back to article Apple, Google, NASA, and the Rainbow connection

When Sir Roger Penrose visited Silicon Valley this spring, he stopped off at Google, NASA, and the Rainbow Mansion. But he spent most of his time at Rainbow, Silicon Valley's answer to the 17th-century French salon. Penrose — the English mathematical physicist renowned for his work on general relativity and cosmology — gave a …

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Pint

I knew it

Under all that clever snarkiness and the buzzard feathers, there's an indelible quality of journalism in the coverage by the Register.

Rainbow sounds like one a heck of an intriguing story. Thanks for sharing with us, the readers.

(Anonymous, because I wouldn't want the comment community to think as if I was saying this for brownie points for myself, as I'm certainly not.)

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Thanks

Glad you liked the article, we did too.

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Boffin

This is why you need us...

Shame all those information architects couldn't do enough research to hire a competent architect to design the mansion.

What a fugly salmon-mousse coloured abomination!

At least a 17th-century french salon would have been architecturally up-to-date, not trying to look like a 13th-century pile of turds, or whatever they used then.

Seriously, I would be embarassed to have that building in my portfolio. Maybe they could get that guy from Belarus who gets hit by meteorites to stay there for a couple of days?

To quote Zoot from The Muppet Show - "If I had a match I could put it out of its misery."

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Happy

Youv'e not seen...

...the sort of buildings they generally put up around here then...

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Shoehorn

Back in 2006, a plot of land measuring 5000 square feet in the middle of Silicon Valley's endless urban sprawl cost $400000 to $700000. High elevation land with a view of the valley and easy access to expressways, like that area of Cupertino, costs enough to make even the wealthiest wince. It's why the mansions look bubble-shaped and squished.

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I can see him..

That's the easiest 'Where's Wally?' picture ever.

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Arrghhh

You got there before me!

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Welcome

I, for one, welcome our...

... future PhD-laden commune lifestyle espousing overlords. Or something.

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Unhappy

"We Want to Change the World"

NASA, Google, Apple?

All you need is someone from Microsoft and you've got representatives of all four horsemen

Maybe their mission statement should be "We want to rule the world" or "We want to copyright the world". This all sounds incredibly pretentious and self serving.

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Welcome

You're assuming the positive...

No one is saying that they want to change the world for the better (even for a personalised definition of better).

They're just saying they want to change it.

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He has assuming correct

Thanks for the comment, Zedenne.

We do want to change the world for the better. Not you?

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Clarification

We're not representatives from those large corporations, sorry the article gave you that impression. Some of us just happen to work in them.

Andrew, what's wrong with working to make the world a better place?

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Megaphone

Soooooo . . .

You object to smart people getting together and sharing ideas? No one reading your blog, I take it?

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@SebastianStadil

Welcome to The Register. I don't know if you comment here regularly. If not, don't take the criticism here personally- Reg commenters hate everyone and everything, almost universally. I'm currently testing out a theory that "everything was better in the 50s/60s/70s" (delete as applicable) is the root cause of this.

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@SebastianStadil

"...what's wrong with working to make the world a better place?"

Plenty. There's a level of arrogance to believing that your vision would indeed make the world as a whole a better place. Other people are not you; what changes you sew could be cause others to reap a bitter harvest. Ambitions to alter the world without through consideration of the effects can be dangerous. Improper use of power/influence can (and quite often does) result in larger negative consequences than the benefits wrought.

One example I have to offer is that of the concept that “openness outweighs privacy.” While I have not been party to this debate, indeed as a blue collar shmoe I would not likely be welcome, my initial impression is fear. This is not an instinctual reaction. Rather it is one that has grown slowly over time as I have observed the actions of various Silicon Valley corporations, and the results of those actions upon society at large.

When privacy is gone, those who control the flow of information, (those who can alter its accuracy,) wield unimaginable power for good or evil. Even if the current crop of folks in charge of these Silicon Valley corporations are “good at heart,” the next batch may well not be. These are publically traded corporations after all; there is more chance of obtaining a good quarterly profit by harming people than by helping them.

The issue with the above mentioned concept is that all their ideas rely heavily, (tragically, naively,) on trust. It requires individuals to trust one another, to trust their governments and most especially to trust in the benevolence of corporations. The unfortunate part is that history has repeatedly shown that only in exceptional circumstances is trust of any kind warranted.

