Garbage in = Garbage out

An old adage from the early days of computers rings as true today and it did then. What does it mean for us in our technologically advanced and computer savvy Technojungle society? What is garbage to a computer? What is garbage to us humans?

Sometime I think the Technojungle can be like a baby. There are times when I am entering information in a form on a website, or trying to format some text, for example, and it just isn’t working. Something goes wrong and it doesn’t work. Often there will be an error code—crying—but, it just can’t tell me what’s wrong. When things go really wrong, I get a beep. I have been having just this sort of problem lately with working on a graphic. What the Technojungle seems to be telling me is, “It’s time for you to have a little frustration.” I have to go into debug mode and try different tactic to reason with the software. In this case, I think I’ve discovered a bug. It’s not the first time, although I can’t believe this is not more common. So I’m going to take the problem to the community for the particular software. I don’t think I’m doing anything incorrect (garbage), yet it is garbage I am getting. In another recent example, I was searching for information on the design style called Googie and, yup you guessed it, the search engine (not Google) thought I wanted Google. In small type it asked if I wanted what I typed.

In the early days of computers, computing and the modern Technojungle we heard, over and over, garbage in = garbage out. The expression was used to remind people that if you didn’t input information absolutely correctly—that is, exactly, precisely and perfectly—into a computer, you would not get a useful response—you would get garbage. What you were trying to do would not work. It pretty much holds true today and we might remind ourselves of this more often. Have you ever had an unexpected result from a computer only to discover that you had entered something incorrectly? Have you experienced garbage in = garbage out?

Whereas humans can interpret slight errors or mistakes and usually get it right, by saying something like, “Oh, you mean…,” Technojungle computers just choke. 

I have had many people help me with the editing of this book. I am surprised at how many simple errors, such as ‘buy’ instead of ‘by,’ get missed by more than one person because the reader automatically seems to see the correct word. Sometimes we simply know what is meant and ignore the mistake. A computer usually struggles to get it right. 

For example, software has been attempting to correct our spelling for some time, but often the computer suggests the wrong word. Some software actually inserts the word it thinks you meant. Sometimes I look back at what I typed and wonder where a word came from. I know that sometimes I actually do type the wrong word. Humans can usually figure out the mistake correctly. Technojungle AI is attempting to improve on detecting human errors and suggesting corrections, but, could it ever become perfect?

Remember, this sort of situation can happen in other tasks the Technojungle attempts to help us with. Can you think of others?

I remember taking some computer training in high school. We had to mark little cards with a lead pencil and fill in tiny little spots. We did a pile of these cards, which were stacked in order, wrapped in a rubber band, and taken to another school where the monster Technojungle computer was. The cards were processed in the computer by running the stack of cards through a card reader. This was called data processing. If you made one tiny mistake, your little program would not run. The teacher would return your stack to you with a piece of paper and the rubber band wrapped around it. The paper would tell you if your program would run successfully. If not, it was up to you to figure out why and try again. It had to be perfect—no garbage.

The above expression might also hold a prophetic aspect to our lives in the Technojungle. We understand from book one that the Internet and the entire Technojungle is created by humans and therefore the information stored in the Technojungle is about us humans. We humans are so often messy or wrong, but often playful in the ways we create and use everything in our lives? In short, doesn’t it take a human to understand a human and often that goes wrong too?

So what do Technojungle computers utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) make of all this less than correct, accurate or clear—garbage—information? AI needs to learn about us and somehow come to understand us, and the Internet is one of the major sources of information for AI. How can a computer sort out all the inaccurate information from the accurate information? Can Technojungle computers make some serious mistakes, just like humans, because they don’t know the difference between what is correct or incorrect? How does a computer deal with sarcasm, or an inside joke?

I wonder, if the Technojungle consists of a considerable amount of garbage, what could the garbage in = garbage out expression mean as we give computers with AI increasing control of our lives? That control might be to simply answer questions or fetch information, or it might mean managing something more significant—even human life and death significance.

