Nature of Man
… nothing that happens to Man is ever natural

4 May 2006, Thursday

Reading News

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mordred @ 13:47

A quote from “Earth” by David Brin, otherwise an not-much-memorable book, too slow and too pointless at times. Reading this piece concided with a recent argument, about reading news and the applicability of a software filter against the “preset” and one-sidedly biased filter of a newspaper editor.

My argument was that you shouldn’t rely on the human editors of one or two newspapers, they are biased in a way that is rarely fitting your needs (how much of a newspaper DOES interest you?). Also, the quantity of daily generated information will soon overwhelm any human editor, your newspaper will cover scraps of scraps of information (or scraps of 2nd order :).
To counter the argument that you need to have the news the other people around you are reading, so you can have a common social context (which is only arguably useful IMO), I put out that you can have the software model the behaviour of the editor of your choice (or indeed show you the EXACTLY same articles he chose)

I have highlighted some notable points.

“Good morning, Professor Wolling. During the last twenty-four hours there have been three priority-nine world news items, two regional alerts for Britain, and four on general topics from Reuters, your chosen neutral-bias news agency. None of the alerts were in categories listed by you as critical.”
Citizens had to subscribe to a minimum news-input or lose the vote. Still, Jen was anything but a public events junky, so her nine-or-greater threshold was set as high as allowed. She’d scan the headlines later.
“You have received six letters and thirty five-message blips from individuals on your auto-accept list. Sixty-five more letters and one hundred and twelve blips entered your general delivery box on the Net.
“In addition, there were four hundred and thirteen references to you, in yesterday’s scientific journals. Finally, in popular media and open discussion boards, your name was brought up with level seven or greater relevance fourteen hundred and eleven times.”
It was clearly another case of human profligacy–this typical turning of a good thing into yet another excuse for overindulgence. Like the way nations suffering from greenhouse heat still spilled more than five billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. A prodigious yield that was nevertheless nothing compared to the species’ greatest harvest–words.
And to think, some idiots predicted that we’d someday found our economy on information. That we ‘d base money on it!
On information? The problem isn’t scarcity. There’s too damned much of it!
The problem usually wasn’t getting access to information. It was to stave off drowning in it.
People bought personalized filter programs to skim a few droplets from that sea and keep the rest out. For some, subjective reality became the selected entertainments and special-interest zines passed through by those tailored shells.
Here a man watches nothing but detective films from the days of cops and robbers–a limitless supply of formula fiction. Next door a woman hears and reads only opinions that match her own, because other points of view are culled by her loyal guardian software.
To avoid such staleness, Jen had hired a famous rogue hacker, Sri Ramanujan, to design her own filter. “Let’s see what happens to that list,” she said aloud, “when we use threshold seven, categories one through twenty.”
“And the surprise factor, Professor Wolling?”
Jen felt in a good mood. “Let’s go with twenty percent.”
That meant one in five files would pop up randomly, in defiance of her own parameters. This way she asked Ramanujan to unleash purposely on her a little of the chaos his devilish virus-symbiont had once wreaked on thirteen million Net subscribers in South Asia–jiggling their complacent cyberworlds to show them glimpses of different realities, different points of view.

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