Basically, the world envisioned here is one in which everyone does the “right thing” (as defined by the majority) all the time. The alternative is to be instantly found out. Being found out is to be ridiculed, ostracised and perhaps even jailed. This has implications for ingenuity, social development, and too many other related topics to delineate in an already too long comment. The world in question has the potential to either be a culture of carbon-copy automatons or perhaps more terrifyingly one where obtaining privacy to indulge in anything against the mores and norms of society becomes a black market.

Imagine a world where the prevailing social opinion of the day says “grilled meat will give you cancer, thus all of society will shun any who partake in such activities.” (See how we treat smokers in our societies today.) Individuals who wish to indulge in this socially questionable activity that has no harm to anyone but themselves now have to go to the black market to find a place where they don’t feel judged for something simple like eating a BBQed steak.

Perhaps that future culture feels that being a “geek” is negative. Finding out who is watching science fiction is easy, as there is no privacy, and these individuals are persona non grata simply for enjoying something deemed bizarre by the hive mind.

We see the thin edge of this wedge today in the UK. It is illegal to possess certain images; including those which are cartoons causing no harm to anyone. What images make it into this list of socially unacceptable items is defined entirely by whomever happens to bray the loudest and offer up the fattest calf to those who make law.

Is this the future? Entire societies run as though they were high schools? Popularity and conformity to be the only thing that matters? It seems to me this would breed an entire race of sycophants; something I cannot abide when many of the greatest discoveries of all time have come from those individuals who defied the established beliefs and practices of their day.

What’s wrong with trying to make a better world? Plenty, if the scope of your vision is too narrow. The people in that house quite literally have the power to shape the future of all societies that comprise the totality of our species for generations to come. To see the effects of their actions upon the world over the past several decades, I can only come to the conclusion that they treat this power with no real responsibility. Experimenting blithely with the denizens of this world; imposing their vision on us all.

For reasons as very briefly discussed in the example above I can only think of children playing with matches in a tinderbox. The tinder in question is you, me, and everyone else who is or may ever be.

I know it is easy to dismiss me as paranoid, a fear monger, or many other things. It is easy to look at my education and say that my opinion is irrelevant because I lack the appropriate letters behind my name. There are certainly always going to be reasons to disregard my opinion or those of anyone else who disagrees. I wish I could alter that; instead my influence is largely limited to that which the written word can convey. So that said, I will attempt to rise above my own insignificance for a brief instant to make my impassioned plea:

If you yourself are among these people or you know them personally, then as a representative of the hoi polloi I ask of you a boon:

Please sirs and madams; as you set about to make the world a better place according to your personal visions, tread carefully upon my future. It is the only one I have.

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Bravo Trevor_Pott!

that is why i bother to read the comment section, to find those rare gems like this one.

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Choices

If I had to choose between intellects discussing making "the world a better place" and just leaving it up to individuals to get it done.. well, haven't both been occurring for centuries anyway?

These people may be uniquely placed to actually make actions a result of their machinations, but one hopes that at least some of them share Trevor's caution.

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@Trevor_Pott

Wow, that's the longest Register comment I've seen, or rather, it's certainly the longest one I've read :-)

I strongly agree with your concerns, but I disagree with your conclusions. The problem is not people with a vision to make the world a better place, but the opposite: pandering to an ill-informed populace making short term populist gestures to garner a few votes or favourable leader columns in the Daily Mail, often (I'm sure) against the politician's own better personal judgement.

The examples you gave (eg. hysteria about child protection resulting in bizarre laws on cartoon pornography) I'm sure didn't arise because anyone say down and thought "what can I do to make the world a better place", it was a populist and short term reaction to particular events.

A bit more "intellectual elitism" might actually help counter this deplorable trend in today's society. That's why I think things like attempts to reform the House of Lords and make it democratically elected are fundamentally misguided. We don't need more democracy, if anything we need a little bit less! I have vastly more faith that a bunch of unelected intelligent and successful people who have already succeeded in their particular fields, have already achieved their career goals and have no vested interests to pander to will make the "right" decisions (or at least, put a brake on wrong ones) than that politicians chasing a few votes will.

The same thing goes for bastions of industry. Somebody who has already been successful and made his or her millions, and now wants to work for the benefit of mankind and to make the world a genuinely better place, is much better placed to advise on the best way to use technology in the future than a CEO lobbying the decision makers purely for the benefit their own short term commercial interests.

