(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘telegraph

“There was so much more going on than any one person could know, reality was so much bigger than the self, that it was alarming to contemplate”*…

Henry Oliver on The Panic of 1825 and the ways in which it modeled crises to come and shaped the modern world…

… the Panic of 1825… wasn’t like panics of the past. There was no external cause of this bubble — no war, no weather, no pandemic. It was not a speculative mania. It took place in many fragmented investments — loans, insurance policies — made by individuals, often in good faith, in the new economic system. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had introduced a new gold standard. To avoid a sudden stop in loans and note issues (after running the war on cheap money) the Bank designed a transition. First, they hoarded gold like Smaug, to keep prices high and prevent a run. Second, they brought out new low-yield stocks. Third, the government issued new bonds and started a big infrastructure programme. With all the extra money in the system, backed by gold, people started investing, post-war prosperity flourished, and George IV could yap complacently about the success of the economy. Now that gold payments resumed, the market for precious metals boomed. Hence all those investments in South American gold mines. That all sent capital overseas, and so the currency was becoming, in reality, a paper system. Letters and warnings were published in The Times, but all in vain. And so when the bank drew in its horns, the crash was inevitable.

This wasn’t, then, a rampant speculative bubble. It was a diversification crisis. So many people invested in so many different things and none of them knew enough about the rest. Many investments were sound. Many participants were not speculators. “The fundamental problem in the market,” as one scholar has written, “was not that investors were over-extending themselves but rather that they did not have enough information to appreciate how over-extended everyone else already was.” After the crash, the finance system started to be centralised, to avoid such situations in the future.

1825 is known as the first modern financial crisis. No single group could be blamed for what happened. It was a systemic event. It demonstrated, quite firmly, that there is no place or person at the centre of things, no-one who runs the market. 1825 was, in some senses, the year the modern economy started. But it wasn’t just in economics that 1825 changed the world. Politics and literature were reinvigorated too…

More (including the role of Disraeli) at “1825: the first modern financial crisis,” from @HenryEOliver.

[Image above: source]

* Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future


As we ponder precedent, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867 that the first stock ticker was introduced.

The advent of the ticker ultimately revolutionized the stock market by making up-to-the-minute prices available to investors around the country. Prior to this development, information from the New York Stock Exchange, which has been around since 1792, traveled by mail or messenger.

The ticker was the brainchild of Edward Calahan, who configured a telegraph machine to print stock quotes on streams of paper tape (the same paper tape later used in ticker-tape parades). The ticker, which caught on quickly with investors, got its name from the sound its type wheel made.


Calahan’s ticker (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently”*…

AI isn’t human, but that doesn’t mean, Nathan Gardels argues (citing three recent essays in Noema, the magazine that he edits), that it cannot be intelligent…

As the authors point out, “the dominant technique in contemporary AI is deep learning (DL) neural networks, massive self-learning algorithms which excel at discerning and utilizing patterns in data.”

Critics of this approach argue that its “insurmountable wall” is “symbolic reasoning, the capacity to manipulate symbols in the ways familiar from algebra or logic. As we learned as children, solving math problems involves a step-by-step manipulation of symbols according to strict rules (e.g., multiply the furthest right column, carry the extra value to the column to the left, etc.).”

Such reasoning would enable logical inferences that can apply what has been learned to unprogrammed contingencies, thus “completing patterns” by connecting the dots. LeCun and Browning argue that, as with the evolution of the human mind itself, in time and with manifold experiences, this ability may emerge as well from the neural networks of intelligent machines.

“Contemporary large language models — such as GPT-3 and LaMDA — show the potential of this approach,” they contend. “They are capable of impressive abilities to manipulate symbols, displaying some level of common-sense reasoning, compositionality, multilingual competency, some logical and mathematical abilities, and even creepy capacities to mimic the dead. If you’re inclined to take symbolic reasoning as coming in degrees, this is incredibly exciting.”

The philosopher Charles Taylor associates the breakthroughs of consciousness in that era with the arrival of written language. In his view, access to the stored memories of this first cloud technology enabled the interiority of sustained reflection from which symbolic competencies evolved.

This “transcendence” beyond oral narrative myth narrowly grounded in one’s own immediate circumstance and experience gave rise to what the sociologist Robert Bellah called “theoretic culture” — a mental organization of the world at large into the abstraction of symbols. The universalization of abstraction, in turn and over a long period of time, enabled the emergence of systems of thought ranging from monotheistic religions to the scientific reasoning of the Enlightenment.

