Wednesday, April 22, 2015
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”
That epigram from E.O. Wilson captures the dilemma of our era. Yet the solution of some folks is to disdain wisdom.
“Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” Rick Scott, the Florida governor, once asked. A leader of a prominent Internet company once told me that the firm regards admission to Harvard as a useful heuristic of talent, but a college education itself as useless.
Parents and students themselves are acting on these principles, retreating from the humanities. Among college graduates in 1971, there were about two business majors for each English major. Now there are seven times as many.
I’ve been thinking about this after reading Fareed Zakaria’s smart new book, In Defense of a Liberal Education . Like Mr. Zakaria, I think that the liberal arts teach critical thinking (not to mention nifty words like “heuristic”).
So, to answer the sceptics, here are my three reasons the humanities enrich our souls and sometimes even our pocketbooks as well.
First, liberal arts equip students with communications and interpersonal skills that are valuable and genuinely rewarded in the labour force, especially when accompanied by technical abilities.
“A broad liberal arts education is a key pathway to success in the 21st-century economy,” says Lawrence Katz, a labour economist at Harvard. Professor Katz says that the economic return to pure technical skills has flattened, and the highest return now goes to those who combine soft skills — excellence at communicating and working with people — with technical skills.
“So I think a humanities major who also did a lot of computer science, economics, psychology, or other sciences can be quite valuable and have great career flexibility,” he said. “But you need both, in my view, to maximize your potential. And an economics major or computer science major or biology or engineering or physics major who takes serious courses in the humanities and history also will be a much more valuable scientist, financial professional, economist or entrepreneur.”
My second reason: We need people conversant with the humanities to help reach wise public policy decisions, even about the sciences. Technology companies must constantly weigh ethical decisions: Where should Facebook set its privacy defaults, and should it tolerate glimpses of nudity? Should Twitter close accounts that seem sympathetic to terrorists? How should Google handle sex and violence, or defamatory articles?
In the policy realm, one of the most important decisions we humans will have to make is whether to allow germline gene modification. This might eliminate certain diseases, ease suffering, make our offspring smarter and more beautiful. But it would also change our species. It would enable the wealthy to concoct superchildren. It’s exhilarating and terrifying.
To weigh these issues, regulators should be informed by first-rate science, but also by first-rate humanism. After all, Homer addressed similar issues three millenniums ago. In The Odyssey , the beautiful nymph Calypso offers immortality to Odysseus if he will stay on her island. After a fling with her, Odysseus ultimately rejects the offer because he misses his wife, Penelope. He turns down godlike immortality to embrace suffering and death that are essential to the human condition.
Likewise, when the President’s Council on Bioethics issued its report in 2002, “Human Cloning and Human Dignity,” it cited scientific journals but also Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Even science depends upon the humanities to shape judgments about ethics, limits and values.
Third, wherever our careers lie, much of our happiness depends upon our interactions with those around us, and there’s some evidence that literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence.
Science magazine published five studies indicating that research subjects who read literary fiction did better at assessing the feelings of a person in a photo than those who read nonfiction or popular fiction. Literature seems to offer lessons in human nature that help us decode the world around us and be better friends. Literature also builds bridges of understanding. Toni Morrison has helped all America understand African-American life. Jhumpa Lahiri illuminated immigrant contradictions. Khaled Hosseini opened windows on Afghanistan.
In short, it makes eminent sense to study coding and statistics today, but also history and literature.
John Adams had it right when he wrote to his wife, Abigail, in 1780: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History and Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” — © New York Times News Service
It makes eminent sense to study coding and statistics today, but also history
When corporations become too powerful and can challenge any State !!!??http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/lets-challenge-google-while-we-still-can/article7115178.ece
Let’s challenge Google while we still can
Typing “Google antitrust” into your browser this week yields some very interesting results — but it’s wholly possible your results will be delivered to you through Google search, into a browser made by Google, on to a phone or computer running Google’s very own operating system. Such is the scale of the modern Internet giant.