Incidentally, I originally picked up on the article because of the reference to Roger Penrose: I used to take his special relativity classes and he's a great guy. It was just a shame some of them clashed with information theory :-(

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@trevor pott

Hmm. You have made an assumption that what they think will make the world a better place is not what you thin will make the world a better place. Since you don't know what they are thinking, and they don't know what you are thinking, it's a bad assumption. Also, who DO you think should be making the world a better place? What are the options? Some geeks in a salon, a third world dictator, a Columbian drug lord, a professor of economics at Harvard, a hedge fund manager, the president of the USA, me? All have their owns views, and I think I can make a guess at the one I would prefer.

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@Rolf

Pandering to the masses is as dangerous as ignoring them completely. The problem with “intellectual elitism” is that the individuals that form these elite so very often begin to believe in their own intellectual infallibility.

I said nowhere in my post that “the will of the masses” was in any way superior to the vision of the few. Quite the opposite, I am terrified because the vision of /these particular few/ seems to desire to give the will of the masses unprecedented power. I am a student of history and as such I have just cause to fear the hive mind; it does not make decisions based on logic, careful consideration or any definable rational process. The hive mind emotes, and its actions follow suit. An inevitable consequence of the rise of the hive mind is a society where “conform or be marginalised” is a core belief.

Understand that I do not disparage a world guided (but not ruled) by intellectual elite. I do however decry these elite having the power to change the world without the requirement to have taken the time to understand it. You simply can not learn all there is to learn from a book. You must visit and live with other cultures to understand them; even if one of those “foreign cultures” lives at the blue collar pub instead of one’s regular academic haunts.

I myself have been formally tested consistently for a couple decades as having an IQ just a little north of 150; far less than the denizens of The House Of The Brain Trust, but supposedly significantly higher than the average. This has not granted me a special insight that makes me in any way superior to others, nor am I worthy of guiding the fate of cultures I do not understand. All that my intellect has done for me is to allow me to begin to comprehend how incredibly much exists that I will likely never have the opportunity to comprehend.

I fear any individual having power over others if they truly believe in the infallibility of their personal vision of how the world should be. Most especially if they have not experimented on a smaller scale before trying their hand at the world stage.

People are the result of both nature and nurture; the influences of their society combined with the genetic predispositions they inherited. Until the day comes where we can (and do) understand the impact of every possible combination of genes on human personality we can not possibly understand all that motivates and individual. Until the day that we can (and do) collect and sequence the DNA of every single individual we cannot understand the impacts of our works on every individual.

So what then of intellectual elites? Should they be paralysed for fear of harming one individual amongst seven billion? I would argue they should not, but neither should they be allowed to shape the world unchecked. The earth is home to many SOCIETIES; and in a society we rely on the skills, knowledge and abilities of many people from a great many different disciplines.

If any of these intellectual elite were remotely ethical, if they cared about the individuals such as myself that comprised the hoi polloi as anything of greater value than the insects they crush underfoot when walking in a forest, they would have their ideas for changing the world carefully analysed by the wider scientific community before testing them on the wild. (Sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and all other professions that belong to what I would term “the humanities.”) If these individuals feel they truly can and should change the world, then I personally believe that they have the moral and ethical duty to do so responsibly.

In my view it is incumbent upon those with greater intellects to obtain opinions not from a cadre of like minded individuals but rather to seek out those who disagree with them. To hear the arguments against their chosen vision and to incorporate into their works methods and tactics to minimise any potential damage their planned changes will reap.

The intellectual technoelite gave us the digital divide, insecure primary communications protocols that led to spam, malware and so many more things that I could give week-long lectures on the topic. They accomplished great works, but they were also consistently narrow in the scope of their vision that they failed to understand what would happen to their technologies when the larger world got hold of them.

Please take the time to read up on the history of the internet, from the development of TCP/IP and e-mail to the modern social networks and targeted advertising. Look at the assumptions that were made by the intellectual elite and the fallout that one small assumption when drafting a document can have for DECADES on the rest of the world.

The masses should not be allowed to run the world; the hive mind is as dangerous as any intellectual chaebol. I do not claim to have the solution to this conundrum, however I expect those who are justifiably significantly smarter than I should at the very lest be seeking a balance between the two. Our intellectual overlords should be guiding the masses without marginalising or alienating the very individuals of which these very masses are comprised.

