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Posts Tagged ‘communications

“O brave new world”*…


law and AI


With the arrival of autonomous weapons systems (AWS)[1] on the 21st century battlefield, the nature of warfare is poised for dramatic change.[2] Overseen by artificial intelligence (AI), fueled by terabytes of data and operating at lightning-fast speed, AWS will be the decisive feature of future military conflicts.[3] Nonetheless, under the American way of war, AWS will operate within existing legal and policy guidelines that establish conditions and criteria for the application of force.[4] Even as the Department of Defense (DoD) places limitations on when and how AWS may take action,[5] the pace of new conflicts and adoption of AWS by peer competitors will ultimately push military leaders to empower AI-enabled weapons to make decisions with less and less human input.[6] As such, timely, accurate, and context-specific legal advice during the planning and operation of AWS missions will be essential. In the face of digital-decision-making, mere human legal advisors will be challenged to keep up!

Fortunately, at the same time that AI is changing warfare, the practice of law is undergoing a similar AI-driven transformation.[7]

From The Judge Advocate General’s CorpsThe Reporter: “Autonomous Weapons Need Autonomous Lawyers.”

As I finish drafting this post [on October 5], I’ve discovered that none of the links are available any longer; the piece (and the referenced articles within it, also from The Reporter) were apparently removed from public view while I was drafting this– from a Reporter web page that, obviously, opened for me earlier.  You will find other references to (and excerpts from/comments on) the article here, here, and here.  I’m leaving the original links in, in case they become active again…

* Shakespeare, The Tempest


As we wonder if this can end well, we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that Ameritech executive Bob Barnett made a phone call from a car parked near Soldier Field in Chicago, officially launching the first cellular network in the United States.


Barnett (foreground, in the car) and his audience


Written by LW

October 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“We never live; we are always in the expectation of living”*…




Sure that hold music was annoying, grating, a punishment to brain cells, especially if it loops tightly or is particularly in-your-face, but you know what’d be worse? If there was no sound at all.

That was the point that a man named Alfred Levy made when he filed a patent application in 1962 for the “Telephone hold program system,” which is the very patent that led to the creation of hold music.

A 2014 Slate piece helpfully filled in the gaps on this story: Levy, a factory employee, stumbled upon the basic idea for hold music after a freak incident involving a wire and a steel girder. Oddly enough, when the wire touched the steel, it effectively turned the building into a giant radio, leading people on hold waiting for phone calls to actually hear music on the line, rather than waiting in silence.

It might sound far-fetched, but that’s the tale, apparently. Nonetheless, his patent filing, granted in 1966, does a great job of explaining why such a tool is necessary. He noted that switchboards and telephone operators increasingly were using hold buttons, which allow time to properly route calls through a switchboard. However, little consideration was being given to the person on the other end of the line, who understandably might get frustrated or concerned the call dropped if they don’t hear back after a while.

“Courteous telephone practice requires that a held caller be assured at reasonable intervals that the party to whom he wishes to speak still is busy but the pressure of her duties may prevent the operator from so advising the incoming caller so that he may be bereft of even this small consolation,” the patent filing stated. “In any event, listening to a completely unresponsive instrument is tedious and calls often are abandoned altogether or remade which leads to annoyance and a waste of time and money.”

A telephone hold system, he continues, is basically a way to pacify the person waiting for assistance, as it “assures the incoming caller that his call is being held and that he is not disconnected or forgotten.”

The timing of his invention was basically perfect, coming along right as the call center was making its first appearance

Via @ShortFormErnie and his always-illuminating Tedium, the unusual state of hold music, which works pretty much the opposite way that every other kind of music does, for reasons both technical and psychological: “Holding Patterns.”

* Voltaire


As we wait, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that the CN Tower in Toronto opened.  At 1,815.3 ft it held the record for the world’s tallest free-standing structure for 32 years until 2007, when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa and was the world’s tallest tower until 2009 when it was surpassed by the Canton Tower.  In 1995, the CN Tower was declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. (It also belongs to the World Federation of Great Towers.)  It serves as a communications tower, the site of numerous broadcast (and reception) antennae for TV, radio, cell phone and microwave providers… and, of course, it is a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline.

480px-Toronto_-_ON_-_Toronto_Harbourfront7 source


Written by LW

June 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Information is a difference that makes a difference”*…


Shannon information


Information was something guessed at rather than spoken of, something implied in a dozen ways before it was finally tied down. Information was a presence offstage. It was there in the studies of the physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, who, electrifying frog muscles, first timed the speed of messages in animal nerves just as Thomson was timing the speed of messages in wires. It was there in the work of physicists like Rudolf Clausius and Ludwig Boltzmann, who were pioneering ways to quantify disorder—entropy—little suspecting that information might one day be quantified in the same way. Above all, information was in the networks that descended in part from the first attempt to bridge the Atlantic with underwater cables. In the attack on the practical engineering problems of connecting Points A and B—what is the smallest number of wires we need to string up to handle a day’s load of messages? how do we encrypt a top-secret telephone call?—the properties of information itself, in general, were gradually uncovered.