Not unlike the transition from oral to written culture, might AI be the midwife to the next step of evolution? As has been written in this column before, we have only become aware of climate change through planetary computation that abstractly models the Earthly organism beyond what any of us could conceive out of our own un-encompassing knowledge or direct experience.

For Bratton and Agüera y Arcas, it comes down in the end to language as the “cognitive infrastructure” that can comprehend patterns, referential context and the relationality among them when facing novel events.

“There are already many kinds of languages. There are internal languages that may be unrelated to external communication. There are bird songs, musical scores and mathematical notation, none of which have the same kinds of correspondences to real-world referents,” they observe.

As an “executable” translation of human language, code does not produce the same kind of intelligence that emerges from human consciousness, but is intelligence nonetheless. What is most likely to emerge in their view is not “artificial” intelligence when machines become more human, but “synthetic” intelligence, which fuses both.

As AI further develops through human prompt or a capacity to guide its own evolution by acquiring a sense of itself in the world, what is clear is that it is well on the way to taking its place alongside, perhaps conjoining and becoming synthesized with, other intelligences, from homo sapiens to insects to forests to the planetary organism itself…

AI takes its place among and may conjoin with other multiple intelligences: “Cognizant Machines: A What Is Not A Who.” Eminentl worth reading in full both the linked essay and the articles referenced in it.

* Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment


As we make room for company, we might recall that it was on this date in 1911 that a telegraph operator in the 7th floor of The New York Times headquarters in Times Square sent a message– “This message sent around the world”– that left at 7:00p, traveled over 28,000 miles, and was relayed by 16 different operators. It arrived back at the Times only 16.5 minutes later.

The “around the world telegraphy” record had been set in 1903, when President Roosevelt celebrated the completion of the Commercial Pacific Cable by sending the first round-the-world message in just 9 minutes. But that message had been given priority status; the Times wanted to see how long a regular message would take — and what route it would follow.

The building from which the message originated is now called One Times Square and is best known as the site of the New Year’s Eve ball drop.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 20, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Technology makes everyone feel old”*…

Cassette tapes, the fax machine, overhead projectors… Adrian Willings catalogues some transitional technologies that, he suggests, are headed for the dust bin of history…

… we’re… looking at some of the biggest, best and most memorable gadgets from the last century that have been outdated, outmoded or just forced into irrelevance by better, modern technologies.

You might remember many of these, but there are plenty of the younger generation that don’t…

… and won’t? “39 obsolete technologies that will baffle modern generations,” from @Age_Dub in @Pocketlint.

* Jennifer Egan


As we mosey down memory lane, we might send electronic birthday greetings to David Sarnoff; he was born on this date in 1891. An early employee of Marconi Wireless Telegraph, he befriended its owner, and began a a long career in broadcasting.

Unlike many who were involved with early radio communications, who often viewed radio as a point-to-point medium, Sarnoff saw the potential of radio as point-to-mass. One person (the broadcaster) could speak to– inform, entertain, sell to– many. When Owen D. Young of General Electric arranged the purchase of American Marconi and turned it into the Radio Corporation of America, a radio patent monopoly, Sarnoff got his chance.

His colleagues were wary, but in 1921, Sarnoff arranged a broadcast of a heavyweight boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. An estimated 300,000 people heard the fight, and demand for home radio equipment bloomed that winter. As head of radio broadcasting for RCA, Sarnoff was instrumental in building and establishing the AM broadcasting radio business that became the preeminent public radio standard for the majority of the 20th century.

In that late 1920s and early 30s Sarnoff (who had become RCA’s President) drove the company’s push to develop television. In April, 1939, regularly scheduled television in America was initiated by RCA under the name of their broadcasting division at the time, The National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The first television broadcast aired was the dedication of the RCA pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fairgrounds and was introduced by Sarnoff himself.

Along the way, Sarnoff led the formation of RKO (in which the “R” stood for RCA) and bought Victor Talking Machine Company, the nation’s largest manufacturer of records and phonographs, assuring RCA a piece of the content business.

Sarnoff in 1922


“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”*…

When to breathe easy– and when to worry…

When people worry about the impact of a new technology, often they worry it’ll set us on a path to ruin.

Sometimes they’re freaking out for no good reason. New technologies — particularly ones that affect communication, or give young people new abilities — unsettle people all the time, but don’t wreck the world. In the past, people worried that the telephone would destroy face-to-face conversation, that the portable camera would destroy all public privacy, and that pinball would turn kids into delinquents.