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@Daniel

Why thank you very much, sir. I was honestly rather afraid my opinion on the matter would not have been well received; the individuals who make up this house, (and their theories) have a very strong cadre of believers here on El Reg. I would have though that being a nobody from a hick province disagreeing with these folks would have led to a pile of downvotes and a slew of ridicule.

I have never had the money to go to university and get myself a PhD. I have never recognised any opportunities in my life that would have led me to being a great business leader with even a fraction of the influence on of these folks have. Despite this, I feel as strongly as they claim to about my own personal ethics. I realise that my ability to change the world is exceptionally limited, but I think that if given the chance I would give it a try.

I am certain that I am no more pure or just than those others who would choose for us the shape of the future to come. I have worked my entire life to cultivate a sense of personal objectivity and yet I have to admit to still falling victim to prejudice, assumptions and unwarranted fears. That it will take me the rest of my life to pay off my mortgage (and other debts such as my student loans) is then perhaps a benefit to society. My lack of economic power serves as a restraint to my personal ambition: the only outlet I have for my ambitions to change the world is that of my writing. This at least is a method by which individuals must choose to read what I write, and then can either discard it or incorporate it into their beliefs as they see fit.

I am not certain that were I given the means to change the world I would be any more careful with that power than those who are the topic of my previous comments in this thread. I believe that the changes I wish to make in this world are positive, and would have positive outcomes…but my experience is limited. How could I possibly know the ramifications of those dreamed-of works, the repercussions upon others?

So while a positive reply from another commenter on El Reg isn’t exactly the thrill of seeing my data park built, or of steering the great ship Microsoft towards a future where she is beloved for creating great works…

…it is nonetheless a welcome boost to my fragile ego. Most especially when I was expecting a strong dose of commenter negativity.

TL;DR:

I recognise that I may never amount to much in the grand scheme of things; but I’ll be damned if it isn’t pleasant to have my works appreciated from time to time. :D

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@James Hughes

Who do I think should make the world a better place? All of us, ideally. In the real world though, I think that any legitimate attempts by powerful people to actually change the world should be “peer reviewed” in a manner similar to (and perhaps by) the scientific community.

As mentioned in another comment in this thread, we are a society…and societies are composed of people of multiple disciplines. I would like to see individuals from multiple disciplines getting together to work out how to advance society far more that I would any one individual or a group of very like minded individuals have that power.

As to the assumption that these individuals’ idea of what would make the world better being different from mine own, I base this “assumption” on observing the past thirty years of the technoelite. I am a student of history, and I have paid attention to the harvests reaped from what they have sewn. My opinions tend to be very strongly divergent on the topic of their works so far having been a benefit to us all. Some have brought benefits, but sadly they have to date only very rarely brought more benefit than harm.

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*Sigh*

Sew = sow. ROAR!

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@ Trevor Pott

Best post ever

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@Trevor

I think we basically agree. I wasn't suggesting giving a very few elite people all the power to make decisions by themselves, but more of an advisory role.

I don't know if what you're saying is a little self-contradictory though. On the one hand you're worried about "giving the will of the masses unprecented power", on the other you're saying all decisions should be peer-reviewed by us, the public. Aren't those the same thing?

I'm against giving the will of the public too much power, not because they don't have the right to decide (which clearly they do) but because they don't have the time to.

If an academic peer reviews a paper, they will be familiar with the field and carefully read the whole paper (one hopes) before coming up with their considered opinion. If Joe Public "peer reviews" some suggested legislation, they will make a snap and often prejudiced decision based on a 10-second sound bite on the radio news. Unfortunately most difficult decisions take a lot longer than 10 seconds to find the right answer, and most of us simply don't have the time to analyse a situation in enough depth, considering all the opposing points of view, to come up with an informed opinion.

Hence, if I can find a bunch of reasonably intelligent and fair-minded people who have the time to look into issues and discuss them among themselves before making a decision, then I'm quite happy to delegate my right to decide to them to decide for me, and the more power they have to ignore all the ill-informed, prejudiced, snap answers of my fellow citizens in the process, the better. Probably.

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MrT
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That 2,000 character limit is getting a hammering...

First one is well over 5,000 ;-)

Can I vote Trevor onto the staff? Could be the start of a "Rants and Raves"-style column (like in Computer Shopper)... It's as good a read as the article, and generates as many comments in it's own right.

Jolly good, what-what - carry on!

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Happy

@MrT

Wish granted: http://search.theregister.co.uk/?author=Trevor%20Pott

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Debate

I guess you have never been to a debate since you seem to think that everyone sits around and nods in agreement with the motion.