Comfortingly, the company has made no effort to hide this particular story from its own search results: currently the first result you will see is that Google is facing a huge and likely years-long legal battle with the EU competition commission over how it presents some of its search results.
Google is such a fixture of any Internet user’s life, it’s easy to forget how quickly it has grown, how dominant it has become, and how strange a company on that scale in the “real” world would seem.
Google has, by some measures, almost 90 per cent of the global search engine market — a service used by billions of people daily — while its nearest rival, Bing, has less than 5 per cent; Gmail is the second most-used e-mail service after Hotmail; its mobile software, Android, has 76 per cent of the smartphone market; and Google-owned YouTube is the overwhelming leader in online video, dwarfing Netflix.
In virtually any major online activity, Google is either the number two or number one player, often commandingly so — and that’s before we consider it has photographed the streets of many of the world’s cities, is building self-drive cars, and — before we forget — takes tens of billions of revenue each year by being the world’s largest online ad seller by far.
Compared with the scale of Google’s reach, the EU’s challenge seems almost trivial: it centres on whether Google’s presentation of e-commerce search results favours its own shopping service over rivals. A second mooted investigation would be somewhat wider, focusing on Android.
The spotlight might be on small parts of Google’s empire, but the fight is a deadly serious one: EU authorities have the power to levy fines of up to 10 per cent of Google’s revenues, which topped $45 billion in 2014, and to order the search giant to change its behaviour, including, in theory, changing how some of its results are presented.
Google has made clear that it intends to contest the charges, vigorously. The fight will likely be long, bloody and entertaining for those who like that sort of thing. But it also highlights some of the stark realities of the Internet era.
Perhaps the most pressing is that in reality there are very few government bodies in the world with the scale to truly hold the largest Internet giants to account — perhaps only the U.S. and the EU. The companies can move their servers, their regional offices and their headquarters with relative ease. It’s only those places with enough customers to be irresistible that can try to enforce a rule book.
Second, there’s no indication that the EU will win: given the relative stakes, and budgets, there’s every chance that Google will out-lawyer the regulators. The EU’s combative approach comes from its new commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, who has ripped up a putative settlement negotiated by her predecessor that would have staved off further legal battle. Regulators across the world will be watching to see whether the new high-stakes approach pays off. If Google wins here, others may be deterred.
The main significance of the battle is as a scene-setter: Google is just the start, as the business models of the Internet lend themselves to monopoly. Such is the nature of feedback loops: get enough users searching and clicking each day, and you have an incredible source of information of what people are really looking for, which you can use to make your search better. That’s hard to compete with.
In social networks and messaging apps, the effect is even stronger. These services work out for users only if lots of people they know are on them. Get big enough — like Facebook — and a rival has to do something spectacular to have a chance of beating you.
We are entering an era of near-stateless global giants, several of which will gain the power to act as a monopoly. The world’s legal systems are not ready for such a thing: philosophically, different countries have different levels of concern. Traditionally, U.S. regulators have been relaxed about companies gaining large market share provided they don’t use their market power to get advantages in other sectors. European regulators have generally stepped in earlier, capping share.
For all their promise of openness and equality, the technologies of the Internet also promote the creation of giant companies. The question facing us as a society is what trade-offs we make: does the bigger danger lie in allowing the creation of unalloyed corporate power, or in curbing technology’s potential to prevent it?
The question could become moot: in practical terms, if Google trounces the EU on all counts after several years, few other competition authorities will want to take on the company, and they may even be deterred from pursuing other Internet behemoths. A decade or so without a challenge may make a new normal near irreversible.
Technology has made the Internet the ultimate monopoly machine. It’s up to those who make and enforce the law to decide what they want to do about it. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2015
The Internet giant is growing so fast that if the EU fails to tackle its monopoly status now, in a decade or so Google might be too big to be held to account