Gustavo Montes de Oca ( @goldengus )

I’m a PC but I don’t want to be

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2011 at 8:05 pm

There are 6,783 living languages spoken and 126 deaf languages signed.

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There are 6 major languages families – accounting for 85% of speakers – and each represents at least 5% of living languages. Of the 6 major language families, the one that encompases the fewest languages is Afro-Asiatic, which accounts for 353 languages including Somali, Egyptian and 29 versions of Omotic, which is spoken typically in Ethiopia.

3 operating systems

There are 3 operating systems. Between them Microsoft (82.07%), Apple (9.27%) and Linux (1.65%) are running on 93% of  web-using computers.  In mobile systems, 4 operating systems run 94% of mobile devices.

This reduction in languages allows for standardisation and facilitates mass connectivity. My computer, my artefact of distributed cognition, can talk to yours even though we are nowhere near each other and might not even speak the same language.  Two strangers united by our computers’ ability to connect to the same evocative Neil Young 7 minute song based loosely on the conquest of Mexico.

I am my OS, you are my OS

But there are worrying implications to this narrowing of languages, specially as we become more dependent on the technological components of our distributed cognition.

As more of our cognitive activity takes place outside of our skull and instead is done for us by our devices, we will find that we are becoming more and more like eachother. Once differentiated by biology, language, cultural background, upbringing and physiology, our processes become more similar. And as our processes become more similar, we could lose some of the wealth of thought and behaviour what makes our race so extraordinary.

Ray Kurwzeil has suggested a time (2019) those elements of distributed cognition return within our skulls, but as cybernetic implants. The implants will carry out cognitive activities for us, but we will no longer have to carry them or have them in our pocket. The chip in my brain will carry out my remembering, or my computing or my filtering of data for me.

While microchips and bytes of programme are incredible facilitators, freedom is not something they bring. Rather, architecture and code is stronger than law. Law can punish transgression and you will be punished if you transgress (if you get caught). But you can’t transgress code, can’t transgress architecture. So when we do all have implants (assuming its not a preserve of the rich in “spoils to the winners” mode) we will all have the same cognitive limitations, as defined by – as things stand – 4 companies.

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  1. Can I respectfully disagree on some points.

    “As more of our cognitive activity takes place outside of our skull and instead is done for us by our devices, we will find that we are becoming more and more like eachother. Once differentiated by biology, language, cultural background, upbringing and physiology, our processes become more similar. And as our processes become more similar, we could lose some of the wealth of thought and behaviour what makes our race so extraordinar”

    Technology facilitates different differences. Humanity was, is, and will be, a species of infinite difference within a set of confined parameters. As the environment changes the parameters change. Culture is always a dynamic, living breathing thing. People must always fight to preserve what’s important (and discard what’s not, obviously). Technology doesn’t change this, for example how much pre-Colombian culture survived the Conquistadores?

    “While microchips and bytes of programme are incredible facilitators, freedom is not something they bring. Rather, architecture and code is stronger than law. Law can punish transgression and you will be punished if you transgress (if you get caught). But you can’t transgress code, can’t transgress architecture. So when we do all have implants (assuming its not a preserve of the rich in “spoils to the winners” mode) we will all have the same cognitive limitations, as defined by – as things stand – 4 companies.”

    I both disagree and agree. Computer programs are incredibly complex things these days. Operating systems like Windows and Mac OS comprise millions of lines of code, and an almost infinity of links between those lines, an unthinkably large spiders’ web of action and connection. There is no way to fully test a program like that to work out what every combination of action will result in, or even if every combination that should do something does what it should do. There are always exploits and circumnavigations which produce results different from what the makers of the program would want. For example, a number of years ago school kids worked out that you can surf the net without needing access to a web browser simply by using Microsoft Word, and rather than opening a document using the open file window to open a website. Or a better example is simply the existence of things like malware and viruses. However it is very easy to provide limitation to exclude user actions, or ways of monitoring user action.

    Also you may want to look up the open source movement. Evident in such things as varients of Linux operating systems, or browsers like Firefox. The code is open for all to see, and utilize (so long as they make their modifications open for all to see and use as well). For such potentially life and society changing things as implants their operating systems must be open source. Not least because implants have huge civil liberty implications.

    Oh and always nice to hear a bit of Neil Young.

    • Anything that refines my thinking and expression and expands my knowledge is welcome (including implants) – thanks!

      “Technology facilitates different differences” I couldn’t agree more. But I wonder whether a greater number of different technologies would facilitate a greater number of differences. My concern is not that humanity will cease to be ” a species of infinite difference“, but that those infinite differences will be within parameters so narrow that we lose our adaptive capacity (and become boring!). I suppose I fear that the homogenisation of the high streets will be replicated in our cognition.

      Thanks for elaborating on computer programs and the internal complexity which means their designed use is not always their only use.

      An example of how technology determines behaviour and reduces diversity: Yesterday, I had to send a quick text to a Spanish friend, we speak to eachother in the Conquistadores language, but I was going into a tunnel and changing the language on my phone in order to be able to use the predictive text seemed like one step too far and dealing with the suggestions was frustrating so I sent the text in English.

      I was lazy in my addressing of Linux and referring to it as a company. The diversity flourishing as a result of openness will produce greater adaptability, but at the moment it seems to have limited take up with individuals – maybe its a pot of diversity waiting to blossom. I did find out that most the top performing servers are working on Linux, and was going to have to do more work on how that fit in. Thanks for the pointers.

      • “For such potentially life and society changing things as implants their operating systems must be open source. Not least because implants have huge civil liberty implications.”

        That is the point I should have been making. Thanks

  2. p.s. linux isn’t made by one company, it’s an open source operating system with many variants like Red Hat, Debian or Ubuntu made, developed, and maintained by various companies, or by various groups of enthusiasts.

  3. It is also the language of Lorca, and Zapata,

    you should read up on Richard Stallman the creator of GNU/Linux and a open source/free software radical. There is a collection of his essays there http://shop.fsf.org/product/free-software-free-society-2/

    Perhaps, to twist Marx, the 21st century’s politics will centre around as much the control of the means of communication, as the means of production.

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