You put forward some good points, but these would be part of the debate before the people involved carry or reject the motion, in the article it does not say what the decision was.

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The answer should be obvious

WE should be making thw world a better place; every single last one of us should make a genuine effort to fulfill this obligation. Hanging that responsiblity over to a handful of people is both folly and of course incredibly lazy.

Each and every one of us can do our part in making OUR world a better place, the first hurdle we need to overcome is apathy.

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Anonymous Coward

Sorry, but ...

that tasteless tacky waste of landspace it no way comparable to a 17th C French salon. It's sole merit is that it has removed a shit load of money from the pocket of someone with more money than sense (of taste)

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Rob
Black Helicopters

Sounds like...

... an illuminati reject group.

Thier black helicopters are probably the model variety.

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A Triple AAA First Derivative Option

"Sounds like... ... an illuminati reject group." .... Rob Posted Friday 23rd July 2010 14:59 GMT

Err .... I might like to suggest that it be seconded as an Illuminati Master Pilot Program. Or that be a Satellite Hub for a SMARTer Version of that Grand Master Wizardry. They certainly would appear to have all the Aces and Spades.

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Headmaster

Nothing good can come of this...

...nor anything useful.

It's just a gentlemen's club.

Well, I do hope Penrose has some time writing books on physics. Not on AI please, the asshattery is unbearable.

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@Nothing good can ever come of this

"..nor anything useful.

It's just a gentlemen's club."

Exhibit A: The Scottish Enlightenment

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"Nationalism is an Infantile Disease"

Good to know that we will soon get rid of egoism, since it is also a mere infantile disease... Will Apple start licensing its patents for free, too?

Always nice to see that people with so much money are so high-minded about the moral failings of others...

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It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing

Laurel Canyon 196X redux? What sort of music are these <strike>cats</strike>geeks into?

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So Hardware Is Sick

Its a site that promotes all the new electronics that are fresh off the factories before they even hit the stores. Yeah its for the high tech connected people out there who love new gadgets that make the human experience better for everyone. I give this site two thumbs up!!! As for me I love learning about new gadgets and inventions it means good things for now and the future. Already know!!! Thanks bro!!!! peace.

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Joke

I'm changing the world...

Well, the climate, anyway. Do I qualify?

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Anonymous Coward

Well...

I'm sure they're OK guys.....

But at the end of the day they are only going to enact change if the political "leaders" see some benefit in what they are proposing.

The global warming scenario would not have got far if it had stated that "global warming will improve the world for all and lead to less taxes on people"

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Re: Due Diligence & Changing the World

Re - Changing the World:

To be fair, conversations of "changing the world" held in this thread are purely theoretical, because pragmatically speaking, what and who's vision can unilaterally address each and every one of our greatest grievances across the board? I've yet to see one. Any leader, whether philanthropic, political, technological or otherwise needs to necessarily focus on an area they want to impact, and then perform due diligence by consulting extensively with those within that space to ensure a) that this is a workable solution; b) this is not stepping on anyone's toes; c) it has not been done before; and d) all stakeholders are considered. Anything else is purely an academic exercise and will likely fail.

I say this based on experience. My start-up came from a challenge to positively impact "1 Billion people in 10 years using accelerating technologies." Broad, to say the least, and definitely a challenge that runs the risk of becoming an "airy-fairy" solution without merit. Our team addressed this by 1) zeroing in on a particular problem space; 2) constructing a solution; 3) performing extensive consultation with those in the field; 4) field testing it extensively (as opposed to running scientific/academic studies, as Trevor suggested, which, as I can say as someone who comes from years of being in academia, is more to pad one's own resume rather than enact any type of useful solution).

In summation - when it comes to "changing the world" (or even trying something new) due diligence is necessary, absolutely, but following an archaic model of merely holding intellectual/academic discusssions/studies around it is absolutely useless without practical application.

PS: Rainbow is certainly not a gentlemen's club! I say this as a female resident of Rainbow. :)

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@SP - Rainbow

I don't believe that academia is the only way to parse ideas. It is an example of one, but actually one that I find wholly inefficient. My belief is that any idea whose goal is to “change the world” in any meaningful way should be run by experts from multiple fields and disciplines before implementation. If you have two people who always agree, then one of them is irrelevant, and nowhere does this hold truer than when implementing plans that can impact millions of individuals.

