When I was at Tamatea High School in Napier, years ago, one of the gangs of bullies who prowled the place always greeted me the same way. “Here comes Wright. He must die!” Usually it was posed as a public question: “Hello Wright, do you want to die?” It was a daily event. I wasn’t … More Are humans bullies by nature?
I have always been intrigued by the way we elevate specialists. Anybody prominent in one of half a dozen fields that western society exalts is, we are told, somebody to be looked up to, and who are never wrong. That’s particularly true of medical specialists particularly, where – certainly here in New Zealand – their … More When specialists fail – spectacularly
I have long been intrigued by the way we imagine ‘artificial general intelligence’ as some kind of inevitable future. One, perhaps, where humans – too – can be transferred into machines. You’ll notice I used ‘general’ in that phrase. We throw plain ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) around with reckless glee these days, meaning things like chatbots. … More Why the singularity won’t happen any time soon. Or at all.
A significant hallmark of an authoritarian government is the way it uses the power of the state to bully people. The spectre was raised a century ago by Franz Kafka, whose unfinished novel The Trial summed up the whole problem. In the story, Kafka’s narrator was arrested and put on trial – all without even … More What Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ tells us about authoritarian bullying
I’ve been thinking lately about one of the eye-opening experiences of my university life, and what it tells us about today’s world. In 1981 I arrived at Victoria University of Wellington as a bright-eyed eighteen year old, filled with the idea that university was the place where people could express their intellectual ideas constructively. I … More How societies get sucked into authoritarianism
When I was a teenager in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, I had some dealings – via friends of the family – with people who followed Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (1860-1925). The Austrian cult leader was long dead by the 1970s, but his pseudo-religious dogma – ‘anthroposophy‘ – outlasted him. I never understood why; his stuff was a heavy-handed mashup of nineteenth century mitteleuropäische Christianity … More Is Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy a sign that humanity’s already hit peak stupid?
Some of the ‘brain teaser’ puzzles doing the rounds at the moment annoy me. The problem is that if you don’t know the parameters on which the question is posed, you can’t get the ‘right’ answer. Take the one involving apples (10 points each), bananas and coconuts. Depending on how you read it, a banana … More Why I get annoyed with Facebook brain-teaser puzzles