In each case, critics worried that the new technology would make people’s behavior a bit worse, and then that change would cause even more bad results, and on and on. We’d be on a “slippery slope” to ruin! (Indeed, cities like New York actually banned pinball for forty years — from the mid-30s to the mid-70s.)

This is why, in the worlds of philosophy and technology, “slippery slope” arguments are often regarded as kind of flimsy. Often, critics are just personally miffed by the new behaviors midwived by technology. But no social ruin is at hand.

Sometimes, though, a slippery slope is real. In the early days of the automobile, some critics feared cars would take over city streets — and that we’d get so addicted to car travel that we’d rebuild the whole country around cars. Those critics nailed it. That really did happen. The same thing goes with Facebook or other social media; some early critics (like the philosopher Ian Bogost) predicted they’d poison social and civic life. Again: Nailed it.

But how do you tell the difference? How do you know when you’re facing a technology that might lead us down a real slippery slope — versus a tech that you’re just annoyed by?…

Does a new technology pose serious dangers — or are we just overreacting? Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99) talks to philosopher Evan Selinger (@EvanSelinger) about how to tell: “How To Recognize When Tech Is Leading Us Down a ‘Slippery Slope’

For a current warning from the aforementioned Ian Bogost (@ibogost), see “The Metaverse Is Bad.”

* the prescient Philip K. Dick


As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1861 that the first transcontinental telegram was sent from Stephen J. Field, the Chief Justice of California, to President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC.

In the temporary absence of the Governor of the State I am requested to send you the first message which will be transmitted over the wires of the telegraph Line which Connect the Pacific with the Atlantic States the People of California desire to Congratulate you upon the Completion of the great work.

They believe that it will be the means of strengthening the attachment which bind both the East & West to the Union & they desire in this the first message across the continent to express their loyalty to that Union & their determination to stand by the Government in this its day of trial They regard that Government with affection & will adhere to it under all fortunes


“Foresight begins when we accept that we are now creating a civilization of risk”*…

There have been a handful folks– Vernor Vinge, Don Michael, Sherry Turkle, to name a few– who were, decades ago, exceptionally foresightful about the technologically-meditated present in which we live. Philip Agre belongs in their number…

In 1994 — before most Americans had an email address or Internet access or even a personal computer — Philip Agre foresaw that computers would one day facilitate the mass collection of data on everything in society.

That process would change and simplify human behavior, wrote the then-UCLA humanities professor. And because that data would be collected not by a single, powerful “big brother” government but by lots of entities for lots of different purposes, he predicted that people would willingly part with massive amounts of information about their most personal fears and desires.

“Genuinely worrisome developments can seem ‘not so bad’ simply for lacking the overt horrors of Orwell’s dystopia,” wrote Agre, who has a doctorate in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an academic paper.

Nearly 30 years later, Agre’s paper seems eerily prescient, a startling vision of a future that has come to pass in the form of a data industrial complex that knows no borders and few laws. Data collected by disparate ad networks and mobile apps for myriad purposes is being used to sway elections or, in at least one case, to out a gay priest. But Agre didn’t stop there. He foresaw the authoritarian misuse of facial recognition technology, he predicted our inability to resist well-crafted disinformation and he foretold that artificial intelligence would be put to dark uses if not subjected to moral and philosophical inquiry.

Then, no one listened. Now, many of Agre’s former colleagues and friends say they’ve been thinking about him more in recent years, and rereading his work, as pitfalls of the Internet’s explosive and unchecked growth have come into relief, eroding democracy and helping to facilitate a violent uprising on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in January.

“We’re living in the aftermath of ignoring people like Phil,” said Marc Rotenberg, who edited a book with Agre in 1998 on technology and privacy, and is now founder and executive director for the Center for AI and Digital Policy…

As Reed Albergotti (@ReedAlbergotti) explains, better late than never: “He predicted the dark side of the Internet 30 years ago. Why did no one listen?

Agre’s papers are here.

* Jacques Ellul


As we consider consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that Queen Victoria sent the first official telegraph message across the Atlantic Ocean from London to U. S. President James Buchanan, in Washington D.C.– an initiated a new era in global communications.

Transmission of the message began at 10:50am and wasn’t completed until 4:30am the next day, taking nearly eighteen hours to reach Newfoundland, Canada. Ninety-nine words, containing five hundred nine letters, were transmitted at a rate of about two minutes per letter.

After White House staff had satisfied themselves that it wasn’t a hoax, the President sent a reply of 143 words in a relatively rapid ten hours. Without the cable, a dispatch in one direction alone would have taken rouighly twelve days by the speediest combination of inland telegraph and fast steamer.


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