I am not advocating a particular set of formal rules, but the establishment perhaps of something completely different than has gone before. You want to release a new revolutionary computing device you think will shake up the market? Run it by some sociologists, psychologists, PhDs in education, politicians, geeks of various stripes and even some trades people. See how it would integrate into the lives of the target market, and what effect it could have outside of simply selling a widget.

Try to understand the broader social implications of disruptive technologies or ideas /before/ implementing them; but try to obtain this understanding not merely through the prejudices and preconceptions of a small group of creators. Put the rest of your society to work by asking in people of as many disciplines as you can and pay especial attention to those opinions and ideas which disagree with you.

Not only would this help minimise the fallout from ill conceived ideas or products, but it would help engineers understand how their technology could be misused or modified to prevent such misuse. There is also a strong business case as this kind of truly in depth analysis could help reveal unknown markets for products or ideas even before they launch. (Thus ensuring the maximum possible efficiency of advertising dollars in the initial campaigns.)

I honestly believe that simply going “here is the widget I want to build, here are the people I want to sell it to and no one else matters at all” is both short sighted (from a business standpoint) and (socially) irresponsible. I understand that you may disagree with this; it is not a popular viewpoint, especially amongst people who run technology companies. Still, it is something I feel strongly about. I felt I had to speak out on this, and I am sorry if I offended anyone.

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Better Land Designer Advisory Here

Is this poor thing in front of the dacha a tree or an antenna? If first, just paint it green. If second, please don't (-:

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"The World" is a very big thing

"Nationalism is an infantile disease"

Does that include Israel?

I'm really tired of arrogant westerners changing "the world"... They lack soul, foresight, ethics, and a connection to nature. The change has so far been largely catastrophic to culture and nature...I'm ashamed to be a westerner, living off the resources, blood,sweat and tears of the so called "3rd world".

The techno-onanistic, transhumanist vision of a changed, improved world is just a thin veneer over an orwellian nightmare... "Openness over privacy" .... shudder... Yes, I have a lot to hide, and so does everyone who actually lives a life rather than runs iLife.

"I have vastly more faith that a bunch of unelected intelligent and successful people who have already succeeded in their particular fields, have already achieved their career goals and have no vested interests to pander to"

Oh yeah, no vested interests at all... .

It is much wiser to live in the world and be a part of as harmoniously as possible, knowing how little you know, rather than trying to change it to conform to your infantile whims and power cravings. Humbleness is a virtue , pride and arrogance are not.

what do these rich geeks know about suffering, poverty, how the rest of "the world" actually lives while they wank in their techno-bubbles in California? Is there an app for that?

excellent comments Rob, amanfromMars, and Trevor... really good.

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I actually found it a very enjoyable read

and it's actually pretty refreshing to see some competent and interesting debate in the comments section, but guys:

"Good could be you were trying to develop the sort of gene-sequencing algorithm that provides doctors with the ability to tailor medicine to particular individuals. Good could mean building IT systems for NASA or a better user interface for the iPhone."

Really? Designing a UI is on the same level as developing better medicine or helping humanity explore space? Really?

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@ Shakje

I think the point that the interviewee was trying to make was that it doesn't matter the size of your contribution to improving society, it's the fact that you're making an effort to make life better/easier for individuals.

Having struggled with some complete abortions of phone UI's over the years, I know a better UI makes my life easier, and contributes to me feeling less stressed out about using my phone - which considering I use it a lot makes me less stressed in general.

Having said that, I still don't want an iPhone but I think I get the point they are trying to make. Of course it also underscores Trevor Potts main point (Bravo by the way, a good read) as I understand it - which is that to many people the iPhone is the current pinaccle of technology and the interface is close to perfection. To me I find it hard to use and a fancy toy. Everyones different and what's better for one isn't neccessarily better for all.

Of course the upshot of this is that if you try and make life better for everyone, you will fail. There's no possible way to succeed. Sooner or later you need to make the decision about whether you're going to focus on aiding a select minority, or the overall majority. And just to really mix things up - it's not always best to focus on making things better for the majority in my opinion.

After all, who's to say that by pandering to the whims of the masses, we won't doom ourselves into an evolutionary cul-de-sac? Perhaps it's better to focus on a specific minority, who knows? I don't, and I don't pretend to, I just think that it's something that should enter into all decisions.