By the time of Claude Shannon’s childhood, the world’s communications networks were no longer passive wires acting as conduits for electricity, a kind of electron plumbing. They were continent-spanning machines, arguably the most complex machines in existence. Vacuum-tube amplifiers strung along the telephone lines added power to voice signals that would have otherwise attenuated and died out on their thousand-mile journeys. A year before Shannon was born, in fact, Bell and Watson inaugurated the transcontinental phone line by reenacting their first call, this time with Bell in New York and Watson in San Francisco. By the time Shannon was in elementary school, feedback systems managed the phone network’s amplifiers automatically, holding the voice signals stable and silencing the “howling” or “singing” noises that plagued early phone calls, even as the seasons turned and the weather changed around the sensitive wires that carried them. Each year that Shannon placed a call, he was less likely to speak to a human operator and more likely to have his call placed by machine, by one of the automated switchboards that Bell Labs grandly called a “mechanical brain.” In the process of assembling and refining these sprawling machines, Shannon’s generation of scientists came to understand information in much the same way that an earlier generation of scientists came to understand heat in the process of building steam engines.

It was Shannon who made the final synthesis, who defined the concept of information and effectively solved the problem of noise. It was Shannon who was credited with gathering the threads into a new science…

The story of Claude Shannon, his colorful life–  and the birth of the Information Age: “How Information Got Re-Invented.”

* Gregory Bateson


As we separate the signal from the noise, we might send communicative birthday greetings to the subject of today’s main post, Claude Elwood Shannon; he was born on this date in 1916.  A mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer, he is, for reasons explained in the article featured above, known as “the father of information theory.”  But he is also remembered for his contributions to digital circuit design theory and for his cryptanalysis work during World War II, both as a codebreaker and as a designer of secure communications systems.

220px-ClaudeShannon_MFO3807 source


“From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”*…



Codex Sinaiticus (4th century, eastern Mediterranean)


“Codex” is just the Roman name for a book, made of pages, and usually bound on the left. Its predecessor was the scroll or book roll, which was unrolled as you read. The codex is manifestly superior: one can hold many volumes (from the Latin for book roll, volumen); codices have a built-in cover for protection; and pages that can be numbered for reference, from which arose a cornucopia of tables of contents and indices.

The codex didn’t catch on until surprisingly late in the ancient world. The early Christians, however, took to the codex with singular enthusiasm. Wider adoption of this form seems to have corresponded to Christianity’s spread. In the 4th century, no less a figure than St Augustine illustrates the difference between a codex and a roll – and the nagging ‘Christianity’ of the codex.

Not yet baptised, in his garden where he had been reading, Augustine tells us he heard a child’s voice chant: ‘Tolle Lege!’ (‘Take up and read’). So he grabbed his book and flipped to a random page. His eyes lit upon a passage in Paul’s ‘Letters to the Romans’. The words he found were the key to his conversion. The book couldn’t have been a roll: it was a codex of the Gospels. But many of his other, often non-Christian books, were rolls.

Virtually all ancient Christian texts were codices, and with each new scrap pulled from the Egyptian sands, this has been confirmed, rare exceptions ‘proving the rule’. Historians have concluded that, while Christians probably didn’t invent the codex, their scribes had gifted the general use of it to the Roman world and, in so doing, passed it, and much of what survives of Classical literature, on to us. But an inability to explain the exact origin and nature of this ‘Christian codex’ clouds every investigation, and for good reason: this conclusion is wrong. While nearly every early Christian text is a codex, not every early codex is Christian…

The fascinating story in full: “The birth of the book: on Christians, Romans and the codex.”

* Groucho Marx


As we turn the page, we might send speedy birthday greetings to Samuel Finley Breese Morse; he was born on this date in 1791.  After establishing himself as a successful painter, Morse returned to a school-day obsession, electricity, and began to experiment with using it to communicate…  sufficiently successfully that he is now less well remembered for his (then celebrated) art work, than for his success as contributor to the development of the single wire telegraph– which revolutionized global communications— and as the co-developer of Morse Code.

220px-Samuel_Morse_1840 source


Written by LW

April 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”*…



Is there any way to intervene usefully or meaningfully in public debate, in what the extremely online Twitter users are with gleeful irony calling the “discourse” of the present moment?

It has come to seem to me recently that this present moment must be to language something like what the Industrial Revolution was to textiles. A writer who works on the old system of production can spend days crafting a sentence, putting what feels like a worthy idea into language, only to find, once finished, that the internet has already produced countless sentences that are more or less just like it, even if these lack the same artisanal origin story that we imagine gives writing its soul. There is, it seems to me, no more place for writers and thinkers in our future than, since the nineteenth century, there has been for weavers.

This predicament is not confined to politics, and in fact engulfs all domains of human social existence…

Justin E. H. Smith rages against the machine.  Come for the righteous indictment of algorithmic culture; stay for the oddly redeeming conclusion: “It’s All Over.” [TotH @vgr]

But we might recall that Socrates (as reported in Plato’s Phaedrus) railed against the new technology of his time– writing– and its corrosive effect on memory.  Several readers of Smith’s essay have suggested that it is similarly “conservative.”  Smith engages those criticism here.

Pair with “The Age of Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture.”

[image above: source]

definition of a “meme” in Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene (1976)


As we muse on meaning, we might send epistolary birthday greetings to Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné; she was born on this date in 1626.  A French aristocrat, she is the most celebrated letter writer in French literary history.  Those letters– over 1,100 survive– as celebrated for their vivid descriptiveness and their wit.  Mme de Sévigné’s letters play an important role in the novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, where they figure as the favorite reading of the narrator’s grandmother, and, following her death, his mother.

Check them out at the Internet Archive.

200px-Marquise_de_Sévigné source


Written by LW

February 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

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