Posts by Paul Smith

Miscellany – February

Artificial intelligence

“We’re a species that… can study our own ability to be manipulated,” said Tristan Harris, a former ‘design ethicist’ at Google.

“We have to talk about the advertising-based business model, which, paired with artificial intelligence, poses an existential threat. We have to get really serious about this. If you think about where are the most powerful AIs in the world located right now? Arguably, at two companies: Google and Facebook. The most powerful AIs in the world.

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Poverty then – and now…

Sometimes the stuff that spills out of  old box files on their way to the bin, are not only worth  remembering, but keeping.

One  we found  was Windows on Poverty, a 1992 Report  from the New Zealand  Council of Christian Social Services on Poverty in New Zealand.  It was well on its way to pile in  one of those  purges we hoarders  are  told  we must do.  But  caught between  the  need to clear  out stuff – and hoard,   we once more hoarded. Why? So  we don’t forget, so we don’t allow it to happen  again. Not in Godzone.

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Christmas on the Coast

9 a.m. and the mercury is racing up to 30 degrees. “Better watch out” locals tell us. “It’s going to be a ripper”. They’re right, so we retreat into the air conditioned world which reminds us of home and  what temperatures at Christmas should be.

But then we’re on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and it’s a cloudless Christmas Eve. Still, Christmas is Christmas and though the Mooloolaba Beach is scattered with bodies, the radio station plays – rather incongruously – White Christmas.

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A pilgrimage to love

He arrived at the wrong address at the right time and his pride was ruffled slightly when we told him as much. A middle-aged Indian, he had come for some maintenance on our house and loosened up when he realised his office had given him the wrong address.

As he worked, we began to chat and I asked why he had made the  trek from India to New Zealand.

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Time to update

Somebody said my computer was old, they did, they did.

Then another blessed with a pronounced sense of humour, asked what Windows I used. And as if this was overheard somewhere out there in some cyber conspiracy, website after website wanted to know my computer’s credentials – then turned it away… 

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Pushing the envelope, outside the square…

I don’t know what other boomers expected from this election but here’s what one, not a million miles from this keyboard hopes for:

Hope.  In the arid landscape of ideology over the past 30 odd years it was as precious as water – but there’s an oasis ahead and room for hope. Just look at what’s happened abroad, as Martin Jacques wrote in the Guardian recently:

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Trees for our health…

It’s not easy being green…  and especially not in Auckland. The most common  suburban sounds here for the past five years has been the angry buzz of chainsaws. To hear them is bad enough because you know that another beautiful tree is about to  fall because, well it’s in the way of sunlight/developers/over-sized houses.  One third  of the city’s residential trees have been felled in the past five years according to the Tree Council.

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But we won…didn’t we?

The results  are in.  The swearing-inners have sworn. The dust has settled – but the whining,the utter incomprehension of the bewildered born-to-rule shows no sign of abating. Judging by the first week after confirmation that a coalition of Labour, NZ First and the Greens would be the Government, the first of the moans is the least accurate, but makes a good slogan for the newly dispossessed and it goes – and will go –  like this:

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Compassion over competition?

It’s over… sort of. Yet something seems missing, something so boring it wouldn’t make it to the debates about the pressing issues of homeless, inequality and the other depressing social indicators.

It’s not so much a policy as a theory which has guided this and other Government’s policy since the Reagan-Thatcher years. A time so brainless it ran on the empty slogan of ‘there is no alternative’.

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Walking Man

Man  starts to shave. Sees his reading  glasses  on the basin shelf. Wonders why. Wife  tells  him breakfast is  getting cold.   Hurries to the table.  Spoons down porridge.  She gives him a peck on the cheek (when  did they stop kissing  the way they used to? ) and  rushes off to work the way he  once did.

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