To give an example, at work there's times I could do things that would make everything easier for the majority of users. On the other hand for a minority it would make things substantially more difficult. The obvious answer is to focus on improving the solution for the majority - on the other hand it is the said minority who contribute the huge majority of revenue to the company. So what is the best solution then?

Just a thought.

I sense this may have gone off on a tangent as so many of my writings do - unfortunately I am rather tired and have yet to have my morning coffee.

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@Rolf @Trevor

If any elite is alienated from the general population, it is the fault of the elite. If the general public is not able to grasp the elite's ideas, it is the sure sign of alienation. There is a common point that both Trevor and Rolf seem unable to grasp - the elites do much more good by Educating the general public, than attempting to act in behalf of them.

Why is it on me, a guy consistently below IQ130 to point it out?

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@kpharck

Actually, I agree with you 100%. The way forward is not to make decisions for the milled masses because we believe them to be intellectually inferior or incapable. The way forward is to strive to raise the capacity, understanding and education of the milled masses such that they can make more informed decisions for themselves.

I believe very strongly in the ideas surrounding democracy, but I think that it is incumbent upon any and all “elites” to spend their efforts on elevating the masses rather than ruling or “guiding” them. How can anyone trust someone who can’t or won’t take the time to understand them to make decisions on their behalf? If the distance/alienation between the elite and the hoi polloi becomes too great then distrust sets in.

In no was I ever, or would I ever suggest different. It is one of the reasons I suggest rigorous “peer review” of any grandiose plans to “change the world.” By involving members of multiple disciplines, you involve people with different experiences and understanding, all of whom will be able to see a different angle to your plans. The members of the humanities in particular are important, because they spend their lives trying to understand “the man on the street.” Their insights should be considered invaluable when analysing any idea to “change the world.”

Haughtily sitting atop one’s ivory tower deciding the future for a world from which you are largely disconnected is something I simply can’t abide…

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@one0on @kpharck

"Oh yeah, no vested interests at all..."

You're right, everyone has vested interests. But if you take a random bunch of successful people who have already achieved their main goals in life and let them discuss an issue and come to some agreement among themselves then you have eliminated at least *some* of the vested interests that can cause so many problems (eg. politicians making populist gestures to appeal to the tabloid press, which in turn have their own vested interest in selling more papers).

"the elites do much more good by Educating the general public"

Right, but isn't that where we are now? There's no shortage of blogs etc. where everyone and their dog is trying to educate everyone else to explain their own particular viewpoint or insight onto the world's problems. The problem is information overload. You simply can't expect to fully educate *everyone* on *every* issue. The only possible solution is to delegate some of that decision-making responsibility.

No doubt a committee of the great and the good making decisions would introduce its own set of problems, but I'm not sure they'd be significantly worse than delegating all the power to one individual whose main strengths lie in successful schmoozing up to the party machinery, manipulating public opinion, and looking good on TV.

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@Trevor_Pott

"...I suggest rigorous “peer review” of any grandiose plans to “change the world.” By involving members of multiple disciplines, you involve people with different experiences and understanding, all of whom will be able to see a different angle to your plans. The members of the humanities in particular are important, because they spend their lives trying to understand “the man on the street.” Their insights should be considered invaluable when analysing any idea to “change the world.”

The things which change the world are ideas (and their dissemination)..

Was it irresponsible of Charles Darwin to publish "The Origin of Species" without seeking a consensus of approval?

...and at that it's not always (usually?) possible to foresee the consequences of an idea...

Would you suggest that that Linus Torvalds should have sought the permission of a sociologist before open sourcing the nifty little OS kernel he'd knocked up in his spare time?

Ought Tim Berners-Lee have canvassed a bunch of historians before allowing anyone outside CERN to see the specs for HTML??

Was it grossly irresponsible of Kilby and Noyce to group a number of semiconductor devices onto a common substrate without getting the blessing of a Poet???

...or, looking at the sort of "world changing ideas" which the denizens of Rainbow seem likely to be involved in...

Should Jeff Bezos have been required to appear before a tribunal of Architects and town planners before being allowed to sell books from one of those funny web site things?

Who's permission should Larry Page and Sergei Brin have sought before they started playing with mathematical analysis of how pages and sites on the (then nascent) web linked together and subsequently thought of a few nifty ways to A) make the results useful and B) make a few quid out it?

