Post created: 2020-12-29
Over the past week, I've been mulling over the thought that Americans have little faith in their government's morals, but have faith in their government's technical skills. However, back in Brunei and in Singapore, we have faith in the opposite -- the execution can be haphazard, but generally speaking, the government will do (or at least try to do) the right thing. You can see this in our instinctive responses: problem in America and you call the police? Hell no, apparently. But look at the subreddits for Brunei and Singapore respectively -- many appeals to the Sultan or to the MP, and a general faith (bordering on expectation) that their problems will be resolved accordingly.
This is reminiscent of the vastly different approaches to engineering software that I think I’m facing now. Do you start with a small but correct core, building outwards, or do you build in all manner of hacks, and later solidify inwards? The former is greatly preferable to me, but most of the Peloton frontend and the new independent study code is written like the latter. Without a moral dimension, neither approach is inherently better than the other.
The former does have a moral dimension, though... and that’s where things get complicated.
I'm seeing increasingly many newspaper articles that give me the urge to run a DEBUNKING THE HYPE series targeted at SEA. Computer servers can only run 9 to 5... why? Blockchain will help the aviation industry protect passengers and workers... how? Again, it isn't the fault of the Singaporean or Bruneian governments respectively. They have no way of knowing better when everyone (“the science”) is spouting buzzwords to peddle their variety of snake oil. It is a little depressing though.
Chatted about the ACL2020 ethics issue (that everyone ignored, except for Yoav) with someone. When it comes to ethical issues, the young grad students are forgiven for not taking a stand, because the tenured profs should do so instead. In other words, ethics only matter when you have nothing to lose by adopting them. But then again, many people, including those working on ethics and vocal about misapplications of AI/ML, continue to take money from or invest in GOOG, FB, AMZN, PLTR, etc., take your pick. So there is consistency in inconsistency.
I think the most "ethical" things I can think of are the resignations from Eden (GOOG AMP) and Bray (AMZN AWS), both this year. They had something to lose by sticking to their ethics. If your ethics only matter when you have nothing to lose, then you have no ethics at all. Sure, they're probably in a position where they could afford to do this. If you're working in tech in 2020, you probably are in a position where you are too.
For all these criticisms, I don't think I have much of an ethical stand myself -- not for the US, at least. I just find the current hypocritical state of affairs insipid and distasteful. Now, Brunei is much more interesting to study here. For example, the national investment agencies ostensibly forgo all investments in non-Syariah compliant businesses (which you'd imagine are pretty profitable: gambling, alcohol, and such). When it comes to vices, I don't really care what other people consensually do, but I respect that they're willing to stick to their principles on this.
Ultimately, I think I want what I've wanted before -- a quiet existence doing less harm. I miss the smaller things in life.
Well, that's enough thinking for now.