New Band Name: Human Nature and the Logical Fallacy
|Amy Widdowson||May 24, 2016|
I’m in the midst of frantically cramming for my Odd Salon talk tonight on Logic, which means that I am struggling to put a few sentences together and busy reminding myself why I didn’t stick with philosophy during undergrad.
Tonight I’m discussing Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Moriarty. Research has led me to read a metric tonne of Sherlock Holmes fan literature. It’s remarkable the permutations that Sherlock the myth has taken and how it’s impacted popular culture, in particular the cult of logic and reason. The idea that there’s always an explanation, there’s always an answer. That having all the right pieces in a little row will forever lead to the truth, no matter which storm swirls or boulder blocks your path.
I’ve never been the most apt at logic and reasoning - 'quelle suprise’ I hear you all murmuring beyond your screens - so Sherlock beyond Benedict Cumberbatch has never been all that attractive to me. I found Watson’s accounts of Sherlock’s antics long-winded, Sherlock’s lack of social graces and proclivity to steamroll frustrating, and it also drove me crazy that I couldn’t figure out the puzzle as quickly as other readers. I was far more content believing in mischievous spirits and secret societies.
Right now, the Bay Area is supposedly winding down its 7+ year obsession with code, a supposedly meritocratic technology that supposedly doesn’t discriminate, that can supposedly solve the world’s problems more neatly and better than before. As a messy, emotional human who doesn’t code, instead specializing in overly-verbose writing and connecting emotionally with near-strangers, I’ve never fit into that tidy equation during my time here. And that made work in San Francisco a bit harder than I’d anticipated.
But I’ve worked closely with those who do build these programs. I know that they’re human, and they show up to work every day with their own biases, and that where they work and everything they create is in some ways a reflection of themselves. That what they code and how they choose to code it is that, a choice.
This is a long way of saying that I’m never surprised to learn that software and the companies that create it are not 100%-free of human error, of human judgement.
I’ve worked in online content and know the human effort that goes into parsing the results of a google search, so I was shocked that others were shocked to learn that humans work at Facebook, and have a non-algorithmic impact on what appeared in the Trending section.
I’m friends with lawyers, a child and in-law of lawyers, and married to a lawyer, so I understand how machine learning programs purporting to neutrally codify prediciliction to commit crime would be based upon an already-biased system, and therefore exhibit those same structural biases in their software output.
It makes sense to me that some Airbnb hosts discriminate if they can discern the race of a potential renter, because humans discriminate.
And I understand how coders and designers working in fields with mostly-female executive assistants would give their AI personal helpers female names, unless it’s a lawyer-bot. Because they see female assistants, and male lawyers.
In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock famously says “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. “ But you know what’s impossible? People. People are messy, impossible, difficult beings who act against their own best interest, self-select their friend groups and sources of information, emotionally lash out, and vote for Donald Trump for President.
People are impossible, and people are the truth, and everything is so hard that no algorithm can fix being a human for you. Though many continue to try.
I’ll leave you with that this morning, as well as thank you profusely for helping me work through the last few minutes of my talk tonight ;)
Much love my poppets,