech

west Re:News Flash! Company makes bold inflated claim! (91 comments)

> you seem to have a complete lack of understanding of the difference between an item and a product.

Well, using standard vernacular, the terms item and product aren't exactly unambiguous. Pretending otherwise is... um.. an "interesting" defense :-).

I'm also pretty certain most people would disagree with the idea "a product can become good solely as a result of an increased marketing budget", but would agree with the idea "a product may seem better priced as a result of an increased marketing budget".

Of course, perhaps it's because you understand what people are saying better than the people who are saying it.

about a month ago
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Intel Claims Chip Suppliers Will Flock To Its Mobile Tech

west Re:News Flash! Company makes bold inflated claim! (91 comments)

price is a property of a product.

I don't agree. I've seen non-computer related products that were built to last. They lasted 5 times longer then their competitors, but cost twice as much.

In the end, they weren't commercially successful because cheap beat everything else in this market segment. However, I still wouldn't call them poor products. It's simply that people either didn't value or couldn't evaluate the product.

The customer determination of overpricing is often dependent on marketing budgets. I don't think goes a product goes from poor to good simply because it's become commercially successful.

about a month ago
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Intel Claims Chip Suppliers Will Flock To Its Mobile Tech

west Re:Intel isn't going to win this one (91 comments)

I think that's their only hope. Unfortunately for Intel, I don't see a lot of customers willing to pay a substantial premium for more powerful chips, especially when power draw is such as issue.

If Intel is going to maintain the revenue that it has delivered for the last several decades (and pay for its substantial research budget), it can't afford to enter low margin markets. Spending a billion dollars to develop the world's best mobile chip makes no sense if your customers aren't willing to pay high enough prices for you to make that money back (many times over).

Just about every PC vendor in existence has learned that you slowly go bankrupt even if you own the low margin PC market. Apple might not sell many Macintosh's, but they're the only one making any money worth noting in the market. Intel's got to pray that there's a similar market for mobile chips.

about a month ago
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Intel Claims Chip Suppliers Will Flock To Its Mobile Tech

west Re:News Flash! Company makes bold inflated claim! (91 comments)

If Intel's product is actually better, they wouldn't have to make such bold predictions because people will want it.

Not true. Intel's problem is not that they have inferior product, it's that customers don't want fast more than they want cheap.

Intel can't afford to be the big winner if they're only going to make a few bucks profit on each chip. Take a look at Intel's profits compared to TSMC. They don't just need customers to use Intel's chips, they need those customers to pay 2 or 3 times as much as their paying now.

The only hope they have of that is by putting out a somewhat better product, and hoping people will pay a much bigger price. So far, it's not working.

about a month ago
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Canadian Police Recommend Ending Anonymity On the Internet

west Re:In other words (231 comments)

Precisely. People might like anonymity, but they complain mightily when the cops tell them "sorry, there's nothing we can do" even as your identity is being openly sold on the Internet.

So, it's only natural that the police forces push for regulation to make their job easier. After all, I push for things to make my job easier as well.

However, while such a push is natural, it is also to be opposed. I don't expect the police to carefully weigh the pros and cons of measures to attack crime, after all, that's not their job.

I do, however, expect politicians to do so, as that *is* their job.

I'll start worrying about this when I see politicians taking this seriously. And at that point, I'll start applying what pressure I can. After all, it's the politicians that are elected to represent my will, not the police.

about a month and a half ago
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It's Time To Revive Hypercard

west Re:doesnt work (299 comments)

A device driver??!?

That *is* success :-).

about 1 month ago
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It's Time To Revive Hypercard

west Re:doesnt work (299 comments)

Exactly this. Writing non-ambiguous instructions in English (or any human language) is ridiculously difficult, and attempts to do so end up (not surprisingly) in legalese, which is often harder to understand than a programming language with a decent syntax.

Natural language programming is pretty much an oxymoron, because there's almost nothing natural about programming (with respect to human beings).

Over the years I've come to hate tools that pretend to management that you can essentially program without actually having to pay an expensive programmer. Inevitably, it ends up with a programmer having to work with a set of tools that are inferior in every way doing programming.

Okay, *almost* inevitably.

The *only* thing that natural language programming languages are good for (and I suppose this isn't entirely negligible) is discovering people who are natural programmers, but were scared away because of syntax and a "programming is magic/difficult" mindset. I've pushed a few people to learn programming when their natural talent became obvious despite a "I could never program" mindset sitting in front of thousands of lines of "not a program". It was almost painful to see how hard they had to work to push these tools to the sort of beautiful results that they did.

about 2 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: Why Can't Google Block Spam In Gmail?

west Re:WTF? (265 comments)

I too have initial + last name@gmail.com and get a fair amount of misdirected email. I make some effort to find the right address (had to call someone who accidentally had her cell phone bills sent to me... Happened about 2 weeks after the XKCD cartoon.)

But I don't assume laziness, stupidity or malice when someone uses the wrong address. It's just a mistake. And people are almost always grateful when you help correct their mistake.

It must be a miserable world where everyone else's mistakes are due to critical character flaws. You have my sympathies.

about 2 months ago
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How Spurious Wikipedia Edits Can Attach a Name To a Scandal, 35 Years On

west Re:Research (165 comments)

It's no one's fault, really, it's just that newspapers are obsolete.

I'd in general agree.

Unfortunately, low reportage is correlated with a mass of social ills (increase corruption for one), so I suspect this development is not welfare-improving in the long run.

On the other hand, we do save a few bucks each month.

about 2 months ago
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How Spurious Wikipedia Edits Can Attach a Name To a Scandal, 35 Years On

west Re:Research (165 comments)

I'd strongly disagree. You can never be certain something is accurately reported. However, you can spend more and more money to lessen the chance that it's inaccurately reported.

The more I pay (along with several million others - I alone won't cut it), the more fact checking the papers can afford, and the higher their level of accuracy, as long as readers value accuracy.

about 2 months ago

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