Whereas humans can interpret slight errors or mistakes and usually get it right, by saying something like, “Oh, you mean…” Technojungle computers just choke.

Let’s always keep in mind that, as the Technojungle machines strive to understand humans better and to become more human-like, we have to strive to be more accurate and clear in everything we do—more computer-like. Is there a meeting in the middle of the intersection of humans and Technojungle? This seems dehumanizing.

We have learned that there’s a growing battery of devices in our Technojungle lives that are tracking us and collecting information about us; actually recording practically everything we do in the Technojungle and our real world. What if, instead of turning left one day, we turned right? Or what if we simply decided to have something totally different, even unusual, for breakfast? Suppose you took some time to visit some websites that really don’t interest you—just simply wander? Would the Technojungle get confused? Ad trackers would begin to show you ads based on websites you visited, that are quite simply unrelated to your actual life or interests. The AI systems would have to somehow figure out why you had something unusual for breakfast, or why you decided to go another direction, or to particular websites.

We have been recording and archiving our activities and our world—our entire lives—in the Technojungle for decades. We just keep adding to the gigantic Technojungle barrel of information. 

Imagine you have a huge barrel of items. Suppose you need to sort the items into that which you should keep and that which you might dispose of. A computer prefers a yes or no answer for each item, but you, after thinking a bit about each one, might begin to create some piles that are somewhere between save or dispose. This is very complex decision making and illustrates the infinite analog and human-like thinking compared to digital. A human might sort into an infinite number of piles and change the pile an items goes in several times after thinking about it more. The computer would require some criteria for categorization or classification, such as, ‘has not been used in three years, so not very important,’ etc., while a human might think about the sort of attachment—emotions and feeling— they have for a particular item. This sort of activity is full of dilemmas.

A Technojungle search engine on the Internet uses a couple of hundred parameters and criteria to determine what to return to you in response to your search query. If you took the time to sort all the possible bits of information out there in the Technojungle relating to your query, you would come up with a different list of results. Even in a list of results created by the greatest AI search engines, the displayed results will contain a number of items that are useless, and not just advertising. Remember the chapter on algorithms. Can Technojungle algorithms used to sort information based on certain parameters and criteria be a way for us to be manipulated, either unintentionally or intentionally? Isn’t it dehumanizing if we allow ourselves to be guided by the search results and outcomes? Couldn’t the actual true result be that we are not thinking for ourselves? 

That control might be to simply answer questions or fetch information, or it might mean managing something more significant—even human life and death significance.

If you want to retain your humanity and reclaim what you may have lost and to become more human, you need to discover and nurture those aspects of yourself that are creative, spontaneous, inspirational, irrational and simply playful. These are very humanizing and difficult for computers and the Technojungle to understand. They are also some of the very characteristics of the jazz music that lifted and eventually helped to free the African American slaves. If you feel you have become a slave in the Technojungle, a lifestyle that consists of some traits of jazz is the road to solutions. 

If you can find activities and behaviours that are more human, you can reduce the instances where the Technojungle dehumanizes you. If your activities and actions favour that which humanizes, perhaps more jazz-like, you will be less likely to become a slave to the Technojungle. Can the irrational, illogical, inaccurate, playful activities and actions of humans be garbage to a computer? Does a computer actually demand perfection? But humans are not perfect, so how can the Technojungle learn to get along with humans if we keep making and producing garbage? If garbage in = garbage out, then the result is that humans remain in control. If you simply feed a computer just enough of what it needs to perform a task for you, would the computer and the Technojungle remain a slave to you the human being? This is being a better human being and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.

We can’t be sure how our human garbage (garbage to a computer) we leave around in the Technojungle might affect the performance of AI machines. We can wonder what the unexpected results could be. Smart machines may try to make us more like them, rather than the reverse. As we often observe now, a bit of both.  Are you getting a healthy balanced diet of information that governs your world view, ideas, opinions, perspectives, beliefs and values? 

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