Lets be clear here, we're not talking about people who have the political power and influence to *force* change upon an unwilling world. There are no armies, nuclear arsenals, international trade regulating bodies, orbiting laser canon batteries, or even sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads hidden in a secret bunker under that (slightly tacky) mansion. It's just a bunch of ambitious people with ideas which we (both individually and collectively as society/market) are free to adopt or ignore them as we see fit. Start regulating that sort of thing through some kind of "ideas police" and I suspect we're going to be in far worse trouble than anything the engineers, geeks, and entrepreneurs could possibly come up with...

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@Jonathon Green

Well, you and I are going to have to disagree. We live in a world where manipulating people, especially in large groups is a well known and easily practiced science. You don’t need armies to force your ideas on people any more. Is the manipulation of millions acceptable because it’s done for dollars instead of at the barrel of a gun?

What about tech nerds do you inherently trust? Their motivations in many cases aren’t pure; the pursuit of money isn’t exactly a noble goal in my mind. Do I believe Sergey Brin and Larry Page should have sat down and discussed Google with everyone before starting it? No. We should be free to try to new things. However, as soon as it looked like they had hit upon a formula that would lead them to dominance, then yes, I do feel it was incumbent upon them to seek outside opinions.

They now functionally control the world’s access to information. They are the gatekeepers to “facts.” Don’t give me crap about “you can choose to use another search engine” because I am not talking about their power over one individual but the power they hold over the majority. For any individual to make an informed decision about the facts they have to know to how those facts are chosen. They must ask why are they represented in the order or with the importance they are represented? Most people simply don’t know enough to ask these questions, and they blindly trust that “Google knows everything” and more importantly that it presents the information in order of relevance.

Now, let’s say I accept that SB&LP are our benevolent information overlords. Google today, under their benevolent guidance, still can’t get everything right. What happens when SB&LP are replaced by people with less ethics? The empire they have created poses an enormous risk; it controls a large percentage of how huge chunks of the world access information. The ability to manipulate that information, and thus the opinions of individuals and through them votes, governments and more is unprecedented.

Was this ever considered? Was the true scale of this ever cared about beyond “we can sell ads and make money?” Google is but one example amongst many where the power amassed is so vast as to be frightening, and it appears to be held in the hands of those with no interest in asking the difficult questions.

What the world should indeed do is follow Darwin’s example. Darwin sat on his theory of evolution for more than twenty years before publishing. He knew that if he published when he first conceived of it that the world simply wasn’t ready to hear it. He waited and watched; the world around him slowly but surely became more receptive to new and radical ideas with time. When he felt the time was right he hit the world with a whopper of a new concept…but not before spending decades wrestling with the potential consequences of this act.

I’ll call the concept that of ethical externalities.

Another great example is e-mail. While inventing e-mail, someone should have sat down and asked questions such as “what happens when the hoi polloi start getting hold of this?” We then most likely would have had a secure authentication system from the start that would have nipped the spam problem in the bud. Instead, it was dreamed up by engineers who were talking mostly to other engineers in order to provide systems largely for engineers. According to everything I have read on the topic, wider consideration of its use simply didn’t occur until well after it’s adoption. (Actually, the history of e-mail is fascinating.)

Indeed, the whole of the Internet’s development was a little naive. The concept of a global unregulated information repository was a bit nuts. The idea that the hoi polloi wouldn’t eventually clue in that this thing existed is something I find shocking. There is lag, but eventually the masses glom on to every new technology. With this comes government regulation, censorship and various parties trying to use the technology to their own purposes in order to control others. The tale is so old and oft repeated that to think simply because it is a new idea or technology it won’t happen again is perplexing.

The entire evolution of the internet to date is to me nothing more than a failure of NIMBY management. Most of the issues that have occurred, and indeed those I see looming on the horizon could easily have been avoided had the techno utopians talked to people outside their disciplines and actually cared to listen to the answers.

When you have the ability to create a product or disseminate an idea that will alter the lives of millions and the legal right to do so, then you also have the responsibility to ask yourself and others how that idea or product will do so. What effects will it have, and how can the negative effects be curtailed or avoided? Pushing on blindly and claiming that the fallout is someone else’s problem is exactly the attitude I have a problem with.

To my mind, Google (or Wikipedia) disavowing responsibility for the ease of manipulating the public consciousness they have created is no different than a lumber mill claiming that it’s not their responsibility to ensure that the forest grows back after they cut it. The externality is ethical rather than monetary but the avoidance of responsibility is the same.

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